Destruction of Sodoms

INTRODUCTION

In a previous paper, The Bible and Islam on ‘Slave ‘Wives’, we noted the nature of Canaanite religion and culture, and the ‘abominations’ that the Canaanites practised, as in Leviticus 18:21ff, child sacrifice, homosexuality and bestiality:

You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am YHWH. 22.You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 23.Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. 24.Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25.For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 

There is a further implication in Leviticus 18 that the Canaanites practised incest, with the possible implication of paedophilia:

6.None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness… 7. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness… 9.The nakedness of your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10.The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for their nakedness is yours.

To repeat what we stated earlier: the very fact that the Israelites are commanded not to have sexual relations with their grandchildren may point to a ban on paedophile activity. Significantly, v3 commands: ‘nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes’ , and v24 warns that the Canaanites practised these abominations: ‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.’ Leviticus 18 banned Israelites from performing sexual activities common to the Canaanites – such as adultery, incest and probably child molestation. These practices were part and parcel of their religion.

To understand what happened in Numbers 31, with the destruction of the Moabites/Midianites at Baal Peor (save for their virgins), we looked at the fact that these people seduced the Israelites into a religious orgy of worship to Baal in Numbers 25:1-6, for which the judgement of YHWH was their destruction (and that of treacherous Israelites who had participated in that abomination). Along with the destruction of the Amalekites, the destruction of the Moabites/Midianites at Baal Peor and the destruction of Canaanites is a favoured area of denunciatory polemic for dawah activists, to avert criticism of what the Hadith states about the genocide of the Banu Qurayza and the injunctions of the Qur’an and Hadith about jihad.

However, this paper will argue that such polemic is based upon a double standard – because it ignores that the Qur’an – in a very edited way – reproduces the first such divine judgment (after the Flood) of a people, specifically a people in the region to which Abraham migrated (Canaan) – the people of Sodom. We will see that some of the abominations for which the Canaanites were punished, and some for which the Amalekites were later judged, also are true of the Sodomites. On that basis, the polemic of dawah activists against the Bible for the various acts of judgment against the Moabites of Midian, the Canaanites and the Amalekites is indeed hypocritical. 

  1. The nature of the Cities of the Plain – economy, culture and religion 

Genesis 10 presents Sodom as at the boundaries of Canaanite territory: ‘And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha’. It seems to be distinguished from Canaan in 13:12: ‘Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.’ The reason Lot moved towards Sodom was its beautiful, fertile land: ‘10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before YHWH destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.’ 

This tells us that Sodom and its sister cities were situated in a rich area. Economically therefore, the Cities of the Plain were prosperous. That is also implied by what we know of their political condition. This is revealed in Genesis 14, where we learn that the cities – although having ‘kings’ of their own, were vassals of Elam:

In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim,2 these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).3 And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).4 Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim,6 and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. 

The suzerainty under Elam obviously involved the payment of tribute by the Pentapolis, and the rebellion would have been of the nature to refuse any further such tribute, as implied by the northern alliance taking plunder of both goods and people (obviously to be enslaved):

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddimwith Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five.10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country.11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

So, the Cities of the Plain were rich, autonomous, and obviously did not appreciate being subject to outsiders or having to share their wealth. The prosperity of Sodom is also implied by Abram’s refusal in Genesis 14 to retain any part of the great plunder that in ancient society was his by right, let it be said that the wicked city had enrichedAbram:

21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to YHWH, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’

In contrast, Abram gives a tenth to the righteous king Melchizedek and receives blessing from him:

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessorof heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything

Further corroboration comes from Ezekiel 16: ‘49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.50 They were haughty and did abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.’ It must be remembered that in Leviticus 19, YHWH expresses His concern for the poor by demanding that provision be made for them: ‘“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am YHWH your God.’ 

The inference fromEzekiel 16 is that the inhabitants of the Cities of the Plain were callous – rather like the Amalekites. To understand what is meant by this, we will two modern analogies. In terms of wealth and callousness to the poor, consider the relationship of the rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its poverty-stricken neighbour, Yemen. Like the Pentapolis of the Cities of the Plain, the UAE is a collection of self-governing entities, made rich by oil wealth and more recently the Finance industry. Instead of sharing its wealth with its poor fellow-Arab Yemenis on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula, currently (2019), the UAE – along with its rich, bigger neighbour Saudi Arabia – is waging a vicious war on the Yemeni population. That is an example of callousness.

Another analogy would be with California – the richest state in the richest country in the world (the USA). California is a beautiful place, famous for its orange-groves and its lovely beaches, renowned for surfing. It is also the home of the movie industry – Hollywood, in Los Angeles, which is also the home of the famed rich area Bel Air. California is also known for its social liberalism, notably San Francisco, which is famed for its pro-LGBT attitudes. This is also true of Hollywood, which in its films and TV programmes produces an unending stream of movies and series displaying sexually immoral behaviour as normal, and critics – especially Evangelical Christians – as judgmental, hypocritical bigots. The Hollywood community has also a long-standing reputation for ‘wild-living’ – drugs, wife-swapping, serial marriages, affairs, etc. It has recently emerged how callous are certain powerful people in Hollywood, with at least one member of the acting profession denounced for repeated homosexual abuse of younger men, and a producer condemned for serial sexual abuse of female actors. That is, Hollywood has developed a reputation for sexual callousness. This is linked to its hostility to Biblical faith and ethics: the Hollywood community is godless.

We are not told anything about the religious beliefs or practices of the Cities of the Plain – something also true of the Amalekites – but if they did have any religious beliefs (and it may be difficult to imagine that they did not), they doubtless shared in the worship of Baal that was common in the region. It is significant that whereas there is mention of religious matters when Abram encounters Melchizedek, there is none with Bera, King of Sodom. All the latter wants to discuss is the return of his people. The contrast between the reaction of Melchizedek, King of Salem and Bera, King of Sodom in their reaction to God Most High is stark. Consider again Genesis 14:17-19: 

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessorof heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

The text indicates that Bera was present when Melchizedek appeared. The Deity whom the latter invokes – El Elyon(God Most High) – was also the name of the chief god of the Canaanite religion. Unless the Sodomites worshipped a different god – which is unlikely – the lack of reference to him by their king suggests religious indifference. There is no record of Sodom’s King, like Melchizedek, praising El Elyon– God Most High – for the deliverance, despite the obvious supernatural intervention obvious in Abram’s defeat of the northern alliance in Genesis 14, in contrast to the retreat of the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fleeing of their people as refugees:

10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country.11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus.16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.

Melchizedek recognised that there had indeed been divine, supernatural deliverance involved in Abram’s defeat of the northern alliance v20: ‘and blessed be God Most High,who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ Abram’s victory was in glaring contrast to the defeat of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. We should recognise thepropheticformof Melchizedek’s statement:

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessorof heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

In Genesis 12:3 YHWH had stated to Abram: ‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This looked to the New Testament age, when through the Gospel, people of every ethnicity would become spiritual sons of Abraham, as Jesus states in Matthew 8:11: ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’. In a sense, the promise to Abraham had begun to come to pass already with this prophetic statement by Melchizedek. This king, Melchizedek, was a local ruler, and probably shared in the general religious beliefs of the region. In Canaan, which relied on rain to irrigate the crops, the emphasis fell on Baal. However, in the light of the intervention of YHWH through Abram, Melchizedek came to identify El Elyon with the God of Abram, and thus YHWH. 

From the Ras Shamra tablets, found at Ugarit in Syria in 1929, we know something of Canaanite religion. Although El was seen as the Creator, increasingly there emerged ‘a sort of co-regency between El as the executive power and Baal as the military power in the cosmos’ (Michael D. Coogan, Mark S. Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan, Louisville: Westminster Press, 2012, Second Edition, pp. 6-7). Baal’s sister Anat was depicted as the goddess of war (p. 29). Yet, in the Genesis account, it is clear that El Elyon – in the sense of being the God of Abram – is no constitutional monarch, nor the deity of Deism, who simply creates and then withdraws, nor is He only transcendent, whilst other entities accomplish His work on the earth. Rather according to Melchizedek, the victory of Abram was indeed the unique act of El Elyon. God Most High was not only the Creator, but is the ‘Possessor’ of bothheaven and earth. This has come as a literal divine revelation to Melchizedek, and in the power of El Elyon he makes the prophetic statement that God Most High delivered Abram’s foes into his hands – that is, Abram’s victory against the greater, stronger Elamite and allied forces was supernatural in character – something that the coalition of kings of the Pentapolis, with presumably greater resources could not accomplish. 

However, the spiritual insight of Melchizedek does not seem to have been shared by Bera, King of Sodom – or his people, as we later learn, even though Bera hears this and knows the facts about the war. Bera does not praise God Most High for his supernatural intervention on Abram’s side to beat Chedorlaomer and his allies. Despite the fact that Abram was obviously a migrant, a resident alien in the area, who worshipped only YHWH, and who had acted in defence of his nephew, Lot, this does not appear to have caused either Sodom’s king or it people to investigate the God both Abram and Lot worshipped and Who had clearly performed a miracle which had led to their own deliverance as well. Bear in mind that in answer to the King of Sodom’s request invitation to keep the spoil, Abram declines, in these words: ‘22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to YHWH, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth,23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the  share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.’ So, Abram had taken an oath to YHWH to keep nothing. In some ways, Abram’s action in this mirrors that of Joshua during the conquest of Canaan – the Ban (Walter Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978, p. 135):

In this type of warfare, spoils were not to be taken by anyone, for everything in this war was under “ban”(herem=hdram, “to utterly destroy” — Deut 20:17; 2:34; 3:6; 7:2). It was the exclusive property of the Lord; therefore, it was to be totally devoted to destruction (Josh. 6:17-27; 1 Sam. 15:3). What could not be burned, such as silver, gold, or iron, was to be placed in the sanctuary of God. The “ban” was just the opposite of a voluntary whole-burnt offering in which the offerer willingly gave up the entire animal in an act of total submission (Lev. 1; cf. Rom. 12:1-2). Here, after much divine long-suffering and waiting, God called for everything that belonged to Him in the first place — life, possessions, valuables — as an involuntary whole-burnt offering. Thus more was involved than mere destruction; it was a “religious punishment” which signified “the separation from the profane sphere and deliverance into the power of God.”

Elsewhere, Kaiser observes (Toward Old Testament Ethics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983, p. 75): ‘More frequently the idea is a compulsory dedication of that which impedes or opposes God’s work. Accordingly, the Israelites promised to devote all the spoils of southern Canaan if God granted victory to Israel in Numbers 21:2-3.’ In this case, Abram’s triumph over the superior northern alliance could only have been accomplished through the supernatural intervention of YHWH. The victory belonged to God Most High alone, not to Abram’s military prowess. Further, the goods of Sodom (and its neighbours) were all tainted by the fact that the Sodomites were wicked sinners. Abram could not keep goods that would enable people to say that someone so evil had enriched him; it would be like someone today accepting a financial gift from a corrupt tyrant. 

However, the principal point here is that the King and people of Sodom were not impacted by the divine revelation given through Melchizedek’s prophetic statement, nor by the comment Abram made to Bera, where the Patriarch identified God Most High with YHWH – ‘YHWH, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth’. The revelation of this identification made no impression on the people of the Pentapolis, nor the implication from Abram’s statement about the goods of the Five Cities being tainted. There was no soul-searching either in terms of theology or ethics among the people.

Hence, Sodom was not only callous to human beings, but also to God. This reflects 13:13 where it states: ‘Now the men of Sodomwere wicked, great sinners against YHWH.’ They were not God-fearing – essentially, they were a godlesspeople. Their wickedness is demonstrated by their lack of gratitude towards God Most High/YHWH for their deliverance through the God of Abram. Above all, despite having the example of the righteous man Lot living among them, whose presence was the occasion of their salvation from defeat and enslavement, they never repented of their wicked ways, sought out knowledge of YHWH from either Abram or Lot, nor gave thanks to God Most High, and were later to turn on Lot to the point of dishonouring his house and threatening to sexually violate him. The revelation of the power and compassion of YHWH through Abram for the sake of Lot was ignored by the inhabitants of the Cities of the Plain.

  • The character of Lot and his story 

Muslims are often unaware that in the Bible, Lot is not presented as a prophet. He is presented as a righteous individual in 2 Peter 2:7-8: ‘7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)’. However, he is also presented as a flawed, compromised man. He followed his uncle Abram to Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5), but separated after there was strife between their employees over resources, Genesis 13:

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents,so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together,and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

From this we learn that both Abram and Lot had prospered in the land of their migration. The generous offer of Abram is met by Lot making a very dubious choice:

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before YHWH destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against YHWH.

Attractive as this California of the Levant may have been, this decision involved a major ethical compromise on Lot’s part – he pitched his tent adjacent to the equivalent of the Hollywood community, with all the sexual immorality and abuse that characterised both Sodom and Hollywood. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Lot organised something like the #MeToomovement to combat sexual abuse, because in Genesis 14:12 we learn that Lot was actually dwelling in Sodom: ‘They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.’ Further evidence of this compromise is found in the fact that Lot allowed his daughters to become betrothed to men from Sodom – despite the fact that they had obviously not come to believe in YHWH, as demonstrated by their scoffing at the warning of the angels about Sodom’s imminent destruction, Genesis 19:

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place.13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before YHWH, and YHWH has sent us to destroy it.”14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for YHWH is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Remember this had occurred after the miraculous liberation of both Lot and the people of Sodom by YHWH through Lot’s uncle Abram, which allowed the people of the Cities of the Plains to escape captivity/enslavement, return to their homes (including those men who had fled from the Battle of Siddim to the hills), and receive back their possessions through the integrity of Abram. Recall also that this happened after a more immediate miracle – the supernatural blinding of the Sodomite men who wished to have sexual relations with the angels: ‘11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.’ If the prospective sons in-law were not convinced by this latest miracle of deliverance – about which they must have heard, given the numbers involved – it is doubtful that anything would have moved them to faith. Yet these were the men to whom righteous Lot was willing to entrust with his daughters. 

We see evidence of the degeneration in Lot’s wife, who disobeys the injunction not look back and is transformed into a pillar of salt (vs. 17, 26), perhaps signifying a longing for her home and rich lifestyle, but still, an act of disobedience to God. Indeed, we see that Lot himself was reluctant to leave, and had to be pressed to do so by the angels: ‘15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.”16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, YHWH being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.’ The final sign of the effects of the compromised life that Lot’s decisions had caused can be seen in what his daughter do to him after the destruction of Sodom:

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth.32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.”33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.”35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father.37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day.38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.

We previously noted that incest was a feature of Canaanite religion and culture, and rape/sexual abuse can be seen in the fact that the men of Sodom try to violently molest Lot: ‘9 But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.’ Again, despite Lot’s own witness, the deliverance of Lot by YHWH through Abram about which Lot’s daughters must have known, which demonstrated the providential care of YHWH, and the fact that they would have known about the miraculous blinding of the Sodomite men, Lot’s daughters had imbibed the godless ethics of Sodom, rather than faith in YHWH to care for them as He had done in recuing them form the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, and, like (usually male) sexual abusers throughout history, they got their victim drunk in order to sexually molest him – their own father. They had been taken out of Sodom, but Sodom had not been taken out of them. The Moabites and Ammonites (with few exceptions, such as Ruth) became the enemies of Abram’s progeny, rather than sharing his faith in YHWH.

  • The nature of the Sodomites and their destruction 

We have seen the nature of Sodom’s sins – they were callous about the poor; they were sexually immoral and perverse; they were godless. Their callousness to God Most High/YHWH is demonstrated by their religious indifference after Abram’s miraculous victory and the display of his integrity in refusing to keep any plunder from their city, their attempt to rape the man for whom Abram had fought, and indeed, the angelic miracle which blinded them. Like the Amalekites, they were incorrigible.  We need to consider the effect of the last miracle they experienced before the city’s destruction: ‘4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house… 11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.’ 

According to this, all the men of the city were affected by this miracle, yet unlike Saul on the Damascus Road many centuries later (Acts 9: ‘8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.’), who was converted after being miraculously blinded, even thismiracle did not cause the men to repent – to realise that the same God who had miraculously delivered them from the northern alliance through Abram for the sake of Lot had once again displayed His power by delivering Lot from them. This was how callous and hardened they were. 

It needs to be mentioned how patient YHWH was with the Cities of the Plain. YHWH revealed to Abram that he was going to judge the people of Canaan – but not for centuries, as their sin had not yet reached its zenith, Genesis 15:

13 Then YHWH said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

When we first encounter the people of Sodom, we learn that they were already near the apex of their heinousness, 13:13: ‘Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against YHWH.’ Despite this, YHWH gave them an opportunity to repent – they saw His power after the Battle of Siddim when they were rescued through Abram, a victory that was recognised as a divine deliverance on the part of God Most High by Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was the King of Salem, sometimes thought to be Jerusalem, but it may refer to Salim, of which we read in John 3:23: ‘John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized’. Aenon was west of, but obviously by the Jordan, and possibly Salim was actually the city meant in Genesis 14, so perhaps Melchizedek was a neighbour of the Pentapolis, and so more invested in Abram’s victory. If this identification is correct, and Salim was nearby the Five Cities, Melchizedek’s faith in the God of Abram makes Sodom’s godlessness after their miraculous deliverance all the more blameworthy.

Even then, YHWH did not judge them immediately. Weak and compromised as Lot’s testimony doubtless would have been, it had been vindicated by the supernatural intervention after the Battle of Siddim, yet this had no effect on the Sodomites. As we have seen, neither did the miraculous blinding of the men who tried to attack Lot. As with the Canaanites, as with the Amalekites, YHWH gave them ample opportunity to repent, and like both of these peoples, the Sodomites both saw and heard of the power of YHWH in operation – but they were callous toward Him. Even at the last moment, we should consider what the Theophany of YHWH says to Abram in Genesis 18:

16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.17 YHWH said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?19 For I have chosenhim, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of YHWH by doing righteousness and justice, so that YHWH may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”20 Then YHWH said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave,21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogetheraccording to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

This presents YHWH as a cautious judge, who does not rush to judgment, but investigates. In one sense, we can see the arrival of the angels at Sodom as the city’s last chance – one squandered by the people when they confirm their degradation by their desire to have sexual relations with the angelic visitors and attempts to violently molest Lot. Indeed, YHWH, in answer to Abram’s intercession, promised to spare Sodom if even ten righteous could be found in the city (18:32) – in the event, there could not be found even that few. 

Remembering that YHWH promised to investigate the truth of the ‘outcry’ or ‘outrage’ (za·‘ă·qaṯ–  זַעֲקַ֛)against the grievous sin of the Sodom and Gomorrah, note the word of Kaiser (Toward Old Testament Ethics, pp. 11-12) on this subject about the Hebrew word here: ‘It indicates the anguished cry of the oppressed and the agonizedplea of the victim(s) for relief from the great injustices and indignities suffered. In some ways, it is the very antithesis of “righteousness,”, for in Isaiah 5:7 God looked for… “righteousness”… and found an “outcry”…instead’.  This is important when we consider what clinched the judgment. Some elements have tried to argue that the following text indicates either a demand for identification or a desire to commit homosexual rape, Genesis 19:

4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him,7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”9 But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.

The fact that Lot is horrified by the men’s request and even offers his virgin daughters in exchange for the visitors indicates that the Sodomites were not asking for the angels’ passports! Although there is the implication of sexual violence against Lot in v9, is that what the men had in mind for the visitors? Victor P. Hamilton (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, pp. 34-35) make several vital points on this:

We see at least four problems with the view that the prohibition here is only on homosexual rape. First, nowhere in the OT does the verb yādahave the nuance of ‘abuse’ or ‘violate’. Second, the OT uses unmistakable language to relate rape incidents. Thus the Shechemites ‘seized’ and ‘lay with’ and ‘humbled’ Dinah (Gen. 34:2). Amnon ‘forced’ and ‘lay with’ his half sister Tamar (2 Sam.13:14). Similarly, the biblical laws about rape also use these terms: ‘seize,’ ‘lie with’ (Deut. 22:25-27). Third, this interpretation forces one meaning on ‘know’ in v. 5 (i.e. abuse) but a different meaning on ‘know’ three verses later (i.e. have intercourse with’), for it is unlikely that Lot is saying: ‘I have two daughters who have never been abused.’ Fourth, such an interpretation forces these incredible words in Lot’s mouth: ‘Do not rape my visitors. Here are my daughters, both virgins – rape them!’ Clearly, then, the incident frowns on homosexual relations for whatever reason.Note that in the often cited parallel to Gen. 19, viz. Judg. 19, the host offers both his own virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine to Gibeah’s city dwellers with the statement ‘and sexually mistreat them’…By contrast, Lot avoids using any verb that has clear-cut indications of sexual aggression.” 

This being in mind, we can begin to understand what happened at the beginning of Genesis 19: ‘The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth2 and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.”3 But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.’ Why would the angels want to spend the night in the town square? Obviously, they were aware who Lot was – one of their responsibilities to deliver him and his family, but they had also been sent to investigate if the reports of Sodom’s iniquity were true. 

This is where a proper understanding becomes crucial. If Sodom had a reputation for raping visitors, then it is likely that its commercial relations with others would have ceased, since traders would have been unlikely to want to spend any time there, or even visit for purposes of trade and commerce. However, if it had a reputation for ‘wild living’ – which included homosexuality, bestiality, fornication, etc., then it would have attracted what in modern-day parlance would be ‘sex tourists’, notably people who visit the notorious red-light district in Amsterdam. In that sense, the town square at night would have been what Americans call a ‘pick-up joint’. The angels, then, would be testing whether they would be met with the ordinary Eastern hospitality to strangers, or by a perverse proposition, such as might occur in a modern-day bar of certain inclinations. Lot’s insistence precludes this test in the square itself, but the fact that all the men of the city surround his house to seek unnatural relations with the men should be seen less as a threat of something analogous to prison rape, but rather an invitation to the men – possibly of a very attractive countenance – to ‘party’ (sexually) with them. They would be aware of Lot’s puritanism, and possibly felt that his invitation to the men had pre-empted the purpose of their visit – to engage in casual, perverse relations. This would be in keeping with Hamilton’s exegesis, and would explain Lot’s offer of his daughters – as ‘my girls are virgins – why not party with theminstead?’.

The offer of the daughters might seem incongruous where homosexual activity is involved, but we must remember that in the ancient world, unguided and unguarded by Biblical ethics, men (in this case, the emphasis should be on males) were often thought to be ‘metro-sexual’ in the sense that they were happy to satisfy their lusts with either/both men and women. There was no clear division between heterosexual activity one day, and homosexual activity by the same man the following day. The men of Sodom were fully aware of Lot’s attitudes, and by his trying to prevent the culture of Sodom having its full expression, they were angered to violence, seeing him as judgmental, an attitude intensified by the fact that he was an outsider. It would be the same as if a British actor of high moral principles were to criticise the pervasive sexual immorality, abuse and perversion among the Hollywood community, or the pro-LGBT attitudes of San Francisco; he would be angrily denounced as a bigoted, judgmental outsider who came to California to enjoy its wealth and had the impudence to criticise its ‘inclusive’ ethics. By this, the angelic investigation was fulfilled – Sodom had shown itself to be incorrigibly corrupt, given that its men all wanted to engage in what would later be revealed as an ‘abomination’ – man lying with man – Leviticus 18:22, for which the penalty was death – 20:13: ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.’ This was the punishment that awaited Sodom.

We should remember that the angels originally arrived at Abraham’s tent with the Theophany – a manifestation of YHWH in human form (but not yet human nature). He was still on the earth at this point. The investigation completed, the charges against Sodom confirmed, YHWH destroys Sodom in a text which suggests plurality within the Godhead (19:24): ‘23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.24 Then YHWH rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from YHWH out of heaven.25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.’ So, YHWH on the earth rained destruction from YHWH in Heaven. 

Before considering the Islamic perspective, we need to consider three points. The reference in Ezekiel 16: 50 (וַֽתִּגְבְּהֶ֔ינָה וַתַּעֲשֶׂ֥ינָה תוֹעֵבָ֖ה לְפָנָ֑י וָאָסִ֥יר אֶתְהֶ֖ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר רָאִֽיתִי׃) is in the singular in Hebrew (תוֹעֵבָ֖ה to’ey-vah) ‘They were haughty and did abomination before me’, but in the Septuagint, it is in the plural: καὶ ἐμεγαλαύχουν καὶ ἐποίησαν ἀνομήματα ἐνώπιόν μου καὶ ἐξῆρα αὐτάς καθὼς εἶδον – ἀνομήματα – anomēmata– ‘lawless acts’, sinsin the plural. This would suggest that we see the reference to ‘abomination’ in Ezekiel 16:50 as generic– that is, the people of Sodom committed a series of abominations. Other sexual sins included incest, which we have seen was the consequence of living in Sodom for Lot’s daughters. Another was bestiality. The reference in Jude 7 suggests this: ‘even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, in like manner giving themselves over to fornication and going after different flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.’ What was the ‘differentflesh’, which counterposed with ‘fornication’? Obviously, homosexuality and bestiality leap to mind. Added to incest and fornication, we can se that Sodom was characterised by complete sexual abandon, along with violence against those thought to be judgmental bigots, and callous disregard for the poor. 

The second point, which is related to theheremwe considered earlier, is that often other elements of nature suffer along with the guilty. Remember what Kaiser commented on this (Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 135): ‘Thus more was involved than mere destruction; it was a “religious punishment” which signified “the separation from the profane sphere and deliverance into the power of God.”’ This included possessions such as inanimate objects and animals. Remember that in Flood, only those humans and animals in the Ark survived – the rest were destroyed. In some cases, animals had to be destroyed since they had become tainted agents of sin. For example, the Amalekites used animals as transport in their raids, and their whole economy was based on raiding, which included the theft of animals, so the destruction of even animals commanded in 1 Samuel 15:3 needs to be seen in this light. This is also true of animals used in bestiality, as stated in Leviticus 20: ‘15 If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal.16 If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.’ Again, it must be recalled that when Adam sinned, the whole of Creation fell with him – animals became alienated from Man, and the ground was cursed in consequence of Adam’s fall in Eden, Genesis 3:

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.

We saw that in Genesis 13:10, Lot chose Sodom specifically because of the well-watered fertility of the Jordan Valley: ‘And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before YHWH destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)’ Hence, the prosperity of the Cities of the Plain rested to a large degree on the agricultural fertility of their lands, which resembled Eden in this respect. It was fitting, therefore, that the punishment on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – which, like the Flood, like the destruction of the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, Canaanites and the Amalekites – included women and children, and any animals (for while they are not mentioned, animals would have been used in agriculture and transport), would also have involved the destruction of the fertile land, and its transformation into something less inviting, Genesis 19:

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.24 Then YHWH rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from YHWH out of heaven.25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before YHWH.28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

The third point is the agency involved. In the Flood, YHWH acted directly in sending down the waters. In the miracles of the Exodus, He again acted, but this time partly through human agency -specifically Moses and Aaron – and partly through an angel, at the Passover. In the case of Sodom. No human agency is involved, but rather YHWH acts directly through sending down the sulphur and fire, and partly through angels. In each case, divine judgment is involved. Sometimes God is both Judge and Executioner, sometimes he uses angels and to a lesser extent, human beings as His executioners. 

In terms of the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, Canaanites and the Amalekites, YHWH was the Judge who sentenced the guilty parties to capital punishment, but He used human agency as His Executioners. In that sense, when we examine the cases of the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, Canaanites and the Amalekites and compare them with the case of the Sodomites, there is only one difference – in the case of the Cities of the Plains, God acted directly to some degree and used angels in part of the plan, but the sentence was still the same as the first three cases – complete destruction, albeit through human agency. It was not a case of the Israelites simply not liking the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, Canaanites and the Amalekites, but rather God exercising sentence of judgement upon wicked sinners, and using human agency to implement that sentence. None of these examples are to be found in the Qur’an. However, the story of the Sodomites is present, so it follows that if we find that Allah engages in wholesale destruction of everyone in Sodom – which would have included women and children, and even animals – then the criticism of dawah activists against the Biblical narratives about Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, Canaanites and the Amalekites is guilty of hypocrisy.

Before we move on to the Islamic treatment of Sodom, we should consider the beauty and nuances of the Biblical narrative of Lot in relation to Abram/Abraham and Sodom. They arrive in the Promised Land as two migrants from Ur – rather like two Middle East Christian immigrants arriving in America, the Land of Opportunity. One goes with his wife to the wholesome farming communities of the Mid-West, the other makes straight for California, the richest state in the Union. This is what happened with Lot – he saw the prosperity and fertility of the Jordan valley, the California of the region, and despite the moral (or rather, immoral) character of the local inhabitants, he moves there. 

At this stage, we are not told whether Lot has a wife, and the fact that no mention is made of her during the narrative of Lot’s abduction in Genesis 14:12 and indeed, that nothing is heard of her until the angels enter Sodom in Genesis 19 may imply that she came from Sodom. Possibly that is why Lot moved into Sodom – after marrying his wife. Given that Sodom was a place of ‘wicked, great sinners against YHWH’, this shows great compromise by Lot – it was the equivalent of the aforementioned Middle East Christian immigrant not only marrying outside his faith community, but even marrying someone whose values were those of the pro-LGBT or Hollywood communities. That being the case, it is hardly surprising that she looked back in disobedience to the directive of YHWH given through the angels, and no surprise that Lot’s daughters were not insulated against the values of Sodom – they may have learnt these from their mother. The Moabites were descended from one of the daughters, and it was people from this group that used sexually immoral behaviour to entice the Israelites into orgiastic pagan activity at Baal Peor –  as the American saying goes, a case, perhaps of the apple not falling far from the tree.

It is interesting to see the nuances in gradual degeneration of Lot. First, he moves toward Sodom, Genesis 13:12: ‘…Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.’ Abram/Abraham lived in tents all his life – the equivalent of the Middle East Christian immigrant living his whole life in agrarian communities in the U.S. Mid-West. Despite the fact that Lot was also a pastoralist, 13:5 (‘…Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents…’), by 14:12 he seemed to be living in Sodom itself (‘…Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom’), unless it implies that he was just in its vicinity, and by 19:1-3, Lot was definitely living in a house within the city: ‘The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them… 2 and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night… 3 …they turned aside to him and entered his house.’ This was the equivalent of the other Middle East Christian immigrant moving into an area of San Francisco where the norms of Biblical ethics were rejected both in theory and practice by the locals. 

Such a man may well have been tormented by the anti-Biblical lifestyle he encountered among the locals on a daily basis – 2 Peter 2: ‘7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)’ –but the fact is, the modern immigrant would have placed himself in a situation where the norms of the society in which he lived, its rulers, the media, even its pseudo-religious leaders all rejected – with great hostility, to the point of violence – the ethics he upheld and propagated. Finally, he lost everything – his wealth and his wife – when an earthquake rocked San Francisco, and his children had absorbed not hismorals, but rather the culture of the place where they had lived. It was the American Dream in reverse.

The other nuances of the story can be found in the gradual disclosure of the moral degeneracy of the Sodomites. We are told in Genesis 13:13 about their being great sinners, but we are not told in what way. In chapter fourteen, we see the religious indifference of the Sodomites, their lack of appreciation for the miraculous deliverance by YHWH, and the fact that Abram had given an oath not to take anything from Sodom’s king – though we do not know why as yet that taking anything from Sodom’s king should be so objectionable. It is only in Genesis 19, when all the men of Sodom surround Lot’s house asking that he should send out the two visitors so that they could have sexual relations with them do we know what is the heinous sin that caused Genesis to characterise the Sodomites as being especially wicked. This is the first mention of homosexuality in the Bible. 

From what we learn from other texts about the sinfulness of Sodom, we can see that many of the attitudes and practices of the Canaanites and Amalekites are reproduced – or rather, presaged – in the conduct of the Sodomites. They engaged in homosexuality, fornication, probably bestiality and judging by the conduct of Lot’s daughters, born and raised in Sodom, in incest – possibly even paedophilia. They were willing to use violence to sexually molest Lot. In short, they were guilty of many of the same sins as the Canaanites. Like the Amalekites, they had no fear of God, were callous to others, and prepared to use violence against the vulnerable (Lot was greatly outnumbered by the men of Sodom). The Amorites may not have reached the apex of iniquity in the time of Abram, but the Sodomites indeed had– with the same consequence, destruction of the entire society, the only difference being the meansof execution. 

  • Lot and Sodom in Islam

The story of the migration of Abraham and Lot from Ur and Haran to Canaan is not explicitly reproduced in either the Qur’an or Hadith, but it is stated in Surah Al-Anbiya 21:71: ‘And We rescued him and Lot (and brought them) to the land which We have blessed for (all) peoples.’ Give that this is usually taken as a reference to Palestine, this may at least hint at the migration. It is interesting that in Ibn Kathir’s Stories of the Prophets(Written by Al-Imam ibn Kathir, Translated by Muhammad Mustapha Geme’ah, Al-Azhar, Riyadh: Darussalam, n.d., p. 38), he has to resort to Jewish/Christian traditions to suggest this:

Some of the People of the Book stated that his name was Abraham Ibn Tarikh, Ibn Nahur, Ibn Sarough, Ibn Raghu, Ibn Phaligh, Ibn Aher, Ibn Shalih, Ibn Arfghshand, Ibn Sam, Ibn Noah. They said that when Tarikh was seventy five years old, he had Abraham, Nahor (Nohour) and Haran. Haran had a son named Lot. They also said that Abraham was the middle child and that Haran died in the lifetime of his father in the land where he was born, the land of the Chaldeans (Al Kaldanieen), also known as Babylonia. At that time some people worshipped idols of stone and wood; others worshipped the planets, stars, sun and moon; still others worshipped their kings and rulers.

Once again, it should be noted that the exact relationship between Abraham and Lot (Lut in Arabic) as uncle and nephew is never presented in either the Qur’an or Hadith, but in Surah Al-‘Ankabut 29:26it appears that Lot was in the vicinity when Abraham proclaimed his rejection of idols: ‘And Lot believed him, and said: Lo! I am a fugitive unto my Lord. Lo! He, only He, is the Mighty, the Wise.’ However, this is where the Qur’anic text becomes self-contradictory. It presents Lot as a prophet to a place which is not named. However, the Qur’an repeatedly presents the Sodomites as Lot’s people or brethren:

Al-A’Raf 7:80

And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before you?

Hud 11:70

And when he saw their hands reached not to it, he mistrusted them and conceived a fear of them. They said: Fear not! Lo! we are sent unto the folk of Lot.

Hud 11:74

And when the awe departed from Abraham, and the glad news reached him, he pleaded with Us on behalf of the folk of Lot.

Hud 11:89

And, O my people! Let not the schism with me cause you to sin so that there befall you that which befell the folk of Noah and the folk of Hud, and the folk of Salih; and the folk of Lotare not far off from you

Al-Shura’ 26:160

The folk of Lotdenied the messengers (of Allah),

Al-Shura’ 26:161

When their brother Lotsaid unto them: Will ye not ward off (evil)?

Al-Naml 27:54

And Lot! when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination knowingly?

Al-‘Ankaboot 29:28

And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Lo! ye commit lewdness such as no creature did before you.

Qaf 50:13

And (the tribe of) A’ad, and Pharaoh, and the brethren of Lot,

Al-Qamar 54:33

The folk of Lotrejected warnings.

So, rather than being a sojourner, Lot seems to be presented in the Qur’an as a nativeof Sodom. There is nothing about Abram and Lot separating, nor about Lot being dazzled by the beauty and prosperity of the Jordan Valley, and certainly nothing about his ethical compromises. This is because Islam does not believe in the sinfulness of prophets. In the Bible, Lot is not presented as a prophet, but the Qur’an: Surah As-Sa’Affat 37:133: ‘And lo! Lot verily was of those sent (to warn)’, or literally ‘Lot was [one] of the Messengers’ (وَإِنَّإِلْيَاسَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ). It is also implied in the fact that Lot is included among the list of righteous prophets in Surah Al-An’am 6: ‘85. And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias. Each one (of them) was of the righteous. 86. And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot. Each one of them did We prefer above (Our) creatures’. There is a further implication in Surah An-Anbiya’ 21: ‘74. And unto Lot We gave judgment and knowledge, and We delivered him from the community that did abominations. Lo! they were folk of evil, lewd. 75. And We brought him in unto Our mercy. Lo! he was of the righteous.’ How then did Islam arrive at the idea that Lot was a prophet? Possibly, because the Bible presents him as ‘righteous’, which would be in keeping with some of the texts in the Qur’an, but also because of the existence of the Byzantine Church of Saint Lot and Saint Procopius, in Jordan, and the Monastery of Saint Lot, unearthed in 1986 near the ancient site of Zoar also in Jordan. The fact that Lot was held to be a saint in the Byzantine region of Arabia Petræa (Transjordan and northern Hijaz) before the advent of Islam may have influenced the tradition that went into the Qur’an. 

Rather than a consistent narrative developing the character of Lot, and showing how his eye for the main chance – to realise his own version of the (later) American Dream by moving to the Jordan Valley, the California of his time, and then his gradual descent into further compromise – first moving toward Sodom, then moving intothe city characterised by great wickedness and sin, the Qur’an presents Lot as being sent to Sodom ( although the city is not named), as we saw in As-Sa’Affat 37:133, since he is presented as one of the Messengers – i.e. he was a rasul– of Allah. Furthermore, rather than the nuanced disclosure of the identity of the specific sin that makes Sodom so wicked in Genesis 19, when the men surround Lot’s house, the Qur’an presents Lot as directly sent to confront the homosexuality of the city’s males.’ This is spelled-out in Surah Al-Shura’ 26:

160. The folk of Lot denied the messengers (of Allah),

161. When their brother Lot said unto them: Will ye not ward off (evil)?

162. Lo! I am a faithful messenger unto you,

163. So keep your duty to Allah and obey me.

164. And I ask of you no wage therefor; my wage is the concern only of the Lord of the Worlds.

165. What! Of all creatures do ye come unto the males,

166. And leave the wives your Lord created for you? Nay, but ye are froward folk.

In Surah Al-Naml 27 the nature of the sin as homosexuality is also clear: ‘54. And Lot! when he said unto his folk: will ye commit abomination knowingly? 55. Must ye needs lust after men instead of women? Nay, but ye are folk who act senselessly.’ The same is true of Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29: ‘28. And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Lo! ye commit lewdness such as no creature did before you. 29. For come ye not in unto males, and cut ye not the road (for travellers), and commit ye not abomination in your meetings?’. Further evidence is found in the way the people of Lot’s city react to his visitors: Surah Hud 11:

77. And when Our messengers came unto Lot, he was distressed and knew not how to protect them. He said: This is a distressful day.

78. And his people came unto him, running towards him and before then they used to commit abominations He said: O my people! Here are my daughters! They are purer for you. Beware of Allah, and degrade me not in (the person of) my guests. Is there not among you any upright man?

79. They said: Well thou knowest that we have no right to thy daughters, and well thou knowest what we want.

Likewise, Surah Al-Hijr 15 presents a similar picture:

61. And when the messengers came unto the family of Lot..

67. And the people of the city came, rejoicing at the news (of new arrivals).

68. He said: Lo! they are my guests. Affront me not!

69. And keep your duty to Allah, and shame me not!

70. They said: Have we not forbidden you from (entertaining) anyone?

71. He said: Here are my daughters, if ye must be doing (so).

So, according to the Qur’an, the focus of Lot’s message to Sodom was to repent of homosexuality. The only variation on this is found in Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29:29, where it states: ‘For come ye not in unto males, and cut ye not the road (for travellers), and commit ye not abomination in your meetings?’ Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir interprets this text as follows:

Allah tells us that His Prophet Lut, peace be upon him, denounced his people for their evil deed and their immoral actions in having intercourse with males, a deed which none of the sons of Adam had ever committed before them. As well as doing this, they also disbelieved in Allah and rejected and opposed His Messenger, they robbed wayfarers, they would lie in wait on the road, kill people and loot their possessions.

(And practice Al-Munkar in your meetings.) This means, ‘in your gatherings you do and say things that are not befitting, and you do not denounce one another for doing such things.’ Some said that they used to have intercourse with one another in public; this was the view of Mujahid. Some said that they used to compete in passing gas and laughing. This was the view of ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, and Al-Qasim. Some of them said that they used to make rams fight one another, or organize cockfights. They used to do all of these things, and they were even eviler than that.

The History of Tabari(Translated by William M. Brinner, Albany: SUNY Press, 1987p. 112), similar explanations are given regarding the Sodomites:

God sent Lot to the people of Sodom. The people of Sodom were disbelievers in God, and were also immoral, as God has said, “You commit lewdness such as no creature has done before you. For do you not come into males, and do you not cut the roads, and do you not commit abominations in your assemblies?” As has been said, “cutting the road” means that they committed lewdness with anyone who came into their town. According to Yunus b. ‘Abd al-A’la-Ibn Wahb-Ibn Zayd: As for God’s statement, “you cut the roads,”the road is the way of the traveler. When the traveler, the son of the road, passed by them, they would block the road and perform with him that ugly deed. As for what they did in their assemblies, scholars disagree about what it was. Some say that they used to shorten whoever passed by them. Others say that they used to break wind in their assemblies, while some said that they used to have intercourse with each other there.

So, according to these two exegetes, the Sodomites behaved very much as did the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, with the exception that the Sodomites engaged in homosexual activity, which reminds us of the Canaanites, or they would violently plunder the vulnerable, which recalls the conduct of the Amalekites. 

Among the differences between the Biblical and Qur’anic texts is that Lot is presented as warning the Sodomites about their behaviour and its consequence, and the reaction of the Sodomites is to threaten to expel him from the city:

Surah Al-Hijr 15

67. And the people of the city came, rejoicing at the news (of new arrivals).

68. He said: Lo! they are my guests. Affront me not!

69. And keep your duty to Allah, and shame me not!

70. They said: Have we not forbidden you from (entertaining) anyone?

Surah Al-Shura’ 26:

167. They said: If thou cease not, O Lot, thou wilt soon be of the outcast.

168. He said: I am in truth of those who hate your conduct.

Surah Al-Naml 27 the nature of the sin as homosexuality is also clear:

56. But the answer of his folk was naught save that they said: Expel the household of Lot from your township, for they(forsooth) are folk who would keep clean!

The Qur’an also presents Lot as praying for deliverance from the Sodomites, and asking for victory over them, whereas such a plea is absent from the Bible: Surah Al-Shura’ 26:169. My Lord! Save me and my household from what they do; Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29:30. He said: My Lord! Give me victory over folk who work corruption. In that sense, the destruction of Sodom would essentially be an answer to prayer rather than something that was by divine initiative and that took Lot by surprise, Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29:

30. He said: My Lord! Give me victory over folk who work corruption.

31. And when Our messengers brought Abraham the good news, they said: Lo! we are about to destroy the people of that township, for its people are wrong doers.

32. He said: Lo! Lot is there. They said: We are best aware of who is there. We are to deliver him and his household, all save his wife, who is of those who stay behind.

Another difference is that the intercession of Abraham for Sodom is not present, save in a very limited way, and rather than YHWH hearing the Patrarch’s prayer, in the Qur’an, Allah (through the angels) commands him to cease:

Surah Hud 11

69. And Our messengers came unto Abraham with good news… 

74. And when the awe departed from Abraham, and the glad news reached him, he pleaded with Us on behalf of the folk of Lot.

75. Lo! Abraham was mild, imploring, penitent.

76. (It was said) O Abraham! Forsake this! Lo! thy Lord’s commandment hath gone forth, and lo! there cometh unto them a doom which cannot be repelled.

A final difference to consider is that the Qur’anic text presents the angels as declaring that they will not save Lot’s wife, as she is evil, rather than commanding all the family to flee and leaving it to her to obey or not:

Surah Hud 11

81. (The messengers) said: O Lot! Lo! we are messengers of thy Lord; they shall not reach thee. So travel with thy people in a part of the night, and let not one of you turn round (all)save thy wife.Lo! that which smiteth them will smite her (also).Lo! their tryst is (for) the morning. Is not the morning nigh?

Surah Al-Hijr 15

59. (All) save the family of Lot. Them we shall deliver everyone,

60. Except his wife, of whom We had decreed that she should be of those who stay behind.

Surah Al-Shura’ 26:

170. So We saved him and his household, every one,

171. Save an old woman among those who stayed behind.

Surah Al-Naml 27:57: ‘Then we saved him and his household save his wife; We destined her to be of those who stayed behind.’

Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29

32. He said: Lo! Lot is there. They said: We are best aware of who is there. We are to deliver him and his household, all save his wife, who is of those who stay behind.

33. And when Our messengers came unto Lot, he was troubled upon their account, for he could not protect them; but they said: Fear not, nor grieve! Lo! we are to deliver thee and thy household, (all) save thy wife, who is of those who stay behind.

Surah As-Sa’Affat 37

134. When We saved him and his household, every one,

135. Save an old woman among those who stayed behind;

Tabari comments on the issue of Lot’s wife (History of Tabarip. 117):

According to Bishr b. Mu’adh-Yazid-Said-Qatadah-Hudhayfah:When the messengers came to Lot,they reached him while he was working on a plot of his land. They had been told-but God knows best – “Do not destroy them until Lot bears witness against them.” They went to Lot and said, “We seek hospitality from you tonight.” So he took them with him. Presently, after they had been walking for an hour,he turned to them and said, “Do you not know what the people of this town do? By God! I do not know of any people on the face of the earth more wicked than they are.” He went on with them, and later said the same thing to them once again. When an evil old woman,Lot’s wife, saw the approaching messengers, she went off to give notice to the people of Sodom.

This idea about Lot’s wife being so evil that she would warn the other Sodomites may be influenced by Jewish legend (Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 467):

On the night that the angels visited Lot, Lot prepared a feast for them, as he had learned hospitality from Abraham, and he asked his wife to give them a little salt. She grew angry and said, “Do you want to introduce that evil practice of giving strangers salt?” Then she went to all of her neighbors asking for salt. In this way she alerted them to the presence of the guests, and precipitated the mob who demanded that Lot turn the angels over to them. Thus, because she sinned with salt, she was punished with salt.

The act of the angels’ blinding the Sodomite men is present in the Qur’an – Surah Al-Qamar 54:37: ‘They even asked of him his guests for an ill purpose. Then We blinded their eyes (and said): Taste now My punishment after My warnings!’

It is at this point we reach the crux of the story. The angels warned Lot that Allah was going to destroy the town and all its inhabitants – including his wife, so he and his family must flee:

Surah Hud 11

81. (The messengers) said: O Lot! Lo! we are messengers of thy Lord; they shall not reach thee. So travel with thy people in a part of the night, and let not one of you turn round (all) save thy wife. Lo! that which smiteth them will smite her (also). Lo! their tryst is (for) the morning. Is not the morning nigh?

82. So when Our commandment came to pass We overthrew (that township) and rained upon it stones of clay, one after another,

83. Marked with fire in the providence of thy Lord (for the destruction of the wicked). And they are never far from the wrong-doers.

Surah Al-Hijr 15

65. So travel with thy household in a portion of the night, and follow thou their backs. Let none of you turn round, but go whither ye are commanded.

66. And We made plain the case to him, that the root of them (who did wrong) was to be cut at early morn.

73. Then the (Awful) Cry overtook them at the sunrise.

74. And We utterly confounded them, and We rained upon them stones of heated clay.

Surah Al-Shura’ 26:

172. Then afterward We destroyed the others.

173. And We rained on them a rain.And dreadful is the rain of those who have been warned.

Surah Al-Naml 27 

58.And We rained a rain upon them.Dreadful is the rain of those who have been warned

Surah Al-‘Ankaboot 29:

34. Lo! we are about to bring down upon folk of this township a fury from the skybecause they are evil livers.

35. And verily of that We have left a clear sign for people who have sense.

Surah As-Sa’Affat 37

136. Then We destroyed the others.

137. And Lo! ye verily pass by (the ruin of) them in the morning

138. And at night time; have ye then no sense?

Surah Al-Qamar 54:

34. Lo! We sent a storm of stones upon them (all) save the family of Lot, whom We rescued in the last watch of the night…

38. And in truth the punishment decreed befell them early in the morning.

As in the Bible, all save the family of Lot are destroyed. There is not record of the ecological disaster that we find in the Bible, but the Qur’an is clear enough about the city and its citizens – everyone of them, except for Lot and his family (minus his wife), were judged and destroyed. This means that everyone in the city – men, women and children – and animals, one must suppose – were all exterminated. The judgment spared no one outside of Lot’s household. It is interesting that the punishment of death for sodomy is found in the Hadith, and directly linked to the experience of Lot:

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas

Abu Dawud 4447

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas

Mishkat Al-Masabih 3575

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”

Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

Narrated by Jabir ibn Abdullah

Mishkat Al-Masabih 3577

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “The thing I fear most for my people is what Lot’s people did.”

Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

Indeed, Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) states that sodomy is a capital offence:

7523 AL-RISALA (Maliki Manual)

37.30 HOMOSEXUALITY (LIWAT)

If a man commits sodomy with a male adult who consented, then the two must be stoned to death whether they were muhsans or not.

Obviously, this reflects the fact that Allah put the people of Sodom to death for practising homosexual acts.

CONCLUSION

The Qur’anic data is very scattered, and does not flow well. It lacks the nuances of the Biblical narrative, and the development of Lot’s character therein, nor does it contain the disclosure of the moral degradation involved in Lot’s choices. The depiction of Lot as a prophet in the Qur’an is not found in the Bible, where he is presented as a personally righteous, but deeply flawed character whose choices, based on economic advancement, lead to disaster, as he loses everything in the destruction of Sodom, including his wife, and his daughters are revealed to be hopelessly defiled in their ethics. The Bible presents Sodom and the Cities of the Plain as characterised by sexual immorality and perversion, and callousness towards human suffering or lack, including violence. In this respect, their character – and actions – presages that of the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, the Canaanites and the Amalekites. Much the same could be said of the character of the Sodomites as presented in the Qur’an, and in its tafsir.

In both the Bible and the Qur’an, the punishment for the perversions is the general destruction of the society – with the unique exception of Lot and his family. Although not expressly stated in either book, this would have involved the deaths of every man, woman, child, and animal in Sodom, as well as the destruction of its buildings. This is accomplished by direct divine action and angelic involvement – true of both books. When we consider the cases of Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, the Canaanites and the Amalekites, their judgment also involved wholesale destruction. The difference between these instances and that of Sodom (and its sister towns) was merely one of agency– in the case of the Cities of the Plain, God acted directly, in these later cases, God used humanagency. The judgement was the same, only the executioner was different. That being so, God had to spell out to the human agents involved – since it was a command– that no one and nothing was to be spared. Obviously, when God acted directly, he would not have to declare this explicitly. 

It follows that the frequent criticism of dawahactivists about the wholesale destruction of Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, the Canaanites and the Amalekites is a case of double standards. The Qur’an echoes – albeit in an edited and very inadequate way – the Bible’s record of the wholesale destruction of the Sodomites for committing essentially the same sins as these other peoples. To repeat, the only difference is that of agency. If dawahactivists condemn the Bible for this, they must also condemn the Qur’an, or be exposed as hypocrites. The destruction of Sodom by God sent a message to the surrounding peoples, not only of the power of YHWH, but also His moral standards – something severely lacking in the pantheons of the local pagans. The lesson, unfortunately, was not heeded by the Midianites/Moabites at Baal Peor, the Canaanites and the Amalekites, and so they faced the same judgement as the people of Sodom. It follows that the position of the Bible is consistent: the same cannot be said for dawahactivists.

‘Your wife is a tilth’ – Sura 2:223

‘Your wife is a tilth’ – Sura 2:223

Hatun discusses this verse with a Muslim and asks why Allah is so concerned for men to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they wish and in whatever position? Allah seems very preoccupied with sex.

“Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.” Sura 2:223, Sahih International.

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:

Ibn Umar misunderstood (the Qur’anic verse, “So come to your tilth however you will”)—MAY ALLAH FORGIVE HIM. The fact is that this clan of the Ansar, who were idolaters, lived in the company of the Jews who were the people of the Book. They (the Ansar) accepted their superiority over themselves in respect of knowledge, and they followed most of their actions. The people of the Book (i.e. the Jews) used to have intercourse with their women on one side alone (i.e. lying on their backs). This was the most concealing position for (the vagina of) the women. This clan of the Ansar adopted this practice from them. But this tribe of the Quraysh used to uncover their women completely, and seek pleasure with them from in front and behind and laying them on their backs.

When the muhajirun (the immigrants) came to Medina, a man married a woman of the Ansar. He began to do the same kind of action with her, but she disliked it, and said to him: We were approached on one side (i.e. lying on the back); do it so, otherwise keep away from me. This matter of theirs spread widely, and it reached the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him).

So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: “Your wives are a tilth to you, so come to your tilth however you will,” i.e. from in front, from behind or lying on the back. But this verse meant the place of the delivery of the child, i.e. the vagina. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2159)

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