Friday, January 08, 2010

Tell Me A Story

Lot and His Daughters
Henrik Goltzius, 1616 CE

I am not a religious scholar. I was born and raised a Methodist, which is a somewhat less-than-sanguine variation of Christianity, but have dabbled in study of others religions. I have on my reference shelf the Holy Bible, King James version; The Glorious Koran; The I-Ching, The Tao Te Ching; the Book of Mormon; Science and Heath, with a Key to the Scriptures; The Upanishads, and versions of Buddhism ranging from Zen to Tibetan, and I have read them all.

I figured out pretty quickly that the holy books were not meant to be taken literally, that they were metaphors offering morality lessons. Literalists make me wonder how they can possibly reconcile the contradictions, and the only answer I can find is that dogmatic faith is a wonderful set of blinders.

Recently, a discussion in which I was involved touched upon Lot and the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. For those of you who missed Sunday school that week, a recap -- somewhat abridged and updated, viz: the language.

God was put out because the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah had gone over to the dark side. They were wicked -- the term "sodomy" comes from that city, and that pretty much gets into what they were doing. Buggery were them.

So God allowed as how he was going to nuke 'em from space and clean the slate. But He didn't want to wipe out any good folks, if there were any. (Why He didn't know kind of goes past the omniscience thing, but skip over that for now.)

So God sent a couple of ops -- angels in disguise to talk to the one good guy He was sure of, a fellow named Lot.

The angels showed up, and right behind them, so did the wicked folk of the city. Hey, Lot! Who you got in there? Send 'em out so we can screw them! (The biblical term is "know," but that's what it means.)

And Lot, bless his shriveled sense of parental duty said, "Hey, these are my guests. Leave them alone! Tell you what, I'll send out a couple of my virgin daughters, you can have your way with them instead, if you just leave my guests alone."

That's where I parted company with this story. Bullshit.

"No deal!" the mob roared. And they grabbed for Lot and figured to go grab the visitors and do a little hide the salami.

The angels, not needing Lot's protection, basically said, "Piss on this!" and struck the mob blind.

Teach to you fuck with God's operatives, dudes.

Well, to continue: There was some back and forth about sparing the city if enough righteous could be found, ladled throughout this discussion, and to make a totally unbelievable long story shorter, Lot couldn't come up with any. (Actually, I erred here -- 'twas Abraham who did the dickering, and Lot was the guy worth saving. Mea culpa. Doesn't change the main story, though.)

You and your family get out of town, Lot was told, and don't look back. We fixin' to kick ass.

So Lot and his family took off, and God rained fire and brimstone upon the cities and took them down to bedrock.

Only, Lot's wife looked back, which was bad, because God turned her into a pillar of salt for sneaking a peek.

So Lot and his daughters, feeling somewhat antisocial, skipped living in a city, and headed for a cave.

And one boring evening, the two virgin daughters -- there were others already married off and I don't know what happened to them and their husbands -- decided, Gee, you know it's a shame the old man doesn't have any sons to carry on the family name. Here's a thought: Why don't we get him drunk and lie with him, and fix that?

So they did. The older, one night, the younger the next. I don't read it that they did a threesome, though that wouldn't have been such a big deal, given the participants.

Lot, of course, was so drunk he didn't know he was screwing his own daughters, according to the story. Again, I part company with the writer, because I know you can't spike paper without a paper spike, and if you are so drunk you can't tell you are pronging your daughters, getting it up is going to need God's help. Liquor fires the desire, but fries the ability.

So the girls got pregnant, and begat a couple of the the great families of the Bible. The sons of Moab and those of Benammi.

So my question is: What is the, uh, moral of this story ... ?

(If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see the burning cities in the b.g., and Lot's wife as a pillar of salt-- these are often featured in the paintings, though the time is wrong -- the cities and wife were well before the girls hit on the old man. This painting is a mild version. A few get a bit raunchier, you can see examples here.


Anonymous said...

I hate it when a person doesn't believe in a certain religions beliefs, go on the offensive and start offensive rants like this one.If you don't believe in the beliefs or ideals of Christianity then so what. I am a christian but I don't go around making senseless articles that pretty much but in your case literally calling them bullshit stories. I believe even as a christian there is no reason to try to destroy another religion to justify my own. Its stupid narrow minded people such as yourself that trigger the religion related violence and wars in our society.

Jay said...

"Life finds a way" ?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous above:
I'd argue that it's people that find their own belief systems so fragile that, when confronted with rational questions, go "on the offensive" with *personal* attacks ("stupid, narrow minded people such as yourself") that actually undertake relion-related violence and wars....

Todd Erven said...

Well, Anonymous, I'm a Christian as well and I find no problem with Steve's questions or his comments. They are some valid observations.

If your religion or it's stories can't handle questioning or scrutinizing, then you might want to pick a different one.

I don't find it necessary to believe in Biblical inerrancy to believe in God.

Steve Perry said...

I expected this first knee-jerk reaction, and also a more reasonable one from folks who are more secure in their faith.

I have no arguments with the followers of Jehovah and Jesus in terms of their core faith. But the literal interpretation of the Bible -- as well as the other holy books I've read is, not to put to fine a point on it, nonsense. The Earth is six thousand years old?

All that stuff in the Book happened exactly that way?

Give me a break.

I ask the question because I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to it and others like it. Cain's wife?

Walking on water is a miracle, that I get. Sleeping with your daughters is, by my lights, illegal and immoral. Buggery is bad, but incest is best?

No. Sorry.

Some of the parables and moral lessons are excellent. Western civilization's common law comes right out of the Judo-Christian ethic, the Golden Rule, all that is wonderful. But the Book is full of stories whose morals strike me as absurd, and I often wonder how somebody using his or her brain can reconcile those.

If the writers were all divinely-inspired, why didn't they get a divinely-inspired editor?

I believe in God, but not one who pays attention to what we do. If I believe somebody in charge was doing all the stuff that happens, I'd have to go with Mark Twain's view.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

There were three emails in my inbox this morning, with people pointing to this post, saying "Go comment something!"

As if I would, in a million years, pass this up.

Oh, this is my favorite story. Of all the Bible, this is the one I use at dinner parties, circumcisions, D&D nights, or during foreplay. If there's one phrase Todd and I have uttered more times than "Boobies are awesome" it's "Lot was awesome".

"Go on the offensive"? There was nothing senseless about this article, satirical maybe, but anyone not blinded by the light (Paul reference - Irony!) would ask the same questions.

Or start buggering their daughters in the name of the lord. Hey, if you can't explain it, don't get all huffy when we start reaching for our own conclusions. Also, have you actually ever DONE IT with two chicks before? As a person who has, let me enlighten you: I wouldn't advise it - It's too much like WORK. It was tough to pull off when I was 22 and a gust of wind could make me hard, I doubt I would survive at 40. I'd probably die of a coronary.

So for Lot's old, drunk, traumatized, just-lost-his-wife-to-God's-wrath grieving ass, pulling a stunt like THAT off is of itself, unbefuckinglievable.

As for the moral(s):

1: Even a righteous man can fall to the wiles of his slutty daughters if he gets plastered after the destruction of his home and his beloved wife gets turned into a condiment.

2: Incestuous relationships are endorsed by God, as long as he's just destroyed your home & turned your beloved wife into enough seasoning for a year's supply of matzo balls.

3: God loves to see two horny daughters gettin' it on with their drunk father. Even He thinks its hot.

4: Having a few daughters around pretty much guarantees you'll be fucking one of them sooner or later. The Bible tells us so!

5: But fucking another man in the ass is just cause for nuking your city from orbit. (Two can play that game, Steve-O).

6: Ergo, God obviously thinks that homosexuality is worse than incest. The moral is clear. Now, we must destroy San Francisco in a righteous, soul-cleansing FIRE!!!

A couple of questions:

1: Why do the figures in the painting look like they're in ITALY, not ISRAEL?

2: That stupid bitch just poured the she going to dump it all over the cheese next?


4: Is that table magnetic, or is God holding the knife there while Lot's daughters get busy on dad?

5: Since when did puppies in the Bible have fashionable French-studded dog collars?

6: For a man who was willing to sacrifice his daughters and cried over the loss of his city...Lot doesn't seem too broken up about it, nor the fact that HIS CRYSTALLIZED WIFE IS LESS THAN 100 YARDS AWAY FROM THIS IMMORAL SCENE!

Bobbe Edmonds said...

This one was awesome!!

Dosbears said...

Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for being inhospitable to strangers. And Lot's daughters supposedly thought that they and their father were the last people on Earth. If you have room on your reference shelf, I can recommend "The Five Books of Moses", by Robert Alter, as an excellent modern translation and commentary on the first five books of the Bible. In his commentary, he compares the Biblical mythology with other middle-eastern mythologies.

tom said...

I once read that the whole 'turned into a pillar of salt' thing really just meant that lot's wife died from fear. I was reading a harper collins version of the bible done by a very prominent biblical schaolar (which is all that i can remember about it, the problem with reading books at the bookstore is that sometimes they sell the last copy of what you are reading)

Bobbe Edmonds said...

">Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for being inhospitable to strangers."<

A cardinal sin, if ever there was one, and well deserving of divine wrath.

Dosbears said...

It was Abraham who bargained with God to spare his nephew Lot and Lot's town. The part where the angels visit Abraham emphasizes his hospitality towards them, in contrast to their reception in Sodom.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

You see what I mean? Any explanation falls short of believability & falls into the incredulous, even if it gives reasonable doubt.

I won't belabor the obvious point about modern Israel, but I do notice that God hasn't punished either the Jews for their theft, or the Palestinians for their inhospitable behavior.

Was the lesson here that Lot's daughters were VERY hospitable to dad, and that makes it alright?

Steve mentioned Cain's wife, beat me to it.

Why does Lazarus have nothing to say, after returning from the dead?

Or the crucifixion - Why would God have to sacrifice Himself TO Himself, in order to allow Him to change a rule that He made...HIMSELF?

It borders on the absurd.

Adam and Eve? God couldn't simply say "It's okay Adam, wash your face and get ready for supper"? He could certainly stop this foolishness whenever He chose to.

See what I mean? Nothing is appropriate, nothing COVERS it adequately. Calling it bullshit is the least offensive thing I can think of.

Steve Perry said...

Abraham doing the dickering, yes, that's true, I hadn't read it in a while. It was Lot who went to fetch the angels, then offered up his daughters to the mob, had his wife transmuted into salt, and then the incest later, though.

And how are we to believe that Lot and the girls thought they were the only people left on Earth? As I read it, Lot went to Zoar, which was spared, and then decided to leave there for the caves. How could he and his daughters have thought they were the only people alive if God spared Zoar?

You can't make this literal and expect it to play. It just won't.

Dan Gambiera said...

I don't want to bring cultural reality too far into the picture. But the horrible sin of Sodom, at least according the the Prophet Isaiah and my tribe's Sages wasn't buggery. It was pride and worse, much much worse , inhospitality to strangers. Hospitality was and still is quite literally sacred in that part of the world and has been for thousands of years.

Offering your daughters up to the crowd for gang rape is over the top. If you honestly thought that was the only way to protect guests who had shared bread under your roof it might actually be a sacred obligation.

Banging them in a drunken refugee orgy? Mmmm, no.

Steve Perry said...

Herein the basic non-life affirming problem for me: If you must sacrifice your children for your God -- literally -- I'm not ever gonna be there, and I believe that any religion that would ask it is flat-out evil.

Abraham got to skate because it was just, you know, a test. The ram was okay, God was just checking to see if Abe would obey the command. Like being omnipotent and omniscient didn't let Him figure it out?

That Abe was willing to give up Isaac was, is, and always shall be in my sight, vile. That Lot would offer up the girls to the mob? Same difference.

redcode said...

The key to understanding any of this is understanding the very nature of God. Unfortunately (fortunately?) at this time that is not possible. To even partially decipher God's motives is similar to partially understanding the Internet in the years before Christ. You can try and explain it, but it's not gonna do much good.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

>"The key to understanding any of this is understanding the very nature of God."<

I think we can understand the "nature of God" quite easily; If God exists, he's at best an incompetent asshole, and at worst, to quoth the wise man, "flat-out evil".

Actually, if we are to divine anything from our surroundings and our place in the cosmos, and if we assume that perhaps there is a "supreme being", then the nature of God reminds me of a petulant child, killing ants with a magnifying glass.

Just because there's goodness in the universe doesn't mean that the universe is good. Even Hitler had a fucking dog.

James said...

It doesn't border on the absurd, Bobbe, it IS absurd.

redcode said...

I think we can assume almost anything about our universe based on our limited knowledge. The assumptions we make about the nature of God are mostly ancient ones. You assume just because people are dying or having some foul crap done to them or one another that it's evil or it's for no reason at all. We are ants and the thunder we hear is not thunder at all, but the roar of a jet breaking the sound barrier. That's the nature of God. We just don't get it yet.

Travis said...

Lot decieved by his daughters? Ex post facto justification for why he fathered his own grandkids mayhap? Sad, but it happens. Where's a cross* when you need one huh?

*Yes, I am saying go ahead and crucify child molesters. It's not cruel AND unusual if you do it to all of them.

Steve Perry said...

Two things: First, I'm not counting this as child-molestation, given the story. The daughters were old enough to get pregnant, and set out to do so, so I'm figuring that, for the period, they would have been counted as adults. Such standards were lower back then. To increase the tribe or sect, you married as soon as you could reproduce.

Marriage wasn't about love, but about alliances and children and property.

Second, the moral of the story as I see it is that the ends justify the means. Daughters weren't counted for much -- sons were necessary to keep the family business or farm running, and by the lights of the daughters, Lot not having sons (and they themselves not having children or getting laid) was such a terrible thing that getting the old man liquored up and taking him to bed was preferable to those.

Lot's wife and daughters don't even merit names in the story. They were just women, the daughters of Eve, remember.

Throughout history, there have been a lot of attempts to apply this one. Sometimes, the ends obviously justify the means to achieve them.

Much of the time, they don't.

In this case, I understand the historical and personal motivations. But I also understand that using God to rationalize what you do is very often part of religion. The implications here are clear: God had no trouble wiping out a couple of cities, and bothering to spare Lot and his immediate family -- one assumes his other daughters, alluded to in Genesis, and their husbands either moved away or got fried. And that if God, via his Angels, was willing to take notice of what Lot was about and spare him and his, then letting the girls shtup their old man and not striking them dead was deliberate.

Recall that the God of the Old Testament was wont to drop anybody who pissed him off -- Lot's wife got turned into a pillar of salt for doing what He told her not to do.

The Bible is full of these kinds of stories -- God smites people hither and yon for big no-no's because they involve disobeying God. And not surprisingly, what God wants often seems to be exactly what the local tribal mores and laws demand.

OT says, you cannot marry your brother's wife if he kicks off. Except, if your brother dies and he doesn't have any sons. In which case, your job is to get her pregnant until she has a son. Such sons don't really count as your own; daughters don't count at all.

Go look up the sin of Onan, a few chapters later (Genesis 36).

Read the codes of who is allow to shtup whom: (

If the moral is, "The ends justify the means, long as God wants it." then you start with simple incest, but eventually wind up with jihad and mass murder.

Anonymous said...

Just picking a nit, but I wanted to ask you about one tiny detail in your post. Did you put the following title under the picture or was that done by someone else?

Lot and His Daughters
Henrik Goltzius, 1616 CE

I ask because using "CE" instead of "AD" give a slight spin to the picture it might not otherwise have.

Steve Perry said...

I don't remember whether it said A.D. or C.E. where I found the image. My first inclination is to use "A.D.," since that's what i grew up using, but "Common Era" is what the style books say to use these days, so that's what I put. (Could also mean "Christian Era," or "Current Era," depending on what you like. Numbering is the same, and I don't see any spin by using it instead of Anno Domini.)

Shady_Grady said...

In Judges, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to the Lord as a burnt offering. Jephthah had promised to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to meet him, if the Lord granted him military victory.

Travis said...

" First, I'm not counting this as child-molestation, given the story. The daughters were old enough to get pregnant, and set out to do so, so I'm figuring that, for the period, they would have been counted as adults"

Guy fathers his own grandkids a) that's f-ed up no matter how you spin. nice try bible. b) What, you figure that was the first time?

You're taking the story at face value, I'm saying the story makes most sense as justification for something else. Maybe I'm wrong but I've heard a lot of rationalization overt the years.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, I am taking the story at face value, least insofar as working with what it says.

Do I believe that God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? Or that there even was an historical Lot and family?

Doesn't matter -- the point is that the moral being offered and the example might have been valid back in the days when people got married at thirteen, and the laws regarding who they could lie with were different. Weren't any laws against a man sleeping with his daughter, if you check the link. Not his mother, nor his granddaughter, but apparently daughters weren't taboo.

Such morality tales as this one are no longer valid, and holding to such a story literally (or just as a kind of metaphor) seems foolish to me.

We aren't living in the desert trying to increase our tribe, most of us. The lessons that were valid then aren't necessarily valid now.

Travis said...

Well clearly the moral is, "hey it's okay to screw your daughter if you reall *need* the sons". Even then someone felt compelled to add the rationalization that "it was the girls idea anyway". Which is BS. If it WAS the girls idea that just shows how badly he'd been screwing them up all along. Let's face it, daughters don't get up on day and say "I'm going to go have sex with dad". Doesn't happen. They got him drunk and took advantage, yeah right. He got drunk and raped his kids. That's the moral of this one.

It's an apologistic piece of crap, that's what this story is. And whoever decided to include it in the bible I'm sure has a nice warm seat in hell for them too.

Steve Perry said...

Well, to get technical, if Lot's daughters were of legal age, and I don't know how such a term applied back then, then if the story is taken as offered, it was not rape on Lot's part. Maybe not even criminal incest.

You are disallowing it all as rationalization, and you can do so, but that takes us into a whole other direction. I'm pointing out that even if it is all true, it is not applicable to our lives today.

What the desert folk were doing a couple-three thousand years ago regarding such activity is no longer our current way of doing things. We see it as illegal and immoral, so the relevance of such a story is not just nil, but contrary to our law and custom.

The problem is trying to figure out a way to make it palatable, but no matter how you season it, it's still gonna be past its expiration date and really hard to get down.

There are plenty of good morality stories in the Bible, as well as in the other holy books upon which major religions are based. The problem comes when people interpret the old scrolls as being literally true and still applicable no matter how out outmoded they have become.

The U.S. Constitution is only a couple hundred years old and it gets revised and updated constantly. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but it has to be a living document to adapt to the changing times. So much of what goes on today was beyond the founders wildest dreams and they couldn't begin to speak to it.

The Judeo-Christian ethos rests largely upon the Old Testament -- the Judeo -- and the New Testament -- the Christian. Like Aesop's fables, I don't think either was ever meant to be taken literally, and those who do so just make themselves look foolish.

I don't believe the writers were divinely-inspired to the point of infallibility; they were simply men writing down stories that had been passed along, sometimes for hundreds of years. A lot of the traditional books were dropped along the way because men in power decided that they didn't fit with their overall concept of the faith -- the Apocrypha, for example. But the revision have been relatively minor. To leave stories like Lot and his daughters, or, as Shady pointed out, Jephthah sacrificing his daughter as a burnt offering in without recognizing how outright criminal they sound now doesn't serve to strengthen the core values of either Judaism or Christianity.

Years ago, I heard a speech in which a former minister offered that Jesus said, I am the Way. It is through me that you reach my Father. Jesus was, the speaker allowed, telling people that he was a door. And, he continued, here we are, two thousand years later, worshipping the door ...

Travis said...

Ah-ha! I get what you've been after now. I think it's a good point.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Speaking of customs, slavery was another one that was simply "accepted practice" of the time.

For instance, the Egyptians keeping the Hebrews as slaves wasn't something that was frowned-upon. In fact, RELEASING them was a big no-no back then...Who was going to work the damn fields?

The Hebrews also owned slaves as well, and there are several laws and references to the behavior and treatment of them - not good at all.

So as Steve says, what we look at TODAY as bad would have been simply "Our Way of Life" back then, because there wasn't a precedent for it NOT to be.