Legitimate Rape: Sodomy Bad. Incest? Meh

Two messengers approach Sodom, and Lot just happens to be waiting there to meet them. These messengers are called angels in some other translations, although if they were the same two that departed for Sodom and Gomorrah last chapter while Jehovah talked with Abraham, then they are either God(s) or men. Lot greets them with a plea to turn away, which conflicts with the traditional hospitality. It’s unclear how he knew they meant ill. He gets them to join him for a banquet, but the men of Sodom come banging on the door demanding to copulate with the strangers. Oh, there’s the hospitality…

Lot’s pleads with the mob not to “do evil,” saying that the strangers are under his roof, and under his protection. He offers the horny throng a consolation prize: they can gang-rape his virgin daughters!

lo, I pray you, I have two daughters, who have not known any one; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do to them as [is] good in your eyes; only to these men do not anything, for therefore have they come in within the shadow of my roof.’

This noble offer gets an immediate karmic retort from the mob, basically “fuck that, since you’re standing in the way of our stranger rape, we’ll rape you even harder than we rape them.” A+ in mob mentality. Truly impressive.

Before they can break down the door and make the strangers squeal like a pig, the two angels/messengers/men/God(s) strike the crowd blind. They tell Lot to GTFO of Sodom with his family because they are going to destroy it. Blah blah blah they leave the city.

Here, the story confusingly turns into first-person singular. Everything up until this point was a conversation between Lot and “the messengers,” plural. All of the sudden it turns into “He,” singular, talking to Lot. I had to read it a couple times because it looked like Lot was actually the one who told his family not to look back or risk destruction. The NIV version inserts “one of them” (suggesting one of the angel-people) where the literal version just says “he,”  and the literal translation makes it look like either one of the strangers OR Lot could have said it. Lot asks them if he can flee to a nearby city instead of the mountains, because “it is little.” This seems to be another backhanded dig at big cites (like Babel).

Fire and brimstone from Jehovah rain down from the heavens and “He overthroweth these cities” and all the inhabitants, and all the plants. Hmm, what happened to checking on whether or not there were righteous people in the cities? There is absolutely no mention of whether or not Jehovah undertook the survey of the cities at all, let alone what the results of that would be. There was a lot of build up with the back-and-forth between Abraham and Jehovah about 50 righteous men, 45 righteous men, 10 righteous men to save the city, but there is no follow up! Suspicious.

As the city is being destroyed, Lot’s wife “looketh expectingly from behind him, and she is — a pillar of salt!” Seems like another offense too trivial to merit a death sentence. She didn’t look angrily, or longingly, or skeptically, or anything like that, she looked expectingly. It seems like she actually believed what God had said would come true, and that her action actually showed that she had faith in what Jehovah said. Peculiar.

The strangest part of the story is yet to come. Lot escapes to the mountain “because he was afraid of dwelling” in the city he inquired about, and lives in a cave with his two daughters. His daughters decide to date-rape their father. Wait, what?! Yep, to get him drunk and rape him.

31 And the first-born saith unto the younger, `Our father [is] old, and a man there is not in the earth to come in unto us, as [is] the way of all the earth;

32 come, we cause our father to drink wine, and lie with him, and preserve from our father — a seed.’

Sure. That seems like good reasoning. So night one, oldest daughter gets her dad blackout drunk and bangs him. It’s so successful that night two, the younger one gets him blackout drunk and bangs him. AND THEY BOTH GET PREGNANT. I don’t remember this story from the Picture Bible.

I don’t know what to make of this story. For Christians, it’s a useful multi-tool of terror  to show the dire consequences of crossing God. It’s so vague about what motivated the destruction, that it can buttress a multitude of claims about this sin or that sin being worthy of death. The most popular is, of course, sodomy, even though God had already decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah before the attempted gang-sodomizing. There really was never any explanation for what Sodom and Gomorrah did that was so horrible that God would wipe it off the face of the Earth. It’s similar to Noah’s flood story, in that respect, where you are left with an unfocused terror of God, not any useful guidance of how to stay on his good side.

The pillar of salt thing is strange too. Like I said above, what was Lot’s wife’s iniquity? Curiosity? Faith? Failing to follow an order that lacked any justification and came from a proxy of God, not even from the big man Himself?

And what the fuck are we supposed to make of Lot’s daughters date-raping him in a cave?

Looking for some answers, I consulted How to Read the Bible by James L. Kugel. It’s another book I recommend, I’ll write a full review when I’m further through it than now. Anyway Kugel says the story of Sodom and Gomorrah might have an etiological explanation. Etiology, broadly speaking, is the study of origin or causation. Think of fables, legends, or myths that explain natural phenomena, cultural groups, or other aspects particular to a certain place or group. Why does that promontory look like an eagle? Because the fox god defeated the eagle god here and left this marker. Or the foundation of Rome: Romulus and Remus being raised by wolves, fed by birds, and so on, to give Rome a mystical origin that is more exciting than the mundane, unremarkable truth.

As Kugel puts it:

For modern scholars, the whole tale of Lot and the people of Sodom looks like an etiological narrative, that is, the recounting of some incident from the distant past that serves to explain the way things are “now,” at the time of the story’s composition, when Sodom was a ghost town.

A story is concocted about the evil people of Sodom perpetrating some wickedness, and God’s destruction of the city with fire as punishment.

This narrative would appear designed to explain not only why the region had been wiped out (God could not tolerate the inhabitants’ wickedness) but also why it had never been rebuilt and remained as an eyesore throughout biblical times (God intended it as a constant reminder about sinfulness and its consequences).

Indeed, the story’s etiological interests go beyond merely accounting for the ruins of Sodom. Apparently among those ruins was a rock formation that bore a striking resemblance to the shape of a woman, Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, attests that he had visited the area and seen such a  formation. Modern scholars thus see the story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt as another etiological element: “Why does that rock look like a turning woman? Well it all goes back to something that happened to Lot’s wife when she turned to get a last look at her hometown as they were escaping from Sodom.”

Likewise, Kugel says that modern Biblical scholars see the daughter-rape story as a tongue-in-cheek etiological explanation for two of Israel’s neighbors, the Ammonites and Moabites. There was likely a rivalry and distrust of their neighbors, so they gave them an incestuous origin and essentially labelled them bastards.

Without the etiological explanation, if this story is just read literally, it’s confusing, disturbing, and completely un-relatable to modern times. We have a terrifying, vindictive God who doesn’t think through decisions, who lies, and who doesn’t follow through on promises. He is more evil than anyone who he accuses of lacking righteousness and marks for destruction.

CHAPTER 19

1 And two of the messengers come towards Sodom at even, and Lot is sitting at the gate of Sodom, and Lot seeth, and riseth to meet them, and boweth himself — face to the earth,

and he saith, `Lo, I pray you, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, unto the house of your servant, and lodge, and wash your feet — then ye have risen early and gone on your way;’ and they say, `Nay, but in the broad place we do lodge.’

And he presseth on them greatly, and they turn aside unto him, and come in unto his house; and he maketh for them a banquet, and hath baked unleavened things; and they do eat.

Before they lie down, the men of the city — men of Sodom — have come round about against the house, from young even unto aged, all the people from the extremity;

and they call unto Lot and say to him, `Where [are] the men who have come in unto thee to-night? bring them out unto us, and we know them.’

And Lot goeth out unto them, to the opening, and the door hath shut behind him,

and saith, `Do not, I pray you, my brethren, do evil;

lo, I pray you, I have two daughters, who have not known any one; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do to them as [is] good in your eyes; only to these men do not anything, for therefore have they come in within the shadow of my roof.’

And they say, `Come nigh hither;’ they say also, `This one hath come in to sojourn, and he certainly judgeth! now, we do evil to thee more than [to] them;’ and they press against the man, against Lot greatly, and come nigh to break the door.

10 And the men put forth their hand, and bring in Lot unto them, into the house, and have shut the door;

11 and the men who [are] at the opening of the house they have smitten with blindness, from small even unto great, and they weary themselves to find the opening.

12 And the men say unto Lot, `Whom hast thou here still? son-in-law, thy sons also, and thy daughters, and all whom thou hast in the city, bring out from this place;

13 for we are destroying this place, for their cry hath been great [before] the face of Jehovah, and Jehovah doth send us to destroy it.’

14 And Lot goeth out, and speaketh unto his sons-in-law, those taking his daughters, and saith, `Rise, go out from this place, for Jehovah is destroying the city;’ and he is as [one] mocking in the eyes of his sons-in-law.

15 And when the dawn hath ascended, then the messengers press upon Lot, saying, `Rise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters who are found present, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.’

16 And he lingereth, and the men lay hold on his hand, and on the hand of his wife, and on the hand of his two daughters, through the mercy of Jehovah unto him, and they bring him out, and cause him to rest without the city.

17 And it cometh to pass when he hath brought them out without, that he saith, `Escape for thy life; look not expectingly behind thee, nor stand thou in all the circuit; to the mountain escape, lest thou be consumed.’

18 And Lot saith unto them, `Not [so], I pray thee, my lord;

19 lo, I pray thee, thy servant hath found grace in thine eyes, and thou dost make great thy kindness which thou hast done with me by saving my life, and I am unable to escape to the mountain, lest the evil cleave [to] me, and I have died;

20 lo, I pray thee, this city [is] near to flee thither, and it [is] little; let me escape, I pray thee, thither, (is it not little?) and my soul doth live.’

21 And he saith unto him, `Lo, I have accepted thy face also for this thing, without overthrowing the city [for] which thou hast spoken;

22 haste, escape thither, for I am not able to do anything till thine entering thither;’ therefore hath he calleth the name of the city Zoar.

23 The sun hath gone out on the earth, and Lot hath entered into Zoar,

24 and Jehovah hath rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah, from the heavens;

25 and He overthroweth these cities, and all the circuit, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which is shooting up from the ground.

26 And his wife looketh expectingly from behind him, and she is — a pillar of salt!

27 And Abraham riseth early in the morning, unto the place where he hath stood [before] the face of Jehovah;

28 and he looketh on the face of Sodom and Gomorrah, and on all the face of the land of the circuit, and seeth, and lo, the smoke of the land went up as smoke of the furnace.

29 And it cometh to pass, in God’s destroying the cities of the circuit, that God remembereth Abraham, and sendeth Lot out of the midst of the overthrow in the overthrowing of the cities in which Lot dwelt.

30 And Lot goeth up out of Zoar, and dwelleth in the mountain, and his two daughters with him, for he hath been afraid of dwelling in Zoar, and he dwelleth in a cave, he and his two daughters.

31 And the first-born saith unto the younger, `Our father [is] old, and a man there is not in the earth to come in unto us, as [is] the way of all the earth;

32 come, we cause our father to drink wine, and lie with him, and preserve from our father — a seed.’

33 And they cause their father to drink wine on that night; and the first-born goeth in, and lieth with her father, and he hath not known in her lying down, or in her rising up.

34 And it cometh to pass, on the morrow, that the first-born saith unto the younger, `Lo, I have lain yesterday-night with my father: we cause him to drink wine also to-night, and go thou in, lie with him, and we preserve from our father — a seed.’

35 And they cause their father to drink wine on that night also, and the younger riseth and lieth with him, and he hath not known in her lying down, or in her rising up.

36 And the two daughters of Lot conceive from their father,

37 and the first-born beareth a son, and calleth his name Moab; he [is] father of Moab unto this day;

38 as to the younger, she also hath born a son, and calleth his name Ben-Ammi: he [is] father of the Beni-Ammon unto this day.

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