Copyright 2010 by and Gary Konecky, 2011 by Gary Konecky

Rev. Mel White observed:  “Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things.”  The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah will prove to be one of those misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

As we explore the sin of Sodom, it is worth keeping in mind that the generation of the flood was destroyed over the sin of robbery.  Robbery is a manifestation of greed.  As we will soon discover, greed will play a crucial role in the destruction of Sodom. 

Before we get to the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, we need to review two seemingly unrelated incidents, the circumcision of Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14 and Genesis 17:23-27) and Abraham having visitors (Genesis 18:1-16).  These two seemingly unrelated incidents will play an important role in our understanding the story of the destruction of Sodom. 

Let us examine Genesis 18:1:  Now the L-rd appeared to him in the plains of Mamre and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.”  (note 1)  A lot is going on that is not apparent from reading this verse.  Therefore, we need to see what the great Jewish sage Rashi says:

And [the L-rd] appeared to him: to visit the sick (Tan. Buber, Vayera 1). Said Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina: It was the third day from his circumcision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and inquired about his welfare (B. M. 86b).

was sitting: …He wished to stand. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Sit and I will stand, and you will be a sign for your children that I am destined to stand in the congregation of the judges, and they will sit,” as it is said (Ps. 82: 1): “God stands in the Divine assembly.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 48:7]

at the entrance of the tent: to see whether there were any passersby whom he would bring into his house. — [from B. M. 86b]

when the day was hot: (B.M. 86b) The Holy One, blessed be He, took the sun out of its sheath so as not to trouble him with wayfarers, but since He saw that he was troubled that no wayfarers were coming, He brought the angels to him in the likeness of men. — [from Gen. Rabbah 48:9, Exod. Rabbah 25:2]

(note 1)

Genesis 18:2-12 describes Abraham’s hospitality to the visitors, including the announcement by one of the visitors informing Abraham that Sarah (who has ceased having menstrual cycles) will give birth to a son next year.  Genesis 18:13 then continues: 

And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?'   (note 1) 

This incident is one of the great Bible stories.  It is the third day after Abraham’s circumcision, the time of the greatest pain and discomfort, and none other than G-d, the Holy One, blessed be He, is visiting Abraham.  From this incident, the Talmud (Sotah 14a) teaches us:

The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, for it is written: And the Lord appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, so do thou also visit the sick.  (note 2)

G-d is not merely visiting the sick, He is standing and Abraham is sitting.  Furthermore, G-d tells Abraham not to trouble himself and get up to show G-d proper respect.  In addition, to insure that Abraham, who is known for his hospitality, is not troubled, G-d has made the day too hot for people to travel.  G-d notices that Abraham was troubled that there were no travelers for him to extend hospitality to, so G-d arranges for three angles disguised as men to visit.  Abraham, with G-d standing there, sees the three traveling men (the angels disguised as men), gets up, runs to them and extends them hospitality.  After the guests wash; after animals have been slaughtered, cooked and served; after the guests have “eaten;” we get to Genesis18:13 to find that G-d was waiting all this time so that He could continue His visiting the sick (Abraham). 

As incredible as this incident is, nowhere is Abraham rebuked for keeping G-d waiting while he tended to his guests.  Instead, this incident tells us the incredible importance of hospitality.  As the Talmud (Shabbath 127a) tells us: 

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechinah, for it is written, And he said, My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, etc.(15)

SHECHINAH (lit. ‘abiding [of G-d]’, ‘Divine presence’); the spirit of the Omnipresent as manifested on earth.

(15) Gen. XVIII, 3; he thus left God, as it were, to attend to the wants of the three wayfarers. [On this interpretation he was speaking to God, and begged Him to remain whilst he saw to his guests v. Shebu. 35b.]   

Now, that we have background information, we come to the story of the destruction of Sodom.  Genesis 13:13 states: “And the people of Sodom were very evil and sinful against the Lord.”  Rashi explains “very… against the Lord” as follows: “They recognized their Master and intended to rebel against Him. [from Sifra, Bechukkothai 2]”  (note 3)

Genesis 18:20-21 states:  And the Lord said, ‘Since the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and since their sin has become very grave, I will descend now and see, whether according to her cry, which has come to Me, they have done; [I will wreak] destruction [upon them]; and if not, I will know.’”  (note 1)

Rashi explains this as follows: 

I will descend now: This teaches judges that they should not decide capital punishment cases unless they see it [i.e., they must go to the site of the crime and investigate the matter.]- [Divrei David])

which has come to Me, they have done: And [if] they remain in their state of rebellion, I will wreak destruction upon them, but if they do not remain in their state of rebellion, I will know what I will do, to punish them with suffering, but I will not destroy them.  (note 1)

G-d is about to pass judgment in a capital case, so G-d Himself will investigate the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah.  What is the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah?  What sin is very grave?  What is the sin that merits consideration of destruction (capital punishment)?

Lets start with the question, what sin is very grave, so grave as to merit capital punishment of entire cities?  Sodom committed four sins.  The first was widespread sexual immorality (heterosexual and homosexual).  The second sin was a lack of hospitality.  The third sin was crime and corruption.  The fourth sin was murder.   Which of these four sins is the sin that will cause G-d to destroy the city and its inhabitants?  To properly answer this question we need additional facts.

Sodom was a very prosperous city.  In an effort to keep all their wealth for themselves, it was a crime in Sodom to offer hospitality to strangers.  A law was passed that anyone who offered food or hospitality to a stranger would be buried alive.  The residents of the cities went so far as to cut down the trees so the birds would not receive hospitality.  Visitors to the cities were often tortured or killed or robbed or a combination of all three.

A young girl was accused of feeding a starving man who was visiting the city.  She was stripped naked and covered with honey from head to toe.  She was tied over an anthill.  The ants ate her flesh, her screams and cries filling the air, and no one in Sodom had mercy on her.  A slightly different version of this story has it that she was tied on the city wall, covered in honey and bees stung her to death.

The people of Sodom were so utterly wicked and corrupt that they deserved to be destroyed.  Yet for 52 years the Sodom and Gomorrah stood.  For 25 years, G-d sent them signs and portents of their coming destruction including great earthquakes and rainbows.  Torrential rains also fell and the priests of Sodom read all these signs of impending doom and still the people did not change their ways.

How is a rainbow a sign or portent?  According to Jewish tradition, a rainbow is the sign that the Attribute of Justice has argued for the destruction of the world because the people are evil.  The rainbow itself is a sign that the Attribute of Justice remembers G-d’s covenant with Noah not to cause a universal flood and therefore the Attribute of Justice holds still. 

Having answered the question of what the sin of Sodom is, we now turn to the question: what is the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah?

G-d knows that sometimes the cry is greater then the offense; that people sometimes exaggerate the wrong done to them.  Therefore, G-d decides to investigate.  As was stated before, this is a capital case, which is why G-d Himself investigates. 

According to one teaching, the cry is that of the young girl whose flesh was eaten by ants.  Her cries are the cry that results in the Divine decree of destruction and death. 

According to another teaching, G-d takes revenge against those whose heart is hardened against the poor.  The cry of the poor ascends to heaven and G-d hears their cries.

Now we know when G-d’s judgment was passed and why.  We know that G-d delayed His judgment for 25 years in order to give the people every opportunity to repent.  Genesis 18:17-33 discusses G-d informing Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and of Abraham negotiating with G-d to prevent destruction of the cities.  This is followed by the angels disguised as men being the guests that are hosted by Lot. 

We now come to Genesis 19:4-5:  “When they had not yet retired, and the people of the city, the people of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, the entire populace from every end [of the city].  And they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, and let us be intimate with them.’”   (note 4)

These two verses are the basis of the charge that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of homosexuality.  Could this charge be accurate? 

Lets look at verses literally.  We are told the entire population of the city turned out including the young and old.  Is it a stretch to say that the entire population consisted of male and female as well as young and old?  We know how the city was indifferent to the cries of the young girl they killed by having her eaten by ants.  Is there any other explanation for the entire city turning out other than to participate in another exercise of horrific cruelty?  If the entire population turned out for this exercise of horrific cruelty, this would imply that there is not a righteous person among them, not the women, not the men, not the young, not the old.  Even those who are not capable of participating in this homosexual gang rape are guilty of the sin of Sodom; their very presence says so.

Now, lets look at the story.  We started this story with Genesis 13:13.  It is only in Genesis 19:4 that this charge about the sin of homosexuality being the cause of the cities destruction that finally shows up, a charge based on reading two verses out of context.  We just spent a fair amount of time studying what the sin of Sodom was.  We just finished discussing what the cry was that G-d heard that caused the cities destruction.  We just went through 25 years of signs and portents.  Genesis 18:17-33 discusses G-d telling Abraham of his intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and of Abraham negotiating with G-d in an attempt to save the cities from destruction.  Yet those who condemn homosexuality ignore all of this to focus on a mere two verses. To say the G-d destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality is to deliberately misread then Bible in an effort to justify prejudice and bigotry.

Now that we know it has nothing to do with homosexuality, we have to ask:  What does “let us be intimate with them,” mean? Why is it here?  What is it telling us? 

The young girl was killed because she dared to feed a visiting starving man.  The inhabitants of these cities cut down the trees so even the birds could not enjoy hospitality.  Visitors to the cities were tortured or killed or robbed.  In effect all of these are extreme inhospitality.  Lot was extending hospitality.  Therefore, the inhabitants decided to teach Lot and his guests a lesson by raping Lot’s guests.  This is not about homosexuality.  This is about gang rape as a tool to enforce the law against providing hospitality.  This is about gang rape as a way of communicating to strangers that they are not welcome.

Quoting from Ezekiel 16:49-50:

Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom your sister: pride, abundance of bread, and careless ease were hers and her daughters', and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.   And they became haughty and did abomination before Me, and I removed them when I saw.   (note 5)

Rashi explains this as follows:

And they became haughty: She and her daughters, as is delineated in Job (28:5): “A land from which bread emerged,” and the entire piece (ibid. 4-9). [The Sodomites grew in haughtiness] until they said, “Let us cause the habit of traveling [lit. the foot] to be forgotten from our land, for they come only to cause us loss.”  

and I removed them when I saw: their way, as the matter that is stated regarding Sodom (Gen. 18:21): “I shall go down and see.”  (note 5)

As Ezekiel clearly points out, the sin of Sodom was “she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” which supports the statement that it was the cry of the poor that called G-d’s attention to the sin of Sodom. 

Rashi clearly indicates that the problem was lack of hospitality; “Let us cause the habit of traveling … to be forgotten from our land, for they come only to cause us loss.”  

In chapter five of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), we are taught that a person who says what is mine is mine and what is your is yours is a person of average character.  However, there are those who feel this is a very bad trait and is a trait of Sodom.  The reason for this being a trait of Sodom is that if a person feels that what is mine is mine, then this person does not want others to benefit from what he has which negates the entire concept of giving charity to the poor. 

Both these sins are related.  This is the sin of greed; that a city of immense wealth refused to feed the poor and went so far as to execute a young girl for feeding a starving man.  As a result of this greed they refused to provide hospitality to travelers (as they thought that by providing hospitality their wealth would be diminished).

We now come to chapter 19 of the Book of Judges.  Here we a have a story that appears to be similar to the story of Sodom.  This time the city is Gibeah in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin.  A man and his concubine are traveling and have to stop in the city as night is falling.  They have a problem in that no one offers them hospitality, meaning a place to spend the night.  Finally, a man coming home late from work in the fields invites them to his home.  An all male crowd soon gathers, surrounds the house and demands that the male traveler be produced so they could rape him.  The man offers up his concubine instead.  They take her and she is raped and abused all night and dies in the morning.  Jewish tradition teaches her death was attributable to the gang rape and was therefore murder.  This incident so upset the Israelites that they attacked Benjamin in a bloody civil war as a direct response to this incident.  Here we have a heterosexual rape and murder, the bible ascribing her death to the heterosexual rape, and the outrage is so great that a civil war ensues. 

Here we have an incident that involves a lack of hospitality and that climaxes in gang rape and murder.  As in Sodom, this is not about sexual orientation; this is about rape.  They did not care if it was the male traveler or the female traveler; they just wanted to rape someone. 

New reports coming out of Darfur and the Sudan indicate that rape is being used as a tactic in the war that is raging there.  Rape is not about sex, nor is it about sexual orientation.  Even if someone were overcome with lust, rape is still about power; the power to terrorize and demoralize as in Sudan and Darfur; or the power to use someone for sexual relations against their will in the case of lust.

The issue of hospitality also comes up in Deuteronomy 21:1-9, where an unusual ritual is commanded in the case of an unsolved murder.  In verses 21:6-7, all the elders of the nearest town are instructed to come to the place where this ritual will be conducted and to say the following:  “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.”

This raises the question; does anyone think the elders (the most respected people in the town) murdered someone?  As this seems a preposterous suggestion, what could this verse be discussing?  What are the elders being accused of that they need to state their innocence? 

The elders of the town are proclaiming that they are not indirectly responsible for the shedding of this victim’s blood.  They are saying that acted in accordance with and fulfilled all the requirements of hospitality to strangers including providing lodging, meals, and an escort.

In light of the ritual of the unsolved murder; a ritual in which the elders, the most respected men of the town have to proclaim that they are not even indirectly responsible for this murder; that they are not indirectly responsible because they complied with the laws of hospitality, lets us now look at the sin of Sodom again.  The story of Sodom is filled with tales of inhospitality; of rape, of barbarity, of horrific cruelty and murder all being used to enforce laws against hospitality. 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a – 109b) has a lengthy discussion of the sins of Sodom, yet nowhere in this lengthy discussion is homosexuality mentioned.  Adultery is briefly mentioned, but homosexuality is not mentioned.  As it is often incorrectly taught that sin of Sodom was homosexuality, I am including this lengthy discussion from the Talmud as an appendix to this installment.

Furthermore, in a discussion about property rights and inheritance, the Talmud (Baba Bathra 12b) mentions Sodom, implying that someone is being greedy and seeking to profit at the expense of others.

We also have the incident of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt for having disobeyed the commandment not to turn back and look at Sodom as it is being destroyed.  Genesis Rabbah 51:5 and 50:4 give the reason why she was turned into a pillar of salt:

“But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt" (Gen. 19:26)--because, R. Isaac said, she sinned through salt. On the night that the angels visited Lot, Lot said to his wife, "Give these guests a bit of salt." But she replied, "[Besides entertaining guests], is it your wish to introduce into Sodom another vile custom [that of seasoning their food]?" What did she do? She went around among all her neighbors, saying to each, "Give me salt--we have guests," intending thereby to have the townspeople become aware of the presence of guests in her home [and penalize Lot for it]. Hence, "she herself became a pillar of salt.”  (note 6)

This teaches us not only did she violate the laws of hospitality, but she also made sure that the residents of Sodom knew that guests were in her husband’s home, thereby subjecting the guests to the attempted rape.

We will soon begin to analyze Leviticus.  After lengthy analysis, we will discover the prohibitions in Leviticus that are used to condemn the LGBTI community, again do not deal with issues of sexual orientation, but again deal with the issue of using sex as a tool of wielding power to humiliate someone (part 14 of this series).  This understanding makes perfect sense when viewed in conjunction with the above teachings of Genesis, Ezekiel, Judges, and Deuteronomy.

To say that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality is a gross distortion and is not supported by scripture is clearly pointed out in Ezekiel, Genesis, Judges, and Deuteronomy, as well as in the mishnah (Pirkei Avot) and the Talmud.  Additionally, to say the sin of Sodom was homosexuality flies in the face of the Talmud’s understanding of the importance of hospitality, an act so important that one is permitted to keep the Devine Presence waiting while one performs it.

Why distort the account of the sin of Sodom to condemn homosexuality?  Where did this distortion come from?  If the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexuality, what is a Sodomite? 

The distortion of the sin of Sodom fits the theory of this being about money and power as pointed out in the first installment of this series.  Demonization, hatred and persecution, even if it contradicts G-d’s word, are profitable and are used by people in positions of power.  This is not unique to our times.  For example, we have the Inquisition where the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church was so concerned with its wealth and power that the Church leadership was willing to use torture and murder to protect and increase that wealth and power. 

As for the word sodomy; it was invented by an English churchman to describe male-male anal intercourse. (Note 7)  The word sodomite is used in English to describe someone who engages in sodomy.   The correct translation of Sodomite is someone from Sodom, just as a Moabite is someone from Moab, a Bethlehemite is someone from Bethlehem, and a Midianite is someone from Midian.

As this distortion is the cause of baseless hatred, we must ask how many sins are being committed by those who pervert scripture to justify their bigotry?  What other sins are being committed by ignoring the true sin of Sodom to focus on something not condemned in the account of the destruction of Sodom? 

Those who use scripture as a weapon hurt the poor and those who need hospitality (the same sin that was committed in Sodom) in addition to the tremendous pain they inflict on the LGBTI community.  In the end, while the sin of Sodom was its refusal to provide hospitality because of greed, the sin was carried out with tremendous cruelty.  Sadly, we have three far more recent examples of that cruelty by those who pervert scripture as a justification for their bigotry. 

In November 2009, the Roman Catholic Church threatened to stop feeding the homeless in Washington, DC if the city passed a bill allowing same sex civil marriage.  You read that right, the Roman Catholic Church, known for a series of worldwide pedophilia scandals, has decided to show how moral they are by demanding that the government continue discrimination against a class of US citizens.  In an effort to blackmail the government to continue such discrimination, the Roman Catholic Church has threatened to stop feeding the poor and to terminate a contract that is funded with tax dollars.  This may well be a sin very much like the sin of Sodom.  (note 8) 

Not too be out done in the arena of bigotry and cruelty, in November 2009, then Gov. Don Carcieri (Republican-Rhode Island) vetoed a bill that would that would have given same-sex couples in Rhode Island the right to plan the funerals of their partners.  (note 9) 

Following the example of Gov. Cacieri, current wannabe presidential candidate and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Republican-Minnesota) also vetoed a bill that would have allowed domestic partners to bury their loved ones and to sue for wrongful death.  (note 10)

These are just three examples that those who pervert the sin of Sodom prove Rev. Mel White’s observation that “Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things.”

Note 1: 

Note 2:  All Talmud quotes are from The Soncino Talmud, Judaic Classics by David Kantrowitz, Version 3.0.8, Copyright 1991-2004, Davka Corporation. 

Note 3:  

Note 4:

Note 5:

Note 6:  Section 35 of THE DEEDS OF THE FATHERS, from The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah, English Translation © 1992 Schocken Books, Inc., CD-ROM Version © 1995-2003 Davka Corporation

Note 7:  Page 64 of Wrestling With G-d & Man, Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition by Rabbi Steven Greenberg, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, copyright 2004.

Note 8:

Note 9:

Note 10:

An excellent explanation of the sign of the rainbow can be found on page 389 of The Torah Anthology / Me’am Lo’Ez, Book One, Beginnings by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1988.

A very detailed account of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, can be found on pages 188-195 of The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’Ez, Book Two, The Patriarchs, by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, translated by Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1989.

An excellent recapitulation of the midrashic literature concerning the sin of Sodom can be found in sections 29-35 of  THE DEEDS OF THE FATHERS, from The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah, English Translation © 1992 Schocken Books, Inc., CD-ROM Version © 1995-2003 Davka Corporation

An excellent explanation of the ritual involving an unsolved murder can be found on pages 279-284 of The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’Ez, Book 17, Gratitude and Discipline By Rabbi Shumel Yershalmi, translated and edited by M. and S. Sprecher with assistance from Rabbi Matis Blum, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1992.

An excellent explanation of the trait of Sodom can be found on page 254 of The Torah Anthology / Me’am Lo’Ez, Avoth by Rabbi Yitzchak (ben Moshe) Magriso, translated from the Ladino by David N. Barocas and edited by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1990.

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