In a previous post, I proposed the Sodom and Gomorrah story was carefully constructed to parallel the story of the Lord telling Abraham and Sarah that despite their age, they would be able to conceive a child. The thwarted sexual intents of the people of Sodom parallel the discussion of Abraham and Sarah’s inability to conceive. But God intervenes in both stories by promising Abraham and Sarah a child, and preventing the people of Sodom from carrying out their intents.
Angels and Humans
The Sodom and Gomorrah story was also influenced by the older story of Noah and the flood. The story of Noah begins with these curious verses.
… the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. … It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth – when the divine beings cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heros of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth. … (Gen 6:2-5, JSB)
The Lord wants to destroy all of humanity but sees that one man – Noah – is righteous, so He provides a method for Noah to survive the pending destruction. After the flood Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets drunk, and naked. Sexual impropriety occurs as Ham views his nude father resulting in Ham’s son Canaan, and his descendants being cursed. These Canaanites were the avowed enemies of Israel.
The flood and Sodom
Consider the following parallels between the story of Noah and of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Noah (Genesis 6-9)
Sexual relations with angels, wickedness, destruction, saving Noah’s family, inappropriate sexuality resulting in the Canaanites (enemies of Israel)
Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)
Attempted sexual relations with angels, wickedness, destruction, saving Lot’s family, inappropriate sexuality producing Ammonites and Moabites (enemies of Israel)
|Gen. 6:1-7, Angels have sexual relations with daughters of men.[i]||Inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah want to have sexual relations with angels.|
|Gen. 7:1-5 Human race is wicked. The Lord wants to destroy all of humanity.||No righteous found in Sodom, so the Lord will destroy it.|
|Gen 7:6 One righteous person found – Noah (and his family).||One righteous person found – Lot (and his family).|
|Gen 7:7-38 Noah saved by following God’s directions (to build an ark).||Lot saved from destruction by following divine beings’ directions (to leave the city).|
|Gen 9, Noah is drunk and naked. Ham is sexually inappropriate when seeing Noah, resulting in Ham’s son fathering the cursed Canaanites, enemies of Israel.||Lot’s daughters get him drunk and have sexual relations with him resulting in his daughters mothering the nations of Moab and Ammon, enemies of Israel.|
The heavenly beings are drawn to, and have sexual relations with human women producing offspring, possibly including a race of nephilim (“ones who have fallen”). This may have been part of the corruption that needed to be wiped out by the flood. The author of the Sodom and Gomorrah story borrows this episode, but inverts the players, with humans wanting to have sexual relations with the heavenly beings. Because of evil intent such as this, Sodom is to be destroyed. It is unclear what sort of sexual encounter occurred when Ham saw his drunken, unaware father. This story is also borrowed by the author of the Sodom story, but with Lot’s daughters having sexual encounters with their drunken father, who is also unaware of what transpired.
The inappropriate sexuality occurring in both stories results in a nation (or nations) of people that are defined as less than that of Israel. Noah’s grandson produces the Canaanites that inhabit the land of Israel, and Lot’s grandsons produce the Moabites & Ammonites which inhabit the area east of Israel. These three nations were avowed enemies of Israel. Both stories begin and end with sexual encounters. Each begins with sexual attraction or union of humans and angels. Each story ends with incestuous attraction or relations. The author of the Sodom story took measures to ensure that a set of parallels and contrasts occurred in relation to the older, sparser Noah story.
|Angel/Human||Male Angels →Female Humans
||Two Male Angels ← Male Humans
|Stories unfold. Destruction by flood / Destruction by fire|
|Father/Child||Male Child → Male Parent
||Two Female children → Male Parent
Each story is framed with an instance of homosexual attraction and heterosexual relations. The author of the Sodom story inverts the sexual orientation of those in the Noah story. The beginning episodes have the objects of desire inverted, and the ending stories have the genders of the initiators inverted. Also in a contrasting relationship is that of angels and humans – to – children and fathers (incest) which has the same comparative relationship as gender and orientation. Apparently for variety sakes, the author ensures the types of encounters and numbers involved in the four encounters are unique. This pattern continues in the next story (future post).
The obvious carefully constructed parallels between these two stories indicate that aspects of the Sodom & Gomorrah story were borrowed from the earlier episodes of the story of Noah. The story of Sodom should not be read literally, but metaphorically. Understanding the author’s use of literary methods brings a deeper understanding of the story. After flooding the earth to rid it of evil, God promised never to destroy it again. But evil finds its way back. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah represent a retelling of the flood story, but on a smaller scale. The unflattering incestuous episodes at the end of both stories tell a story of the nearly immediate re-introduction of evil after God’s cleansing. However the new evil now resides in Israel’s neighboring enemies, passed on to their posterity. Israel now has license to define the Canaanites, Moabites and Ammonites as “other” – unchosen and cursed. Using these stories to define classes of people as cursed or evil continues into our own day. For example the Noah / Ham / Canaan story has been used by religious people to justify slavery or classifying black people as “other” or cursed – and therefore unworthy of equal treatment. Fortunately this is on the decline.[ii] Considering the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as largely non-literal should prompt us to reevaluate some of our preconceived notions about what that story means. One might assume the borrowing of stories and parallels having to do with Sodom stopped there. But the story was a major influence on a later, rather gruesome story of sex and violence – even dismemberment — which I’ll cover in part three.