In my last post, I argued that it’s unlikely that the entire city of Sodom was “gay” in the sense that we know it today, and that the city was condemned primarily for inhospitality, which included the attempted gang rape of Lot’s guests. Homosexual sex was only a subsidiary issue.
But it may have been at least an issue, according to Ezekiel.
Most scholars cite Ezekiel 16:48-49 as proof that Ezekiel only saw Sodom’s sin as inhospitality—or neglecting the poor. However, Ezekiel 16:50 uses an interesting phrase that’s often passed over too quickly. It reads:
“They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”
Now, the term “abomination” may seem generic. Scripture talks about all sorts of sins as “abominations.” However, in the book of Leviticus, “an abomination” (toevah) refers to homosexual sex (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and of all the books that Ezekiel draws upon for his theology, Leviticus is at the top of the list. That is, Ezekiel depends on Leviticus for his ethic and theology more than any other biblical book. And—follow me—the book of Leviticus singles out homosexual sex as “an abomination;” no other sin is identified as such.
Here are the two texts:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Lev 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev 20:13)
So look again at Ezek 16:48-50:
As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.
Is Ezekiel reading the Sodom story through the lens of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Maybe. Notice the singular: an abomination. Therefore, it’s possible—and I’m only saying it’s possible—that Ezekiel thinks that part of Sodom’s inhospitality was not just attempted gang rape, but attempted gang rape with acts of “abomination;” that is, with homosexual intercourse.
But let’s be honest. This is not a clear, slam dunk, “how could you suggest otherwise” argument. It’s an implicit reference that may carry some relevance. Moreover, as my good friend Jon Marshall reminded me last night: Sodom was condemned in Genesis 19 before the attempted rape. No one had any sex in Genesis 19, hetero or homo: they didn’t even get to first base.
And again, even if the attempted rape of Lot’s guests added to their judgment, it was rape. There was no courting, no wooing, no chocolates or flowers. Nothing in the story of Sodom mentions same-sex attraction leading to a monogamous relationship.
Interlude: Sodom was clearly condemned for having excessive food, prosperous ease, and being unconcerned for the poor (Ezek 16:48-49). Evangelicals listen up. It’s embarrassingly hypocritical to condemn homosexuality while indulging in Sodom’s primary sin. 6,000 children die daily from hunger and preventable diseases, and you’re worried about Prop 8?
I’m always curious how early interpreters read the Bible. They often help us in our own interpretations. So, how did Jews living in the first century interpret the Sodom story? As far as we know, most of them (like Ezekiel) condemned Sodom for inhospitality (Wis 19:14–15; Josephus, Ant 1:194), having pride and selfish wealth (Ezek 16:49–50; 3 Macc 2:5; Tg.PsJ Gen. 13:13; 18:20), or for sexual immorality in general (Jub 16:5–6; 20:5; T.Levi 14:6; T.Benj 9:1). However, both Josephus (Ant. 1.194-95, 200-201) and Philo (Abr. 133-41; QG 4.37) also cite same-sex intercourse as at least part of the reason for their intense condemnation. (Philo is much clearer than Josephus.) But this does not seem to be shared by the New Testament writers. Jude 7, for instance, refers to the sin of Sodom as “going after strange flesh,” but this almost certainly refers to attempted sex with angels, not fellow men (see Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 54). Jesus in Luke 10:10-12 assumes that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality.
Let’s bring it back to my original point. In my preliminary stage of research, I’ve found that the Sodom story is not very relevant for our contemporary debate about same-sex attraction leading to monogamous, consensual sex. The only reference that may suggest otherwise is Ezekiel 16:50, when read through the lens of Leviticus 18 and 20.
So that leaves us with Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: the only two passages that might condemn homosexual sex in the Old Testament. But do they? Take a look at them and see what you think. Then join me in my next post.
*For an argument that the Sodom story does have same-sex intercourse in mind, see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 71-146, 159-183.