Xenophobia Leads to Abuse

The Sodom Series, #12

What’s the moral of the story in Judges 19?

Boswell points out that “Jews and Christians have overwhelmingly failed to interpret [the Gibeah story] as one of homosexuality, correctly assessing it as a moral about inhospitality” (Boswell 95–96).

Why is this account not treated the same as the Sodom story in the eyes of believers today?

The Judges 19 passage isn’t considered an indictment of homosexuality because it focuses on the fate of the concubine, a woman.

Her fate shows that the men of Gibeah were not animated by overwhelming homosexual desire. … The men of Gibeah did not turn up to invite the Levite to an orgy, and the concubine had no power over what befell her. There can be no doubt that this story is one about attempted pack rape of a man, which is diverted into the successful pack rape of a woman.

Pack rape of a defenceless stranger is a particularly apt symbol of injustice and abuse of the helpless, which I would argue are the real sins of Sodom and Gibeah—not same-sex desire…. It is not the gender of the victims that is crucial, but their status, that of defenceless aliens. (Carden 25–26, emphasis mine).

The wicked Gibeahites accept only the Levite’s concubine and not the host’s virgin daughter. “To the mob, the Levite is clearly outsider, and the concubine is his woman and shares his outsider status. She is therefore a suitable substitute while the old man’s daughter is not” (Carden 37).

Comparing Genesis 19 with Judges 19

In comparison, the Judges 19 narrative is quite similar to the Genesis 19 account, but includes two serious crimes, one of which is brutal murder.

Both accounts:

  • Begin with a description of sojourners, two outsiders who dwell in the midst of immoral cultures
  • Two sets of visitors
  • Two hospitable households
  • Two confrontations by the local people
  • Two threats of violence
  • Two devastating conclusions

In both accounts, the violent demands of the local people are a way to denigrate the strangers in their midst, outsiders they did not like.

Neither Lot nor the old man of Gibeah defends his visitors to safeguard them from same-sex relations. “Instead,” says Matthew Vines, “they both expressed the concern that their visitors had come under the protection of their homes” (Vines 66–67). Both shielded their guests because of the sacred code of hospitality.

Those who are righteous make it their duty to establish rights for those who don’t have them, especially strangers and aliens.

Why protect guests?

Both accounts include hospitable hosts who believe it is more important to protect their guests over their own flesh and blood (daughters). But why?

Some have argued that Lot’s action revealed his belief that opposite-sex behavior was preferable to same-sex behavior. [It is true] that the gender of Lot’s guests played a role—not because of Lot’s concerns about the bodily “sameness” involved in same-sex behavior, but because of the greater honor men held in ancient times. …[M]en in the ancient world were considered to be of greater value than women, which made raping a man a more serious violation. … The issue in both instances is patriarchy, not the anatomical complementarity of men and women (Vines 67, emphasis mine).

What was their sin?

The sexual sin in Judges, although heterosexual in nature, isn’t fornication. It’s violent abuse and rape. They abuse and rape a woman until she eventually dies.

The accounts differ, however, in their result. Both hosts offer women, in their day considered to be of lesser honor and value than men. The people of Sodom refuse; the people of Gibeah accept, resulting in the sexual abuse and death of the concubine.

Another important difference is how present-day Bible believers interpret the stories and continue to use them to make moral arguments today.

Why are the stories interpreted differently?

In both accounts the locals demand the handing-over of male visitors and threaten violence.

Although actual violence to the visiting men happens in neither story, only the Sodom account is remembered and rehearsed as representing the evils of homosexuality. The Gibeah account, if mentioned at all, is never interpreted this way.

The word Sodomites refers to the inhabitants of the city Sodom. But their crimes, inaccurately interpreted as an indictment against homosexuality, have taken on such proportion that Sodomites is now used to refer to those who practice homosexual acts—sodomy.

Why hasn’t the same process of abstraction happened for the word Benjamites or Gibeahites?

Christian theology did not become preoccupied with a “sin of the Benjamites” (as the inhabitants of Gibeah were called), nor did European countries adopt penal statutes against “Benjamy.”

This is more striking because the incidents at Gibeah are more horrible than the events surrounding Lot’s hospitality to the angelic messengers in Sodom.

The citizens of Sodom do nothing in the end. They are blinded by the angels, who then instruct Lot to hurry his family out of the city in view of its impending destruction.

At Gibeah, there are no angels to rescue the sacrificed woman during the dark night of her torture. Nor does God punish Gibeah with a fiery storm. The Israelite armies must do it themselves, after sustaining heavy casualties.

Why is Sodom so infamous yet so misunderstood?

Why is it then that the story of Sodom had such a long afterlife? How does it come to be misread so systematically and for so many centuries?

The beginning of an answer lies precisely in the dramatic and total divine judgment executed on the city and its neighbors.

The sin of Sodom wasn’t men having sex with other men.

Their sin was xenophobia: the abuse, degradation, and violation of others, STRANGERS—the same sin as the men of Gibeah committed—although the Gibeahites raped a woman.

The Sodom story has taken on a life of its own because of the fiery judgment it ends with. This makes it imperative that it be interpreted correctly and not misread as it has been and continues to be to this day.

So we must get back to Sodom, where we left Lot in the lurch with wicked citizens banging on the door.

What happens when the angels pronounce judgment? We’ll find out next time.

More information:

To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.
The Sin of Sodom cover

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