Lot


Lot flees Sodom with his daughters, whose mother looks back at the city's destruction

In the Bible, Lot (Arabic: لوط, Lūṭ; Hebrew: לוֹט, Lot; "Hidden, covered") was the nephew of the patriarch Abraham. He was the son of Abraham's brother Haran. Lot journeyed with Abraham to Canaan and Egypt, where he gained wealth in the form of flocks. After this, the two kinsmen separated, with Lot heading toward the Jordan River valley and south toward Sodom. Later, Lot was taken captive in a local war, but Abraham came to his rescue.

Lot is most famous for his dramatic escape from the city of Sodom after he offered hospitality to two angels and tried to protect them from men of the city, who sought to do them grievous harm. After Sodom was destroyed, Lot lived with his two daughters in a cave and, according to the biblical account, fathered sons by them. In this way, he became the ancestor of the Ammonites and the Moabites.

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Lot is much discussed in the rabbinical tradition, which holds various and sometimes conflicting opinions about him. He is revered in the Qur'an as both a righteous man and a prophet. The story of Lot in Sodom bears a striking resemblance to the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19-20.

Biblical account

Lot parts ways with Abraham

The story of Lot is told in the Book of Genesis, chapters 11-14 and 19.

Lot was the son of Haran, the brother of Abraham. Haran died while the clan was living in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. Lot then accompanied his grandfather, Terah, and his uncle Abraham on a journey about 550 miles northwest from Ur to settle at a location apparently named for his deceased father, Haran (Gen. 12:1-5). After an indeterminate period, Lot traveled further west with Abraham, who migrated with his clan to Canaan. There, Lot lived with Abraham in or near the town of Shechem. It is likely that Lot assisted Abraham in the construction of ancient religious altars at both Shechem and Bethel.

After a famine threatened, Lot accompanied Abraham's clan on a journey to Egypt. By the time they returned to Canaan, both Lot and Abraham had developed large flocks of sheep and goats. Grazing disputes soon developed between the two clan leaders' herdsmen. Abraham gave Lot the choice of his abode. Lot made a fateful decision to lead his flocks southeast toward the well-watered plains of the Jordan River, while Abraham remained in the hill country near the altars he had constructed in honor of his God. Lot eventually pitched his tents near the city of Sodom (Gen. 13:6-12).

After about eight years, a war developed among the kings of the region's several cities. When Sodom fell, Lot was taken captive. Abraham heard of Lot's ill-fortune and came to his rescue with a force of 318 armed men. He liberated Lot and the other captives and recovered the spoils taken by Lot's captors.

Lot in Sodom

When Genesis 19 opens, Lot no longer lived in tents and tended his flocks, but had settled in Sodom with his wife and two daughters, none of whom is named in the text. Two angels arrived in Sodom on a mission from God to destroy the town for its wickedness. However, they first warned the relatively righteous Lot and gave him and his family a chance to escape. Lot offered the angels—here called "men"—hospitality. However, the wicked men of Sodom demanded that the visitors be brought out to them to rape them (19:5). Horrified at this outrage, Lot offered the men his virgin daughters instead (19:8), but the would-be attackers only threatened to break down the door in order to have their way with Lot's guests.

The angels immediately struck the townsmen with blindness and warned Lot of the impending doom that God has pronounced on Sodom. At their suggestion, Lot attempted to warn his sons-in-law—who were legally pledged but not yet married to his daughters—of the catastrophe, but they did not take his warning seriously.

At dawn, the angels led Lot and his family out of the city, taking each of them by the hand when Lot hesitated. "Flee for your lives!" one of them commanded. "Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"

Lot feared he had insufficient time to reach the mountains and asked instead to find shelter in the small town of Zoar. The angels agreed not to destroy this town, on the grounds that it was only a small village and therefore not very wicked. With Lot safe in Zoar and the sun now fully risen, God destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the surrounding plain and all of its vegetation. Lot's wife, however, made the tragic mistake of looking back toward Sodom while the destruction proceeded, and was turned into a pillar of salt as a result.

Lot and his daughters

Hendrik Goltzius' 1616 painting Lot and his daughters

Now afraid to remain in Zoar, Lot retired with his two daughters to a cave in adjacent mountains. There they lived together for an indeterminate period. Believing they were the only females in the area to have survived the devastation, the two women decided on a desperate plan. They got their father so drunk on wine for two nights in a row. On they first night, the older daughter seduced him into having sexual intercourse, and on the second night the younger daughter did likewise. Each of the women became pregnant by him. The son of the elder daughter was named Moab ("from the father" [meh-Av], patriarch of the nation known as the Moabites. The second son was named Ben-Ammi ("son of the people"). He became the patriarch of the nation of the Ammonites.

The Book of Deuteronomy instructs the Israelites to refrain from attacking both of these peoples on the grounds that the land was given to Lot and his descendants by God, who said:

"Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession." (2:9)
"When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot." (2:19)

Rabbinical literature

The Rabbinical tradition has much to say about Lot beyond what is contained in the Bible. The midrash Genesis Rabbah (50:14) declares that Lot actually had four daughters at the time of Sodom's destruction, two married and two betrothed. Only the latter escaped death. He also had another daughter named Pelotet, who was married to one of the men of Sodom. However, she secretly practiced hospitality and was sentenced to be burned when this was discovered. Lot's wife was named either "Irit" or "Idit." The reason she looked back toward Sodom was to see if her two other daughters were following (Pirke R. El. 50c).

However, Lot himself is generally represented by the rabbis in an unfavorable light. Lot grazed his flocks in fields that belonged to neighboring peoples, and he quarreled with Abraham over this fact. When Lot separated himself from Abraham, he also separated himself from God, saying, "I have no desire either in Abraham or in his God." Lot chose Sodom as his residence because he was lustful. Lot was also prone to over-imbibing, and the account Lot and his daughters was once read every Saturday in some synagogues as a warning to the public against drunkenness. If Lot had been more careful, his daughters' attempted act of incest would have failed. Lot was also very greedy for wealth, and at Sodom he practiced usury. His hesitation to leave the city was due to his regret for the wealth he was obliged to abandon. The protection that Lot received from God was granted through the merit of Abraham; otherwise he would have perished with the people of Sodom (Genesis Rabbah 41-51).

Other Rabbinical accounts, however, show a much milder attitude toward Lot. His being spared at the time of the destruction of Sodom is said to have been a reward for not having betrayed Abraham to Pharaoh with regard to the fact that Sarah was Abraham's wife (ibid.) The Pirke Rabbi Eleazar calls him a zaddik—a truly righteous man. It also praises Lot's hospitality which he practiced at the risk of his life at Sodom (Pirke R. El. 25). The Alphabet of Ben Sira, following the Qur'an (suras 7:78-82; 22:43), calls Lot "a perfectly righteous man" and a prophet.

Islamic view

The are several important differences between the story of Lot (Lut) in the Qur'an and that of Lot in the Bible. Most important, the Qur'an omits Lot's drunkenness and his incestuous relationship with his daughters. Thus, Lot is thus unambiguously a righteous man. He is also considered to be a prophet and the first person other than Abraham himself to believe in the teaching that came to be known later as Islam.

According to Islamic tradition, just as in the Bible, Lut lived originally in Ur and was a nephew of Ibrahim (Abraham). Rather than merely choosing to go to Sodom when his uncle gave him a choice of where to lead his flocks, Lot was commanded by God to go to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to preach against homosexuality. Lut's prophetic message, however, was rejected, and thus Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The Qur'an describes Lot's ministry as a prophet in these terms:

Lut said to them, "Will you not do your duty? I am a faithful Messenger to you. So heed God and obey me. I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of no one but the Lord of all Worlds of all beings. Do you lie with males, leaving the wives God has created for you? You are people who have overstepped the limits." (Q 26:161-166)

The Qur'an's description of the fate of Lot's wife also differs from that of Genesis. Instead of being punished for looking back toward Sodom Lot's wife—in one Qur'anic account—simply stays behind in Sodom. In another, she is left behind by divine command:

So We rescued him and his family—except for his wife. She was one of those who stayed behind. We rained down a rain upon them. See the final fate of the evildoers! (Q 7:80-84)

They [the angels] said, "Lut, we are messengers from your Lord. They will not be able to get at you. Set out with your family—except for your wife—in the middle of the night, and none of you should look back. What strikes them will strike her as well. (54:33)

Critical views

Lot's story is regarded by both the Bible and critical scholars as describing the eponyms—persons from whom tribes or nations are named—for Ammon and Moab. Lot's relationship to Abraham marks the ethnographic connection of these two tribes with the Israelites. At the same time, his relations with his daughters represents a tradition among the Israelites justifying their feelings of moral superiority toward their nearest neighbors. Abraham's position as Lot's uncle and rescuer might have been used to support Israel's or Judah's coming to the aid of Ammon and Moab as their ally, as well as to justify these nations descended from Lot paying tribute to their Abrahamic neighbors.

Lot's wife is turned to a pillar of salt

The story about Lot's wife is regarded by critics and travelers as a folk-legend intended to explain the origin of a pillar of crystallized rock-salt resembling the female human form. One in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea was identified by Josephus ("Ant." 1:11, § 4). Tourists in Israel today are often shown one of several Dead Sea-area salt formations that may once have been Lot's unfortunate spouse.

The legend of Lot in Sodom virtually reappears in the Book of Judges in the story of the Levite and his concubine (Judg. 19-20). The villains in this story are not the Sodomites but the Benjaminites. When the traveling Levite finds shelter in their territory, the men of the area demand that the he be brought out to them so that they can "know" him (sexually). The Levite's shocked host offers the men his own virgin daughter and the Levite's concubine instead. In this story, the mob ends up settling for the Levite's concubine. They brutally rape and torture her, and the next morning her husband discovers her dead. In this version, the wrath of God is executed on the perpetrators not by angels, but by the other tribes of Israel, who decimate Benjamin in a bloody war. Some speculate that the story of Lot in Sodom may be a mythological rendering of this historical incident, designed to justify the near-obliteration of Benjamin by the other tribes.

Since Lot is declared to have dwelt in a cave with his clan in later life, some have identified him with Lotan, the leader of one of the tribes of Horites, or cave-dwellers (Gen. 36:22, 29). Feminist scholars have criticized Lot as a moral monster for his offering his two virgin daughters to a local mob for gang rape in an attempt to protect his male guests.

See also

References

  • Ewald, Heinrich. 2004. The History of Israel, 5 vols. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1592448807
  • Heap, Norman. 1999. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: Servants and Prophets of God. Family History Pubns. ISBN 978-0945905028
  • Letellier, Robert Ignatius. 1995. Day in Mamre Night in Sodom: Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18 and 19. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-9004102507
  • “Lot.” Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  • Pellegrino, Charles R. 1995. Return to Sodom and Gomorrah. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0380726332

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