Sodom, Gomorrah and Nigeria, By Afeso Albert Akanbi

Sodom and Gomorrah is a story of rape, of hostility, of the abuse of trust and the rights of others, of total disregard for our common humanity, not about homosexuality. Prophet Isaiah and the great church father Origen made this point clear that the sins of the two ancient cities had nothing to do with homosexuality but everything to do with refusal to show love for fellow man…

Recently, Nigerians woke up to a classic case of ‘…since the hunter has decided to shoot without missing, the birds have decided to fly without perching…’ when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission discovered a staggering $9.7 million in a building belonging to one Dr. Andrew Yakubu in Kaduna State. As depressing as this revelation was, it drove home the point that, since the government has decided to tighten the noose around corrupt practices, politicians have now devised other means; namely, the storing of money in homes like foodstuff.

The question is, how many more Yakubus are out there and yet undiscovered by the EFCC? Will Yakubu’s case go the way of many before it – too many to mention – that have been swept under the carpet? At what point does a country merit God’s judgement?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is one popular argument that many Nigerians who condemn queer people around the world today tend to fall back to. Yet, like everything else that has gone wrong with this country, these two ancient cities had nothing to do with how the Bible relates to queer people but how human beings should with other human beings.

The story stands as a strong testament to what was God’s punishment on what was a rabid pollution of a people’s moral value. The price people pay for deviating from the core ideals of humanity and falling into the dark abyss of evil and corruption; a thing that is evident in Nigeria today. Yet, the story of those two ancient cities is so salaciously interpreted that millions of people are convinced that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah due to their rampant “homosexual lifestyle”.

Although there are experts who believe the story of these two cities were written long after the natural events that took those cities down occurred, that ancient man wanting to find explanation for the disaster, spiritualised the story. Let us for the sake of this article stick with the story literally.

As a country that is ravaged by terrorism, in which militants are constantly disrupting activities in the oil producing region, where a group of misguided youth in the name of IPOB never ceases to rant and foment trouble in the name of wanting statehood, and where child abuse has reached a point where a so called pastor can chain up a child in a room for weeks without food as an attempt at exorcism. Also, where in Lagos, a 12 years old boy can be set alight for stealing garri, a country that relies heavily on importation and yet politicians have devised a devious means of storing hard currencies in soak-away pits in their homes, will it be wrong for anyone to call for God’s judgment or be surprised that the economy is going to ruin?

For those who may want to raise dust, let me explain why I feel the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about homosexuality but rather about an eroded moral value that led to total disregard of love for fellow man by a people; a thing which necessitated God’s judgement.

One of the things that make biblical interpretation so thorny is the difficulty of moving from one culture to another. We must guard against making the same error of many who think the Bible can be read the same way one reads the newspapers, thinking that things then are just like things now. Otherwise, we are bound for a false outcome in our interpretation of the stories that are read. For honest readers of events in Nigeria today, the conclusion cannot be denied that we are even guiltier than these two ancient cities, and if a drastic step is not taken, that we are headed for similar fate, which may come as a very destructive political, cultural and economic conflagration when all these negatives reach their tipping point.

According to scholars, the early second millennium BC was a particularly harsh time for desert dwellers. ‘Travel in those days was complicated by bandits, harsh weather, and predatory animals. One literally put one’s life in jeopardy when traveling’. That was why traveling in groups and by caravan was so popular in those days. So to alleviate as much misery as possible, a “hospitality ethic” borne of sheer love for neighbour was born, which was practiced throughout the Middle East, to ensure the safe passage of travellers.

The way it worked is illustrated in the story just preceding that of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Holy Bible. In that story, Abraham bows down to strangers, showing greeting, not hostility. He later orders a fine dinner prepared for them, and then personally stands watch over them while they ate, as he is now responsible for them.

If we do not face this monster called corruption and its associated evil, once and for all, and device a workable means of detecting, preventing, sanctioning and making the thieves among us pay restitution for their crimes against the rest of us, God’s judgment will sooner than later come heavy on us in ways that we cannot begin to imagine…

Now, it is not in our nature to stand guard at city gates waiting for strangers we wish to invite to meal. The same reason why we don’t do that today is the same reason why ancient people would not do same then – for economic reasons. It was not as if there was enough food to go round and in abundance, no. But it was to ensure that a city or tribe got a good reputation for hospitality and love so that its citizens, at all times, would be accorded the same goodwill.

It is in the context of the ‘hospitality ethic’ that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah unfolds. Although, I do not know for sure what led to it, I believe the citizens may be right to want to know who Lot’s friend were, what was going on, and demanding to have the strangers brought out so they may ‘yadha’ – know – them. Although the word ‘yadha’ is sometimes used as a synonym for sexual intercourse, it mostly refers to knowledge of someone or something.

It is fairly obvious that the citizens’ intention was to rape the strangers deemed enemies. To rape is not the same as having sex. In any case, Lot counters with an offer to allow the men to rape his daughters. Does it make any sense that if these men were out for homosexual sex, Lot would offer his daughters?

Male-on-male rape was a common aspect of ancient Near Eastern society regarding enemies. Rape was an effort to humiliate and control, a thing prevalent amongst the Roman army in later years. The usual practice after a war victory most times was to rape the remaining soldiers into submission as a show of dominance.

In fact, this was depicted by the men of Sodom saying, ‘This fellow’, that is Lot, ‘came here as an alien and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Rape has nothing to do with sex, except that it is done with the genitals. To say that rape is sex is to say that we kiss a bone while our lips assist in tearing meat from it.

Sodom and Gomorrah is a story of rape, of hostility, of the abuse of trust and the rights of others, of total disregard for our common humanity, not about homosexuality. Prophet Isaiah and the great church father Origen made this point clear that the sins of the two ancient cities had nothing to do with homosexuality but everything to do with refusal to show love for fellow man in the following words:

On the sinners, punishment rained down not without violent thunder as early warning; and deservedly they suffered for their crimes, since they evinced such bitter hatred for strangers.

“Hear this, you who close your homes to guests! Hear this, you who shun the traveller as an enemy! Lot lived among the Sodomites. We do not read of any other good deeds of his: He escaped the flames, escaped the fire, on account of one thing only. He opened his home to guests. The angels entered the hospitable household; the flames entered those homes closed to guests.”

Nowhere in the above texts and many like it, is the word homosexuality mentioned, yet the word Sodomy originated from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is a total disregard for our common humanity, treating others as you would not have them treat you, evil and a pervasion of justice, abuse of office and greed, the sort of evil we see in Nigeria today that God is warning us about in the story of these two ancient cities.

If feelers are right, the issue of Yakubu might be swept under the carpet, like many before it. Yet, countless innocent people will continue to suffer the effect of corruption in this country. If we do not face this monster called corruption and its associated evil, once and for all, and device a workable means of detecting, preventing, sanctioning and making the thieves among us pay restitution for their crimes against the rest of us, God’s judgment will sooner than later come heavy on us in ways that we cannot begin to imagine, so that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah would be a child’s play…

Afeso Albert Akanbi is an author, researcher and NASRDA staff. He has three novels, a number of short stories and articles to his credit.

Image credit: Sodom and Gomorrah painting by Pieter Schoubroek.

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