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trigger warning – Meta Sodomite Challenge

June 30, 2015
TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

“And they inserted their Logic, stuck it in him.”
What the fuck is this shit?
Stewart James Felker

Men don’t use the word “rape” when they testify. They talk about being sodomized, or about iron rods being inserted into them. In so doing, they make rape a women’s issue. By denying their own sexual subjugation to male brutality, they form a brotherhood with rapists that conspires against their own wives, mothers, and daughters, say some of those who testify.

There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding sexual torture, says Sheila Meintjes. It is not difficult to understand why. “There is a hypothesis that sexual torture of men is to induce sexual passivity and to abolish political power and potency, while the torture of women is the activation of sexuality. There is a lot of anger about women — because women do not have the authority, but often they have a lot of power.”
Antjie Krog

We have much to learn from Rwandans, who have been brave enough to confront and convict rape as a universal crime. Look outside my office window at that dormitory. We don’t know how to face, to confront, the rape that goes in these buildings on this Texas Christian University (TCU) campus.
an upper level administrator having returned from the TCU-sponsored screening of the documentary The Uncondemned in Kigali

A mark! O, mark but that mark! A mark, says my lady!
Let the mark have a prick in’t, to mete at, if it may be.

She’s too hard for you at pricks, sir: challenge her to bowl.

I will something affect the letter, for it argues facility.
The preyful princess pierced and prick’d a pretty pleasing pricket;
Some say a sore; but not a sore, till now made sore with shooting.
The dogs did yell: put L to sore, then sorel jumps from thicket;
Or pricket sore, or else sorel; the people fall a-hooting.
If sore be sore, then L to sore makes fifty soresone sorel.
Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L.
William Shakespeare

The last Old Testament “Clobber Text” I will talk about is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19. Some interpret this story to say that the sin of Sodom is homosexuality and believe that God destroyed the city of Sodom because it was “overrun with homosexuals.” To summarize the story, a host invites traveling men into his house. Later, an angry mob of townspeople surround the house and demand that the host turn his guests over to them, clearly stating that foreigners are not welcome and implying that they may be raped or killed. The host attempts to soothe the anger of the threatening gangs by offering women of his household for the mob to abuse instead of his male guests. (Rogers 67). Rogers says that “in that culture, the most humiliating experience for a man was to be treated like a woman, and raping a man was the most violent such treatment.” So, the host felt it was more important to protect the integrity of the male visitors in his house than to protect his own women.
Emily Douglas

In both Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter Butler deals extensively with Irigaray’s writings and criticises her, especially in her first book, sometimes vehemently (Butler 1990: 18). Nevertheless, in her second book she takes a conceptual turn that is basically similar to Irigaray’s, even if the contact-points for identification she offers are different. As already mentioned, Irigaray argues that a phallogocentrical order induces an outside that is constitutive and stands for the contingent par excellence, for which she coins the metaphor “the sex that is not one”. This appears in Bodies that Matter in a mirrored way when Butler points out that the constitution of a subject is always and constitutively accompanied by exclusion. Butler then passes over this exclusion, which is constitutively part of the formation of any identity, referring on the one hand to the notions of “repudiation” and “abjection” borrowed implicitly from Lacan (Butler 1993: 3 and 111) that designate a process in which the subject abandons unliveable potentialities (see also Distelhorst 2007: 118f.). But on the other hand she superposes this exclusion with the notions with which Michel Foucault investigates the ways in which norms define who and what counts as reality and as a viable subject, and who or what is “fundamentally unintelligible” (Butler 2004: 28 and 30). This brings Butler to the conception that the heterosexual hegemony produces homo-, trans- or intersexuals as “unthinkable, abject, unliveable bodies” (Butler, 1993: xi and 3). Butler criticises Irigaray for, as she sees it, equating the outside of phallogentric order with “the female”.[6] Nevertheless, her writing also mirrors that of Irigaray in Bodies that Matter when Butler relates this outside of phallogentric order to the lesbian and ultimately the homosexual (Butler 1993: 51). In this way, however, as Butler contends, a competition in the sphere of the excluded and abjected emerges between the “feminine” and the “homosexual”, one that is tantamount to a competition between (heterosexual) “women” and “gays/lesbians”. This becomes evident when Butler states “that the feminine monopolizes the sphere of the excluded” (Butler 1993: 48), an assumption she sets out to criticise.[7] Such a bringing-into-competition also becomes evident when Butler critically discusses whether “gender” can be seen as a “code for homosexuality” (Butler 2004: 181) but then herself poses the question of whether “difference” could not be read as a “code for heterosexual normativity” (Butler 2004: 202).
Anna Schober

Above all we must keep in mind that narrative is a form of representation. Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than the painting of an apple is real fruit.
Adele Berlin

We find the Bible of the Jews in Greek, and even where it’s in Hebrew and in Hebrew Aramaic, it’s mostly in Greek. And we may even want that language not to be rhetorical. But where the Jewish bible is in Greek, it comes to us already translated. Translation is rhetorical, whether we’d like it to be something a-rhetorical or not-too rhetorical if possible.
J. K. Gayle

Aristotle consistently sought to contrast his philosophical system [of logic] with that of his predecessors even if the contrast required distortion of his predecessors’ doctrines…. The conceptual term for the Sophists was usually logos and sometimes legein [which means ‘to speak’] — terms broader in meaning than any ancient conception.
Edward Schiappa

Pardon me for having so many epigraphs and the necessary trigger warning. I’m trying to set the stage for my limited blog engagement with a particular translation challenge.

Here’s further context.

Last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States granted marriage equality. That same weekend blogger Deane Galbraith issued “The Sodomite Challenge: How to Translate Genesis 19:5” to a few of us bloggers. Earlier that week I’d been to a Shakespeare play on the Texas Christian University campus with my daughter who’d just graduated from college and is going this week to South Africa to be a teacher, reading in preparation, Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa and finding herself in tears talking with my wife and me about it. These are coincidences of my own life. My limited blog engagement with Deane’s particular translation challenge is highly subjective. There are ambiguities to take note of.

Yesterday I finally brought myself not to translate the Hebrew of the MT into English, as is Deane’s challenge. Rather I brought myself to confront the Hellene translation of that Hebrew done in spite of the Aristotelian phallogocentricism that Alexander the Great learned from Aristotle. I rather agree with Sylvie Honigman, who says the translators of the Hebrew scriptures in Alexandria did not work out of the Alexandrian paradigm but instead out of a Homeric paradigm. I tend to find compelling the Talmud’s claim, according to Naomi Seidman, that the Septuagint is a trickster text, a rendering of the Hebrew that confronts the politics of the Greeks in the context of Alexandria, of Egypt.

I do think Deane is most correct about the Hebrew representations:

So the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 evokes three types of sexual intercourse, none of which actually occur, but which are only spoken about [in the MT’s Hebrew].

  • First, the crowd infer that Lot had been having sex intercourse with the two men/angels by night (Gen 19:5a);
  • Second, the crowd of men demand sexual intercourse between them and the two men/angels, and (Gen 19:5b);
  • Three, Lot offers his two daughters for sexual intercourse with the crowd of men (Gen 19:8).

But no actual sexual intercourse takes place until, in a surprising twist, Lot has sex with his two daughters (Gen 19:30-38).

With the exception of the imagined sexual intercourse between Lot and the two men/angels, each of the other three descriptions of sexual intercourse (described or actual) involves rape: the rape of the two men/angels by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot’s two daughters by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot by his two daughters.

The Hellene, or Greek, representations of this sort of Hebrew representations do something else. They engage readers in a male contest over language, over Logos in the Greek Empire. Such is violent. Such violence silences women. Such silences men who are called kinaidoi (“catamites”). Logic sounds more natural, less botched, according to Aristotle, who taught Alexander, to greatly colonize the world, which is now, in the West largely still our world.

The Jews translating their own Scripture in Alexandria Egypt had Sarai say to Abram of the Egyptian woman:

εἶπεν δὲ Σαρα πρὸς Αβραμ
ἰδοὺ συνέκλεισέν με κύριος τοῦ μὴ τίκτειν
εἴσελθε οὖν πρὸς τὴν παιδίσκην μου
ἵνα τεκνοποιήσῃς ἐξ αὐτῆς
ὑπήκουσεν δὲ Αβραμ τῆς φωνῆς Σαρας

Readers notice the preposition προς. In the gospel of John this gets translated as “with” as in “with God”; and this provokes Anne Carson to ask, “What kind of withness?”

It’s more than with. More intimate than that. More violent perhaps. The non-consensual “entering into” by the man “with” her. Or did she have a choice, this slave, this woman, of Egypt?

Earlier for Genesis the translators have written, using Greek:

καὶ ἐξεκαλοῦντο τὸν Λωτ
καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς αὐτόν

ποῦ εἰσιν
οἱ ἄνδρες οἱ εἰσελθόντες πρὸς σὲ τὴν νύκτα
ἐξάγαγε αὐτοὺς πρὸς ἡμᾶς
ἵνα συγγενώμεθα αὐτοῖς

We see the same words, εἰσελθόντες, “enter into,” and multiply πρὸς. What sort of intimate withness is this?

We see other words with the multiple πρὸς: namely ἐξάγαγε and ἔλεγον. And there’s συγγενώμεθα. These words recall Plutarch’s later critique of the much earlier Salon, whom Aristotle valorized (from here, with Bernadotte Perrin’s English translation from here):

ὅλως δὲ πλείστην ἔχειν ἀτοπίαν οἱ περὶ τῶν γυναικῶν νόμοι τῷ Σόλωνι δοκοῦσι. μοιχὸν μὲν γὰρ ἀνελεῖν τῷ λαβόντι δέδωκεν: ἐὰν δ᾽ ἁρπάσῃ τις ἐλευθέραν γυναῖκα καὶ βιάσηται, ζημίαν ἑκατὸν δραχμὰς ἔταξε: κἂν προαγωγεύῃ, δραχμὰς εἴκοσι, πλὴν ὅσαι πεφασμένως πωλοῦνται, λέγων δὴ τὰς ἑταίρας. αὗται γὰρ ἐμφανῶς φοιτῶσι πρὸς τοὺς διδόντας. [2] ἔτι δ᾽ οὔτε θυγατέρας πωλεῖν οὔτ᾽ ἀδελφὰς δίδωσι, πλὴν ἂν μὴ λάβῃ παρθένον ἀνδρὶ συγγεγενημένην. τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ πρᾶγμα ποτὲ μὲν πικρῶς καὶ ἀπαραιτήτως κολάζειν, ποτὲ δ᾽ εὐκόλως καὶ παίζοντα, πρόστιμον ζημίαν τὴν τυχοῦσαν ὁρίζοντα, ἄλογόν ἐστι: πλὴν εἰ μὴ σπανίζοντος τότε τοῦ νομίσματος ἐν τῇ πόλει μεγάλας ἐποίει τὰς ἀργυρικὰς ζημίας τὸ δυσπόριστον.

But in general Solon’s laws concerning women seem very absurd. For instance, he permitted an adulterer caught in the act to be killed; but if a man committed rape upon a free woman, he was merely to be fined a hundred drachmas; and if he gained his end by persuasion, twenty drachmas, unless it were with one of those who sell themselves openly, meaning of course the courtesans. For these go openly to those who offer them their price. [2] Still further, no man is allowed to sell a daughter or a sister, unless he find that she is no longer a virgin. But to punish the same offence now severely and inexorably, and now mildly and pleasantly, making the penalty a slight fine, is unreasonable; unless money was scarce in the city at that time, and the difficulty of procuring it made these monetary punishments heavy.

What we see is the violence, the rape, the struggle for men to account for rape especially when raped.

Even the line καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς αὐτόν is a struggle. My translation of this translation is this line,“And they inserted their Logic, stuck it in him.” Somehow, ironically, SF at Deane’s blog violently reacts. The need to confront this sort of thing in our day and time is there. We are stuck with this sort of language.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2015 2:38 pm

    I’ve just discovered that we might give LXX Gen 8:11 the same treatment: καὶ ἀνέστρεψεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡ περιστερὰ τὸ πρὸς ἑσπέραν… which is (very piously) translated in NETS as “and the dove went back to him [=Noah] toward evening.”

    But here, πρὸς αὐτὸν invites us to see this alongside Gen 19:5. ἀναστρέφω clearly suggests “dig into” (cf. Hdt. 6.47), a phrase which is of course pregnant with sexual innuendo. Donne writes, “Some that have deeper digg’d love’s mine than I, / Say, where his centric happiness doth lie.” As Low (1993:46) suggests, here “the poet assumes a community of libertine attitudes at the expense of women, whose deprecation cements the bond between the male speaker and his audience.”

    Now one might at first think that ἀνέστρεψεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡ περιστερὰ then forces us to reconsider the ultimate taboo of inter-species erotic acts. But more than this, I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the Hebrew word for “dove,” יוֹנָה, is so similar to Sanskrit योनि, “vagina/womb.” In this sense perhaps יוֹנָה / περιστερά does not hint at the taboo of interspecies erotic acts at all, but is actually a subversive reversal of (human) penetration in general! Noah does not penetrate the “dove” (=vagina), but rather the vagina penetrates him (during “evening,” no less: the very setting of the Sodom narrative: ἦλθον οἱ δύο ἄγγελοι εἰς Σοδομα ἑσπέρας).

    This reading which is made all the more likely considering that the “flood” narrative is already replete with sexual imagery and other motifs of gestation and pregnancy: one should note that — if one tallies up the chronology of the flood here — the flood itself last exactly as long as a human pregnancy does (cf. Kilmer’s “Of Babies, Boats, and Arks”).

  2. June 30, 2015 3:45 pm

    Thanks for your comment. Let me reply first to your comment, with the expletives, on my translation of καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς αὐτόν. Literarily or metaphorically or figurally a text (i.e., a Logos, or a hard Logic) might rape. Gorgias plays with this notion in his playful encomium of Helen, which Plato then makes fun of, having his teacher, Plato’s Socrates ridicule Gorgias for being a user, not of real truth, but of “rhetorica,” something feminine, or effeminate. Here’s a page from Robert Wardyexploring what Gorgias was up to:


    Now thanks for bringing us back to the LXX, to πρὸς, and to the representation and narrative of Noah in Greek there. All pertinent. Interesting trans-linguistic ambiguities you note, and the turn upon Noah. If the dove was the first, then that may not have been the last. Fast forward to what we count as chapter 9.

    Notice what the Greek adds that the Hebrew lacks in verse 22:

    וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ׃

    καὶ εἶδεν Χαμ ὁ πατὴρ Χανααν τὴν γύμνωσιν τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἀνήγγειλεν τοῖς δυσὶν ἀδελφοῖς αὐτοῦ ἔξω

    The end of the phrase matches fine ἔξω = בַּחֽוּץ

    And yet this angelic announcement, stresses the Greek addition, is made when the son leaves his father and goes outside: ἐξελθὼν ἀνήγγειλεν

    The movement in, and out, accompanies the Hebrew euphemism for the uncovering of the nakedness.

    Adele Berlin’s and Marc Brettler’s Jewish Study Bible has this footnote to help readers see the subtitles of the Hebrew (accented by the Hellene)


    How does one write, or translate about, a man, a savior and a patriarch in this case, being raped?

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