Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I ENOCH AND ABRAHAM: I have to admit that I find the Historian’s arguments quite persuasive. I think that the current reading of the S&G story is rather late, and in many important respects misses the point of the original telling. The breaking of ritual norms of hospitality is really the key here. I believe that Nibley talks about this in ‘Abraham in Egypt’ and quite a few other places. And of course the story of S&G is really only one specific example drawn from a much larger literature on the ritual violation of foreigners or traveling heroes. Often that violation took the form of torture or murder rather than rape, but the details of what happens in each individual instance is incidental to the larger theme of the myth cycle. Recall that this story is introduced in the context of Abraham, who himself is often a stranger at the mercy of various kings, at least one of whom tries to do him in. I think Nibley argues quite persuasively that these are two variations on the same basic theme. Abraham also scrupulously keeps the rules of ritual hospitality, which provides the immediate counter-part to the sin of S&G, who do not. Lots daughters may well have been in danger (as implied in the story about the tribe of Benjamin later in the OT), but the reason they were not attacked was not that they were female. The critical factor was they were not foreigners. This sort of ritual violence was always directed against foreigners, often kings or princes when you get right down to it (once again, think Abraham).

What Nibley did not anticipate (to the best of my memory) is the role of the Angels with regards to sex. This is odd as he wrote practically an entire book on the subject (Enoch the Prophet). Yet it seems to me that the story and discussion in Jude really read quite well in light of I Enoch and some of its associated literature. Recall that Jude is the only other place in the NT where I Enoch is directly referenced, so we know those general topics were on the author’s mind.

Monday, March 01, 2004

THOU ALMOST PERSUADETH ME: I like the rape/hospitality interpretation that the Historian offers below, but I do have to take issue with the claim:

    The sin of S&G is that they want to transgress the laws of hospitality to strangers. In fact, this is the only sin that S&G are accused of committing in the Bible.

I think that if you look at the New Testament, the meaning of the sin of S&G has taken on a more expansive reading. For example, Jude warns a congregation in his epistle against "certain men crept in unawares" (Jude 1:4) and notes that they are "filthy dreamers" who are "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the evengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 1:7) This passage seems to link S&G directly with "fornication" and "strange flesh" without any reference to hospitality or rape. Furthermore, even in earlier biblical sources, the S&G story may have a broader meaning. For example, Deut. 23:7 contains a prohibtion against "sodomites," although I confess that I do not know the underlying Hebrew word that is being translated here. It may have no connection to Sodom. An even weaker, but still arguable claim is the link that Jer. 23:14 makes between the adultery of Jerusalem and the sin of S&G, although admittedly the rhetoric of adultery in the prophetic literature is complicated.

Thus, while I agree with the Historian's basic textual reading of the Genesis narrative, I think that the broader biblical interpretation of this story is a bit more complicated that he makes it. However, he rightly points out that the biblical interpretation of the passage is also more multifaceted than the current rhetoric over SSM suggests.

SODOM AND GOMORRAH: Some recent discussions about Same-Sex Marriage have emphasized an apocalyptic disaster as a result of social wickedness. Many point to the promises in the Book of Mormon of a blessed land as long as the inhabitants are righteous. Others point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. I do not think that S&G are useful for making sense out of our current situation. The reason is that this story has nothing to do with homosexuality. I do not intend to argue that the "biblical" view of sexuality allows for homosexual behavior or that church members cannot argue against SSM. I just don't think that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are accurately understood as homosexual sins. A quick look at the text should demonstrate this: Two angels go to Lot's house. A crowd gathers and wants to have sex with them. Lot offers his virgin daughters, but they refuse. A couple of things should be noted. First, the visitors are angels, second, the visitors are strangers to the city, and third, the men intend to rape the visitors. Starting from the last point, it seems that the crime of S&G is rape, not homosexuality. Homosexuality is a behavior that is engaged in voluntarily, which is not the case here. The reason that S&G is destroyed in not because two consenting males are having sex. Which brings us to the second point. The visitors are strangers to the city. Lot offers his to allow his daughters to be raped. Why? This is a pretty disgusting gesture, but it can be understood in the context of ancient laws of hospitality. Lot knows that they men are going to rape someone, so he offers his daughters, not because they are homosexuals, but because they intend to violate the strangers to thier city. The sin of S&G is that they want to transgress the laws of hospitality to strangers. In fact, this is the only sin that S&G are accused of committing in the Bible. Ezekiel says, "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy" (16:49). Finally, the visitors are not men, they are angels. Do you remember the last time that humans had sex with angels? God does. It was right before the flood (Gen 6:1-4). In fact, it was the reason for the flood. When humans and angels have sex, God destroys stuff. He destroyed the whole world with the flood, and he destroyed S&G for even thinking about it.
The lesson from S&G is: don't have sex with angels, don't break the laws of hospitality, and don't rape people. I don't see anything about consenting males having sex in this story.