Could Sodom's Hostility Towards Visitors Stem From Belief that Fallen 'Sons of God' Were Molesting Their Daughters?
May The Roots of Such Superstitious Beliefs Be Founded Upon Known Physiological Phenomena?
That picture looks pretty darned awesome, showing two angels with their wings in attack configuration headed down to Earth on a sortie armed with orders from God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah as pay-back for their sins.
The picture is produced by Jehovah's Witnesses, and appears in the 'Illustrated Bible Stories' for kids:
Oh, did you spot one HUGE continuity error (although not nearly as huge as 'Peter's' mischaracterization of Lot as 'righteous')?
The terrain is that of an arid low-altitude desert as found in the modern-day Dead Sea area, but the Genesis account describes Sodom as a well-watered bountiful plain; it supposedly wasn't transformed into a desert wasteland until AFTER the angelic attack, when God supposedly took back all his blessings, leaving it looking like the desert it is today.
I know, I know: it's hard to overcome the prevalent depictions showing Sodom as a dry desert (as above), but the story was created to explain the Dead Sea's appearance, which forced the listener to imagine the striking contrast between the way it looked in 500BC vs the way it looked before being testroyed. Imagining Sodom located on a fertile green plain is almost as hard as seeing Lot as unrighteous, or not seeing Sodom as being destroyed for homosexuality: in all cases, we're facing resistance of overcoming two millenia of biases and moral inertia.
However, the picture got me thinking:
What if those angels weren't sent on a mission from Heaven, but were actually fallen angels headed to Earth on AWOL to get a new start? Maybe they've decided to renounce Heavenly existence and assume mortal form to take up residence in Sodom (the Las Vegas of the Ancient Near East), breaking themselves off a piece o' some of that "daughters of men" action?
One could only imagine word spreading like wildfire through the Heavenly grape-vine, with angels whispering about which brethren had recently defected after being unable to resist temptation one more second, as if overcome by the siren-song of Sodom's jingle with it's catchy lyrics, "What happens in Sodom, STAYS in Sodom!"
The more-faithful angels must look down, intently studying the facial expressions of those who fell to look for any clues as to their decision to abandon Heaven, possibly giving 'the watchers' some temptation to join the ranks of the defectors themselves.
And before you scream "THAT'S BLASPHEMY!!" at the top of your lungs: simma down now, I'm only describing what the Bible depicts in Genesis 6:1-4:
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. 4There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
The Nephilim, "mighty men of old, men of renown", the hybridized product of fallen angels (sons of God) and mortal women (daughters of men). These are the jumbo-sized offspring who supposedly possessed the strength of Hercules, and populated not just Hebrew legends, but that of other cultures of the ancient World (in fact, Hercules WAS a demi-god to Greeks, , and the Sumerians had their Gilgamesh, etc).
The old saying is that there's a grain of truth behind every myth, so what if Hebrew Nephilim mythology recorded circa 500BC contains the trace echoes of far-older beliefs of those who lived before? Like the Hebrews themselves, these earlier inhabitants likely believed that invisible forces could interfere in the lives of humans, and might mate with women to produce superhuman offspring. Imagine a town in the Ancient Near East circa 2,000 BC that believed they were the targets of coordinated attacks from the spirit realm, having been targeted specifically for their reputation as the epicenter of wealth and vice.
Like the citizens of any time and place, the people valued their community, families, property, and material wealth, and hence they'd want to try and protect what they'd worked so hard to build. The inhabitants of the town might establish a set of rules to address the threat they genuinely felt they faced, demanding all citizens residing within the city to contribute to it's defense.
Hence the town likely would pass a rule saying ALL visitors needed to be screened at the gate, and briefed on new local rules which included a stern warning that visitors MUST sleep in the town square so all permanent residents could keep an eye on their activities. But most importantly, travelers were told NOT to enter the private homes of any of the town's residences, especially not those with virginal daughters in their homes! And especially not the homes of foreigners!
And especially NOT the home of a certain foreigner with a certain well-known Uncle who openly worshiped a foreign deity, publicly praising this YHWH for his military victories and great wealth. This foreigner who acts suspicious by sneaking visitors into town, since he might be tempted to play the role of angelic matchmaker for his daughters, creating Sodom's first version of Heavenly J-Date!
As I noted in Part I, the Sodomites were said to have intentionally inverted the rules of law:
"According to one Jewish tale, gang rape of strangers wasn't an accidental occurrence, but was actually prescribed by Sodom's laws.
In most every legend, there lies a creamy core filling of truth, the element that explains how it came to be a myth. Suppose these tales reflect the outsider's perspective (ie the Hebrews) of earlier pagan attempts to protect themselves from the very same threats that Hebrews also believed existed, with a fallen 'sons of Gods' mythology in their own culture?
Imagine the residents of a town like Sodom circa 1,500 BC that worshiped a foreign deity, and honestly believed they were under the threat of invasion by spirit beings who'd assumed the likeness of traveling men and molested their women: aside from an extreme reluctance to allow any outsiders to enter their town, they'd also want to protect their daughters from this 'strange flesh', and all the men of the town (both young and old) would be summoned to form a mob, attempting to ascertain the motives ('know') of any strangers to determine if they're planning on mating with the women. The mob would 'greatly press' upon suspicious travelers, even raping them if the strangers weren't able to alleviate their suspicions.
(And modern travelers complain of the invasive methods used by the TSA, with agents using their privacy-invading scanners!)
Of course, rape (forcible penetration), whether amongst heterosexuals or heterosexuals, is about DOMINANCE: it's NOT about the consensual expression of love between two individuals. The rape attempt was likely premised on the belief that no self-respecting angel would allow itself to be sexually-molested by mere mortals, so rape was a sure-fire acid-test to determine the stranger's real identity: if the rape attempt was successful, then congratulations! The stranger isn't a fallen angel, but only a humiliated stranger: apologies are issued, mops broken out to clean up the mess, and aside from a little bit of embarrassment on both sides, there's no harm, no fowl. But if the town's males COULDN'T wrastle the stranger and forcibly-penetrate him, then the stranger clearly WAS a spirit being in disguise, and the entire male population of the town would join in the battle to protect their families, daughters, and town, as they've now got a fight on their hands.
Remember that Genesis 32 offers the account of Jacob wrestling all night long with a stranger who only managed to dislocate Jacob's hip; the stranger turned out to be an angel:
There clearly were parallel beliefs in Hebraic myths of mortal men who could hold their own against spirit beings, even managing to keep them at bay for an entire night. Perhaps that's why Hebrews envisioned a need for ALL of a town's males to overcome angels in disguise, as a mob would stand a better chance than just a single person. Also note the use of word play in the account of Jacob, also likely stemming from the Yahwist source.
And when it comes to creating Nephilim, the rape didn't have any downsides, either way: if the stranger WAS a spirit being, angelic/human interbreeding required that the FEMALE be mortal; if the stranger WASN'T an angel, then mortal males inseminating a wrongly-accused mortal male via anal penetration wouldn't do bupkis. The logic used makes perfect sense (that is, if you overlook the questionable assertion that spirit beings actually exist).
Thus it's easy to envision a superstitious mob comprised of town males of all ages trying to ascertain the motives of 'unknown visitors', especially those who raised a 'red flag' by bypassing their rules.
And how would such practices appear to modern readers who didn't understand the rationale, or the paranoia that leads to such hysterical crowd behavior? Without understanding the reasons behind their behavior, the inhabitants of Sodom thus could be misinterpreted by modern men as a town filled with sex-crazed homosexuals driven mad with their sexual desires, just as the modern reading of today claims.
Of course, the mob's demands to turn over the strangers "so we may know them" is likely based on word play, referring not only to raping the suspicious strangers (who raised 'red flags' by not staying in the square), but also the non-sexual interpretation of ascertaining the stranger's true motives via oral interrogation. Thus a proper reading of the phrase "so we may know them" is not an 'either/or' proposition, but may reflect BOTH meanings. In fact, such word-play is found throughout Genesis, where clever use of puns is the hallmark of the Yahwist, likely displaying his cleverness by relying on the double-meaning of the word, 'know'.
Thus when Lot offered the unsolicited information that his daughters had never "known" a man before, it was clearly referring to their status as virgins. In that light we might see Lot's offering of his daughters to the mob "to do as you see fit" as offering the mob an opportunity to rape them (which would only insult the mob: they were trying to protect the town from strangers, not looking to gang-rape females!), or to hand them over for safekeeping while the visitors stay overnight. The mob obviously didn't find that alternative acceptable, as they 'pressed greatly' on the door (just as Lot had previously 'pressed greatly' on the strangers to stay with him: note the use of parallelism).
Both interpretations are morally questionable, since Lot's gratuitous over-the-top display of hospitality displays his willingness to ignore local laws, or to displace his own family to allow strangers to stay in the house. Again, entirely inappropriate behavior, especially when living amongst foreigners.
So while this reading of the story may salvage Lot's reputation somewhat, the point stands that the author of Genesis was intentionally trying to create the the archetype of Lot as a fool, and someone who was saved not due to his actions, but due to the righteousness of Abraham.
The irony of Sodom is that the suspicions of the mob WERE correct: the visitors WERE angels, but they'd come to Sodom not to create Nephilim as fallen angels, but to destroy the town; thus it can't serve as a diatribe against excessive superstition leading to paranoia, since the story hinges on believing in angels.
And the tale certainly is NOT a polemic against homosexuality, which is a modern mis-interpretation (although Levitical law clearly condemns homosexuality: however, it's not the point of the Sodom story).
And 3,700 yrs later, we still find superstitious humans living in the American colonies trying to ascertain if there are witches living in their midst by throwing suspects into a lake and employing similar logic: if the witches float, they're guilty and deserving of death; if they drown, they were innocent (operative word being 'WERE', the past-tense form: thus the screening methodology offered a distinction without a difference, since the suspected witch ended up dead, either way it goes).
Mankind hadn't really advanced that much since Lot's day, had it?
The Jewish legend of Sodom contains the echoes of superstitious beliefs commonly held throughout the Middle East, and may have threatened the Hospitality Code (i.e. giving food, water, and shelter to travelers); the town upon which the Sodom legend is based may have felt so threatened by strangers that they'd actually make accepting strangers into one's home a criminal offense. Hence the offer to let the mob take Lot's daughters wasn't meant as an offer to rape her, but to show that Lot didn't have any plans to host a group sex orgy party where angels were the guests of honor.
But is there some physiological and psychological (ie non-superstitious) phenomena which might actually lead humans to believe they were being sexually assaulted by invisible spirit forces, leading to unchecked paranoia to believe they were under attack by invisible spirits?
Sleep paralysis is a condition which effects both men and women, and remains a relatively unknown condition amongst the general public. The sufferer experiences a sense of being held down, paralyzed, being unable to move. Afterwards, the person feels ashamed, embarrassed, and frightened out of their wits; this often translates into being afraid to tell others, since they're likely to be thought to be insane, or lying.
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. More formally, it is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g. an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis. It is believed a result of disrupted REM sleep, which is normally characterized by complete muscle atonia that prevents individuals from acting out their dreams.
The condition is Worldwide, and thus has entered the World's cultural mythology. The experience of sleep paralysis serves as confirmation of beliefs in the supernatural, UFO aliens, etc. Some of those who suffer it don't know that the phenomenon is well-known, but they may share their experience with others.
I remember as a kid how one of the sisters in the local congregation had experienced "demonic attacks", believing she had been sexually-molested by a demon in her bed while half-asleep. A search of her home didn't reveal any suspicious objects (JWs honestly believe demons can be introduced into one's home by 'hitch-hiking' on some innocuous inanimate object, like household items purchased at a garage sale; these are suspected of allowing demons to enter the home). The elders got involved, and probably advised her to call out the name "Jehovah!" three times if it ever happened again.
Looking back now, this person was experiencing an episode of sleep paralysis, and sufferers ascribe the cause to whatever explanation is used in their sub-culture, eg a believer in UFOs will say it's a space alien trying to 'probe' him, and a JW will say it's a demon. This episode didn't occur in some backwards 3rd-World country like Haiti, but in the middle-class suburbs of a major metropolitan city in the United States in the 1960's.
If people still believe in demon attacks in 1960's America, they certainly would believe it in 500 BC, and would project their superstitious beliefs upon those living 1,500 years before their time.
Being unable to determine any other cause of such frightening perceptions, ancient men came up with an explanation that made sense to them at the time. Just as uneducated elders were trusted by this sister in 1960's America, so too were the experts of 500 BC trusted for their opinion; both would say that the problem was demons.
Knowing what modern men know, the Sodom tale is thus seen as a Paul Bunyanesque tall tale which grew out of very-real and frightening perceptions stemming from episodes of sleep paralysis, which inevitably led to mass hysteria in ancient towns who actually believed they were under attack. The tale eventually grew to Nephilimesque proportions by the time it had been recorded in Genesis, having been recast into a morality tale that encouraged hospitality to strangers.