Monday, October 23, 2006

Biblical Incest

Continuing from my previous post, I changed the direction of my paper for class and ended up working on a totally different passage, although alluding to Leviticus 18 at one point. I focused on Genesis 19:30-38 instead. It's the story of Lot (Abraham's nephew) after he has fled Sodom as it was being destroyed. His wife, you may remember from Sunday School classes, looked behind her after being told not to turn back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot runs to a small village called Zoar to escape the destruction, but gets scared to stay there and flees with his 2 daughters to a cave in the hills. While there, the daughters decide to get him drunk and sleep with him so that they can have children. They each end up having sons, one named Moab (explained to be the ancestor of the Moabites) and the other named Ben-ammi or Ammon (depending on which version you read), explained to be the ancestor of the Ammonites. The Moabites and Ammonites were 2 tribes with whom Israel generally didn't play nicely.

What the heck?!?!?!?!?! I was NEVER told this Bible story growing up - or ever. What is this passage trying to tell us? That incest is okay if you get pushed to desperation? I have A LOT of questions about this one.... Why do the daughters have to have children so badly? My guess is that was what women were for - if they don't have kids, they aren't living up to their potential. of course, if they both have sons and there aren't any more kids around, then what? Why do they have to have sex with dad? Why can't they go back to the village to find men to have sex with? Was there something in the village that scared them, as it had their father in the first place? What was Lot's reaction after he realized what had happened? The text says he had no idea when they lay down or when they got up, but surely he noticed their pregnancies. We never hear anything else about Lot - don't know how/when/where he dies, nothing. So was he mad, happy, did he help raise the kids? Who knows.

So what on earth do we do with this? Big Unit - I'm dying to hear your explanation of this one. To be honest, even after reading a lot of commentaries and writing a paper on it, I'm still not sure what to do with it. There are several main theories:
1. This passage was written to explain why the Moabites and Ammonites were "wrong" or "abnormal" and Israel was justified in the way they treated them. They were children of incest and therefore "unclean."
2. This story is written to show how far Lot had fallen. After he chose to live in Sodom in the first place, he had chances to show his righteousness but didn't quite live up to the exmaple in his uncle, Abraham. Before Sodom is destroyed, two angels from God go to check out the situation. Abraham offered them hospitality with great enthusiasm and generosity, but Lot only showed them the bare minimum of hospitality. He then questions the 2 visitors when they tell him to run for the hills, bargaining to go to the village of Zoar instead. Getting drunk and engaging in sexual impurity is the bottom of Lot's barrel.
3. The feminist interpreters see this as a story of empowerment of the daughters (although I would greatly questions this one). While the 2 angels are in Lot's house prior to Sodom's destruction, the men of the town of Sodom come and knock on the door asking for the 2 visitors to be brought to them that they might "know" them, i.e. have sex or rape them. Lot calls the townsmen "brothers" (rather than getting upset) and offers them his daughters instead. So after he had offered up his daughters for sexual misconduct, they turn to the tables on him and make him the object of sexual misconduct instead. Plus they get their sons, making them remembered as determined mothers in the ancestral line.

I honestly don't know what to do with this, so any input or additional insight you can offer would be most appreciated....


Big Unit said...

No comment, I don't know anything about that passage to talk about it.

hipchickmamma said...

1. does seem a plausible explanation but still does not speak to the entire situation

2. somehow i doubt Lot would be the one looked down upon--Lot would be the victim of the situation.

3. this also seems plausible even if it still makes our stomaches churn. at both ideas of raping one's father and of women's importance being in child bearing.

obviously i have no answers. the entire book of judges has bizzaro stories. we're supposed to simply accept that lot was offering his daughters because that was showing honor to his guest. it seems that we take these big sweeps declaring that it came from a misogynistic era and that we need o just see the bigger picture.

well, newsflash. it is currently a misogynistic era--just look at rape, domestic violence and child abuse stats. women have never been safe in their own homes and they certainly aren't today.

we have to take time to painfully address these hard to stomache stories and not necessarily try to explain them away or gain some point from them, except to say this seems abhorrent but what about X (name a current horrific situation)--is God in this and where and what to do do? what are we responsible for? etc.

no answers, just air--sorry. good luck on your paper! i hope to get to read it!