I’ve set out to read the bible from beginning to end (though not in a year) just to re-familiarize myself with parts I’d not read in a while and to see the bigger picture of scripture’s story. I’ve also been doing my reading from the Common English Bible as the basis of my review for the CEB Blog Tour (my review I hope to have finished soon). I already inquired as to the origins of Cain’s wife and today’s post concerns Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19 we read that two of the messengers (presumably two of the three who visited Abraham and Sarah in ch. 18) entered Sodom where Lot greeted them. They initially decline Lot’s request for them to stay at his house, but after some earnest pleading, they accept his invitation. Once they are finished eating, they prepare for bed and here’s the part of the story that’s strange to me.
The men and boys of Sodom surround the house and begin to call out to the visitors to come outside so they can “know them” in a special way (gotta love translators’ choices for such euphemisms). Lot, however, does not wish for them to be involved in such evil acts, so he offers a substitute: his virgin daughters. What is so perplexing about this is that he offers his daughters for the men and boys to do to them whatever they please in the place of total strangers! What is in the world is he thinking? He offers the explanation that these visitors are under the protection of his roof, but what about his daughters? As a dad I can hardly imagine even allowing the thought to cross my mind.
Ultimately nothing happens to them because they were not the object of the men’s desire and the visitors see to it that they are confounded in their pursuit. This also is part of the larger point of the account, namely that the visitors set out to destroy Sodom for its wickedness. Is that the primary point of this little detail, that it shows the nature of the Sodomites’ disposition? John Walton suggests a “subtle alternative” to the offering, namely that Lot was saying he would just as soon have them rape his daughters than he would have them rape his visitors, to whom he has shown hospitality. In doing so, Lot is being rather sarcastic and his offer “is intended to prick the conscience of the mob” (Genesis, NIVAC, 477).
By modern sensibilities this is a grotesquely unthinkable act, but given this is an ancient text, what are we to make of it? Is Walton’s explanation satisfactory? Did Lot have gain some understanding of who the visitors were and perhaps knew that nothing would happen to his daughters? Even so, it’s still an unsettling moment in the story.
Oh Old Testament, how you trouble me!
Αυτω η δοξα