Genesis Overview: Sodom & Gomorrah

a) God's Soliloquy (18.17-19)

18.17-19: This short section and 18.20-33 are two blocks of not so ancient, abstracted dialogue between the Abraham/Mamre and Lot/Sodom sagas. J speaks for himself, cf. 6.5-8. As God has called Abraham into a relationship of trust, he does not want anybody else to tell Abraham the bad news.

b) Abraham's Dialogue with God (18.20-33)

18.20-21: "Outcry" means a desperate cry for help; "a great injustice screams" (p211). This is not an instant punishment but an investigation.

18.22: The recurring problem of Yahweh's relationship with the three cf. 18.21. Yahweh says he will go down to Sodom.

18.23-33: Sodom is not an alienated city, so the dialogue tests God's relationship to Israel; "righteous" in this context has nothing to do with Pauline theology but refers to a specific offence; the further question about 'mixed' behaviour breaks with the ancient idea of collective guilt, a perception which appears in the Seventh Century BCE; but the overall tone is still concerned with communal guilt. Abraham knows that he has no right to reason, yet his courage increases.

c) Sodom's Destruction & Lot's Deliverance (19.1-29)

"It has long been known that the story of Sodom was originally an independent saga. Now, however, as its beginning and end show, it has been incorporated into the large Abraham story as a very striking occurrence." (p216). The visit of the heavenly being is an act of judgment and a last chance to test of Sodom. The messengers are now distinct from Yahweh although he is the subject of speaking and acting, cf 19.17,21.

19.1-5: The messengers arrive impossibly quickly from their lunch and Lot's hospitality is insistent. The cults of Baal and Astarte were erotic and even orgiastic at times. Although a byword for depravity, their sin was not always clear: Isaiah 1.10, 3.9 cites the barbarity of their judicial administration; Ezekiel 16.49 cites pride, gluttony and ease; and Jeremiah's catalogue 12.14 of ills does not include unnatural unchastity but there is a question of how closely this relates to the infamy of Gibeah in Judges 19.

19.6-8: We are not to judge, says VR, Lot's bargain by Western standards but: '... this procedure to which Lot resorted scarcely suited the sensibility of the ancient Israelite." Lot's compromise reveals the ambiguity in which he had lived for some time, whose decisions and acts are half formed.

19.9-14: The messengers reveal themselves to save Lot and the punishment is executed. The hearers were so unable to receive the message that it seemed ridiculous.

19.15-16: The drama of the narrative is gripping.

Even discounting the destruction of innocent women and children, VR does not get to grips with the unlikely arithmetic that ten or fewer men were innocent.

19.17-22: Because of its etiological orientation, where Yahweh speaks and is spoken to, this section is probably later than the preceding. It shifts the emphasis from the city's destruction to Lot's deliverance. "When a man is delivered from judgment it is a matter for God only." (p220). Lot is reluctant to go into the mountains. In 19.23 simultaneously: sunrise; arrival in Zoar; fire and brimstone.

19.23-25: Sodom remembered for all time by Israel as the icon of complete, disastrous divine judgment because it was thought that the catastrophe created the Dead Sea and a barren plain which had previously been fertile (cf. Deuteronomy 29.23; Isaiah 1.9, 13.19; Jeremiah 49.18, 50.40; Ezekiel 16.45 ff; Hosea 11.8; Amos 4.11; Zephaniah 2.9; Psalm 11.6; Lamentations 4.6). Gomorrah a later addition to harmonise traditions; we know nothing of it nor its behaviour.

19.26: The death of Lot's wife may be topologically etiological, explaining the existence of salt pillars (cf. Josephus, Antiquities, I, 11, 4; Wisdom of Solomon 10.7).

19.27-28: Abraham returns precisely to where he bargained with God and looks on the smoke and ruin. VR seems not to have noticed God's apparent 'forgetting' of his promise to Abraham.

Thus, the masterly welding of originally heterogeneous material in Chapters 18 and 19 is completed.

19.29: This verse from P summarises and emphasises the role of Yahweh.

KC V/14

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