The thesis is an exercise in detoxifying a biblical narrative that has become a foundational myth for Christian homophobia. This story is that of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 19. The detoxification process employs an intertextual approach to the study of the reception of Genesis 19 together with a parallel narrative about the outrage at Gibeah found in Judges 19-21. In the thesis, I present a reading of both stories that understands them as stories of injustice and abuse of outsiders. Sexual violence is employed in the stories to signify a xenophobic and oppressive society. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the system is overthrown in one of YHWH's mighty, liberative acts. The liberative nature of YHWH's deed is symbolised by the fact that the female characters, Lot's daughters, acquire speech and agency at the story's end. The rape of their father, that closes the biblical account, both illustrates the reversal of the power structures of Sodom and initiates the line of the Messiah. In the Gibeah narrative, however, the system remains in place as symbolised by women's silence and lack of agency. The story closes with women being victims of mass rape.
The thesis traces the reception of both stories starting with their representations in the Hebrew scriptures and following through ancient texts and commentators, such as Philo, into the world of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. While most of these ancient representations understand the stories as concerned with injustice and inhospitality several patterns emerge which give prominence to sexual issues. In the main, these sexual themes are concerned with control of women's sexuality and the importance of Israel staying apart from the Gentiles and shunning intermarriage with them. However, Philo pioneers a homophobic reading of Sodom and Gomorrah in which the main sin that caused the destruction of the cities is understood to be homoeroticism. Philo's reading is subsequently taken up in Christianity.
Rabbinic Judaism, however, is shown to consistently read Genesis 19 as a story about abuse of outsiders and social injustice. I argue that this was the dominant interpretive paradigm for Christians as well as Jews in the first few centuries CE. The story of Gibeah is generally read misogynistically, in Judaism, as a shameful episode in Israel's past when the honour of a woman of dubious virtue was regarded as more important than following the Law and taking action against idolatry. On those occasions when the stories are linked and compared, it is done to stress even more that Sodom's sin was not sexual but to do with social injustice.
The thesis examines patterns of Christian interpretation of the stories up until the Reformation era. A survey of Christian readings of Sodom and Gibeah in the first eight centuries CE focuses on rehearsals of the invention of the word and concept of sodomy in medieval Western Christian thought. Only one of these occasions clearly foreshadows this medieval development. However, the most explicit occasion occurs in a Syriac commentary on Judges 19. This Syriac sodomy is a word used in a short hand way to signify the practices of the Sodomites and to note the similarities between Gibeah and Sodom. As the Syriac tradition clearly demonstrates shared interpretative patterns of both stories with Judaism, I argue that this sodomy is best understood as a form of rapacious and exploitative treatment of others, especially outsiders.
Finally the thesis examines the invention of sodomy in the medieval Christian West and its metamorphosis into an ideology of compulsory heterosexuality in the Reformation period. The thesis focuses on four medieval performances of homophobia focused on Sodom, including Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah, in which sodomy is first clearly invented. In only one of these performances, the biblical commentaries of Nicholas of Lyra, is there a clear attempt to link Gibeah to Sodom homophobically. The attempt fails because the story of Gibeah is about the pack rape of a woman. In the Reformation commentaries of Luther and Calvin, however, there is no such attempt. The few references to Gibeah in Reformation texts are to do either with rape or the need to take stringent action against godlessness. In the latter case, Gibeah serves as an authorisation of the use of genocide. The story of Sodom, however, in the commentaries of both Luther and Calvin form the canvas on which is mapped the blueprint of Western sexual structures of compulsory heterosexuality and marriage that are dominant today.
The thesis concludes with a number of observations. I argue that the invention of the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah as a site of divine genocide in response to homoeroticism has been primarily a Christian enterprise. Through retrieving the rich world of Jewish readings of the story with their focus on hospitality and the abuse of the poor and outsider, I show that the homophobic interpretation is a construction and not inherent in the text. In closing, I make a number of observations on the way the Christian homophobic interpretation impacts on our possibly post-Christian times not just to the detriment of queer people but for everyone.