Sodom and Gomorrah is, to put it lightly, a disturbing tale. Abraham does haggle with god that if there are ten decent folk to be found in the cities then, for the sake of the just, the cities should be spared. While god agrees to these terms, I can’t help but get the notion that god is deceiving Abraham, for if god is omniscient, and knows the end from the beginning, a point illustrated in my article on The Tower of Babel, he would already know the outcome and would at best be leaving Abraham with a false hope that the cities might be spared.
Sodom and Gomorrah
The below excerpt from the passage of Sodom and Gomorrah are taken from a Christian website. I will explore not just the passage and its implications, but also the points of interest and explanations of the story the author presents on that site.
When the two angels arrived at Sodom that evening, Abraham’s nephew Lot met them at the city gate. Lot and his family lived in Sodom. He took the two men to his home and fed them.
Then all the men of the city surrounded Lot’s house and said, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” (Genesis 19:5, NIV) By ancient custom, the visitors were under Lot’s protection. Lot was so infected by the wickedness of Sodom that he offered the homosexuals his two virgin daughters instead. Furious, the mob rushed up to break down the door.
The angels struck the rioters blind! Leading Lot, his wife, and two daughters by the hand, the angels hurried them out of the city. The girls’ fiancés would not listen and stayed behind.
Lot and his family fled to a tiny village called Zoar. The Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying the buildings, the people, and all the vegetation in the plain. [ Christianity.about.com ]
Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels, looked back, and turned into a pillar of salt.
“Lot was so infected by the wickedness of Sodom that he offered the homosexuals his two virgin daughters instead.”
The passage in Genesis 18:31 actually reads:
They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to those men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
The interpretation from christianity.about.com infers that since Lot was so infected by the wickedness of Sodom he resorted to offering his own virgin daughters to this mob to do with as they pleased. This would also seem to infer that Lot was a victim of living in Sodom, but what about the mob? Were those at his door not too similarly infected by the city? Lot of course was spared, but the mob was not.
One could argue that knocking on someone’s door and demanding their male guests be delivered to them to rape is beyond redemption, and a sound argument that is to make, but no less perverse, and perhaps far more so, is instead to offer up one’s own virgin daughters in place of the honored guests. What regard has lot for his own children that he should be spared while others should not? A favor to Abraham, given their relation?
Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels, looked back, and turned into a pillar of salt.
What reason would there be to turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back? After all Lot offered up his virgin daughters and this misstep did not give the angels pause to afford his safety from the city.
With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”
When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
Putting aside the grotesquery that Lot gets a pass for offering up his virgin daughters while his wife gets turned to a pillar of salt for the minor transgression of indulging in human nature, and perhaps compassion and horror, by glancing back at the devastation upon her home, let’s examine the context of this passage from Genesis 18:31.
“Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
Imagine being outside a city doomed to the wrath of the all mighty and told those words. They seem far more coherently interpreted as a warning to flee as fast as possible in order to get to safety. Not looking back, and not stopping anywhere on the plains, is a good way to ensure you make the best time possible. Even if the directive was absolutely clear, “If you look back, you will be turned to a pillar of salt”, come on, this isn’t benevolence, it’s madness.
Points of Interest from the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah:
The below ‘points of interest‘ are all taken from christianity.about.com.
• God was mercifully willing to spare the cities for the sake of a few righteous people, but none lived there. The Bible tells us all the inhabitants were depraved.
Lot, hardly the model of morality, apparently was worthy of sparing, along with his daughters and wife. At least until the wife looked back. This was not a thorough investigation either, the angels spent a night in Sodom, and the passages tell us nothing regarding the woman folk’s actions that evening. Were they taken into account?
• One of the reasons God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was because he did not want the Jews to be influenced by this evil. As the Creator of all things, God has the divine right to destroy evil as he sees fit.
A core precept of the Christian faith is that god gave Mankind free will. If this is the case, should the Jews not be given the free will to choose whether they are influenced by the occupants of a geographical location or not? This notion that god has the divine right to destroy evil as he sees fit is the same logic Christian fundamentalists use when a hurricane, tornado, or a terrorist attack happens on US soil, and they point to American’s immorality as the cause of god’s wrath.
• Lot and his family were spared, but his future sons-in-laws were destroyed because they thought Lot was joking about God’s wrath. Millions of people today think God and sin are things to joke about. God does exist, and he does punish unrepentant sinners.
A couple of things here. First, this is nothing more than a thinly veiled threat that you better take god seriously because he’s real, and he may punish you terribly if you think it’s a joke. But more importantly perhaps – in context to challenging the Christian faith – I thought sinners were given a chance to repent even up until the moment before passing while laying upon their death bed. I gather the counter argument to that is that this is only due to the sacrifice of Jesus, and that he retrospectively forgave the sins of those before him. But those that came before him never had the opportunity, or choice, to decide whether or not to accept him as their savior. That would have the implication of removing free will once again from the bargain. Mental gymnastics indeed.
• The Bible clearly states that the fire and sulfur, or brimstone, rained down “from the Lord out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24, NIV), not upward from a volcano. Lot’s wife, whose name is not given, became a pillar of salt. Some scholars believe she was covered with molten material.
What comes up, must come down. If the bible clearly states that the fire and sulfur, or brimstone, rained down “from the Lord out of the heavens”, it seems entirely plausible that this refers to sulfur or brimstone raining down from the sky, which would be understood back then as ‘the heavens’. That happens to be precisely where you would imagine such ‘brimstone’ to rain down from, once it’s jettisoned into the sky from the blast of a volcano.
This ‘point of interest’ seems to go both ways – it wasn’t a volcano, but to explain what happened to Lot’s wife, there’s also those ‘scholars’ who believe she was covered with molten material. On what evidence? None of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Lot’s wife was turned to salt, or the victim of a volcano, or that she existed. No evidence that does not require the presupposition that this tale is historically true.
When reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah I fail to see how this in anyway is congruous with the Christian worldview of an omniscient and benevolent god who has granted the gift of free will to his children. Nor do we have any example of a divine standard of morality that is worthy of serious consideration.
I will end this article by answering the question posed at christian.about.com:
Question for Reflection:
Evil is all around us in today’s society, from lying and stealing to pornography, drugs, illicit sex, and violence. God calls us to be holy people set apart, not influenced by our wicked culture. Sin always has consequences. Do you take sin and God’s wrath seriously?
No, I don’t take god’s wrath seriously when considering my ‘sins’. Instead I choose compassion and solidarity for my fellow Man, and any goodness, be it relative or objective, that arises from my actions, is not done in fear of god’s wrath, but rather in the service of my fellow primates. That, and the fact it feels good to do nice things for others. Cheers to natural selection for imbuing us primates with empathy to serve as a social and societal glue that helps us adapt, flourish, and spread our genes.