A. The Charge. Jesus would not have consented to come into a world tainted by sodomy. Accordingly, the sodomites had to die before he would consent to incarnate.
B. Historical Background. One of the strangest Christian motifs of homonegativity goes back to the thirteenth century, when an Italian prelate Jacobus of Voragine (ca. 1230-1298) compiled a book of edifying Christian stories called the Legenda Aurea (the Golden Legend). Section 6 of that book is entitled “The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Flesh.” There we encounter the following extraordinary claim: “[a]nd even the sodomites gave witness by being exterminated wherever they were in the world on that night, as Jerome says ‘a light rose over them so bright that all who practiced this vice were wiped out; and Christ did this in order that no such uncleanness might be found in the nature he had assumed.’ For as Augustine says, God, seeing that a vice contrary to nature was rife in human nature, hesitated to become incarnate.” (W. G. Ryan, trans., 1993, p. 41).
No such passage has been found in the authentic writings of Jerome or Augustine, though the claim could have appeared in some texts that are simply ascribed to those early Christian writers. In all likelihood, however, the notion arose in the high Middle Ages, perhaps by some scholastic thinker whom Jacobus purloined.
At all events, this murderous legend enjoyed considerable popularity in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. For example, the Flores Temporum a chronicle of the world’s history compiled by a Swabian Franciscan, Hermannus Gigas, records several portents foretelling the coming of Christ, such as the appearance of a spring of olive oil in Rome, the death of all sodomites, and the rising of three suns in the East which merge into one.
The motif recurs in the fifteenth-century Caxton translation of the Golden Legend. “And it happed this nyght, that all the sodomytes that dyde synne ayenst nature were deed and extynct, for god hated so moche this synne, that he myght not suffre that nature humayne whiche he had taken, were delywerd to so grete shame. Wherof saint Austin saith, that it lackyd but lyttl, that god would not become man for that synne.”
The notion of the death of the Sodomites on the first Christmas Eve began to fade in the early eighteenth century--but has not yet disappeared entirely. As recently as 2004 a Greek Orthodox priest pronounced that homosexual conduct was very dangerous. The proof was that the sodomites had to die on Christmas Eve for the Incarnation to take place.
C. Response. Needless to say, history records no such mass extinction of sodomites in or about the year 4 BCE. Despite its longevity, this tale amounts to an urban legend.