Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames
Abraham Sees Sodom in FlamesJames Tissot

Nothing is more poignant than the fall and destruction of a city. What passed as a haven of civilization, art, wealth, beauty, spirituality, or just as a safe place, is reduced to ashes; its inhabitants, once proud or arrogant or just tranquil, have been starved to death or killed by the sword, or reduced to slavery. Should such reversals in human destinies be ascribed to God’s higher justice, or seen as ultimate evidence of life’s nonsense and absurdity?

Judaism dwells at length on these matters. The Hebrew Bible devotes countless pages, either in prose or poetry, to Jerusalem, the chosen city of the chosen people, its greatness and its sins, its collapse at the hand of merciless invaders and its future resurrection. Three yearly fasts and one three weeks mourning season commemorate the destruction of both Temples and the ensuing devastations of the holy city and the land.

However, according to the Rabbis, they will be eventually turned into joyous holidays in Messianic times. The same pattern – disaster and rebirth - is to be found in the Jewish marriage ceremonials, that include Psalm CXXXVII, 5-6 first (“If I forget thee, o Jerusalem”) and then Jeremiah XXXIII, 10-11 (“Yet again there shall be heard... in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem…the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride”).

Christianity and the Christianized Western civilization at large also internalized the Biblical narrative of Jerusalem and applied it to their own circumstances. An intriguing and perhaps ironic example is to be found in Strahlungen, the war diaries of the German writer Ernst Jünger. In his latest entries, as the Third Reich is collapsing, Jünger quotes extensively the Old Testament: the books of Jeremiah, Jonas and Job. A way to depart from the most inhuman and antisemitic regime in history, and at the same time a prayer for the survival of Germany, beyond crime and retribution.

There are other cities in the Bible, however. Maybe we should focus on two of them, Sodom and Nineveh.

In Genesis XVIII, 17-33, God tells Abraham about the impending destruction of Sodom (and her sister-city Gomorrha), “because their outcry has become great, and because their sin has become very grave”. Abraham then raises an essential question: is there anything like collective guilt? Is it conceivable that everybody in Sodom and Gomorrha took part in the national sin, and that innocent inhabitants should be punished along with the wicked ones? Every reader of the Bible is familiar with Abraham’s bargaining with God (“What if there are fifty innocent people, forty, thirty”, etc) and with God’s final answer: the Almighty will spare a city if ten righteous people at least are to be found, but not if this quorum is not met.

The following verses shed light on the nature of Sodom’s sin: depriving strangers of the most basic human rights and subjecting them to abject rape. While the West at large always focused on the second part of this indictment, so much so that sodomy has become an alternative appellation for sexual misbehavior, the Rabbis have been chiefly concerned by the first part. “Sodom’s sins” or “Sodom’s laws”, in the Jewish tradition, refer above all to a polity built on blatant injustice.

Interestingly, Genesis XIX also shows that God is in fact willing to rescue in a miraculous way the last righteous – or semi-righteous – inhabitants, even if they are under the ten souls’ threshold, provided they don’t “look behind” while being salvaged (they definitely cut with Sodom’s culture). A test that Lot’s wife does not pass.

On the face of it, Nineveh’s case, as related in the Book of Jonah, is very similar to Sodom’s: the city so sinful that she must be destroyed. However, when told so by the Hebrew prophet Jonas on God’s command, she repents and is spared. Something Jonas does not fully understand: why should God relent from a just sentence? The Jewish tradition sides with God, and incidentally with Nineveh, on this issue: the Book of Jonas is read in full the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, dedicated to introspection, inner conversion.

Indeed, God’s ways are not Man’s ways, and Man should never see himself as the infallible agent of God’s justice. Still, the very purpose of Revelation is to bind together Man and God, and infer, as much as possible, from God to Man.

Much has been said and written since October 7 in this respect. The outcry against the Hamas regime in Gaza has been “very great”, at least in the Judeo-Christian world. And comparisons with the sins of Sodom are not irrelevant. The atrocities perpetrated by the Gaza jihadists in Western Israel were widely reported. The hostages that have been released so far have described the eerie inhumanity of their captors. Mia Schem, an Israeli-French hostage released in November, disclosed on December 29 to a French TV station that she passed through “a Holocaust”, as the private booty of a Gaza family, and warned that “everybody in Gaza is a terrorist”.

The sites where the bodies of hostages were found
The sites where the bodies of hostages were foundIDF Spokesperson

Father Patrick Desbois, the Catholic priest who helped in retrieving the memory of the “shooting Holocaust” in Ukraine and Belarus and heads the Yahad-In Unum institute on genocide studies, recently added further information about the culture of inhumanity that has been pervading Gazan society.

According to him, jihadists from Gaza were heavily involved in the Daesh genocide of Yezidis in Syria and Iraq, and in the trafficking of Yezidi captives for slavery and sexual exploitation.

Photo by journalist who took part at Oct. 7th massacre
Photo by journalist who took part at Oct. 7th massacreReuters

For all that, there is also compassion in the Judean-Christian world for the Gazans as victims of war, just because they are victims – and rightly so. No doubt that Israel is doing everything it can do to spare non-combatant Gazans in this bitter war, and the mass evacuation of civilians from Gaza City and other places, whatever its harshness, was a way to protect them. Still, war is war: “a rain of sulfur and fire”.

We know also that not all Gazans are part of Hamas and would welcome the fall of the evil regime. Israeli sources have noted significant differences among Gazans in this respect according to tribal or clanic affiliation.

However, it would be a terrible mistake to confuse compassion for the Gazans with mercy for Hamas and its ilk. In fact, true compassion dictates the eradication of the latter in order to salvage the former. In one of his wisest statements so far, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu listed the “denazification” of Gaza his country’s number one war goal. Another word for transiting from Sodom to Nineveh.

Michel Gurfinkiel is a widely published French conservative journalist and public intellectual. He served as editor-in-chief of Valeurs Actuelles on the board of Commentary, and in 2003, founded the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute. He is a fellow of the Middle East Forum and recipient of the National Order of Merit.

https://www.settimananews.it/informazione-internazionale/from-sodom-to-nineveh/© Michel Gurfinkiel & SettimanaNews, 2023