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Universalism and Particularism at Sodom and Gomorrah

Universalism and Particularism at Sodom and Gomorrah: Essays in Memory of Ron Pirson

Edited by Diana Lipton
  • Book Info
    Universalism and Particularism at Sodom and Gomorrah
    Book Description:

    This book reexamines the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis 18–19, an ethically charged text that has significantly influenced views about homosexuality, stereotyping the other, the rewards and risks of hospitality, and the justice owed to outsiders. Its twelve essays, reflecting their authors’ considerable geographical, religious, methodological, and academic diversity, explore this troubling text through the lens of universalism and particularism. Biblical Sodom is read as the site of multiple borders—fluid, porous, and bi-directional—between similar and different, men and angels, men and women, fathers and daughters, insiders and outsiders, hosts and guests, residents and aliens, chosen and nonchosen, and people and God. Readers of these exegetically and theologically attentive essays published in memory of Ron Pirson will experience a rare sense of an ancient text being read in and for the modern world. The contributors are Calum Carmichael, Diana Lipton, William John Lyons, Nathan MacDonald, Amira Meir, Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg, T. A. Perry, Ron Pirson, Jonathan D. Safren, Megan Warner, Harlan J. Wechsler, and Ellen J. van Wolde.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-651-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Diana Lipton
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Remembering Ron Pirson, by His Life-Partner
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Petra Thijs
  5. Ron Pirson: Memories of a Former Colleague
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Pierre Van Hecke
  6. Ron Pirson: Publications
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Section 1: The Ethics of Preference

    • The Eternal Liminality of Lot: Paying the Price of Opposing the Particular in the Sodom Narrative
      (pp. 3-24)
      William John Lyons

      Attending the first meeting of the Gen 18–19 section at the SBL International meeting in Edinburgh in 2006, and seeing how the topic chosen by Ron Pirson¹—that of universalism and particularism in the Sodom story—was developed, brought home to me just how flexible that narrative is; small disagreements on minor exegetical points easily lead to significant interpretive variations. With this flexibility in mind, I want to begin this essay by setting the scene for my interpretation, spelling out here just what it is that I am trying to achieve.

      First, this interpretation comes from within a very...

    • The Limits of Intercession: Abraham Reads Ezekiel at Sodom and Gomorrah
      (pp. 25-42)
      Diana Lipton

      Coriolanus’s young son is not the only one to have “an aspect of intercession.” The entire montage is calculated to affect: mourning habits, assembled generations of a single family, gentle mothers and appealing infants, and a dove-eyed woman to lead them by the hand. Coriolanus resolves to resist, but not before Shakespeare has immortalized the tropes of classical intercession, highlighting in the process the clash, or otherwise, of the personal and political, the emotional and the rational, the familial and the national. In this paper, I want to examine the tropes of intercession in relation to the figure of Abraham....

    • Changing God’s Mind: Abraham versus Jonah
      (pp. 43-52)
      T. A. Perry

      Like Gen 18–19, the book of Jonah focuses on the prophet’s ability to reveal, or perhaps negotiate, the terms of pardon. Yet repentance occurs only in Nineveh, not in Sodom, and only the book of Jonah can move on to consider the status of a postrepentant city. The discussion takes the form of a debate between two valid but not entirely compatible points of view: that of God, who is content to let the Ninevites live as innocent animals and children; and that of Jonah, who has more “spiritual” goals in mind for humanity. It is, I think, illuminating...

    • Why Did God Choose Abraham? Responses from Medieval Jewish Commentators
      (pp. 53-68)
      Amira Meir

      My question in this paper is, Why did God choose Abraham? More specifically, why, according to medieval Jewish commentators, did God choose Abraham, distinguishing him and singling him out from among all people of the world? Did these Jewish commentators think that God chose Abraham because of a natural characteristic, or rather because of a decision that Abraham made that reflected the way of life he chose to lead?

      The Hebrew Bible itself gives no clear answer to this basic question. The only biblical verse that mentions the verb בחר “to choose” in relation to Abraham is in Neh 9:7–...

  8. Section 2: Justice by the Book

    • Outcry, Knowledge, and Judgment in Genesis 18–19
      (pp. 71-100)
      Ellen J. van Wolde

      The reception history of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah keeps exerting its influence on the readings of Gen 18–19. In past and present studies the topics of hospitality, justice, Yhwh’s righteousness, and, of course, homosexuality are addressed extensively and intensively, but—at least in my view—some important questions have never been posed. The first question is, who are those crying out for justice in Gen 18:20–21 and in Gen 19:13? And did their outcry brought about the expected results? If Lot was crying out for justice, why would he have done so, because none of the...

    • Legal and Ethical Reflections on Genesis 18 and 19
      (pp. 101-112)
      Calum Carmichael

      In this paper I shall first look at some prominent jurisprudential topics in Gen 18 and 19, turn to the topic of the threatened lineages of Abraham and Lot, and conclude by noting that certain biblical rules (in Lev 18:18–21 and Deut 23:2–6) critique the jeopardy that befell both lines.

      Deuteronomy describes its laws as supremely wise and also proclaims their superior justness: “And who is a great nation that hath just statutes like this Torah?” (Deut 4:8). The statement contrasts Israel’s laws with other countries’ wisdom, but in a spirit that is at the same time nationalistic...

    • Keeping the Way of Yhwh: Righteousness and Justice in Genesis 18–19
      (pp. 113-126)
      Megan Warner

      In his book Reading the Fractures of Genesis, David M. Carr identifies the verse Gen 18:19 as one of a group of three late additions to the Abraham narratives.¹ The other two members of the group are Gen 22:15–18 and 26:3bβ–5. Carr describes these late additions as related, semi-Deuteronomistic, and intensely focused on the connection between Abraham’s obedience and the covenant promises. In Gen 18:19, says Carr, as in the other two passages, the focus is on Abraham’s obedience as a precondition for fulfillment of already-given promises. These three late additions are highly strategic, Carr argues, they change...

  9. Section 3: The Ethics of Hospitality

    • Was Lot a Good Host? Was Lot Saved from Sodom as a Reward for His Hospitality?
      (pp. 129-156)
      Yitzhak (Itzik) Peleg

      Was Lot a good host? Was it his exemplary hospitality that secured his escape from Sodom? In order to evaluate Lot as a host, we must apply a close reading to the account of his hospitality in Gen 19:1–29.¹ Yet this reading, while a necessary condition, is not in itself enough. The narrator apparently wishes to remind us of at least two other stories of hospitality.² The first, adjoining Lot’s story,³ tells of Abraham and the three guests (ch. 18); the second tells of Rahab and the two spies (Josh 2). What can we learn from this double comparison?...

    • Hospitality Compared: Abraham and Lot as Hosts
      (pp. 157-178)
      Jonathan D. Safren

      Ever since Second Temple times, Abraham has been held out as a paragon of virtue.¹ The Mishnah conceives of Abraham as having successfully passed ten tests of his righteousness and loyalty to God,² tests which qualified him for being chosen by God to be the father of the chosen people and worthy of the divine promise of inheriting the land of Canaan.

      By comparison, Lot has come off a poor second place. Weinfeld, who lists Lot’s shortcomings,³ calls him “a helpless character, always dependent on outside aid, and who, if it had not been for Abraham, would have vanished from...

    • Hospitality and Hostility: Reading Genesis 19 in Light of 2 Samuel 10 (and Vice Versa)
      (pp. 179-190)
      Nathan MacDonald

      The parallel between Gen 19 and Judg 19 has often been noted by interpreters of both passages. In both texts strangers arriving in a foreign town at dusk are given hospitality by a resident alien. The townsmen threaten to disturb the generous intents of the resident alien by requiring to “know” the strangers. The hapless host offers the females present in the house as an alternative distraction for the townsmen. Ultimately the town and its inhabitants are destroyed. The parallel in Judg 19 when pursued results in a portrayal of the Sodomites in extremely negative terms, which is not inappropriate...

    • Beyond Particularity and Universality: Reflections on Shadal’s Commentary to Genesis 18–19
      (pp. 191-202)
      Harlan J. Wechsler

      There is no doubt that the particular and the universal are two handles for getting hold of the biblical narrative. Chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis are an apt test case to see these perspectives in action. They may not be exclusive alternatives, however, even when they work together in the same story. Rather, they may merge into a combined phenomenon—a particular mission of the children of Abraham with a universal dimension to it.

      I suggest this observation in response to the commentary on these two chapters by a still relatively unknown nineteenth-century Italian Jewish commentator and early master...

    • Does Lot Know about Yada‘?
      (pp. 203-214)
      Ron Pirson

      It is striking that in a short space of time in the early twenty-first century, several articles were published on Gen 18–19, three in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament and one in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.¹ As if that were not enough, 2004 saw the publication of the volume Sodom’s Sin: Genesis 18–19 and Its Interpretations, edited by Ed Noort and Eibert Tigchelaar.²

      Since Gen 18–19 is without doubt an interesting text, these different publications are most rewarding to read. Nonetheless, enough problems and issues remain for others to shed their light on...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 215-218)
  11. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 219-230)
  12. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 231-234)