Lots of trigger warnings in this episode. It’s just a terrible story. Trauma is repeated and repeated, partly because that’s what our brains and bodies do.
As we move through Genesis 19, familiar patterns are starting to emerge. We see the patriarchs, matriarchs, and their families recreating trauma in destructive cycles. As noted in the last episode, this tracks with what modern neuroscience knows about the ways in which “the body keeps the score.” Trigger warnings: incest, rape.
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Hello and Welcome to Worst Church Ever, the world’s worst Christian podcast. We believe in pesky, liberal things like comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Saying we believe in doing those things is easier, of course, than actually doing them, but the fact that we’re the worst doesn’t recuse us from having to try. But here’s the thing. It turns out that affliction is all over the place. It turns out that we, many of us, anyway, cling to whatever comfort we can scrape together. It turns out that our brains find some sort of comfort in revisiting, recreating, and reproducing our afflictions. In the last episode, I mentioned the book “The Body Keeps the Score,” and I highly recommend it. It turns out that the body of writings we call scripture also keeps the score, the patriarchs and matriarchs, they all kept the score, and so far, through 19 chapters of Genesis, they simply cannot stop reproducing their trauma.
Abraham traffics Sarah to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Sarah trafficks her Egyptian slave to Abraham. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, tries to traffic his daughters to the men of Sodom. In today’s reading, taken from the end of Genesis 19, it’s clear that Lot’s daughters have also kept the score.
But first, a look at Lot’s own trauma. As we talked about in Episode 12, Lot was a resident alien in Sodom, and when two new strangers find protection under Lot’s roof, a xenophobic mob attempt a gang rape. Seeking to protect the visitors (angels of one kind or another…hypervalued “men” in any case), Lot offers his daughters to the mob instead. The mob refuses Lot’s daughters, and then promises Lot that because he, a foreigner, has dared to judge their actions, they will subject him to even greater humiliation and abuse than they’re intending for his visitors.
These angels blind the mob and eventually lead Lot, his wife, and the daughters out of Sodom. The explicitly command Lot to flee to the mountains, but Lot says
““No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.””
21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)
When Lot and his family give the all clear, Yahweh commits genocide. That might not be how we’re used to thinking about the story, but that’s what’s happening. This is Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This is the fire-bombing of Tokyo or Dresden. And why does it happen? Because Yahweh’s feely wellies are all bent of of shape. The people of the cities of the plain are wicket, so they deserve to die. Every. single. one of them. You’d think a deity powerful enough to nuke a city (I don’t see Baal or Anubis doing that) would have the ability to be, what, a bit more surgical in his (always his) attacks. I guess if you believe that this story really describes the nature and actions of God, it’s easy not to care about the collateral damage of drone strikes or the fate of migrant children. It’s easy to go all in, soon, on the conquest of Canan, on Aneas’s conquest of Italy, or on something like manifest destiny. Anyway, God levels the city and kills everyone in it. The angels warn Lot’s family not to look back, you can never look back, but Lot’s wife wants one more glimpse of the dead-head sticker on her Cadillac. Or maybe, like the rest of us, she has a very hard time resisting the urge, the need, to recreate her trauma.
What trauma? Maybe the trauma of an attempted home invasion, or the trauma of terroristic threats against her husband. Maybe the trauma that comes from watching your husband try to hand over your daughters to be raped and, most likely, killed. Maybe she looked back out of compulsion, maybe she was just trying to see where it all went so wrong. She looks back in trauma and mourning, and Yahweh kills her. What a guy.
Back to the text.
30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.”
31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
People have always cringed at this passage because of the incest, and there are, of course, plenty of people who feel that’s mitigated a little by the fact that lot seemed to have no idea of what was going on. As for this business of saving the family line and so on, yes, that was of incredible cultural, social, and economic importance in the Ancient Near East. Yes, it was a matter of survival. Yes, we are likely seeing an allusion to Levirate marriage (more on that in a future episode) being read back into the text. But here’s the important thing. If it’s true that Lot’s daughters got him drunk, if it’s true that Lot had no idea what he was doing, what we’re seeing here is rape.
So, what really happened? Well, we have no way of knowing. We have know way of knowing if there really was a Lot. We have no way of knowing if some redacting took an earlier tradition of Lot abusing his daughters and thought, well, I should probably tone this down a bit and make the patriarch look better. Or, perhaps, the story always went this way. What we know is what we have, a story in which two daughters who had been offered by their father to an angry mob to be raped have now raped that father. They have kept the score.
Perhaps the repetition of narrative motifs in scripture and in other texts is not simply a matter of reinterpreting existing traditions. Perhaps these writers were more sophisticated than we give them credit for. In any case, it’s clear that these families are not so different from our own, repeating their own traumas and perpetuating cycles of abuse.
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Thanks again for listening. We’ll talk again very soon! Bye for now.