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929 Project: Genesis 19 – told from the man’s point of view

August 8, 2018

After offering up his daughters for rape to his fellow townsmen (Genesis 18:6-8), Lot commits incest, impregnating his daughters.  The story is told in a strangely morally neutral tone – and definitely from the man’s point of view:

ויהי בשחת אלהים את ערי הככר ויזכר אלהים את אברהם וישלח את לוט מתוך ההפכה בהפך את הערים אשר ישב בהן לוט

‏ ויעל לוט מצוער וישב בהר ושתי בנתיו עמו כי ירא לשבת בצוער וישב במערה הוא ושתי בנתיו

‏ ותאמר הבכירה אל הצעירה אבינו זקן ואיש אין בארץ לבוא עלינו כדרך כל הארץ

‏ לכה נשקה את אבינו יין ונשכבה עמו ונחיה מאבינו זרע

‏ ותשקין את אביהן יין בלילה הוא ותבא הבכירה ותשכב את אביה ולא ידע בשכבה ובקומה

‏ ויהי ממחרת ותאמר הבכירה אל הצעירה הן שכבתי אמש את אבי נשקנו יין גם הלילה ובאי שכבי עמו ונחיה מאבינו זרע

‏ ותשקין גם בלילה ההוא את אביהן יין ותקם הצעירה ותשכב עמו ולא ידע בשכבה ובקמה

‏ ותהרין שתי בנות לוט מאביהן

‏ ותלד הבכירה בן ותקרא שמו מואב הוא אבי מואב עד היום

‏ והצעירה גם הוא ילדה בן ותקרא שמו בן עמי הוא אבי בני עמון עד היום

And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.  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.  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. (KJV)

What a strange account.  The text suggests that Lot bears no responsibility at all for this sexual union.  He was forced to drink wine and forced to have sexual intercourse. 

A rather different tradition is related in the Midrash Rabbah, as related by Shayna Sheinfeld, a visiting assistant professor at Centre College:sheinfeld_shayna_news_body-1

Lot Was Less Drunk than He Appeared
According to the midrash, Lot is not without fault in the situation, even though Gen 19:33, especially through the use of the verb שקה, literally “irrigate,” seems to remove any blame that may be placed on Lot based on his drunkenness. However, Genesis Rabbah 51:8 states that while Lot was drunk when his first daughter lay with him, he was sober enough to know when she got up. This is based on a peculiarity in the Hebrew text of v. 33, which includes a supralinear dot, on top of the vav in the word
ובקומה (when she arose).

In general, the inclusion of such a dot—called puncta extraordinaria in academic parlance—was a sign that the scribe believed the letter should be erased.  Although the simple intent of the scribe in this case could merely have been to remove a mater lectionis (the vav that functions as a vowel), i.e., to advocate for the defective spelling (ובקמה) over the plene (ובקומה), Genesis Rabbah believed that the dot in this case was meant to cast doubt on the word itself. According to the midrash:

נקוד על ויו של ובקומה שבשכבה לא ידע בקומה ידע

There is a dot written over the letter vav in the word ‘when she arose,’ meaning that while he did not know when she lay down, he did know when she got up.

According to the midrash, while Lot did not know what was going to happen when he drank the wine, he was aware of the fact that he had sex with his eldest daughter by the time she left his bed. This would also suggest that his willingness to drink the wine on the second night means that he was complicit in the sexual relations that he subsequently had with his younger daughter.

Lot Desired His Daughters
In theory, this erasure might reflect Lot’s passiveness; he understood why his daughters wanted him to impregnate them, but could not bring himself to take an active, sober role in the plan. Genesis Rabbah 51:9, however, takes a much more negative view of the matter, suggesting that Lot actually desired his daughters:

א”ר נחמן בר חנין כל מי שהוא להוטאחר בולמוס של עריות סוף שמאכילין אותו מבשרו רבי יודן דמן גלוי ורבי שמואל בר נחמן תרויהון אמרי משום רבי אליהו עיני אין אנו יודעים אם לוט נתאוה לבנותיו אם בנותיו נתאוו לו מן מה דכתיב לתאוה יבקש נפרד הוי לוט נתאוה לבנותיו ובנותיו לא נתאוו לו

Said R. Nahman bar Hanan, “Whoever lusts after fornication in the end will be fed with his own flesh.” R. Yudan of Galliah and R. Samuel bar Nahman, both in the name of R. Elijah Ene: “We do not know whether Lot lusted for his daughters, or his daughters lusted for him. On the basis of what is said in the following verse: ‘He who separates himself seeks desire’ (Prov. 18:1), it is clear that Lot lusted after his daughter.”

Thus, while the narrative in Genesis absolves Lot of any choice by describing him as completely intoxicated and totally unaware, Genesis Rabbah puts negative agency in Lot’s hands, accusing him of desiring and even bringing about the situation which led his daughters to seduce him.

The sages justify their interpretation through the obscure verse from Proverbs 18:1, “He who separates himself seeks desire,” understanding it to refer to Lot’s (poor) choice to live in the cave rather than to remain in the city of Zoar. This interpretation goes against the plain sense of the passage in Genesis, redeeming Lot’s daughters and placing blame into Lot’s hands.

Here is more information about this series; and here is a table of abbreviations and acronyms.  Posts are backdated to match with 929 reading dates.

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