The meaning of Lot (1) in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
The man who bore the name Lot (lot; Lot) is mentioned for the first time in Genesis 11:27, at the beginning of that section of Genesis which is entitled "the generations of Terah." After Terah's 3 sons are named, it is added that the third of these, Haran, begat Lot.
The reason for thus singling out but one of the grandsons of Terah appears in the next verse, where we are told that "Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees." For that period in the life of this family, therefore, which begins with the migration from Ur, Lot represents his father's branch of the family (Genesis 11:31). It is hardly probable that the relation between Abraham and Lot would have been what it was, had not Haran died; but be this as it may, we read this introduction of Lot into the genealogy of Terah as an anticipation of the story to which it furnishes an introduction, and in which Lot is destined to play an important part.
The sections of that story in which Lot appears are: in Gen. 11, the migration from Ur to Haran; in Gen. 12, Abraham's wanderings; in Gen. 13, the separation of Abraham and Lot; in Gen. 14, the campaign of the eastern kings against Sodom and Abraham's recovery of the captives; and in Gen. 19, the destruction of Sodom.
In Genesis 14:14, Genesis 14:16 Lot is termed the "brother" of Abraham; but that this does not represent a variant tradition is proved by reference to Genesis 14:12 of the same chapter (ascribed to "an independent source") and to Genesis 13:8 (ascribed to J; compare Genesis 11:28 J).
1. First Period:
Lot's life, as the scanty references to him permit us to reconstruct it, falls into four periods. Of the first period—that previous to the migration from Haran—we know nothing save Lot's birth in Ur, the death of his father there, the marriage of his sister Milcah to his uncle Nahor (of another sister, Iscah, we learn only the name), and the journey to Haran in company with Terah, Abraham and Sarah. The fact that Sarah's childlessness and Haran's death are the only two circumstances related of the family history, may serve to explain why Lot went with Abraham instead of staying with Nahor. A childless uncle and a fatherless nephew may well have remained together with the idea that, even if there was no formal adoption, the nephew might become his uncle's heir. Certainly, the promise of a numberless seed, so often repeated to the patriarchs, comes first to Abraham immediately after Lot has separated from him (see Genesis 13:6-18).
2. Second Period:
In the second period of Lot's life, we find him the companion of Abraham on his journeys from Mesopotamia to Canaan, through Canaan to Egypt, and back again to the neighborhood of Beth-el. His position is subordinate, for his uncle is head of the family, and oriental custom is uniform and rigorous in the matter of family rule. Hence, the use of the singular number throughout the narrative. What Abraham did, his whole "clan" did. Yet Lot's position was as nearly independent as these patriarchal conditions admit. When the story reaches the point where it is necessary to mention this fact, the narrator explains, first, the generosity with which Abraham treated his nephew, in permitting him to have "flocks, and herds, and tents" of his own, a quasi-independent economy, and second, that disproportion between their collective possessions and the land's resources which made separation inevitable. Up to this point the only mention of Lot during this period of wandering is contained in Genesis 13:1, in the words "and Lot with him." And even here the words are useless (because stating a fact perfectly presumable here as elsewhere), except as they prepare the reader for the story of the separation that is immediately to follow.
3. Third Period:
That story introduces the third period of Lot's career, that of his residence in the Kikkar (the Revised Version (British and American) "Plain," the Revised Version margin "Circle") and in Sodom. To the fundamental cause of separation, as above stated, the author adds the two circumstances which contributed to produce the result, namely, first, the strife that arose between Abraham's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen, and, second, the presence in the same country of others—the Canaanites and Perizzites—thus reminding his readers that it was no vacant land, through which they might spread themselves absolutely at will and so counteract the operation of the principal cause and the contributory cause already set forth.
With a magnanimity that must have seemed even greater to minds accustomed to patriarchal authority than it seems to us, and that was in fact much more remarkable than it would be here and now, Abraham offers to his nephew the choice of the land—from the nomad's point of view. In the "we are brethren" (Genesis 13:8), the whole force of the scene is crystallized. Lot, who believes himself to have chosen the better part, is thereupon traced in his nomadic progress as far as Sodom, and the reader leaves him for a time face to face with a city whose men "were wicked and sinners against Yahweh exceedingly," while the narrative moves on with Abraham through that fresh scene of revelation which presented to this man of magnanimity a Divine deed to all the land, and to this man, now left without an heir from among his own kindred (compare Genesis 15:2-3), a Divine pledge of innumerable offspring.
Lot returns for a moment to our view as the mainspring of Abraham's motions in the campaign of Gen. 14. We are expressly told that it was "when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive," that he "led forth his trained men .... and pursued." On the one hand we hear that Lot now "dwelt in Sodom," having abandoned the life in tents that he had led since Mesopotamian days, and on the other hand we find in him a foil to the energetic, decisive and successful figure of his uncle—for Lot plays a sorry role, bracketed always with "the women and the goods."
This period of his life ends with the annihilation of his chosen home, his wealth, his companions, and all that was his save two daughters, who, it would seem, might better have perished with the rest. Genesis 19, coming immediately after the intercession of Abraham for Sodom that poignantly impresses on the reader's mind the wickedness of Lot's environment, exhibits to us the man himself in his surroundings, as they have affected him through well-nigh a score of years (compare Genesis 12:4; Genesis 17:1). What we see is a man who means well (courtesy, Genesis 19:1; hospitality, Genesis 19:2-3, Genesis 19:6-8; natural shame, Genesis 19:7; loyalty, Genesis 19:14; and gratitude, Genesis 19:19), but who is hopelessly bound up with the moral life of the city through his family connections—alliances that have pulled him down rather than elevated others (Genesis 19:9, Genesis 19:14, Genesis 19:26, Genesis 19:31-35). The language of II Peter 2:7-8 reminds us that Lot was, even at this time of his life, a "righteous" man. Viewed as a part of his environment (the writer has been speaking of Sodom, Genesis 19:6), Lot was certainly entitled to be called a "righteous" man, and the term fits the implications of Genesis 18:23-32. Moreover, Gen. 19 itself shows Lot "vexed .... with their lawless deeds" and "sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked" (compare Genesis 19:3, Genesis 19:7-8, Genesis 19:14). Yet the contrast with Abraham is always present in the reader's mind, so that the most lasting impressions are made by Lot's selfishness worldliness vacillation and cowardice, not to mention the moral effect made by the closing scene of his life (Genesis 19:30-38).
4. Fourth Period:
The fourth period of Lot's career is of uncertain duration. Upon the destruction of Sodom he dwelt at first in Zoar, the "little" city, spared as a convenient refuge for him and his; but at some time unspecified, he "went up out of Zoar," for "he feared to dwell in Zoar"—why, we cannot say. This fear was greater than even the evidently great fear he entertained of dwelling in "the mountain" (Genesis 19:19). In this mountain-country of rocks and caves (Driver in HDB, article "Lot," cites Buckingham, Travels in Syria, 61-63, 87, as authority for the statement that people still live in caves in this region), Lot and his two remaining daughters dwell; and the biography of this companion of "the friend of God" ends in a scene of incest, which supplies the logical epilogue to a drama of progressive moral deterioration. This bestial cave-man of Gen. 19 is the "brother" of Abraham, but he has reached this goal because his path had led down from Beth-el to Sodom. The origin of the two neighboring and kindred nations, Moab and Ammon, is by the Hebrew tradition traced thus to Lot and his daughters.
III. Place in Later Literature.
In the Bible, Lot finds mention only as the father of Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19; Psalms 83:8), and in the passage in 2Pe. already noticed; and, besides these places, in Luke 17:28-32. Here Lot represents the central figure in the destruction of Sodom, as Noah in the flood in the preceding context (compare the association of these two characters in 2Pe. and the Koran). His deliverance is mentioned, the haste and narrowness of that escape is implied, and his wife's fate is recalled. In Jewish and Mohammedan lore (including many passages in the Koran itself), Lot is a personage of importance, about whom details are told which fancy has added to the sober traditions of old Israel. But particularly for Mohammed there was point of attachment in Lot's career, offered in Genesis 19:7, Genesis 19:14. Like Mohammed to the men of wicked Mecca, Lot becomes a preacher of righteousness and a messenger of judgment to the men of wicked Sodom. He is one of the line of apostles, sent to reveal God's will and purpose to his contemporaries.
IV. Critical Theories about the Figure of Lot.
The common view of those who deny the historical reality of Lot is that this name simply stands for the ethnic group, Moab and Ammon. Wellhausen, e.g., expressly calls "Lot" a national name (Volksname). As to what is told of him in Gen. he remarks: "Were it not for the remarkable depression in which the Dead Sea lies, Sodom and Gomorrah would not have perished; were it not for the little flat tongue of land that reaches out into the swamp from the Southeast, Lot would have fled at once to the mountains of his sons, Moab and Ammon, and not have made the detour by Zoar, which merely serves the purpose of explaining why this corner is excepted from 'the overthrow,' to the territory of which it really belongs" (Prolegomena 6, 323). Meyer confesses that nothing can be made of Lot, because "any characteristic feature that might furnish a point of attachment is entirely lacking." The first of the families of the Horites of Seir was named Lotan (Genesis 36:20, Genesis 36:22), and this writer believes it "probable that this name is derived from Lot; but that Lot was ever a tribal name (Stammname) follows neither from this fact (rather the contrary) nor from the designation of Moab and the bene 'Ammon as 'Sons of Lot' " (Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstamme, 311; Compare 261, 339). If "Horite" was understood as "cave-dweller," the story in Genesis 19:30 might be adduced in support of this combination. But the most recent line of reasoning concerning these patriarchal figures makes their names "neither Divine names nor tribal names, whether in actual use or regarded as such, but rather simple personal names like Tom, Dick and Harry. .... Typical names they became .... so that .... Israel's story-tellers would connect the name of Lot with the overthrow of the cities" (Gressmann, article in ZATW, 1910). These names were chosen just because "they were very common at the time when the narratives were stamped into types"; later they became unfashionable, but the story-tellers held fast to the old names. "One sees from this at once into how ancient a time the proper names Abraham and Lot must reach, and understands therefore the more easily how they could be changed into tribal ancestors." It does not require the cautions, uttered by writers of this way of thinking, against regarding their views as a return to the old historical view of the patriarchs, to remind us that, in spite of all that may be said to the contrary, the present trend of thought among the most radical critics of the Genesis-traditions is much mote favorable to that conservative historical view than were the opinions which they have overthrown. So that it may justly be asserted, as Gressmann writes: "Confidence in tradition is in any case on the rise."
Lot's Wife: This woman, unknown by name, figures in the narrative of Lot that relates his escape from Sodom. She is mentioned in Gen. 19 only in verses Genesis 19:15-17, where she is commanded to flee from the doomed city with her husband and daughters, and is laid hold upon by the angelic visitors in their effort to hasten the slow departure; and in Genesis 19:26, where she alone of the four fugitives disobeys the warning, looks back, and becomes a "pillar of salt" This disobedience, with the moral state it implied and the judgment it entailed, is held up as an example by Christ in Luke 17:32. In the Scriptures this is all that is said of a person and event that furnished the basis for a great deal of speculation. Josephus (Ant., I, xi, 4) adds to the statement derived from Gen, "She was changed into a pillar of salt," the words, "for I visited it, and it still remains even now" (see also The Wisdom of Solomon 10:7).
Among Christian writers contemporary with and subsequent to Josephus, as well as among the Jews themselves and other Orientals, the same assertion is found, and down to recent times travelers have reported the persistence of such a "pillar of salt," either on the testimony of natives or as eyewitnesses. The question of the origin and nature of these "pillars" is a part of the larger question of Sodom and its neighborhood (see SALT; SIDDIM; SLIME); for that no one particular "pillar" has persisted through the centuries may be regarded as certain; nor if it had, would the identification of Lot's wife with it and with it alone be ascertainable. This is just an early, persistent and notable case of that "identification" of Biblical sites which prevails all over the Holy Land. It is to be classed with the myth-and legend-building turn of mind in simple peoples, which has e.g. embroidered upon this Old Testament account of the destruction of Sodom such marvelous details and embellishments.
The principal thing to observe is the vagueness and the simplicity of the story in Gen. For it does not necessarily imply the "metamorphosis" popularly attributed to it, in the strict sense of that word. And it lacks, even in a narrative like this, where the temptation would be greatest, all indications of that "popular archaeology" or curiosity, which according to some critics, is alleged to have furnished the original motive for the invention of the patriarchal narratives. "She became a pillar of salt," and "Remember Lot's wife": this is the extent of the Biblical allusions. All the rest is comment, or legend, or guess, or "science."
J. Oscar Boyd
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