Friday, August 06, 2010

The Bed of Sodom

In Genesis 19 we find the story of how the cities of Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed. This story is often used by many contemporary Christians as a colorful example of how God views gay sexual acts. I believe that is an incomplete, and in many ways, false understanding of the purpose of the passage. But that's not the point of this post.

This story is a detailed one, and is referenced in a slew of ancient literature. Obviously, it's in the Bible in Genesis 19, but it's also brought up again in several of the Old Testament prophets, and New Testament writings including Jesus himself referencing the story in the gospels. There are also plenty of references and expansions upon the story found in several pieces of ancient non-Biblical Jewish literature...and the Qur'an. So the story of Sodom and Gomorrah finds itself in the sacred texts of all 3 Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. That makes it a pretty unique, and somewhat important story.

The story begins in Genesis 19, but has a preface in Genesis 18. In this bit of exposition, God has spoken with Abraham and said that he is going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to the grievousness of their sin. Abraham begged God to spare Sodom if God could find even 10 righteous people living there. Sodom was where Abraham's nephew Lot lived. God agreed, and sent his angels to scope out the city.

Genesis 19: 1-3

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. "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning." "No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square." But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.
At this point, we could focus on all the details in these three passages...and there are many.
  • The angels arriving in town in the evening
  • How Lot bowed with his face to the ground
  • What it means for Lot to be sitting in the gateway of the city
  • The important of washing their feet
  • The richness of preparing a meal for your guests
  • Why the bread was baked without yeast
  • The significance of Lot eating with his guests as opposed to separately
  • Why he told the angels they would go on their way early in the morning the next day
  • Referencing them as his lords and himself as a servant...especially since he didn't know they were angels
But that would take a while.

So instead I want to focus on the significance of Lot begging the travelers to not spend the night in the square, and instead staying the night in his house.

Hospitality was a big deal in the middle east, and still is today. It is hard for us Westerners to fully grasp the importance of taking care of strangers & travelers. But more than just basic hospitality is occurring here, Lot is attempting to save their lives.

The Bed of Sodom

Sodom was well known in Hebrew tradition for being full of violent and oppressive people. Especially in their treatment of foreign travelers. There are Hebrew stories of how they tortured and killed outsiders to their city, including stories about the bed of Sodom.

This was a bed (or in some accounts, a set of two beds) that was kept in the city. When travelers came to Sodom, they would go through the main gate and head towards the square. The square was where all the action is; where the market would be, where the inn was, etc. So naturally visitors would go there to get food and a place to rest. Well, the story goes that when foreigners went to the square & to the inn, they would be forced to lie in a very specific bed.

If the person lying in the bed was shorter than the length of the bed, they would be stretched to fit it.

If they were taller than the bed, their legs would be cut off to fit the length of the bed.

Sounds pretty relaxing. Doesn't it?

Lot knew what would happen to people if they tried to spend the night in the square. They'd be put in the bed, hideously maimed, and probably die.

By inviting the guests into his house, he knew he'd be putting his own home & family at risk. But he also knew that if he allowed them to travel to the square, he would be allowing them to die.

He was quite a righteous Sodomite. ;)