Genesis 19 and Early Church Writings [Mathetes to Diognetus] 4-6

Genesis 19 - Two angel messengers are entertained by Lot whose hospitality is implicitly praised.  The men of the town beat at his door demanding that he turn them over to them so they can “abuse” them –“be intimate with them” [Tanakh 19:5]. There is virtually no discussion or follow up on the particular evil implied.  The whole focus is on the fact that destruction will come, but the virtuous Lot and those he loves are given a path to follow to avoid the destruction.

 

Lot’s daughters seem to be affected by the sexual decadence of the times in their own plot to sleep with their father.  The older daughter gives birth to Moah, the younger one to Ben-ammi (the Ammonites).  The note suggests it is a gibe at Israel’s enemies to link them in this way with such conduct.

 

There is controversy over whether God is outraged at what happens here because the men of Sodom “abuse” male visitors, hence are guilty of a crime involving homosexuality or because they violate the norm of “hospitality.” I personally think the crime is primarily a crime against the ethic of hospitality. Just having finished reading Fagel’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, it is pretty clear that hospitality was central to ancient people. In Greek culture, and here apparently in Mesopotamian culture, you NEVER KNEW if the beggar who was seeking your help was really a god or the emissary of a god.

 

 

Epistle of Mathetes [Disciple] to Diognetus

From Christian Classics Ethereal Library - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.html

 

Chapter 4 – He describes the Jews as a people full of superstitions concerning the Sabbaths, circumcision and “fancies about fasting and new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice . . ..” This part definitely sounds like something that early Friends picked up on.

 

To speak of God “as if He forbade us to do what is good on Sabbath-days” is impious. And “to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election” – this too is worthy of ridicule. The Christians abstain from the vanities and common errors of both Jews and Gentiles. But “you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.”

 

Chapter 5 –The Christians “are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct, which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners . . . They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all . . . They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all . . ..”

 

These words were a little thought-provoking to me - a little surprising in light of the way Quakers [and Mennonite Christians] have in some ways tried to create an “alternate culture” of “plain dress” and distinctive language; but perhaps these distinctive ways arose naturally out of a desire to do away with distinctions that were very much a part of the “worldly” culture of their day. I think we should keep this in mind today though. We are not seeking to be noticeable for being uniquely old-fashioned; we should be simple and not spend wads of money on clothing or ornaments; but we aren’t trying to set ourselves apart in superficial ways – just in the love we have and the faithfulness we have to Christ’s Light in us.

 

Chapter 6 – “To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. . . . The flesh hates the soul and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.”

 

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