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To know is to know...is to know

Clinton
Chisholm

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

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In a recent Jamaica Observer column titled 'Let's not misrepresent what the Bible says about gays', Glenn Tucker, an educator and sociologist wrote, “Should we take the Bible literally? Did Moses really point a stick in the direction of the Red Sea and it just parted? Did a plate with some fish and bammy just multiply miraculously to feed a large crowd? Did a corpse just jump up and resume its normal daily routine? I doubt it.

One word that is often referred to as having sexual connotations is the word “know”. The 943 times it appears in the Old Testament it is reference to God, people, good, evil, places, the law, among other things. Yet, in Genesis 19: 5: “Bring them out that we may know them,” mischievous theologians suggest that it refers to homosexuality.

A Sodomite in the Bible is simply a person who lived in Sodom. Lot had recently settled in the area. He had visitors. The residents wanted to know the purpose of their visit. If they were homosexuals, why would Lot offer his virgin daughters to them? The story has nothing to do with sexual orientation or God's position on homosexuality. This “Sodom” story is really intended to show the vulnerability of minorities when they are at the mercy of an ignorant, violent majority.

Well, well, then as one of the “mischievous [sic] theologians” I wish to offer why I see the 'know them' of the Sodom incident as referring to homosexuality. But a prefatory tangent.

As Aristotle urged millennia ago, the reader should not arrogate to oneself authority over a text, but take the author at face value (genre for genre). So if an author purports to be writing a historical account and it happens to include the miraculous or the starkly unusual, the author believes in the miraculous/starkly unusual — whether a modern Tucker doubts it. Of course, if the critic knows and can prove beyond reasonable doubt that miracles never, ever happen, then such a critic can doubt the miraculous based on personal omniscience. Good luck with that project!

By the way, as Greg Koukl advises, taking the Bible literally means taking each kind of literature at face value according to its kind (genre), taking history as history, prophecy as prophecy, poetry as poetry, prose as prose, and so on. A literal reading, then, properly understood, is a literary reading.

I have never seen the “fish and bammy” manuscripts, which is not to say they don't exist, just my ignorance of them since I am not omniscient.

Now, then, to the Genesis text. Tucker, like John Boswell before him, takes the non-homosexuality line with this text and asks proudly and ignorantly if homosexuality was, indeed, key to the text why Lot offered his daughters. It's simple really. Lot was unwise, even worthless in offering his daughters, but more importantly, he could have thought the men on the outside of Lot's door were simply after sexual delights of any kind, male flesh or female flesh. We who are reading the text now know more about the dynamics of the incident than Lot did.

Tucker, without mentioning Boswell, like Boswell mentions the 943 appearances of the word 'know' in Hebrew, and urges a non-sexual approach to the word 'know' in context just like Boswell and our own Horace Levy (see his The Gleaner letter of the day, Wednesday, September 14, 2016, headlined 'Sodom propaganda'. My response to him was not published).

John Boswell in his 1980 book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality informs: “Lot was violating the custom of Sodom…by entertaining unknown guests within the city walls at night without obtaining the permission of the elders of the city. When the men of Sodom gathered around to demand that the strangers be brought out to them — “that they might know them” — they meant no more than to 'know' who they were, and the city was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality, but for the sin of inhospitality to strangers.” (p 93)

Boswell also argues that only 10 of the 943 occurrences of 'to know' (yada in Hebrew) clearly have the sense of sexual knowledge. Appealing to frequency of occurrence of a word is useful only when the contextual use of the word is unclear. In the text under consideration 'to know' is, contextually, sexual when used concerning the visitors (v 5) and also when Lot used it concerning his daughters who “have not known a man”. (v 8)

To appreciate the weakness or nonsense of Boswell's interpretation of 'to know' as 'to interview or interrogate' try substituting that expression for 'to know' in verses 5-9. On Boswell's view those verses would read, using the King James version text as our base:

5 And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may interview them.”

6 So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him,

7 and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly!

8 “See now, I have two daughters who have not interviewed a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”

9 And they said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one came in to stay here, and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them.”

Tucker, I apologise for being so mischievous.

Rev Clinton Chisholm is a minister of religion and scholar. Send comments to the Observer or to clintchis@yahoo.com.

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