Lot and His Daughters by Hilary Lipka

The story of Lot and his daughters is the culmination of a larger narrative cycle, spanning Gen 18 and Gen 19, in which Lot is contrasted with his uncle Abraham. Lot, like Abraham, is a gracious and considerate host, making the welfare of his guests a priority. However, unlike Abraham, Lot consistently displays poor judgment and a lack of consideration for his family. These personal flaws result in the desperate and unnecessary act of incest performed by Lot’s daughters in Gen 19:30-38.

Gen 19 opens with Lot generously inviting two visitors, angels in disguise, to stay with him in Sodom. But things go wrong when the men of the town demand to “know” Lot’s guests sexually. Appalled, Lot begs the Sodomites not to do such a terrible thing. He chooses what he sees as an appealing and hospitable alternative, offering his two virgin daughters to the mob to do with as they please. Although well intentioned, Lot’s disturbing offer demonstrates a shocking disregard for the welfare of his own daughters. The mob refuses this offer and grows more violent, now threatening Lot. The angels intervene, saving Lot and his family, though Lot’s wife is later turned into a pillar of salt, leaving Lot and his daughters as the city’s sole survivors.

Lot displays poor judgment again when he abandons the town of Zoar, where he and his daughters have taken refuge. Fearing that it will be destroyed—despite the angels’ assurances that it would be spared on his account—he takes his two daughters to live alone in a cave in the hills. Isolated in the cave with their father, the daughters mistakenly conclude that they are the last people left alive on the earth. If Lot knows that only a few cities were destroyed and that soon the family can go out and find a new place to settle, he surprisingly fails to share this information with his daughters. Lot’s daughters decide that their father must impregnate them to continue the human race. Assuming that their father would not knowingly participate in such behavior, they get him drunk and sleep with him on two successive nights. Both daughters conceive and eventually give birth to two sons, Moab and Ben-ammi—the eponymous ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites.  This account of incest plays on these two names, which in Hebrew can be interpreted etymologically as meaning “from [his] father” and “the son of my people.”

Scholars describe this story as an etiological myth: that is, it explains the origin of something—in this case of the Moabites and Ammonites, two of Israel’s neighbors. There are many examples of such accounts in the Hebrew Bible. As Israel had a long history of hostile relations with the Moabites and Ammonites, it is not surprising that some of the biblical authors would have wanted to take a jab at them by recounting their origins as incestuous.

 

Hilary Lipka, "Lot and His Daughters", n.p. [cited 25 Jul 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/places/related-articles/lot-and-his-daughters

Contributors

Hilary Lipka

Hilary Lipka
Instructor, University of New Mexico

Hilary Lipka is an instructor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006).

Explaining the origin of a feature of the world, e.g. why snakes have no feet (Genesis 3:14) or why "Isaac" sounds like the Hebrew for "laughter" (Genesis 21:5-6).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

Gen 18

A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
1The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.2He looked ... View more

Gen 19

The Depravity of Sodom
1The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and b ... View more

Gen 19:30-38

The Shameful Origin of Moab and Ammon
30Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he li ... View more

Gen 19

The Depravity of Sodom
1The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and b ... View more

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