What’s the Deal with Sodom?

What’s the Deal with Sodom?

Erica Pinto

In the original story (Genesis 19, which you can read for yourself here: http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/genesis/genesis19.htm), a man named Lot houses two angels at his house, when it is surrounded by men demanding that Lot give the angels over to them. The angels end up destroying the city and everyone in it except for Lot and his family. But what were the actual reasons that Sodom was destroyed? The angels never say. Their only warning to Lot is:

“We are about to destroy this place, for the outcry reaching the LORD against those in the city is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

In fact, in all of the bible there is only ONE passage that directly describes the sins that the people of Sodom committed to earn this fate. It is in Ezekiel 19:

“And look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy. Rather, they became haughty and committed abominable crimes in my presence; then, as you have seen, I removed them.”

Notice something missing? Yeah… any mention of homosexuality. According to this passage the Sodomites were destroyed for being greedy, haughty, and refusing to help the poor.

So how has the story become associated with homosexuality, and why does the term “sodomy” carry sexual connotations? For that, we need to do a lot of research into the origins and evolution of the term. I’m not usually one to cite Wikipedia as a credible source, but there are a couple pages on this topic that are pretty good reads:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom_and_Gomorrah

If you take the time to browse through those, you’d find that the word “sodomite” did not connote homosexuality to its readers until much later in history due to various interpretations and translations of the text.

This point is important, because the Greek term translated as “sodomite” appears later in the bible, and there are many instances where some translations say “sodomites” and other translations say “homosexual offenders.” They are not the same thing!

The footnotes for a passage in 1 Corinthians in the New American Bible say the following about sodomites:

“The Greek word translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e., boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world.

 In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamitus. The term translated Sodomites refers to adult males who indulged in homosexual practices with such boys.”

Source: http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians6.htm#foot3

From this we can see that during Paul’s time, the use of the term sodomite refers to the specific practice of sexual indulgence with young boys, which is more like prostitution if not child abuse as well. That would mean that translations of Paul’s words as “homosexual offenders” is a gross misinterpretation! We have to consider the time period that the bible was written, and what the words meant to the authors as they wrote them.

I know this was a long read (and even longer if you clicked on the links!) but I hope it gives you some insight into the historical background and depth of this story. My main point is, at the time the bible was written, the story of Sodom was meant as a lesson about hospitality and greed, not about homosexuality!

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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