Genesis 19: Has Lot Lost The Plot?

Have you ever been shocked by Lot’s suggestion to the mob at Sodom in Genesis 19? Have you ever been puzzled by why he would ever do such a thing? Well, it’s because the narrative has such a magnificent twist that even our modern translators have been fooled by it. All is not as it seems, folks!

I’ve written an article for Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, titled ‘Has Lot Lost the Plot? Detail Omission and a Reconsideration of Genesis 19.’ The article examines this plot twist. Here’s the abstract:

In Genesis 19, Lot tries to stave off the predatory mob of Sodom by offering his daughters for pack rape. Scholars treat this ‘shocking offer’ in various ways, but a common thread is an appeal to ancient Near Eastern codes of hospitality. This article examines some of these treatments of Lot’s proposal, both positive and negative. It then puts forward the case for a new understanding of the narrative on the basis of ‘unknown detail omission’, in which the narrator deliberately withholds information from the reader, only to reveal it at a later point in the narrative. The narrator of Genesis 19 exploits ambiguities in the narrative and a reaction of disgust at rape to fool the reader into viewing Lot’s words and actions a particular way. However, when the narrator reveals a key detail later in the narrative, the reader is surprised and forced to re-evaluate the entire episode. This then frames Lot’s shocking offer in a new light, and the reader comes to a new conclusion about Lot’s character.

Click HERE to read the article.


13 thoughts on “Genesis 19: Has Lot Lost The Plot?

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  3. I see you quote Alter, but it’s an old (1990) article. He may have changed his view – in The Five Books of Moses (2004) he suggests (p. 93) that Lot had both married daughters AND the two virgin daughters. I don’t see this interpretation addressed in the article.

  4. Hi George, it’s been a long time!
    I respectfully disagree with your analysis on a few fronts.
    First of all, the ambiguity of sexual undertones towards “washing the feet” or “bedding down” between Lot and the visitors needs to be highly read into the text. It is simply not there.
    Secondly, Lot was not living a life of solitude and secrecy in the city of Sodom, rather, Genesis 19:1 strongly indicates he was part of Sodom’s legal ruling council. This is not a position that would be typically granted to unknowns. Therefore, it would not be a realistic bargaining chip for Lot to offer up fictitious virgin or non-virgin daughters who were not currently in his house as a substitute to replace their desire for the visitors in his house. Once again. Lot could only be in the situation to make an offer the townsmen knew he had.
    Thirdly, you would need to assume Lot had the authority to offer up daughters who were in fact the wives of other men living away from their father in another home. He would have no authority to make this a credible offer.
    Fourthly, It is individual husbands who Lot appealed to and it is they who thought he was joking and refused to leave with him. This appeal towards individual men and not their households signifies a marriage not yet consummated which strongly suggests betrothed husbands. This points the phrase of “who have been found” is better translated as “being found present” or even best translated as “who are here” as a reference to those in the home of Lot including Lot’s wife and his two daughters in contrast to Lot going outside the home and coming back empty handed.
    Fifthly, The two daughters feel they have to intoxicate their father and rape him because they are childless. This again supports the situation the daughters were not part of a consummated marriage. The first daughter to rape her father is the first born, it would be highly suspect there were other daughters other than the two.
    Finally, the post modern church has trouble interpreting this passage due to many presuppositions of our changing philosophies towards sexual norms. Ironically, this is precisely what Genesis was trying to correct. I would urge you to reconsider this article, if not, at least to have a friendly further discussion.

    • Hi Naama! Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you sharing them, even though I disagree. I think the ambiguities in the narrative certainly are there, and come out more forcefully as the narrative progresses, particularly when read in the Hebrew. The argument doesn’t depend on Lot living in solitary confinement. He evidently wasn’t, as he was engaged in Sodom’s affairs and even captured by Chedorlaomer. Lot may be grasping at straws with his ruse, and indeed it does backfire pretty much. But this is to show the need for divine intervention to save Lot. The statement that Lot’s daughters are suddenly ‘found’ doesn’t seem to make sense if they’re present all along. It doesn’t explain why the messengers have to ask Lot if he has any family elsewhere, and the daughters only become present after he’s visited their husbands. The actions of Lot’s daughters in the cave actually require that they not be virgins—this is the only way that Lot can can do what he does without knowing that he’s done it. Presumably the daughters are aware that they are not pregnant, as they would be privy to the functioning of their own bodies. But Lot doesn’t know this. And the negative characterisation of the Moabites and Ammonites stems from them being practical sons of Sodom. Anyway, there’s more I could say, but let’s agree to differ on these issues. Thanks for the interaction.

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  6. Good work. This view corresponds with James B. Jordan’s take on the supposed moral failures of Abraham and Jacob, when the outcomes indicate that they actually out-crafted the various “serpents” they encountered, much like the midwives in Exodus. See his book “Primeval Saints.”

  7. Pingback: Crafty Lot | Bully's Blog

  8. Thank you for the interesting article. Here is an interesting point: In my language (Czech), one of the verbs for “being somewhere” is passive “to be found”, is it possible that it’s the same in Hebrew? Furthermore, the way how you can tell the difference between being found somewhere and simply being there is the use of reflexive (impf., something like “to be finding self” – nalézat se). Does niphal in Hebrew do the same? I’m curious whether this brings some light or is a complete random detour. Please let me know.
    Vaclav Janca

    • Interesting suggestion! Czech sounds like it has the same kind of expression that German does, too.

      It’s not quite the same in Hebrew. “To be found” can indicate the location of something, but it has a sense of suddenness or discovery to it—a bit like an accident. In the case of Gen 19, it indicates that Lot’s daughters suddenly were there. This doesn’t make sense if they had been there all the time, because the angels ask whether Lot has any other family in the city. It’s only after the question and Lot’s trip to his sons-in-law “who were married to his daughters” that Lot’s daughters are then found (located) in the house. The suddenness of discovery occurs only after Lot’s return to his house. Therefore, it seems more plausible to suggest that they had suddenly arrived, rather than been there the whole time.

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