In the movie Hidalgo, the main character Frank Hopkins (played ably by Viggo Mortensen) had a problem in the Middle East, which is not necessarily the best place to have a problem in the world. Having been granted hospitality by the host of a long-distance horse race, he falls in love with the Arab sheik’s lovely daughter . This was, in retrospect, not a particularly good idea. Having been caught in the tent of the sheik’s daughter, he faced a particularly grim fate from which he was very fortunate to escape alive and whole. Having traveled in the Middle East, I felt rather glad to have avoided the same fate myself, although I have not been entirely fortunate enough to escape the same sorts of concerns in my life. Being a person who is particularly concerned about questions of honor, the matter of hospitality is something of importance for me.
The Bible shows the hospitality code in one of the most shocking and serious stories in scripture. In Genesis 19, the story of Lot’s exit from Sodom and Gomorrah is narrated, and in between the lines one can read a great deal of cultural cues. (Judges 19 itself tells a similar story of hospitality from the perspective of an Israelite in the town of Gibeon in what is an explicit parallel, in more ways than one, with the story told in Genesis 19.) A couple of angels show up at Sodom to do some investigation of its depravity, and the men of Sodom think that the angels looked like particularly attractive future rape victims. After having taken the step of cooking for his guests, Lot is faced with the horrifying choice of trying to save his guests from being violated by offering his betrothed daughters as substitutions for the carnal pleasure of the men of Sodom, who were only interested in the angels, as well as Lot also. The angels, predictably, wanted to avoid that fate, and blinded the men of Sodom before dragging Lot and his family and taking them away from Sodom just before its destruction.
In times of great trial like that in Genesis 19 (or its analogue in Judges 19), the code of hospitality in the Middle East required drastic efforts to be taken in order to protect guests from harm. Those who betrayed the safety and well-being of their guests faced the gravest condemnation of their peers and history for their dishonorable behavior. Our standards of hospitality are less extreme here, although there is at least one way that the code of hospitality is the same here and in the Middle East, and just about everywhere where people are hospitable to others. That code is a very clear one, and that is that no guest is to do harm or trespass on the hospitality offered by their hosts. There are a few consistent ways that one can do harm or trespass on the hospitality of one’s hosts, and the movie Hidalgo is pretty clear about that.
It is striking and noteworthy that Mr. Hopkins (who was a real historical personage) behaves with a great deal of honor even as he is obviously infatuated with the daughter of his host, who is portrayed as being rather daring herself and not entirely traditional. I can see how a man with a taste for danger (and I must freely admit that this is the case for me) would be drawn to an open and friendly young woman, especially in light of the injustice of how she was viewed in her society. There are a lot of qualities that draw us to others, and if we have a taste for danger we can easily put ourselves into harm’s way, even if we have no desire to harm others or take advantage of others. Sometimes that is not always an easy matter to convey, nor is easy to know one’s own share of responsibility in the way others behave, or if they are really acting in relations to you at all. It is hard to know for sure the motives that govern the behavior of others or ourselves, and the risks that we face in being friendly folks.