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Lot and His Daughters

Lot and His Daughters

The story of Lot and his daughters is the culmination of a larger narrative cycle, spanning Gen 18 and Gen 19, in which Lot is contrasted with his uncle Abraham. Lot, like Abraham, is a gracious and considerate host, making the welfare of his guests a priority. However, unlike Abraham, Lot consistently displays poor judgment and a lack of consideration for his family. These personal flaws result in the desperate and unnecessary act of incest performed by Lot’s daughters in Gen 19:30-38.

Gen 19 opens with Lot generously inviting two visitors, angels in disguise, to stay with him in Sodom. But things go wrong when the men of the town demand to “know” Lot’s guests sexually. Appalled, Lot begs the Sodomites not to do such a terrible thing. He chooses what he sees as an appealing and hospitable alternative, offering his two virgin daughters to the mob to do with as they please. Although well intentioned, Lot’s disturbing offer demonstrates a shocking disregard for the welfare of his own daughters. The mob refuses this offer and grows more violent, now threatening Lot. The angels intervene, saving Lot and his family, though Lot’s wife is later turned into a pillar of salt, leaving Lot and his daughters as the city’s sole survivors.

Lot displays poor judgment again when he abandons the town of Zoar, where he and his daughters have taken refuge. Fearing that it will be destroyed—despite the angels’ assurances that it would be spared on his account—he takes his two daughters to live alone in a cave in the hills. Isolated in the cave with their father, the daughters mistakenly conclude that they are the last people left alive on the earth. If Lot knows that only a few cities were destroyed and that soon the family can go out and find a new place to settle, he surprisingly fails to share this information with his daughters. Lot’s daughters decide that their father must impregnate them to continue the human race. Assuming that their father would not knowingly participate in such behavior, they get him drunk and sleep with him on two successive nights. Both daughters conceive and eventually give birth to two sons, Moab and Ben-ammi—the eponymous ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites.  This account of incest plays on these two names, which in Hebrew can be interpreted etymologically as meaning “from [his] father” and “the son of my people.”

Scholars describe this story as an etiological myth: that is, it explains the origin of something—in this case of the Moabites and Ammonites, two of Israel’s neighbors. There are many examples of such accounts in the Hebrew Bible. As Israel had a long history of hostile relations with the Moabites and Ammonites, it is not surprising that some of the biblical authors would have wanted to take a jab at them by recounting their origins as incestuous.


  • Hilary Lipka

    Hilary Lipka is an instructor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Sexual Transgression in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006).