Jordan is fairly liberal and tolerant for an Arab country, and there is even genuine gay nightlife in Amman, including bar/club RGB (on the Third Circle). But RGB is hardly the sort of place that a first world gay tourist would find too exciting–nothing compared to what is on offer in Beirut, I’m sure, and in some ways not even matching Bahrain’s bars. There is, however, one place I felt strongly about visiting, a Biblical site not featured on too many Holy Land tour itineraries, but one that has made a genuine impact on the relationship between sexual minorities and the world’s great monotheistic religions: Sodom.
Sodom today is known as Bab adh-Dhraa, and it is not much more than a tell, or archaeological hill, with parts of wall and gate peaking through a jumble of rocks. But back in Old Testament times it was the foremost of the five “cities of the plain,” the town’s whose attempted gang rape of two male angels resulted in its total destruction.
From Genesis 19:
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. . . He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
“Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.
But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.
The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it. . . . “
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
By its destruction (some say that an earthquake released trapped gases, which ignited and set the town aflame) Sodom became the most vivid evidence that the Judeo-Christian God disapproves of homosexuality. Of course, reading the passage it would seem that it actually condemns gang homosexual rape (while condoning or even encouraging the offering up of one’s own daughters for the same treatment). More progressive religious types read the passages as condemning Sodom for its ill treatment of guests, and Sodom and the other cities of the plain were known for generally being miserly and cruel. If Sodom never existed, or if it had not gotten such a memorable mention in the Bible, would the great Semitic religions have a different relationship with sexual minorities? At the very least, would anti-gay attitudes be less infectious without such a graphic example of God’s wrath?
I am inclined to think not, given the confused and twisted message in the remainder of Genesis 19. If this latter passage doesn’t give cause to question the moral compass of the entire chapter, I’m not sure what would–if the story of Sodom had never been told, people would just pick another part of the Bible to support their prejudices:
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.
Whether offering up your daughters for gang rape or drunken incest is worse, the Bible is unclear–both seem acceptable (or even admirable) under certain circumstances. The message I take away from Genesis 19 is hardly “God hates gays.”