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The Abomination of Heterosexual Intercourse: The Sin of Gibeah (Judges 19)

We are all familiar with the story of Sodom, and how it is frequently used (without any justification) as an argument to justify opposition to homosexuality. I will come back later to the story of Sodom, but first, to show just how ludicrous the argument is, I will apply exactly the same reasoning to a remarkably similar story, that of  Gibeah in Judges 19. (See, even the chapter number is the same.) If the argument from Sodom were sound, then the same argument applied to Gibeah should lead us to conclude that heterosexual intercourse is sinful. Of course, that conclusion is patently false.  An investigation of the story of Gibeah is useful because it helps to show the inadequacy of the historical interpretation of Sodom (now rejected by most reputable modern scholars), but it also shows clearly how inappropriate it is to base modern sexual ethics on Old Testament Biblical standards – which also underpin the entire patriarchal structure of the Church as we have it.

Lot leaving Sodom - Rubens

The Story of Gibeah

Unlike Sodom, the story of Gibeah is not well known, although it should be. I present it now in the words of the Finnish Biblical scholar, Marti Nissinen.

“In those days when no king ruled in Israel” – so begins the story of Judges 19 – it happened that a certain Levite, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim, stopped at the Benjamite town of Gibeah. He was accompanied by his (anonymous) wife of second rank, whom he had recaptured from her refuge in Bethlehem at her father’s house. The Gibeahites were unfriendly toward travellers; only by late evening did an old man accommodate them. The man,also from the hill country of Ephraim, invited them to his house and showed them great hospitality.  But then suddenly something horrible happened:

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the worst scoundrels in the town surrounded the house, hurling themselves against the door and shouting to the old man who owned the house: “Bring out the man who has gone into our house, for us to have intercourse with him” (19:22, NEB)

The old man wanted to protect his guest and offered his own daughter and his guest’s wife instead.  When this did not appease the scoundrels, the Levite gave his wife up to the men, who then fell on her sexually and abused her all night till the morning”(19:25).  The woman died of her injuries, and the incident led to a war between the Benjaminites and the other tribes of Israel. Continue reading

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