Genesis: Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed & Lot and His Daughters

Genesis 19-1:38

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed  

The biblical account of these two infamous cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, are a permanent fixture in western society. Sodomy comes from the word Sodom, and implies a bigoted view toward homosexuals, all based on the biblical account of this city. Christians, and many other religions from the middle-east, source this account as justification for the vile, bigoted language and actions against homosexuals. They use this as an attempt to support their belief that homosexuals should not be granted equal rights. People read this passage with blinders, I think, because they are told ahead of time that this is a story about God’s hatred towards homosexuals. With these blinders up, they fail to see the other horrors done, not only by the people God does choose to save, but by God Himself.

The two angels that left Abraham’s house arrive at Sodom. When they arrive, they are greeted by Lot. Lot invites them into his home; they refuse and say they will spend the night in the square, but Lot is persuasive and they decided to join him in his home. Lot cooks them a meal, and they eat. Before they go to bed, men from across the city gather around his house, because they desire the men whom Lot is housing. The men tell Lot to let the men he is housing out, so they can have sex with them. Lot, in an attempt to spare the men he is housing, offers his two virgin daughters to be raped by this mob of men instead, then to have them rape some men whom he did not know. Sodomy is not the sin of this story, it’s rape. Rape is the theme of this passage, as we will see later. The crime intended to be committed was rape, but they preferred to rape the men instead of Lot’s daughters, whom he offered so casually. This shows this society’s contempt for women. They were merely an object, property, to be used. This is a man of very low character, and not even a decent father. If he were a heroic man, and was to offer anyone up for rape, it should have been himself. Heroism is defined by self-sacrifice, and this man apparently is not a hero. Instead this man offers his two virgin daughters to participate in an orgy, a gang-bang of biblical proportions, that would make even the most experienced of porn starlets blush at the thought. Yet, this is the man the angels, and God, decided to save. The angels pull Lot back inside the home and tell him to go tell his sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, etc., that the end is nigh. When Lot tells them this news they laugh at him, and dismissed his message. With dawn approaching, the angels tell Lot to take his daughters and his wife and leave before the city was destroyed. He hesitated, so the angels whisked them away to safety. Not his extended family though, even though they apparently deserved to be saved. One angel tells him to flee to the mountains, but Lot asks God if fleeing to a small city–Zoar–nearby would be adequate; God accepts. The mercy of God’s wrath is conditional of course, they are not to look back on the destroyed city as they flee. After they reach the city, the sun breaks across the horizon and God destroys the city. As we all know, Lot’s wife looks back, and is turned into a pillar of salt. Even though she was apparently a good enough person to be saved, she is punished by God’s wrath, because of curiosity. In this case curiosity did not kill the cat, but the disobedient servant of the Lord. According to the bible, God rains burning sulfur down on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. One could infer a different conclusion–something other than a spiteful god raining death down on a population–perhaps, it was instead, a simple volcanic eruption. In the morning, Abraham comes out and sees the cities burning. The Bible says that because God remembered Abraham, He saved Lot. This isn’t really what God promised Abraham. He promised him that if he found at least ten people who were righteous He would spare the city. From the viewpoint of the Lord, He did find them, Lot’s family, but instead he chose to kill them and save only Lot and his daughters. As I argued earlier, Lot is clearly not a righteous man, yet somehow, he is saved while the others perished.

Lot and His Daughters

Lot and his daughter leave the city of Zoar, and head to the mountains. They find shelter in a cave, and live there. The eldest daughter tells the younger daughter that it would be a good idea to get their father drunk, and have sex with him, since there is no other man for them to have sex with. They proceed with this plan, and the eldest daughter has sex with her father first. The next night the younger daughter has sex with him as well. The Bible claims that Lot was unaware of what was happening, but I find this hard to believe. He had to be aware enough to become erect, and perform his part in this transfer of fluids to produce a new life. If he was not lucid and his daughter forced themselves on him, then they raped their father. Again, rape seems to be the theme of this chapter. Yet, God seems to be fine with this incest. No angels sent to destroy them in this cave. God looks down on sodomy and the rape of angels, but incest and the raping of one’s father, that is fine. If the daughters believed that they were the last humans on the Earth, God could have stopped this incest from happening. All he had to do was come down and say to them that there were other men out there. Clearly incest is acceptable to God. Now the daughters have two bastard sons: Moab, the father of the Moabites, and Ben-Ammi, father of the Ammonites.

I think the point has been made that those who look to this chapter as moral support for their bigotry towards homosexuals can no longer do so. This chapter is void of any morality. This, in my opinion, is the most immoral chapter of the Bible I have read so far. So I pose this question to the faithful, how does one see morality in this chapter?

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7 thoughts on “Genesis: Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed & Lot and His Daughters

  1. You are absolutely correct that is passage is very often badly read and used for ulterior motives. Before assessing the “morality” of this passage, however, it needs to be read in its historical and biblical contexts. Only then can there be a discussion of what it could mean today, morally or otherwise.

    First, the ancient Near Eastern context. Gender, sexuality, and social expectations were quite different from modern understandings, and these are quite clearly reflected in this (and its parallel) passage. A full discussion would be too long (I refer you to an excellent book by Martti Nissinnen on the topic). In short, relevant issues are hospitality, the construction of sexuality, and the construction of honor. A prime value was hospitality. Visitors had to be accorded particular rights and strong injunctions were placed on hosts. This is partially due to the environment, where the harsh nature of the wilderness meant a person without shelter would die. This value is clearly highlighted in this passage and the previous one in Genesis, where Abraham and Lot demonstrate proper hospitality, while the men of Sodom violate it.

    Another is the construction of sexuality. The basis was the idea that life resided in the male and was implanted in the female, with a pure binary between male/female, penetrator/penetrated, with a corollary that the male was more valuable than the female. There was also no conception of “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as we think of them today. Women were defined largely in their relationship to men: they always belonged to a man, first the father (or brothers) and then the husband. This is clearly visible in the passage as well.

    Closely related to the final point was the construction of honor. Male honor was related to maintaining proper gender roles. This included protecting the chastity of women belonging to them, punishing its violation, and in preventing themselves from being penetrated. A man would be shamed by the penetration of himself or his women. The rape of men was routinely used in warfare as a way of shaming the conquered. Again, quite visible in this passage.

    These, combined with a close reading of the text of Gen 19 indicate that the text in its historical context would view the actions of the men of Sodom as guilty of violating the rule of hospitality, of violating the honor of Lot and the honor of his visitors, as well as violence.

    Second, the biblical context. Though Gen 19 is more famous, there is a very similar parallel in Judges 19, one which demonstrates the construction of gender more clearly, as it cannot even remotely be compared to homosexuality. This passage is also cited several times in other parts of the Bible. Other than using Sodom and Gomorrah as a symbol of divine punishment, it is interpreted most explicitly in Ezekiel 16:48-50. There the sins of Sodom are described as pride, lack of concern for the poor, and xenophobia.

    A theme throughout the Hebrew Bible is concern for the foreigner and for the poor. Within the specifically biblical context, the Gen 19 story must be seen as critiquing the men of Sodom specifically with violating the Israelites’ commandment to protect the foreigner (‘this man came to us as an alien…”), in addition to the general ANE issues.

    [I’d treat the story of Lot’s daughters as a separate issue and tradition; it is largely dealing with Israel’s historical neighbors/rivals/enemies, Moab and Ammon].

    It is once all of this background is recognized can we begin to analyze the “morality” of the chapter. The text clearly views the ANE practice of denigrating foreigners “in their place” negatively, in particular, the raping of them. It accepts the gender structure, however. In thinking about the “morality” of this, I would first want to recognize that our understanding of gender is different and the importance we place on hospitality is different. I would also want to note that the text never, ever treats a human being as perfect. I would also note the reluctance towards knee-jerk condemnations (in the previous passage, the angels were checking “reports” about Sodom’s wickedness; the saving of Zoar, etc). It is with these observations and on these grounds that I would view it profitable to reason about the morality or modern message of the passage.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate comments. It makes this blog more of a study that way. Thank you for recommending that author to me. I added some of his books to my amazon wish list, so I won’t forget to read his work.

      I’m familiar with the general customs of this culture. The structure of these early Mesopotamian societies, or the Ancient Near East, is similar to many early civilizations, all of which focused on the importance of males and the oppression of women. Early sub-Saharan Africa seems to be the only exception.

      In regards to honor, Lot seems to break this by offering his virgin daughters to the mob of men. In this Bronze Age view of morality, Lot may have done what was right, but, I would hope, most people today would not agree that this would be the actions of a moral person. This is ultimately my point, and I think you reinforced this point as well. The morality of this passage, and in my opinion this book, is no longer relevant to a twenty-fist century society.

      This Bible study is chronological, so I don’t jump ahead to other passages; I at least try not to. It is difficult, because I know how this story ends. When I get to Judges and Ezekiel I will discuss their relationship to Genesis 19, and other passages. While in the context of the Bible we are to only criticize the men of Sodom, I disagree that they are the only ones that should be criticized. All the characters of this book should be critiqued. When you open all of this book’s characters up to criticism, you find that many of them are not worthy to be regarded as highly as they are. If they are not decent moral people, then we should not look to them for morality. Even with an understanding of this Ancient Mesopotamian view of morality, I argue that it further reinforces the idea that this story is no longer relevant. While the Bible doesn’t ever promote the idea that humans are perfect, it does promote the idea that God is. It does also hold God’s prophets as highly moral people, but they are just as wicked as the men they condemn. God’s actions don’t seem moral as well. Like I mention, God is outraged by the actions of the mob towards Lot’s visitors, but does nothing when Lot’s daughters rape their father. To me, this only proves that these are stories written by men, and have no relevance to our society today, as I have said many times.

      I think that the story of Lot’s daughters should be studied alongside the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are both found in the same chapter, and are linked by cause and effect. If it weren’t for Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughters would not have felt it necessary to rape their father.

      1. I read your blog post and the other person’s reply.

        One of the reasons I’ve come back to the Bible again and again is because it demonstrates that it’s all been done before. Well before the printing presses, video for TV, and internet. What they are talking about in the bible to put it vulgarly is a an attempted “gang bang”.

        Lot was a powerful judge in the corrupt city. It was a calculated risk to offer up his daughters, but know one in their right mind would accept his two virgin daughters. The mob knew wanted the non-resident aliens of the city who had no rights for a gang bang and legally could have their way with them.

        I think your ignoring Lot’s high position in society as a judge, there is also good reason why his daughters are virgins in a city full of corruption, debauchery, and where strangers are open game for gang rape.

        The people of their city were very prideful and looked down on others. Lot and his daughters were of the city, so they wouldn’t dare do such a thing to one of their own especially of someone of such high status. The non-resident aliens were less than human for the people of the city – the bible plays the reality reversal here by making someone to be revered as less than human in the city but not realizing they were in the present of angelic beings.

        Since they didn’t have camera’s rolling- Porn was a live show where the audience could participate at times in mob like fashion. This story shows it’s always been around and how dehumanizing it is and the exploits of those that are considered lesser in society due to circumstance.

        The mis-use of this passage has been used for bigotry to view homosexuals as lesser in society. But the passage is pretty clear in what is perversion like gang banging someone considered ‘human garbage’ because of their lesser status in society.

  2. I actually think that the fact that the text presents people as people, good and bad, is what makes it of moral value. Unlike many traditional stories and tales, there are no “superhuman” characters. Moreover, editorial comments on actions are kept to a minimum: the ethical thinking is left to the reading community. Sadly, this is often done unreflectively, but the value of the difficulty remains.

    An important principle (from my perspective) in trying to understand the text theologically (and thence morally, etc) is the Reformation idea that G-d always speaks in the language of the people. This includes the cultural context of its time, and means that the “primary” audience was an ancient one. I am suspicious of any overly direct reading from the text to today.

    I understand you mean that in the present narrative, the story of Lot’s daughters is placed as a direct consequence of the Sodom narrative. My perspective is that originally it was unrelated and placed in that position, making the causation incidental. It is worth noting, though, that the text does not editorialize the actions of the daughters. One is left to make one’s own decision on it.

    1. I can accept that the passage does show that humans are humans, and will make mistakes. That I could agree would be the one lesson to draw from this story.

      I still stand by my perspective that the two are related. We can agree to disagree on this. Maybe it is not as explicit in other version, but in the NIV, the one I am using, it is. The oldest daughter conspires to intoxicate their father, so that she and her sister could bear his child. In Genesis 19:34, “The next day the older daughter said to the younger, ‘Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.’ ” It goes on to say in Genesis 19:36 that, “So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.” If you are referring to my claim that they raped their father, I think it is safe to come to this conclusion, otherwise Lot knowingly performed the act of incest. The Bible makes clear that he was too drunk to know what was happening.

      1. Of course, there is no question that Lot’s daughters rape their father, and are guilty of incest and rape. All I was saying was that this particular story was likely originally an (abusive) aetiology for two of Israel’s neighbors, only secondarily connected with the Sodom narrative.

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