Genesis 19 is one of the most famous episodes (involving minor characters!) in the Old Testament for numerous reasons. Well, the first half of the text is. The second half of the text tends to get skipped over in most children’s bible class curricula! We talked last time about the first half of Genesis 19, where God sent two messengers to test Sodom and Gomorrah to see whether they were righteous or not. When they failed their test, those same messengers rescued Lot and his family before destroying the cities. Because of this, Lot, his wife, and his daughters were saved (although his sons-in-law refused, since they thought Lot was crazy). Up to this point, the story is pretty familiar. Many probably even know that—upon turning back toward the city that “looked like Egypt”—Lot’s wife died a salty death. But what comes afterward is the real boogaboo. Alone near Zohar, without his wife, his sons-in-laws, and his city, we read:
Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in the city of Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.
The firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and we have no male heir or progeny to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Let’s get our father drunk on wine, and we will have sex with him, so that we may carry on our name from our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. (He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.)
The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I lay last night with my father. Let’s get him drunk on wine again tonight. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” So they got their father drunk on wine again that night. Then the younger arose and had sex with him. (He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.)
In this way both of Lot‘s daughters became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab (he is the progenitor of today’s Moabites). The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi (he is the father of today’s Ammonites) (Gen 19.30–38).
Now, this story is doing all sorts of things. Among others, it’s an aetiological explanation for the Moabites and Ammonites; it functions as a polemic against Israel’s neighbors; and it neatly cuts off the potential for Lot (or his progeny) being the inheritors of Abraham’s promise, removing one more “logical alternative” on the road to Isaac. In other words, there’s a lot (sorry, I just couldn’t help it!) we could talk about in this episode. Even if we moved outside of the specific Lot storyline to see what is in the background, we could talk about the importance of progeny, ancient Israelite (and near Eastern, in general) ideas about sex, purity, or incest, and lots of other things. But, for today, I want to return to our ideas of intertextuality.
- God Rescues a Single Family from Mass Destruction
- We have information about the husband, wife, and children included
- The narrative focuses primarily on the interaction of father and children
- Others have a chance to flee destruction, but refuse and perish
- The Destruction of the Masses and After-Episode of Salvation are interrupted by God remembering a covenant
- Salvation of the Family is Immediately Followed by Sin
- The sin includes parent and child (Lot and Daughters)
- The sin includes drunkenness (Lot is drunk when this happens)
- The sin includes sex (They lay with their father)
- The sin explains the origin of one of Israel’s neighbors (Moabites and Ammonites)
The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.
Noah became a farmer: he planted a vineyard; he drank his wine; he got drunk; and he lay, uncovered, in his tent. Then Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the “nakedness of his father” and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their “father’s nakedness.”
When Noah awoke from his stupor and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant\” (Gen 9.18–28).
- The sin includes parent and child (Noah* and Ham)
- The sin includes drunkenness (Noah is drunk when this happens)
- The sin includes sex (Yes, debated, we’ll discuss this in a second, but at least *sexual*)
- The sin explains the origin of one of Israel’s neighbors (Canaanites)
Now, we’re already running a tad longer than I like so we can’t go in depth here (although, if you’re interested in learning more and don’t mind reading something longer, I’d highly recommend this article!), but what I want to touch on is how reading this story intertextually may also help resolve this question.