Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Clinton Chisholm | Forming the ass on Sodom

Published:Wednesday | October 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Clinton Chisholm

Either the newspapers did the esteemed scholar and Anglican prelate, the Most Reverend Dr John Holder, a disservice in the reports on his presentation at the recently concluded Intimate Conviction conference at UWI or else my senior colleague could have nuanced better slices of his presentation reported in the newspapers.

I was not able to attend the conference and tried unsuccess-fully to procure a copy of his script or an adequate audio recording of it. I wrote to one of the conference organisers, but she referred me to YouTube, but the clip I saw of my brother's presentation was too brief to be useful for analysis.

Before I venture a critical comment on what I read in the newspapers, let it be clear that the situation with me and Dr Holder is like a sprat questioning a shark, because he has earned a terminal degree in Old Testament studies (PhD) and I have not earned terminal degree in anything!

Dr Holder allegedly said: "My argument is that using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to support the sodomy law has no basis, none whatsoever."

Anyone who attempts to appeal to the Sodom and Gomorrah account (15th century BC) to support a modern sodomy law would not be smart, but the archbishop no doubt has encountered such folk.

I was puzzled, though, when he allegedly suggested that something is wrong with seeing homosexual behaviour as condemned in the Bible, especially in the Sodom-Gomorrah account.

Based on textual analysis of the Sodom-Gomorrah incident (Gen. 18.16 to 19.29), I share the traditional view that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, depicted so graphically in the passage, is homosexuality.

I did not see enough in the papers to tell me what the esteemed Archbishop saw as the moral trigger for the punishment of the twin cities, but I know that some scholars see that trigger as inhospitality. In my considered view, this position is textually indefensible.

The words of John Boswell, in his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, is representative of this view. Boswell says:

"When the men of Sodom gathered around to demand that the strangers be brought out to them, 'that they might know them,' they meant no more than to 'know' who they were, and the city was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality, but for the sin of inhospitality to strangers." (p. 93)

In the text under consideration (Geneis 19), 'to know' is, contextually, sexual, when used concerning the visitors (v.5) and also when Lot used it concerning his daughters, who "have not known a man" (v.8).

To appreciate the weakness or nonsense of Boswell's interpretation of 'to know' as 'to interview or interrogate', try substituting that expression for 'to know' in vv. 5-9. On Boswell's view, verse five would read, using the KJV text as our base:

And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may interview them."

Right after the men of Sodom express their intention to know the visitors, Lot begs them not to act wickedly. Is Lot silly to regard a mere interview as wicked? And why offer his daughters to the men of Sodom when they really needed to know, according to Boswell, who the strangers were? And what worse were they planning for Lot than what they had in mind for the visitors? An interview mixed with severe physical blows?

It is beyond controversy that hospitality is an issue in the narrative. But it is also beyond controversy that inhospitality was not the central sin of the men in Sodom. Their central sin was homosexuality or attempted homosexual gang rape of Lot's male guests.

One cannot overlook the point that before the alleged 'inhospitality' incident in Genesis 19, it was God's express intention in Genesis 18:20 to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their grave sin.

Whatever other sin is involved in the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis, homosexuality heads the list.

- Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to and