This story in Genesis 19 is generally thought of in terms of the fate of one or two cities: Sodom,
or Sodom & Gomorrah. But according to Deuteronomy 29:22-29, God's anger caused four
Canaanite cities to be destroyed. It involved:
"...the overthrow of Sodom, and
Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his
Unfortunately, the real names of Sodom and Gomorrah were not preserved. Sodom
was derived from the Hebrew word "S'dom," which means "burnt."
Gomorrah is derived from the Hebrew word "'Amorah," which means "a
ruined heap." These appear to be place names which were assigned after their
destruction; they were not their original names.
The previous chapter, Genesis 18, describes a meeting between God, two angels, Abraham and Sarah.
God had apparently decided to kill all of the men, women, youths, children,
newborns in the four cities of ancient Canaan. Abraham bartered with God, as a Middle-East
resident would debate the purchase price of goods in a market place. He persuaded God to cancel the mass murder if
ten or more righteous people can be found in all of Sodom.
Genesis 19 describes how the two angels who accompanied God went on to visit the Sodom. These were not the typical angels that one might think of today: female human-like beings dressed in white with massive wings. Rather they would be angels such as the Bible refers to: males of a different species, and yet indistinguishable from humans. The city had
just experienced warfare (Genesis 14:1-2) and was probably on high alert to
detect enemy activity and forestall future conflict. Lot welcomed the angels into his house. They had been sent to warn
him that God was displeased with the wickedness of
the city's residents and might exterminate all human life over a large geographical area,
including the city of Sodom.
All of the people from the city gathered around the house and demanded that Lot send the
strangers out to the mob so that they might "know" the angels. Sensing evil
intent by the citizens of Sodom, Lot refused. He implied that what the mob intended to do was "wicked." As an alternative, he offered his two
virgin daughters to be gang-raped by the mob, if that would appease them. Since
young women were generally married by the age of 15 in that culture, his
daughters would probably have been 14 years old or younger! The offer was
declined. The angels blinded some of the mob so that they could not force their
way into Lot's house. Later, the angels urged Lot and his family to flee the city and to not look back.
Unfortunately, the angels' instruction to not look back was apparently to be interpreted literally. Lot's wife seems to have had an inquisitive mind. She looked the wrong way,
so God killed her on the spot and turned her into a pillar of salt.
Interpretation by some typical conservative Christians:
Many feel that the meaning of this chapter in Genesis is obvious, and does not require
any detailed analysis. "Knowing" the angels means that the intent of the mob was to engage
in an orgy of anal intercourse with the angels. Homosexual activity by the
people of Sodom was the reason why God was displeased with the inhabitants
of the city and decided to destroy both the city and its people. God hates
homosexual behavior then and now.
If the intent of the men of Sodom was to involve the angels in an orgy, it would seem strange that the women and children of Sodom were present.
Some comments on this passage by Evangelical authorities:2
A Mohler: "The Genesis passage is very clear, that the sin of Sodom that
brought on the destruction of the city was indeed linked to homosexuality."
T. Crater: "It's a sexual gratification offer. Lot obviously understood
it that way, and he offers his daughters in place of his male visitors. It's clear the mob
intended to have sex with them."
Jack T. Chick, who publishes massive numbers of fundamentalist
Christian religious tracts, created a small comic-book style tract for
children called "Birds and the Bees." He describes the biblical
events at Sodom and Gomorrah as follows:
"God gave us a true picture of
the Gay lifestyle in the Bible. Centuries ago, there were four cities under
the control of Satan and his devils. The worst city was Sodom. These
Sodomites worshipped Satan, were possessed with devils and they hated God. Their stink reached heaven and God was fed up with them. He
planned to destroy them to keep their filthy lifestyle from spreading....As
soon as they got Lot and his family out of Sodom, God fire-bombed the cities
and turned them into ashes. Today, those same kind of people are
back, but now they're called Gays!" (Emphasis in the original.)
Interpretation by some typical liberal/progressive Christians:
Most feel that Genesis 19 is totally unrelated to consensual same-sex sexual behavior.
It is obvious that Lot wanted to protect the angels from the city mob. The
people of Sodom, having recently been under attack by foreigners, might have
been worried that the angels were really military spies. The mob
might have wanted to humiliate the strangers with homosexual rape which is the authors of the Bible considered as abhorrent as heterosexual rape. The male-on-male rape that the angels were threatened was not a act of romatic attachment or lust; it was a common method of humiliating men in that era and culture. Lot indicated in Genesis 19:7 that whatever the mob intended to do to the angels, it was "wicked."
Lot had lived in Sodom for some time, so he would have known whether the men of the city were mainly or all gay. It is unlikely that Lot would have offered his virgin daughters for the mob to molest or rape if the men of Sodom had been homosexuals. They would then have had no interest in women. It would have made much more sense for him to offer his future sons-in-law instead. Since he was the patriarch of the family, and since his daughters were engaged, Lot would be in a position of authority over both his daughters and their future husbands. But he offered his daughters instead. So he must have known that the men of Sodom were mainly heterosexual.
An alternate explanation might be that the mob wanted to "know" the angels in a non-sexual way. They wanted to find out why the angels had come to their city. Were they just travelling through, or were they enemy spies who wanted to study the city's defenses?
Some comments on this passage by liberal Christian pastors and academics: 2
K. Stendahl: "It's a folk story. It even has a little black humor, in the
fact that he [Lot] is so anxious to protect his guests that he's willing to sacrifice his
daughters. To make a biblical ethics story out of it is not very wise."
D. Bartlett: "Many of the Bible's stories don't mean what they seem on
their face. Many mainstream scholars say it [the Genesis passage] is about hospitality and
how to deal with the messengers of God. If it does refer to homosexual behavior, it's
homosexual rape. They don't just want to lie down with them voluntarily; they want to rape
R Kimelman: "In the Mideast then, once a man has entered into your home,
your responsibility to his protection is your primary moral obligation, even if it's at
the expense of your own daughters. The Bible is recording a story; it is not mandating
J.K. Nelson: "If you read it literally, in its English translation,
without considering its context, one could say the Bible condemns homosexual activities.
When we look at the Bible and try to draw moral rules for living, but we take it out of
the context of the time when they were written, we do them a great injustice."
Archeological evidence that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah actually happened:
Archeologists and other scientists formed the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) to perform research in the area. They discovered that the region called "Middle Ghor," where the two cities were located, were destroyed by a meteor that exploded with the energy of a ten megaton nuclear bomb at an altitude about one kilometer (0.6 mile) above the earth's surface at the northeast corner of the Dead Sea. It rained down:
"... superheated matter ... raising temperatures to thousands of degrees."
Using radiocarbon dating, they found that cities had existed in the area for over two millennia until about 1700 BCE, which is the approximate data of the biblical account. At that time, the meteor exploded and:
The mud-brick walls of homes and other structures were vaporized, leaving only stone foundations behind.
Pottery in the area was heated and became glass.
Platinum, which is commonly found in meteors, rained down on the area in molten form.
Forty to sixty thousand people died.
A 500 square kilometer (200 square mile) area was stripped of its topsoil and made uninhabitable for six to seven centuries.
Two scientists in the project, Steven Collins and Phillip Silvia, wrote that:
"... the physical evidence from Tall el-Hammam and neighboring sites exhibit signs of a highly destructive concussive and thermal event that one might expect from what is described in Genesis 19.
The soil/ash samples gathered from Tall el-Hammam contain evidence of top-soil destruction and sub-soil contamination with Dead Sea salts that would have prevented the cultivation of crops for many centuries following the event, which explains (in part, at least) the long occupational hiatus." 4
In the past, religious conservatives have believed that God sent fire and brimstone to exterminate the women, men and children in the area. Religious liberals have assumed that no such destruction happened. Now, the debate will probably evolve to disagreement over whether the destruction was sent directly by God or was a naturally occurring event caused by a meteor.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?",
Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of
religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from
conservative to liberal thought:
David Bartlett, professor at Yale Divinity School
Rev. Timothy Crater of the National Association of Evangelicals
Reuven Kimelman, professor of near Eastern and Judaic studies at
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary
The Rev. Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
Krister Stendahl, ex-dean of Harvard Divinity School.