The same has been true of the Biblical man Lot, Abraham’s nephew. His #MeToo story is rarely spoken of, much less is he seen as a victim of rape. But just as importantly, his daughter’s motives have not been explored. Why would they use their own father sexually as a babymaker? (Read the story again here: Gen. 19:30-38).
The women’s presumably forcible intercourse with their drunk father is not usually called “rape.” But if Lot were a woman and the daughters were male, it would be seen as the oddest form of rape/incest. (Scholars Esther Fuchs and Ilan Kutz agree).
However, in this #MeToo story of Lot’s, there is also the daughters’ back story that needs a voice.
The Consummate Host
Many of us grew up hearing about Lot’s wife, how she looked back on the burning city of Sodom, and turned into a pillar of salt. But before this in the same chapter (Gen. 19:1-11), Lot offers his unmarried daughters to the men of the city who had intended to sexually attack Lot’s two guests. (The travelers are angels, in fact, going back to Gen. 18:2, and 18:33). He says, “Look, I have two young daughters who are virgins–take them and do whatever you want with them, but do nothing with these travelers, for they are enjoying the protection of my hospitality” (Gen. 19:8).
Typically, commentators see Lot as the noble victim here. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament says this: “When Lot offers his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom as a substitute for his guests, he is playing the consummate host. He is willing to sacrifice his most precious possession to up hold his honor by protecting his guests.” The crowd refuses his offer and target Lot instead, as the “foreigner who would play judge” (19:9). The guest angels save Lot with a blinding light that repels the men outside.
But what goes through the minds and hearts of these young women who barely escape gang rape at the suggestion of their own father? Do they feel a wee bit angry, just perhaps?
The Fruit of Rage
After Yahweh’s destruction of Sodom, it’s just Lot and the girls. Their mother is dead and so are the men they were to marry, who didn’t believe Lot’s warning. And now these daughters find themselves stuck in a cave with their dad, who is too fearful to stay in the small town of Zoar (Gen 19:30). The young women begin to worry about finding men to marry who will give them children. First the older daughter, and then the younger, get the old man Lot drunk, rape him, and become pregnant by him.
If you put the two stories together, you can see the second as the fruit of the first. The daughters’ rage at being offered up by their father to the violent men of Sodom has burned all this time. Perhaps, even, their simmering anger and eventual deadness of heart toward Lot go back further to childhood. The Bible doesn’t say. Just like this, how many more of our back stories remain untold?
I’ve never heard these two Biblical narratives told together in a sermon. But they go together with a #MeToo lens. Surely, a man who would give his two daughters to a violent crowd is not much of a dad. The seemingly crazy idea the older daughter comes up with, to gain children by taking advantage of their drunk father, makes some sense. It’s a practical act, to be sure, but also one of revenge.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says in his commentary Genesis that “no stigma is attached to the action of the mothers in the narrative.” Indeed, the women play the somewhat honored role of “tricksters” in Genesis, which other women also have done (e.g. Rebekah, Rachel) , according to scholar Susan Niditch in Women’s Bible Commentary. Niditch writes, “Israelites tend to portray their ancestors, and thereby to imagine themselves, as underdogs, as people outside the establishment who achieve success in roundabout, irregular ways.” Indeed, the author of the Genesis passage may have seen the daughters as underdogs who did what they had to do to succeed.
The author of Genesis may have even seen Lot as receiving his due. Robert Alter, in Five Books of Moses, agrees, saying the final story “suggests measure-for-measure justice meted out for his rash offer.” It’s true that Lot was avoiding the sin of breaching hospitality toward his guests. But he could have offered his own body instead of his daughters’ if he was really trying to maintain his cultural righteousness at any cost. His daughters, the attacking crowd of Sodom, and perhaps even the author of the passage, understood that. And so Lot was objectified as well in the end.
God’s Concern for Lot’s Daughters
The two travelers are the angels who accompanied Yahweh to deliver the news about Sarah’s future pregnancy (18:2). Yahweh left (Gen. 18:33), but the two others journeyed on to Sodom to visit Lot. Interestingly, after the angels have dispelled the dangerous crowd with a blinding light, they show immediate concern for Lot’s children. It was the very care that Lot lacked. The angels ask urgently, “Do you have anyone else here–sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to Yahweh against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it (19:12, 13).”
In asking Lot this question, they direct him away from his selfish concern over how well he is exercising hospitality, and toward concern for his daughters and those men his daughters plan to marry.
It’s an important point because in these “texts of terror” it is easy to confuse what happens in the Bible with what God endorses. The picture of Yahweh can be bleak sometimes, from the tragedy of Lot’s wife, to Yahweh’s testing of Abraham’s obedience by asking him to sacrifice Isaac.
But in the angels’ concern we see glimpses of God’s care for women.
Justice and the Cry of a Woman
And it is possible that God also shows Her concern for women by destroying Sodom. Scholar Judith S. Antonelli says that the literal reading of Gen. 18:21 is “If they have done what her cry against them accuse them of, I will destroy them” (from a footnote in The Inclusive Bible). She writes:
The cry of Sodom is the cry of a woman–‘a certain young woman whom they put to death in an unnatural manner because she had given food to a poor person,’ according to [medieval Jewish scholar] Rashi. There were actually several women who did this and were caught.
Yahweh may have heard the cries of many women, including Lot’s daughters. Though we presume the women of Sodom died along with the men, Lot’s daughters became respected as the mothers of two tribes. Single mothers at that.
Lot, however, is never heard from again in the Biblical record. We can extend our sympathy to him as a victim in the story. Yet, now we also understand him and his daughters anew in the context of the unspoken, yet glimpsed at, back story.