Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 19

In this installment we detour away from the Abraham narratives and examine the cities of the plain and Lot. We get to wonder why in the world Lot is ever called righteous, how he's able to run faster than a Jedi, and where his daughters managed to find wine and Viagra but no men to have sex with other than their father.

Genesis 19:1-14
So Yahweh’s two angel buddies go to Sodom. Lot greets them and insists that the two stay with him. Like Abraham, he prepares food for them and offers to have their feet washed. At bedtime all the men of the city gather around his house and demand he put out his angel guests so they can rape them. Why? What’s all the fuss about? Is it because the men of Sodom had identified them as angels and wanted to go after their “strange flesh” (Jude 7)? Were they just so wickedly gay that they had to gangbang every traveler who came to town? Did Lot receive this kind of treatment when he first came to town? Honestly, it’s anybody’s guess.

Like any good host, Lot offers to turn over his virgin daughters to the mob so the mob can gangbang them instead saying, “Just don’t do anything to these men because they are under the shadow of my roof.” Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Righteous Lot™ (2Peter 2:7-8). I have to ask: do one’s daughters not deserve the same level of protection from their own father under the shadow of his roof as visiting strangers? According to the Bible’s view of women, no. It’s not the same. That conclusion is not reached by merely looking at this passage either.

As we will see quite clearly when we get to the Mosaic Law, women are the property of their fathers, husbands or slave owners. To rape a woman was to violate another man’s property, not to violate the woman herself (see passages like but not limited to Deut. 21 & 22, Ex.21:7 & Lev. 19:20). When Righteous Lot™ offers up his daughters to be repeatedly gangbanged by every male inhabitant of the city, he is arguably well within his rights as a father. These girls are, after all, his property. For the mob to take Righteous Lot™ up on his offer would not be biblical rape. For the mob to have sex with the two angels without their consent, however, would be biblical rape as they have a right to their own bodies, unlike Righteous Lot’s™ virgin daughters.

However, according to verse 14 Righteous Lot™ has sons-in-law. Now, his daughters could have merely been betrothed to these men and still been virgins. The text isn’t clear about their status, even though many English translations will supply the idea that these men were just fianc├ęs and not husbands. However, it’s possible they were really and truly married to Lot’s daughters. It’s conceivable that Righteous Lot™ may have been lying about their virginity. Does that really seem beneath him at this point?

The problem here for Righteous Lot™ is that if his daughters are even betrothed, he’s already entered into a contract with these “husbands.” His daughters are not his sole property anymore. To offer them up to the mob is to break that contract and for the mob to gangbang the girls would fit the definition of biblical rape, unless these sons-in-law consented to it, of course. Ah, but what does the text say in verse 14? “Lot went out and spoke to his sons in law.” So they were apparently outside of the house with the rest of the mob looking for some angel-rape. How nice.

But the ambiguity in the text doesn’t end there. It’s likely that our storyteller had different daughters in mind and that these guys were married to daughters other than the two aforementioned virgins. Verse 15 refers to, “your daughters who are here” strongly implying that there may have been other daughters that were not there. Indeed, Abraham may have had Lot’s family consisting of ten people in mind back in 18:32. If this is the case, Righteous Lot™ wasn’t lying about their virginity after all and was well within his rights as a father to offer up these two daughters without violating any marriage contracts.

When we look at a similar telling of this story in Judges 19, a story that retains many of the details and even some of the dialogue as this narrative, the Ephraimite who offers up his daughter and the Levite who offers up his concubine to the mob of Benjaminites were also apparently well within their rights and are never condemned for their actions. Of course, that whole story is an obvious reworked propaganda piece that seeks to contrast the hospitality and generosity of the people of Bethlehem (King David's hometown) with the inhospitable wickedness of the people of Gibeah (King Saul's hometown). All of it is likely just a story meant to justify some atrocities committed against this smaller tribe at the hands of the people of Judah.

Apologists will try to argue that incidents like these are merely descriptive, but not prescriptive. In other words, they claim that the Bible isn't saying that what Lot did was OK, it's just reporting what happened. Fair enough and that explanation might seem satisfactory on the surface were it not for the way women are regarded in the prescriptive portions of the Bible. Another problem is just how reprehensible Lot's actions are, and yet where is any clarification offered? Where is the exposition? Where is the condemnation from other authors in the Bible? I will now proceed to list all of the verses in the Bible that condemn Lot for the utterly reprehensible act of offering his daughters up to be sexually assaulted by a mob:

That's right. There aren't any.

It’s probably not a coincidence that no Bible author ever condemns Righteous Lot™ for this act either. Instead, it could be viewed as a noble gesture in that he was willing to offer up the prize possessions of his two remaining virgin daughters for the sake of his guests, just like the noble Ephraimite in Judges 19. I just have to say as a father to a daughter, I find this passage deeply disturbing. Not just because Righteous Lot™ was willing to toss these girls outside of his house to be repeatedly raped by an entire city, but for the simple fact that this act is never once condemned either in the narrative itself, or by any other biblical author. The silence is deafening.

Irenaeus of Lugdunum
It seems that since the early days, Christian apologists have had difficulty seeing just how completely calloused they sound when commenting on Lot's actions:
“With respect to those actions, again, on which the Scriptures pass no censure, but which are simply set down as having occurred, we ought not to become the accusers of those who committed them, for we are not more exact than God, nor can we be superior to our Master; but we should search for a type in theme. For not one of those things which have been set down in Scripture without being condemned is without significance." –Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.31.1.
That was written around the late second century. The excuses haven't gotten any better in the last eighteen-hundred years.

Genesis 19:15-23
“When dawn came up” the angels lead Lot, his wife and his daughters outside the city and tell them not to look back or stop anywhere in the valley. It’s pointed out that Lot hesitates and yet in the compassion of Yahweh, the angels grab them by their hands to drag them out. How long did this whole scene take? Stop and think about it. How long did the conversation take? How long did Lot’s hesitation last? How long did it take for them to make their way from Lot’s house in the midst of the city to outside the city gates of Sodom? Did it take three minutes? Five minutes? Ten minutes? It’s not abundantly evident, but it must have taken several minutes for this all to play out, right? I ask because the clock is ticking and time and distance will become important when we start to examine some of the plausibility involved here.

Lot and the angels then have this odd conversation in verse 19 where Lot says he can’t escape to the mountains because “this disaster will overtake me and I’ll die.” How could he know that? What would possibly make him think he wouldn’t reach the mountains in time? These angels have gone out of their way to protect him thus far. Is it not reasonable to conclude that Yahweh really wants to save him?

Lot points out a little town nearby that he can flee to instead. He uses the word mits’ar (little) twice, setting up a play on the town’s name of tso’ar (Zoar). It’s almost as though the originator of this story was aware that there’s this little town down near the Dead Sea and there has to be an explanation for its name and why it survived this destruction and so it gets shoehorned into the story to explain its name and existence. The end of verse 22 betrays that much.

The oddities become even more apparent when the angel grants the request to flee there and in verse 22 says to hurry there quickly because, “I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” Wait. So the angel has to make sure Lot arrives safely in Zoar before he can torch the other four cities? Wouldn’t that mean he probably would have waited for Lot to get to the mountains as well? Wouldn't that information have been shared with Lot right after he said he couldn't possibly make it to the mountains in time? There are some serious plot holes in this narrative that would make bad sitcom writers feel embarrassed.

It would’ve made more sense for the angel to just tell Lot when he said he was afraid he wouldn’t make it to the mountains, “Look, we’re going to wait until you’re at a safe distance before we rain burning sulfur down on every wicked man, woman, nursing baby and little girl just waking up and asking mommy when breakfast is going to be ready in the city, so don’t sweat it.” Instead the angel grants Lot’s request and then points out that they have to wait until he gets there. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever unless our somewhat unimaginative storyteller simply has to make it that way in order to fit in all the necessary details to bring about the results he wants.

Just how far away was the city of Zoar from Lot’s house in the city of Sodom? Well, apparently it was close enough for Lot to travel there between dawn (v.15) and sunrise (v. 23). It's true that the amount of time between dawn and sunrise can vary depending on the time of year, but it's never more than about 30 minutes at that latitude. Our writer wants us to believe that somehow there was enough time between dawn and sunrise for Lot to make it from his house in Sodom to the outside of the city (spanning all of the events that took place from verses 15-22) and then from outside the city all the way over to Zoar before the fire and brimstone rained down.

Apparently these two cities, which were large enough to warrant having their own monarchs, were close enough for Lot and his daughters to get from one to the other in under thirty minutes while traveling on foot. Consequently interpreters have to place the distance at no more than four miles and assume that Lot and his daughters were in tip-top shape and could really haul ass. Noting the interpretive difficulty of this passage, one fourth century rabbi posits that the angels made it so Lot and his family could walk extraordinarily fast like the Jedi in the Star Wars prequels. Indeed it seems that Yahweh's magic must be assumed in order to save the writer's bacon in this instance.

 A Jedi must be mindful of when not to use Force Speed

Yahweh rains down burning sulfur from the sky and kills all the inhabitants and the vegetation. However, Lot’s wife looked back longingly and that’s apparently where the compassion of Yahweh on Lot’s family ended. He drags them out of the city by the wrists when they hesitate. He unnecessarily spares the entire city of Zoar following Lot’s inexplicable request. He waits for Lot and his family to get there before he starts killing everyone. However, disobeying his directive not to look back is where he draws the line and that really sucks for Lot’s wife.

Clearly the male inhabitants of the four cities got what they deserved. These people wanted to have gay sex with angels. That’s why Yahweh had to destroy them, because of their gayness. That’s what made them so wicked. Jude 7 practically comes right out and says it was gayness. After all, the word for buttsex is sodomy, right? It certainly wasn’t because in their abundance of food and careless ease, they didn’t take care of the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49). Nope, it was clearly the gay sex…said every overweight Evangelical preacher ever just before dismissing the congregation so they could all flock to the all-you-can-eat buffet after church on Sunday.

Even if the male inhabitants had it coming, what about the women and children? We are left to assume that they were wicked as well. There were not found ten righteous people in the city or else it would have been spared, right? Those little boys and girls who woke up that morning to the feeling of burning sulfur charring their little bodies had it coming. Or maybe they were innocent, but it's OK that God roasted them to death because they got to go to heaven. God was being gracious by frying them along with their parents because otherwise they would've grown up in a wicked culture and become wicked themselves, right? It was merciful for God to violently cut their lives short in such a terrible manner.

This verse says that Elohim destroyed the cities of the plain and that Elohim honored Abraham’s request in that he removed Lot from the midst of the destruction. The odd thing is that’s not what Abraham requested at all. He specifically requested that the city be spared if Yahweh could find ten righteous people. Abraham never once mentioned extracting Lot or any other “righteous” person for that matter. There’s every reason to think that when Abraham stepped out of his tent that morning and saw the smoke rising up from the land like the smoke from a furnace, he would have assumed his nephew was a charred, lifeless corpse.

The key here is probably the divine name that’s used. It’s possible that there was an “Elohim” version of events that had Abraham asking for Lot to be rescued rather than have the whole city spared. What’s been preserved in the text of chapter 18, however, is the “Yahweh” version of events. That would certainly explain the discrepancy and make this deity look a little less senile.

After all that, Lot leaves his city of refuge, Zoar, and goes to the mountains and lives in a cave because he’s afraid to live in Zoar. We’re not told why he's afraid. Was it because he was worried Yahweh would end up destroying that city eventually? Was it because he feared the people there would consider him bad luck? Was it because they were wicked just like the four other cities of the plain? I suspect the real reason is simply that the storyteller has to get Lot’s descendants up and away from the Dead Sea area and into the higher elevations to the east that would later become the regions associated with the people of Ammon and Moab.

Lot’s older daughter, for whatever reason, concludes that there’s not a man left on earth other than their father that can get them pregnant and preserve the family line. It’s not clear why she would conclude this, nor is it clear why she would propose such drastic measures. It’s also not clear why men are so difficult to come by, yet getting their hands on enough wine to get their father so drunk that he doesn’t even realize he’s having sex with his own daughters on two occasions doesn’t seem to be a problem.

This plan is incredibly flawed and comes off a lot like something a character in a soap opera would come up with. Lot is hardly in the prime of his youth and excessive alcohol consumption typically makes getting and maintaining an erection along with ejaculation quite difficult, particularly when a guy is so hammered that he doesn’t even realize he’s having sex...with his daughter. Add to those problems the fact that these two girls are supposed to be inexperienced virgins and this plan now seems destined to failure. The plan could totally work if the roles were reversed, but that wouldn’t make Lot out to be a hapless victim or make his daughters out to be desperate, conniving little incestuous sluts. That potential scenario just doesn’t fit our storyteller’s prejudices about Ammonites and Moabites now, does it?

Even if these sexually inexperienced sisters can get their dad erect, keep him erect and stimulate him enough to get him to ejaculate in them all while he’s so slobbering drunk he doesn’t know what’s going on, they still would have incredibly long odds on getting pregnant on the very first try. Our storyteller makes the odds even longer by having this occur on consecutive nights. People who study human reproduction will tell you that often men have a better chance at having a full contingent of swimmers when they’ve had a couple of days to resupply.

Amazingly the plan works both times. This has to be one of the greatest, most unrecognized miracles of Yahweh in the entire Bible! It’s not, of course. It’s fairly obvious what the purpose of this story is when we learn in verses 37 and 38 that the Ammonites and Moabites are all descended from these two children who are the products of this scandalous, incestuous union. Our storyteller clearly wants to portray a couple of Judah and Israel’s rivals rather negatively. Additionally there’s much ado about how Moabite and Ammonite women should be avoided in later passages of the Bible and here’s a great story that helps illustrate why.

It’s noteworthy that another storyteller will use this motif and have Ruth, a Moabitess, wait for Boaz to get drunk and pass out on a grain heap then go over, uncover his "legs" and lay down with him in order to get him to marry her (Ruth 3:7-14). A real chip off the old block, that Ruth turns out to be. At least, that's how our storytellers saw them anyway.

1 comment:

  1. >>an left on earth other than their father that can get them pregnant and preserve the family line. It’s not clear why she would conclude this, nor is it clear why she would propose such drastic measures. It’s also not clear why men are so difficult to come by, << Well, she did evidently grow up in an all-gay city....

    Nice catch on the Ruth/Moabitess thing. I'd totally missed that.