The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Lot the righteous, gentile and/or prophet

The two prophetic post-Christian religions, Islam and Mormonism, faced the same problems in the Torah that preceded them. Here is an example where the two came up with different solutions.

In Torah, Abraham had a brother called Lot. Lot is the ancestor of Moab and Ammon, and so lies outside the Jewish line of succession (as does Abraham's son Ishmael). The Torah is ambiguous toward Lot: on the one hand, God did save him from Sodom; but on the other, Lot chose to live there in the first place (Gen. 13:7) and besides he lay with his own daughters (Gen. 19:36). Perhaps worst of Lot's crimes, from a modern perspective, is 19:8 - "And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you; and ye shall do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes". Yecch!

Jewish tradition has been mixed. Starting with Wisdom 10:6-8, some traditions saw Lot as a good man who walked with Abraham (Pirqei deR. Eliezer 25), at least up to the time of his rescue. But other traditions see Lot as saved not for his own sake but for Abraham's, starting with the first-century BCE Philo (On Genesis, 4:54) and Genesis Apocryphon 21:5-7.

Lot's righteousness became doctrinally important for Christianity. Justin Martyr in the early second century of that era insisted on the righteousness of Lot precisely because he was outside the Abrahamic covenant - "uncircumcised" (Trypho 19:4). The forgery "2 Peter" in 2:6-8 claimed that Lot was distressed "day after day", and on canonisation this commentary has become retroactive Torah for those Christians who believe in it. Genesis as "midrashed" by 2 Peter provided Christianity with a Gentile saved by God, a fitting example for all Gentile Christians (which was most of them).

But 2 Peter does not attempt the burden of this man's cowardice. Christianity's two prophetic successors do attempt this burden.

Islam's main theological problem was that it firstly insists it belongs to the Torah tradition, and secondly that its prophet was of the seed of Ishmael. One of the Qur'an's tasks was to find other prophets that lay alongside but outside the line of Abraham and Isaac. Accordingly it made Lot into a Prophet (sura 21:74); and his city remained an example of great sin (22:43, 50:13). 6:86 counts Lot in the company of Ishmael, uncoincidentally in my view. 29:26 has Lot follow Abraham's example. 26:160-175 // 27:54-58 insist that Lot had made his displeasure with his city public, and that the city tried to expel him. Such is the choice of the Qur'an.

There is one craven act which the Qur'an does allow through: Lot's attempted sacrifice of his daughters to the Sodomites (11:78). But in the Qur'an, that was not a sin. Sura 11 has Lot point out, "they are cleaner for you". This was not cowardice, but Lot's misguided sacrifice, that if it had worked would have cured the city and saved it. In Genesis, Lot had explicitly promised the Sodomites that they could do whatever they wanted, and there was no question of saving the rest of Sodom.

The Mormons chose another path: Joseph Smith re-wrote Genesis 19. First, Smith added some verses claiming that the Sodomites had demanded Lot's daughters, too. 19:8 is thus 19:13 in his version: "And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes". Smith preserved Lot's righteousness whilst also preserving his weakness.

Rewriting the Torah is of course sacrilege. Not even the Muslims dared that in this case (they just annotated it...). And there are no pre-Smith texts that would permit the Mormon "translation". But Christians, right now, are stuck with 2 Peter and thereby Lot's righteousness. If they are to keep 2 Peter and the Torah, they may have to add an explanation to the New Testament to explain why Lot wasn't a coward.

Again, Christians ought to erase 2 Peter from their New Testament... or else they might want to add the Qur'an's Sura 11 beside it.

P.S. The Bible As It Was by James Kugel was essential to the above. I wholly recommend it to all interested in Biblical midrash, of whatever religion.

posted by Zimri on 15:55 | link | 0 comments

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