Va-Yera – Lot’s Final Indignity

Lot is the Rodney Dangerfield of early biblical figures: he really gets no respect. Only a few verses after Lot flees from the burning ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, his story ends. Not with a triumph. Not even with any dignity. No. Lot gets raped by his daughters who, apparently, are tremendous idiots.

More after the break.

Flight of Lot, by Albrecht Dürer, 1496, Washington, National Gallery of Art
Flight of Lot, by Albrecht Dürer, 1496, Washington, National Gallery of Art

Where we last left our story, God was preparing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot had fled with his wife (soon to be a pile of salt) and two daughters. Not having a place to go, Lot bargained with God to save the city of Zoar. Whether this was because he was too much a coward to live on the plains alone, or whether he just liked an urban environment, the text isn’t clear. The intention clearly was to give Lot a place of refuge, somewhere where he could live in peace and safety for a while. That could have been the end of his story… but sadly, it was not.

The end of Genesis 19 takes every redeeming quality that Lot had and threw them out the door. He was a coward and “afraid to dwell in Zoar” (Genesis 19:30). Why? The text doesn’t say, though perhaps being the only survivor of the destruction of four cities may have helped. If I had been in Zoar, I might have thought Lot a good luck charm. Regardless, Lot and his two daughters fled to the hills and lived in a cave. (The eagle-eyed observer might remark that “in a cave” in exactly what type of live Lot was seeking to avoid by bargaining with the angels in the first place.)

Somehow, Lot’s two daughters got it into their heads that they were the last two human women on earth, and their father was the last man on earth. Moreover, it was their duty– no matter how disgusting the task– to ensure the survival of the human race: they needed to have sex with their father. As the cave was mysteriously well-stocked with wine, this wasn’t as much of a problem as it might have been. The two sisters got their father drunk and then slept with him, one each night, until they were both pregnant. The text makes it clear that Lot was so completely drunk that he didn’t remember any of this incest, but that hardly makes up for the shame.

Sometime later, the daughters had one child each: Moab, the ancestor of the Moabites, and Ben-ammi, the progenitor of the Ammonites. Presumably the biblical writers were trying to make a point of making two of Israel’s long-time adversaries the offspring of incest (never mind that most of the key figures of the Torah have more than a little incest themselves). Despite that, they are also closely related to Abraham and so at least by the time of David being a Moabite wasn’t half-bad. Even Ruth, from the Book of Ruth, was a Moabite. Still, the Torah makes it clear that they were outsiders and unwelcome:

 No Ammonites or Moabites, or any of their descendants for ten generations, can become part of Israel, the LORD’s people. (Deuteronomy 23:3)

Both of the territories of the Moabites and Ammonites (as well as the city of Zoar) are in the country now known as Jordan. The modern-day city of Ammon, Jordan is named for the Ammonites.

This side-story has never sat that well with me. Although it is hardly the only biblical story to not make much sense, having Lot’s daughters so quickly forget that they had visited Zoar and seen people there doesn’t make that much sense otherwise. And, perhaps just as importantly, where did they get all that wine? Did they carry it with them as they fled Sodom? They must have traded for it someplace.

My guess is that Genesis 19 may be an attempt to reconcile two traditions. First, the story describes the origins of the city of Zoar. While this is not an important biblical city (I don’t believe it is mentioned again), it would have been the oldest remaining city on the plain AND have a neat story about how it was spared by God. The city survived until at least the sixth century AD/CE, so it could not have been insignificant. That story may have been merged with a separate story about the origins of the Moabites and Ammonites whose original may not have featured the Zoar trip at all, instead having Lot go directly to the caves. That model would make Lot’s daughters’ decisions make a lot more sense, but it is only a guess.

A few other observations:

  • Depending on how you read the Noah & Ham story of Genesis 9, Lot’s story has many striking parallels. In that start, Noah had taken to drinking after the flood. (He even had to invent the art of wine-making to do it.) Like Lot, Noah was drunk and alone and visited by his offspring. While Genesis 9 just states that Ham saw Noah naked, the severity of the punishment has caused some commentators to suggest that Ham actually raped Noah. In both cases, the “offspring” of the rapists also go on to be nations that Israel doesn’t like. On the plus side for Lot, at least it wasn’t GAY incest.

 

  •  This is one of a handful of places in the Torah where there appears to be a narrator and a sense of present time. Genesis 19:38 reads that  “he is the father of the Ammonites of today.” When was “today”, exactly? With Moses at Sinai? Sometime later? Let’s not even get into what it suggests if there are no Ammonites today…

 

After this story, Lot is never heard from again. A sad ending to a sad sidekick.

Up Next: She’s My Sister, Really! (AGAIN?)

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