Sex in Genesis: Is the Sodom story literal? (part 3)

The Levite finds his concubine dead on the doorstep in the morning after sending her out to be gang-raped instead of himself the night before

A husband finds his concubine dead on the doorstep after sending her out to be gang-raped instead of himself. The Benjamite rapists parallel the city of Sodom.

[read part 2 here]

Just as earlier stories were used to fashion the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a later story in the Old Testament borrowed the Sodom story as a template – using sexuality to shame a group of people. The story in Judges 19 tells of a Levite, his unfaithful concubine, and their unfortunate stay in a Benjamite city. The story follows the motif of the two earlier stories of visitors hosted by Abraham & Sarah – and then hosted by Lot in Sodom. Touched on are the same themes of hospitality, travelers receiving shelter from a foreigner, bargaining over sexuality though a door, marring or exalting the character of a group of people, and the near total destruction – or genesis of a group of people.

In Sodom the rape of angels, Lot’s daughters and Lot are averted. But in the Levite-Concubine story the author took the Sodom story further and had the rape actually occur. In addition, the victim is dismembered – not by the rapists, but by her husband – and her body parts are used to incite Israel to destroy nearly all of the tribe of the rapists. The author of this story follows earlier established patterns to demonize the Benjamites, making them appear as bad as the inhabitants of Sodom.

Consider these parallels to the Sodom and Gomorrah story:

Judges 19

Genesis 18 & 19

2-9 Levite and unfaithful (whoring) concubine hosted for five days by her father Abraham & Sarah (unable to produce children) host three divine visitors
10-21 Couple travel to a courtyard of a city in Benjamin where no one takes them in except an old man who is also a foreigner to the city Angels travel to courtyard in Sodom and Lot (a foreigner) hosts them.
22 Men of city beat at door, want sexual relations with the visiting man Inhabitants of city come to door, want sexual relations with the visitors
23 The old man pleads to people, “do not so wickedly”[i] to his guests Lot pleads to people, “do not so wickedly” to his guests
24 Old man offers his “maiden” daughter and his concubine[ii] – “do with them what seemeth good unto you” Lot offers his two virgin daughters – “do ye to them as is good in your eyes.”
25 Men reject old man’s offer so the guest offers his concubine and “they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning” Men reject Lot’s offer, want to “do worse” to Lot, but Lot is protected.
26-28 Concubine crawls to doorstop and dies. Lot and his household are protected behind the door.
29 -30 Husband cuts her into twelve pieces and sends throughout Israel, which realizes “there was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt.”Chapter 20: War declared on Benjamites and they are nearly destroyed Sodom destroyed for its wickedness
Chapter 21: Virgins provided to Benjamites to repopulate tribe. Lot’s virgin daughters have sex with him in order to have posterity.

 

After being gang raped to death, her husband cuts her into pieces and sends them throughout Israel to incite vengence

After being gang raped to death, her husband cuts her into pieces and sends them throughout Israel to incite vengeance. Nearly all the Benjamites are destroyed in the subsequent battle, and virgins are supplied to the survivors to repopulate the tribe — paralleling  Lot fathering the nations of Moab and Ammon with his virgin daughters.

The initial sexual encounter sets the stage with a transgression. The Levite’s concubine “played the whore” against her husband.[iii] In the Noah story, the union of male angels with female humans adds to the corruption that must be destroyed by the flood. In Sodom, the city’s inhabitants intend to rape angels, and the city is destroyed. With Abraham and Sarah, the situation is ironically reversed. They have done no transgression, but are still unable to have a sexual union without divine intervention.

The story in Judges adds additional forms of sexuality not included in the previous stories. Each of the stories discussed describe potential or actual sexual encounters, each of which are unique. Here, whoring / unfaithfulness and men gang-raping a woman are added to the list.

The elaborate hospitality shown to the Levite by his father-in-law compares to that of Abraham and Lot. The non-existent hospitality of the inhabitants of the Benjamite city compares to the same bereft hospitality in Sodom – and in both cases, foreigners to the cities are the only hospitable ones. The hospitality in both stories is taken to extreme measures by offering two women of the household to be raped in order protect the visitors.

This story is intended to make the Levites look good while smearing the character of the Benjamites. Both the traveler and the host are Levites, and are the only ones portrayed with ethics, just as Lot and his visitors were in Sodom. Each story uses sexuality to smear the reputation of a people: the Canaanites, Moabites, Ammonites and Benjamites. Only the seed of Abraham & Sarah are exalted.[iv]

A departure from the motif of the previous stories occurs. The Levite concubine story has no divine beings while the Noah, Abraham and Lot stories do. Those stories were probably written in their final form by the same author – J.[v] The travelling visitor is instead a Levite.

In the four stories, Sarah and Abraham are the only partners both willing to engage in sex, but are unable to consummate a union without divine intervention.  In Sodom, divine intervention prevents sexual union. In the sparse Noah story, it may be that Ham and Japheth prevent sexual union, and in the Levite concubine story, a departure occurs from the pattern when the men rape the concubine.

Conclusion

The story of the Levite concubine is obviously based on the Sodom and Gomorrah story, and lends credence to the idea that the Sodom story was borrowed from earlier episodes in Genesis. In particular the contrasting parallels show the story was largely a construction, and should be read from a metaphorical standpoint rather than literally. [vi]

Early on, a foreshadowing of Abraham facing God and shunning evil (Sodom) occurs in Hebrew wordplays in Genesis 14 when the names of the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and Salem are employed, contrasting “evil” and “wickedness,” –to-  “righteousness” and “peace.” Abraham faces Melchizedek while shunning Bera.

A chiastic template is established in the Noah story that will be used for the Sodom story:

  • Angel / human sexuality (Relations between the Sons of God & daughters of men occur)
    • God’s destruction (Flood)
  • Incestuous indiscretion resulting in a cursed nation (Noah / Ham / Canaan – Canaanites)

The same template is used for the Sodom story in chapter 19. Inserted into this framework however, is the contrasting parallel to the story of Abraham, Sarah and the visitors. Both Abraham and Sarah’s inability be a sexual partner or conceive – contrasts with Lot’s daughters, and then Lot nearly being sexual partners with the people of Sodom. God intervenes with both parties, promising to restore virility to Abraham and fertility to Sarah while preventing the inhabitants of Sodom from exercising their desire.

  • Angel / human sexuality (Sodom’s intent toward angels thwarted)
      • Proposed sexuality frustrated: People of Sodom’s intent towards Lot & Lot’s daughters frustrated (contrasted to Abraham & Sarah’s frustration about conceiving – to be reconciled)
    • God’s destruction (Fire)
  • Incestuous indiscretion resulting in a cursed nation (Lot’s daughters with Lot produce Moabites & Ammonites)

Today, some distort the meaning and intent of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Their reading is based on tradition of preconceived notions and a misunderstanding of the text.[vii] The story should be read for what it is, with an understanding of the culture, and within the context of the other related stories in Genesis.


[i] In the Old Testament, this phrase occurs only in the Sodom and Levite concubine stories.

[ii] The text is unclear on whose concubine is offered.

[iii] The LXX says she was angry and left her husband rather than playing the whore against her husband.

[iv] The exalted Israelites happen to be the ones authoring the stories

[v] “J” stands for the Jawist or Yawist, one of several supposed authors of Genesis and other early books of the Old Testament. For an introduction this widely accepted multiple authorship theory see “Documentary Hypothesis” at Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_hypothesis, accessed 2/21/2014).

[vi] Some might argue that later references to the Sodom and Gomorrah story are evidence that the story in literal. But these writers may not have been aware of the origin of the Sodom story, or could have used the story as a parable.

[vii] For an analysis of how the text is misinterpreted, see Cheryl Bruno, “Where the Lord Annihilates all the Gays”, Mormonmatters.org (http://mormonmatters.org/2010/02/17/where-the-lord-annihilates-all-the-gays/) accessed 2/20/2014.

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