From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Sodomy is any non-penile/vaginal copulation-like act, such as oral or anal sex, or sex between a person and an animal. The word is derived from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Genesis in the Bible. So-called "sodomy laws" in many countries criminalized not only these behaviors, but other disfavored sexual activities as well, but in the Western world, many of these laws have been overturned, or are not routinely enforced.
In the Hebrew Bible, Sodom was a city destroyed by God because of the evil of its inhabitants. No specific sin is given as the reason for God's great wrath. The story of the Sodom's destruction — and of Abraham's failed attempt to intercede with God and prevent that destruction — appears in Genesis 18–19.
The connection between Sodom and homosexuality is derived from the depicted attempt of a mob of city people to rape Lot's male guests. Some say the sinfulness of that, for the original writers of the Biblical account, might have consisted mainly in the violation of the obligations of hospitality. This view does not take into account that before the "guests" arrived in the city Genesis 18:v17 and any "hospitality" could have been rendered, its destruction was already planned. (In The Book of Judges, 19-21, there is an account, similar in many ways, where Gibeah, a city of the Benjamin tribe, is destroyed by the other tribes of Israel in revenge for a mob of its inhabitants raping and killing a woman.)
Many times in the Pentateuch and Prophets, writers use God's destruction of Sodom to demonstrate His awesome power. This happens in Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 1, 3, and 13, Jeremiah 49 and 50, Lamentations 4, Amos 4.11, and Zephaniah 2.9. Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 23.14 and Lamentations 4 reference the sinfulness of Sodom but do not specify any particular sin. Specific sins which Sodom is linked to include adultery and lying, impenitence, careless living, fornication, and an overall "filthy" lifestyle, which word ("aselgeiais") elsewhere is rendered in the KJV as lasciviousness, or wantonness.
In Ezekiel 16, a long comparison is made between Sodom and the Kingdom of Israel. "Yet you have not merely walked in their ways or done according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you acted more corruptly in all your conduct than they." (Ezekiel 16.47 New American Standard Bible)
- 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. (Ezekiel 16.49–50 NASB) - but note that the Hebrew for the word 'thus' is the conjunction 'ו' which is usually translated 'and' - thus KJV. NIV and CEV omit the word entirely.
There is no explicit mention of any sexual sin in Ezekiel's summation, and "abomination" is used to describe many sins.
The Authorized King James Version translates as "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel," but the word corresponding to "sodomite" in the Hebrew original, Qadesh (Hebrew:קדש) does not refer to Sodom, and has been translated in the New International Version as "shrine prostitute"; male shrine prostitutes may have served barren women in fertility rites rather than engaging in homosexual acts; this also applies to other instances of the word sodomite in the King James Version.
Roman Empire period
The New Testament, like the Old Testament, references Sodom as a place of God's anger against sin, but the Epistle of Jude provides a certain class of sin as causative of its destruction, the meaning of which is disputed.
- 1=Jude 1:5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.
6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
The Greek word in the New Testament from which the phrase is translated "giving themselves over to fornication", is "ekporneuō" ("ek" and "porneuō"). As one word it is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, but occurs in the Septuagint to denote whoredom (Genesis 38:24 and Exodus 34:15). Some modern translations as the NIV render it as "sexual immorality."
The Greek words for "strange flesh" are "heteros", which almost always basically denotes "another/other," and "sarx," a common word for "flesh," and usually refers to the physical body or the nature of man or of an ordinance.
Epistle of Jude
The Epistle of Jude in the New Testament echoes the Genesis narrative and potentially adds the sexually immoral aspects of Sodom's sins: '…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire'. (v. 7, English Standard Version). The phrase rendered "sexual immorality and unnatural desire" is translated "strange flesh" or "false flesh", but it is not entirely clear what it refers to.
One theory is that it is just a reference to the “strange flesh” of the intended rape victims, who were angels, not men. Countering this is traditional interpretation, which notes that the angels were sent to investigate an ongoing regional problem(Gn. 18) of fornication, and extraordinarily so, that of a homosexual nature, "out of the order of nature." "Strange" is understood to mean "outside the moral law", while it is doubted that either Lot or the men of Sodom understood that the strangers were angels at the time.
"As men, being unable to bear discreetly a satiety of these things, get restive like cattle, and become stiff-necked, and discard the laws of nature, pursuing a great and intemperate indulgence of gluttony, and drinking, and unlawful connections; for not only did they go mad after other women, and defile the marriage bed of others, but also those who were men lusted after one another, doing unseemly things, and not regarding or respecting their common nature, and though eager for children, they were convicted by having only an abortive offspring; but the conviction produced no advantage, since they were overcome by violent desire; and so by degrees, the men became accustomed to be treated like women, and in this way engendered among themselves the disease of females, and intolerable evil; for they not only, as to effeminacy and delicacy, became like women in their persons, but they also made their souls most ignoble, corrupting in this way the whole race of men, as far as depended on them" (133-35; ET Jonge 422-23).
The Jewish historian Josephus used the term “Sodomites” in summarizing the Genesis narrative: “About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth; they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God, in so much that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices” "Now when the Sodomites saw the young men to be of beautiful countenances, and this to an extraordinary degree, and that they took up their lodgings with Lot, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence; and when Lot exhorted them to sobriety, and not to offer any thing immodest to the strangers, but to have regard to their lodging in his house; and promised that if their inclinations could not be governed, he would expose his daughters to their lust, instead of these strangers; neither thus were they made ashamed." (Antiquities 1.11.1,3< — circa AD 96). His assessment goes beyond the Biblical data, though it is seen by conservatives as defining what manner of fornication (Jude 1:7) Sodom was given to.
The primarily sexual meaning of the word sodomia for Christians did not evolve before the 6th century AD. Roman Emperor Justinian I, in his novels no. 77 (dating 538) and no. 141 (dating 559) amended to his Corpus iuris civilis, and declared that Sodom's sin had been specifically same-sex activities and desire for them. He also linked "famines, earthquakes, and pestilences" upon cities as being due to "such crimes", during a time of recent earthquakes and other disasters (see Extreme weather events of 535–536). It is understood by some that he was able to use the anti-homosexual laws he enacted upon personal as well as political opponents in case he could not prove them guilty of anything else.
While adhering to the death penalty by beheading as punishment for homosexuality or adultery, Justinian's legal novels heralded a change in Roman legal paradigm (or the legal and cultural background in Republican and Imperial Rome prior to Christian rule, see Sexuality in ancient Rome and Lex Scantinia) in that he introduced a concept of not only secular but also divine punishment for homosexual behavior. Individuals might ignore and escape secular laws, but they could not do the same with divine laws, if Justinian declared his novels to be such.
Christians earlier than Justinian are also seen to denounce same-sex relations. St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century regarded such as worse than murder in his fourth homily on, while Paul the Apostle in the Epistle to the Romans referred to same sex relations as "shameful lust" and which acts were contrary to nature, with men suffering a "due penalty" in their bodies. Just like the Jews, early Christians prior to Justinian I are not known to have used the word sodomia for the carnal sin they abhorred, though Philo of Alexandria (20 BC - 50 AD) and Methodius of Olympus (AD 260-312) attributed homosexual relations to Sodom, as may have Josephus, (AD 37 – c. 100) Augustine of Hippo, (AD 354-430) and certain pseudepigraphacal texts.
Justinian's interpretation of the story of Sodom may have been forgotten today (as some hold it had been, along with his law novellizations regarding homosexual behavior immediately after his death) had it not been made use of in fake Charlemagnian capitularies, fabricated by a Frankish monk using the pseudonym Benedictus Levita ("Benedict the Levite") around 850 AD, as part of the Pseudo-Isidore. Benedict's three capitularies particularly dealing with Justinian's interpretation of the story of Sodom were:
- XXI. De diversis malorum flagitiis. ("No. 21: On manifold disgraceful wrongs")
- CXLIII. De sceleribus nefandis ob quae regna percussa sunt, ut penitus caveantur. ("No. 143: On sinful vices due to which empires have crumbled, so that we shall do our best to beware of them")
- CLX. De patratoribus diversorum malorum. ("No. 160: On the perpetrators of manifold evil deeds")
It was in these fake capitularies where Benedictus utilized Justinian's interpretation as a justification for ecclesiastical supremacy over mundane institutions, thereby demanding burning at the stake for carnal sins in the name of Charlemagne himself. Burning had been part of the standard penalty for homosexual behavior particularly common in Germanic protohistory (as according to Germanic folklore, sexual deviance and especially same-sex desire were caused by a form of malevolence or spiritual evil called nith, rendering those people characterized by it as non-human fiends, as nithings), and Benedictus most probably was of the Germanic tribe of the Franks.
Benedict broadened the meaning for sodomy to all sexual acts not related to procreation that were therefore deemed counter nature (so for instance, even solitary masturbation and anal intercourse between a male and a female were covered), while among these he still emphasized all interpersonal acts not taking place between human men and women, especially homosexuality.
Benedict's rationale was that the punishment of such acts was in order to protect all Christianity from divine punishments such as natural disasters for carnal sins committed by individuals, but also for heresy, superstition and heathenry. According to Benedictus, this was why all mundane institutions had to be subjected to ecclesiastical power in order to prevent moral as well as religious laxity causing divine wrath.
For delaying reasons described in the article Pseudo-Isidore, but also because his crucial demands for capital punishment had been so unheard of in ecclesiastical history priorly based upon the humane Christian concept of forgiveness and mercy, it took several centuries before Benedict's demands for legal reform began to take tangible shape within larger ecclesiastical initiatives.
This came about with the Medieval Inquisition in 1184. The sects of Cathars and Waldensians were a common target, and these heretics were not only persecuted for alleged satanism but were increasingly accused of fornication and sodomy. In 1307, accusations of sodomy and homosexuality were major charges levelled during the Trial of the Knights Templar. Some of these charges were specifically directed at the Grand Master of the order, Jacques de Molay. It is this event, which led into the medieval and early-modern witch hunts that were also largely connoted with sodomy.
The association of sodomy with hereticism, satanism, and witchcraft was supported by the Inquisition trials. The resulting infamy of sodomy motivated a continuing discrimination and persecution of homosexuals and sexual deviants in general long after the Medieval period had ended. The Book of Wisdom, which is included in the Biblical canon by Orthodox and Roman Catholics, but excluded by modern Jews, Protestants, and other Christian denominations, makes reference to the story of Sodom, further emphasizing that their sin had been failing to practice hospitality:
- "And punishments came upon the sinners not without former signs by the force of thunders: for they suffered justly according to their own wickedness, insomuch as they used a more hard and hateful behavior toward strangers."
- "For the Sodomites did not receive those, whom they knew not when they came: but these brought friends into bondage, that had well deserved of them." (KJV, Wisdom 19:13-14)
Sodomy laws in 18th-century Europe
An examination of trials for rape and sodomy during the 18th century at the Old Bailey in London shows that the treatment of rape was often lenient, while the treatment of sodomy was often severe. However, the difficulty of proving that penetration and ejaculation had occurred meant that men were often convicted of the lesser charge of 'assault with sodomitical intent', which was not a capital offence.
In France in the 18th century, sodomy was still theoretically a capital crime, and there are a handful of cases where sodomites were executed. However, in several of these, other crimes were involved as well. Records from the Bastille and the police lieutenant d'Argenson, as well as other sources, show that many who were arrested were exiled, sent to a regiment, or imprisoned in places (generally the Hospital) associated with moral crimes such as prostitution. Of these, a number were involved in prostitution or had approached children, or otherwise gone beyond merely having homosexual relations. Ravaisson (a 19th-century writer who edited the Bastille records) suggested that the authorities preferred to handle these cases discreetly, lest public punishments in effect publicize "this vice".
Periodicals of the time sometimes casually named known sodomites, and at one point even suggested that sodomy was increasingly popular. This does not imply that sodomites necessarily lived in security - specific police agents, for instance, watched the Tuileries, even then a known cruising area. But, as with much sexual behaviour under the Old Regime, discretion was a key concern on all sides (especially since members of prominent families were sometimes implicated) - the law seemed most concerned with those who were the least discreet.
In 1730, there was a wave of sodomy trials in the Netherlands; some 250 men were summoned before the authorities; 91 faced decrees of exile for not appearing. At least 60 men were sentenced to death.
The last two Englishmen that were hanged for sodomy were executed in 1835. James Pratt and John Smith died in front of the Newgate Prison in London on the 27th of November of that year. They had been prosecuted under the Offences against the Person Act 1828, which had replaced the 1533 Buggery Act.
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- Sodom and Gomorrah
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