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Sodomy, Onanism, and Cunning Linguistics

March 27th, 2003 · No Comments

Your friend and mine, Sodomy, has been in the news quite a bit lately thanks to the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, for which the arguments heard yesterday were, oddly enough, oral. I’ve said my bit on that case elsewhere, but I want to note how odd I’ve always found it that the term “sodomy” has lasted so long as a term for interesting sex. The idea, after all, is presumably that Sodom (and maybe Gommorah… we don’t hear much about what they got up to there) got a big can of smite opened on it for the aforementioned interesting sex. But here’s how it goes down in Genesis 19:

4 Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. 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 know them carnally.” 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 known 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.” So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. 10 But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door.

Now, maybe this is just my PC modern sensibilities talking, but it seems like the obvious candidate for “wickedness” here is not ass sex as such, but, you know, the attempt to forcibly seize a couple of strangers who are guests in town so that they can be raped. Call me crazy. (The “strangers” in the instance are Jehovah’s local enforcers. Bad choice of targets, guys.) Now, the Old Testament does mention here and there that the J-man’s not so hot on homosexuality (or menstruation, or pigs, or jellyfish… but let that pass), but it’s not clear that it was this, rather than the whole rape business, that irked him about Sodom.

The same goes for the famous “sin of Onan,” (aka “Onanism”) usually identified with that pastime our British cousins so charmingly refer to as “wanking.” Here’s the relevant passage, from Genesis 38:

8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.

Here, again, it seems like the prime candidate for the sin in this passage is, you know, shirking a family obligation by shagging your brother’s widow and then trying to back out of a deal to provide him with an heir, which was supposed to be the point of the aforementioned shagging. Maybe not death-penalty material, but on face pretty sleazy behavior. But it’s the seed-spilling that gets remembered. This is especially odd because, even in the days before Internet porn, it’s pretty hard to believe that such spilling was so very infrequent that there’s only this one guy remembered for partaking, and that he was zapped for it. If I’m wrong, though, the good lord does at least seem to be taking his sweet time laying the smite-down on some of us.

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