Monday, May 09, 2005

Read Gagnon

"And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." Jude 1:6-7

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it." Ezekiel 16:49-50

The Confusionists often say that there are only seven texts that condemn homosexual behaviour and those seven do not condemn loving committed relationships.

The sad fact is this line is said by even our seminary professors. Of course, none of them to our knowledge has ever attempted to refute the scholarship of Robert Gagnon.

Why is it that scholars responsible for leading a denomination through a wrenching and potentially church-dividing issue ignored the work of the acknowledged leading scholar? Does that not raise a few questions?

What are the commitments of the leadeship of the ELCA?

Read Gagnon:

"Other texts in ancient Israel speak to the opposition toward male-male intercourse per se, and not only the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Every biblical narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, metaphor, and poetry having anything to do with sexual relations presupposes a male-female prerequisite and the David-Jonathan narratives are no exception (see The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 146-54).

Throughout the Hebrew Bible we find implicit and explicit regulations of other-sex sexuality, discerning good from bad forms. We find no such parceling out of good and bad forms of homosexual practice precisely because all homosexual practice is presumed to be wrong. There is no need to separate the good from the bad because all homosexual acts are bad alike.

The History of the Interpretation of the Sodom Story

The history of the interpretation of the Sodom story also underscores the homoerotic dimensions of the narrative. Here we shall focus on Ezekiel 16:49-50 and Jude 7. Despite the fact that I give over ten pages of discussion to these two texts (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 79-90), the authors of Journey Two and Background Essay appear to be unaware of any arguments that support an anti-"homosex" interpretation.

Ezekiel 16:49-50

Both Journey Two and Background Essay intimate that Ezekiel restricted "the sin" of Sodom in Ezek 16:49-50 to social injustice: Sodom "did not take hold of the hand of (i.e. help) the poor and the needy. And they grew haughty and committed an abomination before me." Yet the evidence points to the fact that Ezekiel regarded the male-male dimension of the threatened sexual activity at Sodom as a pivotal element in God's indictment of the city.

· Ezekiel's link with the Holiness Code. All major scholars of Ezekiel agree that Ezekiel knew, and shared strong agreement with, the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-24) or a precursor document. Only in Ezekiel, for example, do we find the kind of severe indictment of sex with a menstruant that appears in Leviticus 18:19 and 20:18. What is the likelihood that Ezekiel would have dismissed the absolute indictment of male-male intercourse in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? It is not likely at all, particularly given the fact that Leviticus 20 groups the prohibition of male-male intercourse with other first-order offenses (adultery, bestiality, and sex with a mother- and daughter-in-law) that merit the community's capital sentence (20:10-16) but the groups the prohibition of sex with a menstruant with only second-order offenses that receive God's judgment in lieu of community sanctions (20:17-21).

· Evidence from Ezek 18:10-13 that "commits an abomination" is not a restatement of "not helping the poor." The authors of Journey Two and Background Essay read "committed an abomination" as a restatement of the previous line "did not take hold of the hand (i.e. did not help) the poor and the needy." However, such an interpretation is precluded by the vice list in Ezekiel 18:10-13 where the phrase "oppresses the poor and needy" is distinguished from the phrase "commits an abomination" (18:12) four vices later. The latter phrase, in turn, is followed by an additional specific vice, indicating that it is merely one specific vice among many. The whole discussion ends with the summary statement, "He committed all these abominations; he shall certainly be put to death. His blood shall be on himself" (18:13). In other words, there is a specific offense within the vice list, which Ezekiel mentions only by the metonymy "abomination" (to'evah), singular; and there is a summary at the end of the list referring to all the previous vices as "abominations" (to'evoth). This singular-plural interchange of "abomination" in a vice list and its summary is precisely what one finds in Lev 18: a singular use of "abomination" (to'evah) with reference to male-male intercourse in 18:22, in the midst of a vice list, followed by a plural use of "abominations" (to'evoth) in a summary statement referring to all the previous offenses (18:26-27, 29-30).

· Five arguments that "committed an abomination" in Ezek 16:50 refers to male-male intercourse. Since Ezekiel 18:10-13 appears to preclude an identification of "committed an abomination" with not aiding the poor and needy, what offense might Ezekiel have had in mind when he spoke in 16:50 of the Sodomites committing an abomination? The answer is fairly obvious: He had man-male intercourse in view, given (a) his use of, and theological continuity with, the Holiness Code or a precursor text; (b) the parallel interchange of to'evah and to'evoth in Lev 18 and Ezek 18:10-13; (c) the fact that the Sodom narrative in Gen 19:4-11 clearly involves a case of threatened men-male intercourse; and (d) the fact that "commits an abomination" in Ezekiel 16:50 and Leviticus 20:13 are nearly an exact match (?asu to'evah). To these considerations we can add one more: (e) The two other occurrences of the singular use of "abomination" in Ezekiel, 22:11 and 33:26, also have to do with sexual offenses, thus confirming that "abomination" in Ezekiel 16:50 and 18:12 refers to a sexual sin. Ezekiel 22:11 alludes to the specific vice of adultery, while 33:26 probably alludes to male-male intercourse, sex with a menstruant, or incest (note: the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi interpreted "abomination" in Ezek 33:26 as a reference to sodomy).

· Why an oblique reference or metonym? The metonymic reference to male-male intercourse in Ezekiel 16:50 and 18:12?referring to an immoral act by the oblique designation "abomination"?can be likened to the Yahwist's story of Ham's act against his father Noah, in which the euphemism "see the nakedness of" is used rather than more explicit terminology. The act was regarded as so offensive, and/or so well known as an abomination par excellence, that explicit reference to it might be avoided.

Given these arguments, all of which the authors of Journey Two and Background Essay had access to in my work, with greater documentation, but apparently chose to ignore the case for arguing that Ezekiel in 16:50 interpreted the story of Sodom, in part, in the light of the absolute Levitical prohibitions of male-male intercourse appears very strong. One might also compare the conclusion of Moshe Greenberg who is his Anchor Bible commentary on Ezekiel intimates that the abomination in 16:50 was homosexual anal intercourse (Ezekiel 1-20 [Doubleday, 1983], 289).

Now if Ezekiel interpreted the Sodom narrative in the light of the Levitical prohibitions, and if too the Levitical prohibitions indict male-male intercourse per se, then it is self-evident that Ezekiel found the sin of Sodom, among other things, to be not just an attempted act of coercive sex but an attempted act of male-male intercourse per se.

Accordingly the two earliest commentators on the Sodom story that provide sufficient context, the Deuteronomistic Historian and Ezekiel, both concur that the homosexual aspect of the event in Genesis 19:4-11 was an important factor in illustrating the depravity of the men of the city and in justifying God's cataclysmic destruction.

Jude 7

Jude 7 also does not favor the reading of the Sodom story given by Journey Two and Background Essay, though one would never know it from reading the latter. Background Essay argues (p. 4), and Journey Two intimates (p. 14), that when Jude 7 says of the men of Sodom that they "committed sexual immorality and went after other flesh," it refers only "to the lust of the men of Sodom after the angelic visitors to the house of Lot, which is branded as a case of sexual immorality" (Background Essay, 4). This interpretation is clearly wrong, for at least five reasons.

· How can you lust after what you don't recognize? A major problem for the they-were-lusting-after-angels theory is this: Neither Genesis 19 nor subsequent early Jewish and Christian interpretations of the story presume that the men of Sodom knew that the male visitors were angels. Indeed, both strands of evidence suggest or assert that the angels disguised themselves as humans and that the men of Sodom were unaware of their identity. Clearly, then, they were not "lusting after angels." Incidentally, it is precisely at this point that the parallel with the actions of the rebellious angels of Genesis 6:1-4 (known as the "Watchers" in later early Jewish tradition), cited in Jude 6 and picked up by the remark "in a manner similar to these" in Jude 7, breaks down. Both Genesis 6:1-4 and the subsequent history of interpretation presuppose intent on the part of rebellious angels to subvert the divide between divine and human. Genesis 19, however, presumes the ignorance of the Sodomites. The latter had no intent to subvert the divine-human divide.

Rather, the men of Sodom "committed sexual immorality and (in the process of doing so) went after ?other flesh.'" Rather than honoring their guests, the men of Sodom dishonored them, both by attempting coercive sex and by treating their guests' embodied masculinity as though it were embodied femininity. Here one may compare Josephus's first-century (A.D.) account in Jewish Antiquities 1.200-201, which combines the themes of inhospitality and dishonoring passions for same-sex intercourse. As it happened, the Sodomites' outrageous act of sexual immorality was made more grievous by the fact that the visitors turned out to be angels.

· "By committing sexual immorality they went after other flesh," not "they committed sexual immorality by going after other flesh." The authors of Journey Two and Background Essay apparently interpret the phrase "committed sexual immorality and went after other flesh" as a hendiadys, so that it means "(the Sodomites) committed sexual immorality by going after other (i.e. angelic) flesh." (Hendiadys literally means "one by two." It occurs when two words or phrases are connected by "and" or some other conjunction in order to express a single idea, in which one of the words is in a dependent relation to the other.) However, it is just as possible that the first word in a hendiadys expresses the subordinate idea (see examples in Blass, Debrunner, Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, section 442 [16], p. 228a). In that event the phrase could mean something like "by (or: in the act of) committing sexual immorality (the Sodomites) went after other flesh." It is also possible that the coordination of the two phrases in Jude 7 is not a hendiadys but instead refers to two distinct acts. Either way it supports the reading that I have given here, a reading that coheres with other first-century Jewish interpretations (in addition to Josephus, see also Philo, On Abraham 135-36).

· Evidence from Jude's application does not suggest that they lusted after angels. After recounting the stories of the Watchers (v. 6) and of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7), the author makes an application to false believers in his own day: "Yet, similarly, these dreamers also defile (the/their?) flesh, reject authority, and slander glorious beings" (v. 8). As with the adverbial phrase "in a manner similar to these" (ton homoion tropon toutois) in v. 7, the adverb "similarly" (homoios) suggests a certain degree of correspondence but nothing like precise identity. In the view of Jude, the false believers' lust for immoral sexual behavior had put them on a collision course with the angelic guardians of this world order, which subsequently led them to revile angels, not to lust after them. In a similar way, the immoral sexual desire of the Sodomites, in this case for male-male intercourse, led them to pursue sex with angels unknowingly.

· 2 Peter confirms the reading given here of Jude 7. This interpretation of Jude 7 that I espouse fits best with 2 Peter's own read of Jude 7-8, referring as it does to the "sexual licentiousness (aselgeia) of conduct of the lawless" at Sodom (2:7) and to those who follow in their footsteps as "going after (i.e., following, indulging) (the/their) flesh in (or: with its) defiling desire (or: lust)" (2:10). The "defiling desire" of the Sodomites can only refer to their desire to "know" or have sex with Lot's male visitors, whom they did not recognize as angels.

· A parallel in the Testament of Naphtali confirms our reading. According to T. Naph. 3:3-4, the descendants of Naphtali shall not be like the Gentiles who changed "the order" of nature by devoting themselves to idols; instead, they shall recognize in the heavens, earth, and sea "the Lord who made all these things, in order that [they] may not become like Sodom, which exchanged the order of its nature." Strikingly similar motifs to Romans 1:19-27 make it likely that either Paul formulated Rom 1:19-27 with this tradition in mind or T. Naph. 3:3-4 is a Christian interpolation into the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs formulated in the light of Rom 1:19-27. I think the former is more likely, but either supposition increases the probability that the clause about Sodom exchanging "the order of its nature" refers to same-sex intercourse (Paul's interpretation in Rom 1:24-27; for intertextual echoes in Rom 1:24-27 to the Sodom story see now also: Phillip Esler, "The Sodom Tradition in Romans 1:18-32," Biblical Theology Bulletin 34 [2004]: 4-16). This is important because, like Jude 7, the actions of the men of Sodom are compared with the actions of the angels in Gen 6:4, who "similarly (homoios, cf. Jude 8) exchanged the order of their nature" by copulating with human females (3:5). Again, the "similarly" suggests similarity but not identity. How far does the similarity go? Both the Sodomites and the angels acted against "the order of their nature," engaging in, or attempting to engage in, structurally incompatible forms of sexual intercourse. Both acts involved, or threatened to involve, human-angel copulation. Yet the very concept of "exchange" implies volition, an intentional action?as with the exchange of nature's order for idols?and that is precisely the point where the analogy between the Sodomites and the angels breaks down. This volitional element comes across clearly in Rom 1:18-27, which correlates the concept of exchange with a conscious suppression of truth in creation/nature. Consequently, one should probably understand T. Naph. 3:3-5 in a way that confirms our interpretation of Jude 6-8: the Sodomites deliberately exchanged the order of their nature as males by attempting intercourse with other males. In the process they got more than they bargained for, unknowingly attempting sex with "other flesh," angels. The primary exchange is opposite-sex intercourse for same-sex intercourse but the undertone is unintended sex with angels. The latter component solidifies a connection with the rebellious angels?a connection already intimated by the fact that both, in different ways, consciously exchanged the natural for the unnatural. Compare also the observations of J. A. Loader on T. Naph. 3:4: "In this context the changing of its order by Sodom can only refer to the homosexual aspirations of the Sodomites mentioned in Genesis 19:5" (A Tale of Two Cities: Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament, Early Jewish and Early Christian Traditions [CBET 1; Kampen: Kok, 1990], 82).

For further analysis of Jude 7 see my response to Prof. William Countryman's review of my first book, pp. 9-13 (for pdf version:; for html version: This discussion adds to my discussion in The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 87-88 (which already should have given the authors of Background Essay and Journey Two enough information to question their interpretation of Jude 7).

Implications for Jesus' Interpretation of the Sodom Story

The evidence cited above for an anti-homosex interpretation of Jude 7 indicates the correctness of our interpretation of Jesus' reference to Sodom (Matthew 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12). Jesus regarded Sodom as a paradigmatic story about abuse of visitors, not only because of the attempted rape but also because of an attempt at treating males sexually as though they were females. If someone were to contend that the latter was no part of Jesus' interpretation, the retort would be easy: the closest stories in time and milieu to Jesus presume an indictment of male-male intercourse per se, as did the Old Testament Scripture that Jesus honored. Consequently the assertions by Hultgren and Taylor (and the Journey Two author[s]) that Jesus' saying carried no implicit indictment of homosexual practice must be judged as not only unsubstantiated but also contradicted by the evidence that we do have.

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Eli said...

Seems like the approach of the Journey Faithfully folks was pretty flawed, presenting aruguments without helping anyone discern how valid each position is or might be. It was like surveying a bunch of 3 year olds on the correct answer to what 5+3 is, and reporting the results without regard to who may actually be closer to the correct answer, or done better homework. "Well, some say 7, some say 9, while others say 8". Leaving everyone to believe they have scholarly backing for their position.

Mwalimu Daudi said...

Unfortunately the ELCA is right on schedule to join the ECUSA as a post-Christian denomination. I suspect that is why appeals to the Scriptures have no impact on their decisions.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...