The story of the Levite
Judges 19 describes an event much like that at Sodom. This time, an unnamed Levite visited the town of Gibeah with his slaves and concubine. He met an old farmer and was made welcome. A gang of men appeared and demanded that the old man send out the Levite that they might “know” (homosexually rape or assault) him. (It is again not clear what the precise meaning of the verb “to know” was.)
The old man argued that they should not abuse the visitor. He offered to give them both the Levite’s concubine and his own virgin daughter to be heterosexually raped. The mob accepted the former, raped her all night and finally killed her. The Levite sliced up her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each of the tribes of Israel. This triggered a war between the inhabitants of Gibeah and the Israelites during which tens of thousands died.
There was no condemnation against the Levite for sacrificing his concubine, or for committing an indignity to a body. Judges 20:5 emphasizes that the aim of the mob was to kill the stranger — the ultimate act of inhospitality. It appears that these passages condemn abusive treatment of visitors. If they actually refer to homosexual activity, then they condemn homosexual rape; they have nothing at all to say about consensual homosexual relationships.
Also, here is a story which parallels the Sodom account. The Sodom account showed the inhospitality of a Gentile city-state, but in Judges 19 we see an example of extreme inhospitality among the “children of Israel” themselves. As in the Genesis account the house is surrounded by men and the host of the house offers women in the place of his guest and says “humble them …” (Judges 19:24). This clearly shows the purpose of the attack was to humiliate and most probably to kill the stranger, not to satisfy homosexual “lust.” (Judges 20:5) The guest finally puts his concubine outside and they humiliate him by raping and abusing her all night until she dies. This act was an extreme violation of the Hebrew people’s sacred code of hospitality. This act of inhospitality by people of the tribe of Benjamin so enraged the other Hebrew tribes that they went to war with them.
When interpreting the Genesis 18-19 account, fear and prejudice toward homosexuality cause some people to focus on the fact that the rape would have been homosexual rape, and they then condemn all homosexual sex acts. Judges 19 is an almost identical account depicting a group of men raping a woman. Should we therefore conclude that the story was a condemnation of all heterosexual sex acts?
After careful study it seems obvious that neither Genesis 18-19 nor Judges 19 were written as tools for condemnation toward homosexuals. The major focus of these stories was the issue of hospitality.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.