Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth…

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(First thoughts on “End of Story” as far as the detailed look at the biblical texts up to Leviticus 18 and 20, including Deut 22:13-16, 23:17;1 Kgs 15 and 22. I’m really very sorry this has got so long. I’ll try to do better in future).

I’m working my way through the book, and appreciating much of the close, well referenced detail as well as the broad canvas. I am commenting on things as I go through,but my first thoughts have run away with me, so I need to work out a different approach as I read on.

The book sets the issue of homosexuality, same-sex relationships and their increasing acceptance socially and legally, especially in the northern hemisphere, against a backdrop of a wider “tectonic” shift of modernism and secularisation of society in recent centuries. The coining and definition of the word “homosexuality” in the late 19th century marks a particular turning point, as it defines a condition rather than a choice.

It could perhaps otherwise be argued that the movement towards affirmation of LGBT people and their relationships is simply part of a process of social justice, in which greater awareness, especially of historic injustice, leads to greater emancipation. In this sense it might be compared with changing attitudes to black people, with emancipation from slavery and a move in social awareness from racism to full acceptance as equals. As with the latter, the process for LGBT people is not straightforward, and often painfully slow, with setbacks as wells as advances. Modernism may have something to do with this, but social justice might be the greater force than “modernism”. From this perspective, it is not part of a casting off of traditional values and biblical morality – more a casting off of traditional attitudes (prejudice?) which determine how the bible is variantly (wrongly?) interpreted. (Maybe modernism is the essential context?).

It is certainly true that society rather than church has brought about this change of view. You are very even-handed in describing the varying reactions to this development, but sometimes the reaction cries out for evaluation. The concept held by some “traditionalists” of a moral “fall” in the 1960s is mentioned as a way of accounting for the current liberalisation of views towards gay people and their relationships. I found myself thinking that acceptance and legalisation of their relationships was likely to achieve the opposite of a moral fall: the avoidance of the “moral anarchy” which follows from outlawing gay people who would otherwise seek to express sexual attraction within stable, socially acceptable relationships.

Also the “moral fall” might more accurately be described as developments accompanying the two world wars, the second world war in particular, when in this country (UK), moral boundaries in sexual relations (not specifically homosexual) were widely lowered in the light of death being an ever present possibility in towns and cities targeted for bombing. Some commentators seem to think that the 1950s were a moral golden age preceding the fall of the 1960s. In the UK, some of the most vicious miscarriages of justice occurred exactly in this period against LGBT people (the Alan Turing story being a prime example).

But this is an aside. I am currently reading a detailed analysis of the key texts, and how they have been understood.

First, I simply don’t understand Davidson’s argument, as described by you, (warning) - “against discounting the force of the demand ‘that we may know them/him’ ” in Genesis 19:5. I don’t see from this how “the stories imply disapproval of homosexual intercourse, not only of homosexual rape” (as you summarise Davidson’s conclusion). Surely in this story, “knowing” has the force of homosexual intercourse which in this case is crowd rape? I don’t understand how the story is making a subtler distinction in which any form of homosexual intercourse is condemned.

Second, you cite Vines and Bird as presenting a “progressive” interpretation of Sodom’s sins, in describing which Ezekiel makes no mention of homosexuality, or “male homoerotic relations”, and then rebut this by referring to the “abomination” (Ezekiel 16:50) they committed before God (Ezekiel doesn’t mention the angels). You take the “abomination” to mean the same-sex relations condemned in Leviticus 18 and 20, which were expressed in the attempted homosexual gang rape of Genesis 19. The “abomination” is nevertheless not identified, and whatever it was, it was not simply Sodom that committed it, but her “daughters” too - Ezekiel 16:48 (perhaps meaning Gomorrah and “all the land of the plain” – Genesis 19:24-25?). But “Sodom and her daughters never did what you (Jerusalem) and your daughters have done” – Ezekiel 16:48. A broadening of the significance of “abomination” seems to take place in Ezekiel, for which Sodom and her daughters (Gomorroah and all the land of the plain?) were done away with – “They were haughty and committed abomination before me” – 16:50. I don’t think it’s clear enough that Ezekiel means by this the crowd rape committed by the inhabitants of the town of Sodom – Genesis 19:4. For whatever reason, Ezekiel thinks fit to mention different sins by name, and so does Jesus – Matthew 10:15, where the sin is failure to show hospitality (10:14), and homosexual “abomination” is not mentioned - which you might think it should “on the day of judgment”. You cite Philo’s commentary on the “traditional” sins of Sodom (and some others), but as you have pointed out to me, Philo is not always the most reliable of commentators.

There is no explicit scriptural evidence that the sins of the people of Sodom outside this event were homosexual. The attempted crowd rape at Gibeah in Judges 19 (like Genesis 19, involving a resident stranger who hosts two other strangers), also begins with attempted male rape, before switching to the visitor’s concubine. The detail in the parallel surely merits much more investigation?

Third, were the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 and 20 on same-sex relations generalised, or referring to cultic practice? You say that “not every abomination is a religious practice (eg Deut 25:13-16)”. As far as I’m aware, this particular passage is the only reference to an “abomination” in Deuteronomy which may not have a cultic context. It is argued by “progressives” as well as some “traditionals” (I have mentioned Robert Gagnon) that Leviticus 18:22 is located in a context of pagan cultic practices in particular. Leviticus 20 repeats the Leviticus 18 prohibition.

You then argue that there is no reference to “male cult prostitutes” in the Leviticus 18 & 20 context, and a generalised condemnation of homosexual relations in the passages is reinforced by reference to Deut 23:17 and 1 Kgs 15:12 and 22:46. My NIV describes the “sodomites” (KJV) in these passages as “male shrine prostitutes”. The word used here, qâdêsh, relates to the qâdâsh word group, with associations of the sacred, ceremonial, the sanctuary, and in these instances in relation to idolatry within a cultic shrine. The KJV has it quite wrong, and “sodomite” is an illegitimate word to use in this and other contexts.

I’ve produced far more than I had intended, and in future will be more to the point. I’m finding your range of research really impressive and helpful, and the non-partisan approach refreshing. I know you are going to present a different paradigm for considering the subject, and I look forward to that. This book is a must-read, and I am looking forward to continuing with it, even if, as my kindle has suggested, it is a five and a half hour read.