Sin of Sodom: Looking at a similar story in Judges 19 (Parashat Vayera)

In the Sodom story, the men eventually have sex with the men; in the Judges story, they take the women. She questions why the story of Sodom is used to condemn homosexuality, while the story in Judges is hardly known. She argues that these stories both tell of heinous acts of rape, and neither addresses consensual sex between two gay men. finally, she argues that looking at both these stories can help us bring attention to the threat and danger rape pose.

October 23, 2010

By Amy Soule

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Parashat Vayera
Sin of Sodom: Looking at a similar story in Judges 19
by Amy Soule on Saturday October 23, 2010
15 Cheshvan 5771
Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

Look at these stories for a second. Can you spot the difference or do you think there are any?

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.” (Genesis 19:4-9)

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish, but to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.” The men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go,” but there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. (Judges 19:22-27)

Double standards are everywhere we look and scripture is no different. Our Torah portion encompasses Genesis 19, something often read by the religious right as God condemning gay sex, and something that I’ve come to view as Vayera’s alternative Haftarah portion – Judges 19 – recounts a similar story with a different outcome but it is never used to condemn any kind of sex (let alone rape). Why the discrepancy? No matter the sex of the people involved, rape is rape, isn’t it?

Perhaps some of this can be explained through the notion that many people view male-male rape as being worse than male-female rape, since, as the Talmud puts it (Sanhedrin 73a), it isn’t “his normal way” for a man to be put through that kind of experience. Does this statement hold any real water? It’s not normal for anyone, no matter their sex or gender identity, to be coerced into having sex, even if the means through which women are coerced into sex mimic the experience they have when they are making love to their significant other or spouse if they are in an opposite-sex relationship.

A second explanation people sometimes give for why the events are different is the nature of the people involved. Since Genesis mentions angels (hypothetical beings), any consequences that could have come out of the events were never realized. To contrast, the people in the Judges story were actual human beings so the actions taken by those involved had real effects. Again, I’m not sure why that is supposed to serve as an adequate rationalization for the difference, since Lot had no idea his guests were angels and they behaved like mortal people, eating and drinking.

No matter peoples’ potential explanations for any small difference between the stories, their core element is the same: men are trying to protect their guests against everything (since “the vile thing” is about breaking the hospitality code) and they feel they have to offer vulnerable women as an alternative.

Doing this comes to have a negative effect in both cases. Lot’s daughters are left feeling violated since he offered them to the men so they have sex with him (perhaps as their means to return the favour?) and the concubine is killed due to being gang-raped by the group of men.

Although these stories are eerily similar, the one in our Torah portion is the only one that is readily recognized by anyone since it is easy for the religious right to connect it to condemning gay sex (although the story is about rape rather than consensual, loving sex, let alone it’s extremely hard to imagine all of the men in Sodom had sexual interest in other men).

No one seems to be aware of the story in Judges 19; even if they have heard about it, they don’t seem to think it’s effective for activism or speaking out against anything, since if a story that could have involved same-sex rape is extrapolated to judge any kind of intercourse between people of the same sex and the same logic is applied to a story involving people of the opposite sex, you’re judging, or perhaps even condemning, all intercourse between a man and a woman.

Judges 19, like its peer in Genesis, needs to be well-known. Looking at both these stories can help us bring attention to the threat and danger rape pose to everyone, no matter their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. People can create their hierarchies of rape and sexual assault all they want; anywhere on it is higher than necessary. No one deserves to be subjected to abusive sex.