Friday, 8 August 2014

Silly Bible - Lot of Nonsense

Albrecht Dürer Lot Fleeing with his Daughters from Sodom (1498)
The biblical story of Lot is another strange tale with no obvious reason for being in the Bible, at least so far as morality tales go. In fact, it shows the god of the Hebrews in a very poor light, overly obsessed with what humans do with their genitalia but having a low regard for women and no problem at all with incest. It also portrays it as far from omniscient, unsure of what justice means and easily persuaded by a mere human but then capriciously changing its mind and killing innocent people anyway simply for being there at the time.

We also see how the person writing it had difficulty holding a thought across more than a couple of paragraphs.

I have already written about the nonsensical account of God telling Abram that he was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Abram bargaining God down from fifty to ten as the number of righteous people to be found in the cities to prevent him killing everyone, innocent or guilty.

There doesn't seem to have been any such attempt to find ten righteous men though and God sets about killing everyone anyway. To accomplish this he sends two angels to the city and they end up at Lot's house, where a mob comprising all the men of the city gather outside demanding to be allowed in to bugger the angels.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

Genesis 19:4

So Lot offers his two virgin daughters to them instead! (Genesis 19:8)

Anyway, the angels save the day by turning the men outside the house blind. Bear in mind this is every man in the city!

They then tell Lot to go and gather up all his family.

And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.

And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.

Genesis 19:12-14

Joachim Antonisz Wtewael, Lot and His Daughters (c1595)
For some reason, none of his sons-in-law believe that Lot has two angels staying at his house, even though, because "all the people from every quarter" were there a while ago to bugger the angels they would have been there - and they would have been blinded too!

Anyway, let's not dwell too much on the obvious inconsistencies here even though they're a problem for the Bible literalists who hold they are the inerrant word of God, because that's not the real point of this story, as we shall see.

The real point only begins to emerge later on when Lot, having had his wife turned to a pillar of salt, is left alone in a cave with just his two virgin daughters to comfort him. Our scribe then concocts a curious tale of drunken debauchery and incest:

And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.

And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

Genesis 19:30-36

A strange tale indeed for a 'righteous man' whom this destructive god has seen fit to spare because of his righteousness. Not only does he offer his unfortunate daughters to a mob of sex-crazed men but he then gets drunk and makes them both pregnant while living in a cave with them. None of this appears to bother God at all. Presumably incest was okay then just as it must have been with Adam's children and again with Noah's family. Just so long as they didn't use contraception or put things in the 'wrong' orifices, it would seem.

What on Earth was the author of this bizarre tale thinking of?

We get a clue from the final two verses of this chapter from a supposed history of the people of the area:

And the first born bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.

And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.

Genesis 19:37-38

So! The entire point of this tale is to explain the origins of the Moabites and the Ammonites or Ben-Ammites! They are all descended from the children of Lot conceived incestuously with his daughters!

Now, when would this have been necessary?

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts explain how this only makes any sense if this tale was made up in the 7th-century when it would have had any relevance given the complex political relationships at that time.

The relationships of Israel and Judah with their eastern neighbors are also clearly reflected in the patriarchal narratives. Through the eighth and seventh centuries BCE their contacts with the kingdoms of Ammon and Moab had often been hostile; Israel, in fact, dominated Moab in the early ninth century BCE. It is therefore highly significant — and amusing—how the neighbors to the east are disparaged in the patriarchal genealogies. Genesis 19:30–38 (significantly , a J text*) informs us that those nations were born from an incestuous union. After God overthrew the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah , Lot and his two daughters sought shelter in a cave in the hills. The daughters, unable to find proper husbands in their isolated situation— and desperate to have children— served wine to their father until he became drunk. They then lay with him and eventually gave birth to two sons : Moab and Ammon. No seventh century Judahite looking across the Dead Sea toward the rival kingdoms would have been able to suppress a smile of contempt at a story of such a disreputable ancestry.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2002-03-06).
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (Kindle Locations 702-711). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

*J texts are Bible stories which mostly refer to God as Yahweh (YHWH) and attributed to the Yahwists (Jahwist in German) as opposed to E text stories written by the Elohists which use the name Elohim or El. The J texts are mostly associated with the southern kingdom of Judah while the E texts tend to be associated with the northern kingdom of Israel. The two strands of stories and 'histories' have later been woven together into a single narrative, often not very successfully.


The entire point of this 'patriarchal narrative' isn't to present the god of the Hebrews in a particular light or to carry any morality message. In this tale the god of the Hebrews only has a utility value as a violent god capable of destroying whole cities on a whim and only sparing one man and his daughters so they can be used later on. And naturally he smiles favourably on Abram for reasons we will see in a moment. Of course, reinforcing the notion that Yahweh will severely punish anyone who disagrees with him, (for 'him' read the priesthood and his chosen and anointed rulers) is never a bad idea but there was another more important agenda here.

We now see why Lot makes an appearance in this tale and why most of Genesis 13 talks about how Lot came out of Egypt with Abram but, because there is conflict over grazing for their sheep, how they go their different ways. Our story-teller is explaining why the southern 'Hebrew' kingdom of Judah in particular and the Hebrews in general, are not exactly enemies with the Moabites and the Ammonites but regard them as figures of fun and definitely lesser peoples, the product of inbreeding. They can point at them and think they are the inbred product of incest! Not a legitimate people at all.

It is a simple tale to justify the racial supremacism of Judah over a couple of neighbouring peoples in 7th-century BCE Canaan. It is followed almost immediately with the nonsensical tale of Abram meeting up with King Abimelech of the Philistines in the city of Gerar, something which would have been impossible at the time this tale is set in since the Philistines were not around and nor was their city of Gerar. They too are 8th or 7th-century BCE phenomenon which the story-teller simply assumed had always been there because he knew little of the times about which he purported to be writing - as I wrote about a few days ago in More Bible Blunders.




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2 comments :

  1. An interesting explanation, and it obviously hangs together given the straightforward way those peoples are presented as descendants of the illicit incestuous encounters. It doesn't quite get the author off the hook morally, though. The fact remains that he presented Lot as the only man righteous enough to be saved -- though arguably if he was really so drunk during the incest that he didn't quite realize what was happening, his depravity is lessened thereby. And I don't have a problem with the men of Sodom being condemned -- an attempted homosexual gang rape is indeed immoral in a way that homosexuality in itself is not. But presumably all the innocent women and children in Sodom were wiped out when God nuked the place, which he actually had no reason to do any more since the depravity of the real, er, Sodomites had been de-fanged by blinding them all.

    If the author had just wanted to paint the despised Moabites and Ammonites as products of inbreeding, he could have started with a much simpler scenario and left out the whole angels-and-nuking-of-Sodom thing. It's still another clumsy and morally-incoherent story.

    In fact, a hell of a lot of the Bible reads as if the authors were the products of a long period of severe inbreeding.

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  2. Excellent, Rosa! And here we can read about more examples of incest in the Bible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest_in_the_Bible .

    A quote: One of the most notable features of all the lists is that sexual activity between a man and his own daughter is not explicitly forbidden. Although the first relation mentioned after the Levitical prohibition of sex with "near kin" names that of "thy father",[11] it must be taken into account that the Hebrew original text only addresses male Jews with regard to their female relatives.[12]

    The talmud argues that the absence is because the prohibition was obvious, especially given the proscription against a relationship with a granddaughter,[13] although some biblical scholars have instead proposed that it was originally in the list, but was then accidentally left out from the copy on which modern versions of the text ultimately depend, due to a mistake by the scribe.[14]

    The second list in the Holiness code noticeably differs from the first by not including the closer relatives, and it might be assumed that obviousness is the explanation here as well.[1] One might argue that the explicit prohibition against engaging in sexual activity with a woman as well as with her daughter,[15] implicitly forbids sexual activity between a man and his daughter.
    However, the rationale might suggest otherwise (the original text is unclear here), since it mentions only that "they" (i.e. the woman and the daughter) are related.[16] John Calvin did not consider the father-daughter-relation to be explicitly forbidden by the bible, but regarded it as immoral nevertheless.[17] [End of quote]

    Consider especially this sentence: "some biblical scholars have instead proposed that it [i.e.sexual activity between a man and his own daughter] was originally in the list, but was then accidentally left out from the copy on which modern versions of the text ultimately depend, due to a mistake by the scribe."

    I doubt that explanation is correct. I think the omission was made on purpose, just to defend Lot's (and other biblical men's) incestuous behavior. To manipulate bible verses so that their message becomes politically correct can be seen as a pious or divine act, cf the saying "Lying for God/Jesus". Anyhow, in the Wikipedia article you can read about ten specific incestuous relationships in the Bible. So Lot isn't the only one in the Bible having incestuous sex. Nine of the ten examples of incestuous sex are taken from Genesis.

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