While I would really like to give this book a really bad mark, unfortunately I cannot go lower than one. Despite that, there are still some interesting themes in the book, however the author just did not seem to be able to tease them out properly. First of all this book is based on a Hollywood movie of a similar name, and is, as Hollywood is prone to do, revisionist history. Okay, there are probably a lot of people who would agree with me that this book should go on the fantasy shelf (which is where I have put it) but the reason that I put it there is not because I think that the Bible is pure fantasy (I do not) or because I do not believe that Sodom and Gomorrah ever existed, but rather because the author (and by extension, the filmmakers) have basically butchered the story of Sodom and Gomorrah so much that it only vaguely resembles the original story.
The main thing that stood out was how the writer is constantly drumming on about the idea that the Hebrews did not own slaves (and a couple of times he uses the word Jew, which is a total anachronism) because they did. In fact, it is accepted that Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, was Abraham's slave. However, the idea that is coming out here is obviously the idea that humans should not be allowed to own another human, and this is obviously something that has arisen in the last two hundred years with the efforts of William Wilberforce to outlaw slavery in the British Empire, and then the American Civil War being fought to free the slaves in the South (which is one of the reasons behind the war, but not the only one). Mind you, you will be hard pressed these days to even find a Bible that translates certain instances of 'Doulos' into slave (and there was even one pastor I know that suggested that the word Doulos can also mean servant, which is utter rubbish – more modern revisionism, just as the translation of the word Pornea to sexual immorality is also revisionist).
The second theme that comes out of this book is the idea of luxury and sensuality. In the sense of this book (and by reading this book it really did seem to come across as a 'Christian' book, despite the fact that it was based on a mainstream Hollywood movie) the idea of sensuality was pretty much related not just to sexual pleasures, but also to physical wealth. The idea that was coming through is that we actually become slaves to our wealth and to our pleasures, and in doing so we become weak and unable to defend ourselves. This was something that was very much at the forefront of the minds of the ancients, who believed that if we became decadent then we would not be able to fight of our enemies. In fact this is one of the reasons that the Roman Empire had collapsed.
It is interesting that the main characters came to Sodom to find ten righteous men, and found none, and that there was a 'prophet' who would spend his time warning the people of Sodom of what would happen if they continued in their ways (and was pretty much ignored). Once again, this seems to be very much a Christian view of society, and while there is nothing explicitly wrong with this view, we tend to get caught up on one aspect of it and put ourselves up as the arbitrators of God's justice without looking at ourselves and questioning whether we are adding to the problem, and whether we are ourselves ignoring our own sin and rebelliousness.
This is something that Jesus spoke a lot about to the religious leaders of his day, particularly when he suggested that they heap burdens on the back of the poor and do not lift a finger to help them. They also focus a lot on God's judgement and forget about God's love and God's grace. In fact you will discover a lot of books where the belief is that we focus too much on God's love and forget about his sense of justice, and in doing so we swing too far to the other side. In a way the fire and brimstone pastor is burned into our subconsiousness and thus causes us to forget that there is an aspect of grace to God's character. The fact that God has held back his judgement of the world, and his giving us time to turn around, is an example of his grace.
Obviously there comes a time when God will act, as can be seen in the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Once again, as is the case with many churches today, we focus more on statement that the people of Sodom wanted to have sex with the angels and claim that it was homosexuality that brought God's judgement upon them, when in fact the New Testament points out that this is not the case (and I sort of wonder if the people of Sodom suspected that these visitors of Lot were actually angels). I cannot remember exactly where the story of Sodom's sin is expounded upon in the New Testament (I believe it is in one of the letters of Peter) but it is clear that it is not homosexuality. Maybe it was because of their greedy and idolatrous nature, and maybe it was because they mistreated the poor.
As for this book, I believe that the themes that are expounded, that being slavery and the dangers of luxurious living, are important things, as well as the idea that when we move forward we do not look back at what we have left behind, but rather we put our face toward the goals we have set ourselves and leave our former lives behind. However I believe that these themes can be explored in much better ways than they have been explored in this rather pathetic excuse for a book.