Killing Sodom and Gomorrah

sodom1
Sodom was saved?

In a speech presented at the World Youth Day in Poland, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, General-Secretary to the Italian Bishop’s Conference, recounted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in a way that irritated Father Z. The bishop had concluded the story at the end of Genesis 18, the dialogue with Abraham,  saying, “…The city [Sodom] is saved because some righteous ones are there, even though a few of them.” I would have guessed that the bishop may have accidently misstated himself, but he repeats again in the next line “the city was saved”. Genesis 19, which concludes the story with the destruction of Sodom, was omitted.

This should not come as a complete surprise. It was and is still commonly taught in the universities that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a legend, along with the Tower of Babble, creation story, Noah’s Ark, etc. Since elements of many of these stories can be found in the mythological literature of other Ancient Near Eastern religions, it was assumed by many Biblical scholars that by the time they were written down, the Hebrews had simply adapted these fables to their unique monotheistic conception of God. Particularly for older theologians, like Bp. Galantino, interpreting these Biblical accounts literally would be naïve, thus leaving them open to creative interpretations or to be disregarded as anachronistic and irrelevant to today’s world.

ebla1
Ebla Library

With respect to Sodom, however, proof of its existence appeared in the 1980s. An archaeological site in present day Syria had uncovered a Middle Bronze Age city-state named Ebla. In it they found a library containing tablets that included geographical guides, and a list of cities that included Sodom.

In fact, archaeologists might have actually found Sodom in the Southern Jordan Valley, a Middle Bronze Age site known as Tall El-Hammam. One of the archaeologists working on the project, Steven Collins, concluded it was Sodom based on information from the book of Genesis:

“Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar [the Jordan ‘Disk’, or ‘well-watered plain’ in the Biblical text] cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”

He sees evidence of a sudden abandonment of the city and no subsequent re-population of the area for 700 years. He notes also that the site,

“…included a large monumental complex in the lower city/tall, remains of a mudbrick palatial structure in the upper city/tall (called the ‘red palace’ because of the color of the mudbricks due to a fiery conflagration).”

While evidence of destruction by fire is common to Near East archaeological sites, bsodom3roken pottery shards have been found that were melted down by a heat level that would have to have been much higher than that of a normal fire, even a kiln.

lot's wife
Lot’s wife

Less likely the site of Sodom is an area on the west side of the Dead Sea traditionally called the Mountains of Sodom and the Cave of Sodom. It’s a desolate area primarily comprised of salt. How this area came to be identified with Sodom is not clear; there are no remains of a city in the area. However, since it is on the coast of the Dead Sea, there are many pillars of salt, many of which eerily take on a human-like form. One in particular is even commonly referred to as Lot’s wife.

Bishop Galantino naturally prefers to talk to the kids about God’s mercy (Genesis 18), but is it helpful to ignore His judgment (Genesis 19)? Doesn’t the former necessarily imply the latter? The sin of Sodom was that as a sovereign city-state it had legitimized sexual behaviors that were contrary to divine natural law. But isn’t that exactly what sovereign Western states are doing today by means of their courts and governmental authorities? At some point following this Year of Mercy could the West experience a Year of Judgment?

…rjt

What does it mean to be a Christian?

A priest told me once to read Matthew 25:31-46 and to think about what it means to be a Christian. This is that very familiar passage when Christ separates the sheep from the goats:

 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

I was looking at it on the USCCB web site, as it often includes some interesting commentary on the text. In this case there was a note on the question of who exactly are the “brothers”:

Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. or a particular group of such sufferers?  …[I]t seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself.

I have heard over a dozen homilies on this passage and it is never presented this way. It makes sense to ask why would Christ identify himself with every single person who suffers? There are lots of evil poor people, prisoners, and strangers. There are plenty of other passages that exhort us to “love thy neighbor”. This one, I think, is stating that the judgement of nations will rest on their acceptance of God through their actions toward His Church, His body.

Added 12/15:

I recently came across this piece of liberal wisdom from Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga on rorate:

“The ultimate question will not be, ‘did you go to Mass or not,’ but ‘did you feed the hungry’. Therefore, we cannot privatize faith inside a temple, in a liturgical celebration.”

The article added that while Maradiaga was an archbishop in Honduras, the percentage of those identifying themselves as Catholic went from 94% to 46% and became the first minority-Catholic country in Central America.

The misunderstanding of Matthew 25:31-46 can distort the way Catholics view the importance of the Church and the sacraments.

…rjt

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