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Lot's Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

According to the Rabbis, Lot had four daughters, two of whom were married, and two betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands, along with the two future bridegrooms, remained in Sodom and perished, leaving Lot with only two daughters after the destruction of the city (Gen. Rabbah 50:9; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, ed. Higger chap. 25).

In their depiction of the impregnation of Lot’s daughters by their father, the Rabbis draw a distinction between the father and his daughters. The Biblical story presents the daughters as the initiators and the active perpetrators of this act of incest: they ply their father with wine and lie with him, while their intoxicated father does not know when they lay down with him or when they rose. We would expect the Rabbis to condemn the daughters’ actions and defend Lot, but the opposite is the case. The Rabbis portray the daughters in a favorable light, while Lot is indicted.

According to the midrash (Tanhuma, Vayera 12), Lot, from the outset, decided to dwell in Sodom because he wanted to engage in the licentious behavior of its inhabitants. His negative behavior comes to the fore when the townspeople mill about his door, demanding that he hand over the angels, and he instead offers his daughters to the mob. The Rabbis observe that a man usually allows himself to be killed in order to save his wife and children, while Lot was willing to allow the townspeople to abuse his daughters. In response to this, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to Lot: By your life, the improper act that you intended to be done to your daughters will indeed be committed, but to you. This midrash sharply focuses the reversal between these two episodes. In the first event, in Sodom, Lot was ready to force his daughters, against their will, to engage in sexual relations with the townspeople. In contrast, in the second episode, which takes place after the upheaval of Sodom, Lot’s daughters engage in relations with their unwitting father. Consequently, these acts of incest are Lot’s punishment for his unseemly behavior.

Another midrash (Aggadat Bereshit [ed. Buber] 25:1) regards the daughters’ act as punishment for their father’s own sexual promiscuity. Lot thought that if he were to dwell in Sodom, he could engage in licentious behavior without anyone’s knowledge. He accordingly was punished by his daughters engaging in intercourse with him; this episode became common knowledge and is read each year during the public Torah reading of the verse: “Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child by their father” (Gen. 19:36). R. Nahman adds: “Whoever is driven by his hunger for transgression will eventually be fed from his own flesh” (Tanhuma, Vayera 12). Lot was eager to engage in promiscuity; in the end, his daughters played the harlot with him.

Another Rabbinic view was that Lot secretly lusted after his daughters. He was intoxicated when the elder sister lay with him, but he was sober when she rose, as is indicated in the Torah by the dot over the word u-ve-komah (“when she rose”). Despite his knowledge of what had transpired, he did not refrain from drinking wine the next night as well, and lying with his younger daughter (Gen. Rabbah 51:8–9).

Lot’s daughters, in contrast, are treated sympathetically. The midrash observes that, by strict law, the daughters deserve to be burnt by fire for having lain with their father (Aggadat Bereshit [ed. Buber] 25:1), but the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows man’s thoughts, judges them by their thoughts and not their deed. The daughters’ true intent was not to lie with their father, on whom they had no sexual designs, but to save the world from total devastation. The daughters thought that the entire world had been laid waste, as had happened during the Flood, since they saw no living souls wherever they went; they did not know that only Sodom had been destroyed. They said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, has rescued us so that the world will exist through us, so that the human race shall continue.” The Holy One, blessed be He, knew their honest minds and good thoughts and rewarded them for their actions. Accordingly, when he commanded “no Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:4), this prohibition against intermarriage applies only to the males, and not to the females (Pesikta Rabbati 42).

The underlying reason for the sympathetic treatment of the daughters of Lot apparently stems from Ruth the Moabite’s tracing her lineage to them and the subsequent descent of King David and, eventually, of the Messiah, from Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. According to the midrashic account, when Lot was commanded to rescue his two daughters from the destruction the angels already foresaw that Ruth the Moabite and Na’amah the Ammonite would descend from them (Gen. Rabbah 50:10). In addition, when Scripture tells of the incestuous act by the daughters of Lot, who say: “that we may preserve seed from our father” (Gen. 19:34), it uses the word zera (“seed,” or “offspring” in a more general sense), and not “son,” since the intent of the Holy One, blessed be He, was related to the Messiah (Gen. Rabbah 51:8). Thus, from a historical perspective, this act was essential for the future advent of the Messiah. This also explains the midrash (Gen. Rabbah, loc. cit.) that Lot’s daughters had no wine; a miracle was performed for them, and the cave in which they lived became a portent of the World to Come, dripping with wine, as in the depiction of the World to Come: “And in that day, the mountains shall drip with wine” (Joel 4:18). An additional wonder: a virgin does not become pregnant from her first intercourse, while Lot’s daughters, who were virgins, did become pregnant from this initial act (Gen. Rabbah 51:9). This midrash reiterates the purity of their intentions, since they lay with their father only a single time, to ensure the continuity of the world. Just as Ruth acted for an ideal when she went down at night to the threshing floor of Boaz, so, too, the daughters of Lot acted altruistically (Gen. Rabbah 51:10).

24 Comments

Wow... how many errors could those rabbis fit into their analyses?

"The Rabbis observe that a man usually allows himself to be killed in order to save his wife and children, while Lot was willing to allow the townspeople to abuse his daughters."

Genesis 19:6 says "Lot went outside to meet [the Sodomite rape gang] and shut the door behind him. [emphasis mine]" If anyone was going to get gang-raped and murdered that night, Lot would surely have been the Sodomites' first victim, since he was standing between them and his guests and his daughters with the door shut behind him. Sounds to me like those rabbis owe Lot an apology for their unduly harsh assessment of his character; he didn't offer up his daughters to the would-be rapists without implicitly offering up his own life first.

"Lot thought that if he were to dwell in Sodom, he could engage in licentious behavior without anyone’s knowledge."

Pure speculation, and not a word of valid reasoning or canonical basis for it. Considering that the Sodomites practiced their licentious behavior pretty brazenly in trying to gang-rape Lot's guests, I dare say a whole lot of them would surely have known if he was doing anything licentious. When he pleaded with them not to attack his guests, they didn't say "You've had plenty of fun with our women; now we want our turn with your men." Instead, Genesis 19:9 tells us they said "Get out of our way! This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them." Also, the only reason for Lot's decision to live near Sodom given in the actual Torah is (according to Genesis 13:10) that the plain of the Jordan where the cities stood had lots of water and vegetation for his animals; Scripture accuses Lot of no sin other than the sloth of complacency. To make up wild accusations of the kind these rabbis did is to libel him without cause, and for that they again owe Lot an apology.

"Another Rabbinic view was that Lot secretly lusted after his daughters. He was intoxicated when the elder sister lay with him, but he was sober when she rose, as is indicated in the Torah by the dot over the word u-ve-komah (“when she rose”)."

Rubbish. Genesis 19:33 clearly states "He was not aware of it when [his older daughter] lay down or when she got up [emphasis mine]." Genesis 19:35 likewise clearly states "Again he was not aware of it when [his younger daughter] lay down or when she got up [emphasis mine]." While one might wonder what bizarre dreams he was having in his drunken delerium to be able to perform for his daughters while they were raping him, it's clear he didn't do it of his own free will. The only wrong he committed was letting them repeatedly get him drunk, and since he didn't know what they were doing to him while he was drunk, he may simply have thought they were spending those nights drowning their sorrows in wine the same way he was drowning his. Once again, the rabbis' accusations against Lot are pure speculation with neither any sound logic nor any canonical basis for them whatsoever.

"The daughters’ true intent was not to lie with their father, on whom they had no sexual designs, but to save the world from total devastation. The daughters thought that the entire world had been laid waste, as had happened during the Flood, since they saw no living souls wherever they went; they did not know that only Sodom had been destroyed."

Wrong on all counts: while it's entirely plausible that the daughters were acting out of deemed necessity rather than from lust, they could not have thought all the people of all the world destroyed, since Genesis 19:30 clearly states they had lately emigrated from the little town of Zoar; they must have been aware that other people still lived in civilization's remnants, though Lot's being afraid to stay in Zoar suggests they justifiably believed these other people were hostile to them. Genesis 19:24-29 states that God destroyed not only Sodom, but Gomorrah, and all the cities of the plain. While the devastation of that fiery deluge on the land certainly would remind them of the watery deluge in Noah's time, the daughters were surely aware that there were other survivors later on too, though they wanted nothing to do with them; as the older daughter states in Genesis 19:31, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth [emphasis mine]."

What they most likely feared was specifically the end of their family line: with their only other prospects for having children (specifically sons to protect them and provide for them) being the apparently hostile people of Zoar and maybe a few desert raiders who'd prefer to use them for sex slaves, the daughters figured they'd have to get their children from the only non-hostile and non-predatory male to be had, namely their father Lot.

"This also explains the midrash... that Lot’s daughters had no wine."

Considering that Abraham and Lot had both been able to procure food and drink for themselves before, there's no reason to believe Lot and his daughters hadn't continued to do so, though the destruction of so much of their wealth along with Sodom and Gomorrah and all the cities of the plain had surely impoverished them. Still, with vegetation (including wine grapes) immediately springing up in the rich plains of the Jordan (recently fertilized with ash) and people being able to round up the occasional surviving stray animals now drifting ownerless in the aftermath of the apocalypse, the suggestion that Lot and his daughters needed some miraculous source for their wine (or anything else) is pure fanciful speculation and nothing more.

"An additional wonder: a virgin does not become pregnant from her first intercourse, while Lot’s daughters, who were virgins, did become pregnant from this initial act..."

Oh, come on! Even the most prudish cultures have always known that nothing magically protects a girl from getting pregnant her first time, much as she might wish something did. I'm starting to think these rabbis must be pulling our legs. If anything, my suspicion is that Lot's daughters had figured out how their fertility cycles worked and simply used an inversion of the Catholics' beloved rhythm method to ensure that they were inseminated on their most fertile days.

That's assuming each of them really did only rape their father one time apiece. While Genesis 19:33-35 certainly only mentions the one time, it's entirely possible it's simply indicating how their scheme typically went by telling us about the first time they pulled it and then leaving us to figure (without having to have it all described to us again) that they took turns with their father in the same manner every time they pulled this same scheme after that until they were both certain they were pregnant.

As to their legacy, it's true that Ruth the Moabite later did go on to sire David's line with Boaz (and through that lineage, ultimately the Messiah). However, the Israelites' prescribed enmity with the Ammonites and Moabites did pretty much continue with everybody else in those nations. If anything, Ruth's reconciliation to God through marrying Boaz merely demonstrates that God was already working toward the abolition of collective historical culpability for ancestral sins: as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:28-30 and Ezekiel 18:1-3, Ruth was no longer going to be held responsible for the sins of Lot's daughters with their father (nor, for that matter, for the other sins the nation of Moab had committed against Israel in chapters 22-25 of Numbers).

All these wild digressions from Biblical canon and the sheer absurdity of some of these speculations are one reason why the rabbinical writings of the Talmud will never rank much higher in my estimation than (rather poorly written) fan fiction. While it's worthwhile to know what ancient Israelites thought about various odd passages of Scripture, honoring these fanciful scribblings as anything more than the dubious opinions of fallible men would be subordinating the Scriptures to mere human traditions as God warned us against doing in Isaiah 29:13.

So, let's just talk about the incest when the worst act here is the pedophilia. Why is that always skirted around?

That would be because there wasn't any. The gals were betrothed to be married when they had to flee Sodom, which can only mean they must already have been of a marriageable age; by the standards of the time, that would place them in their early teens at the youngest and it's more likely (considering that they took a while to get to their mountain dwelling and the daughters stated that they had to act soon if they wanted to have any offspring because their father was old enough that he wasn't going to be around much longer) that they were in their later teens or even twenties. Young teens were a lot more mature emotionally as well as physically in those days, since they had to grow up fast in order to survive, and everyone considered them adults back then; even in our time, fetishistic attraction to post-pubescent adolescents is known not as pedophilia (which is such an attraction to pre-pubescent children), but as hebephilia (younger adolescents) or ephebophilia (older adolescents).

In short, the parental incest is the issue at hand here. While God's laws against incest weren't in effect until Moses brought Leviticus and Deuteronomy to his people, it does remain that everybody else having children with a close relative (such as Abraham with his half-sister Sarah) was married to a peer, whereas these were unmarried gals were raping their much older father. Even before incest was outlawed, that was an awfully cruel betrayal of Lot's paternal trust and violation of their familial bonds to him.

Chapter 19 of Sefer Ha Yashar indicates there was 5th Daughter... One who was executed just before these events. One which was performing acts of chesed to the poor which was against the law in that land (As it becoming in our own). It was her cry that got the attention of Elohim and cause the two angels to come into that land and validate... And they found the situation worse than what they had heard... In fact the cities were destroyed in a manner similar to how Paltith was executed... by fire...

Just to answer the bit about Lot's 4 daughters. The bible does not specifically say that Lot had 4 daughters,but we can infer from the scriptures that he had at least 4 daughters. Here we go. Genesis 19:14 states that Lot went to his sons-in-law that had married his daughters . So we can infer that he had at least two married daughters. Then in Genesis 19:8 he had two unmarried daughters. Based on this, we know for sure that Lot had at least 4 daughters.

Where in the bible does it says that Lot had four daughters ? Let's be careful not to add to the word of God because it is a curse to do so.Many people come up with thoughts that are not written this is why people get confused and say that the bible is contradictory. The bible is not contradictory some just choose to add to it. God in his infinite wisdom inspired his servants to write it and through time man tried to change it. Let's let what is written stay written and live by it ,and learn from it,and stop adding to it so as to not confuse people.Jesus never tried to change the word whosoever asked him a question he started by saying it is written, so if he used what was written we to must use what is written.

Lot was not a good person

lol thats not a debate thats a statement with no source

What I find most incredible is the Islamic objection to the Biblical narrative as it is. From what I can understand, Lot is not considered a prophet in Christian theology, and I don't believe in Jewish either, but he is considered a prophet by Islam, and prophets just don't behave like Lot. Well, neither do righteous men, unless they have just lost most of their family, get drunk, and lose track of themselves. The Islamic view is that Lot offered his daughters in marriage, the Judeo-Christian view: for other reasons. End result of the incest are the Moabites and Ammonites, but also Ruth, in the lineage of David the King, and therefore the Messiah. I don't seem to find it incredible that people make mistakes, including those who we call "righteous," or is it only misperception on my part?

Muslims believe that Lot was a Prophet .He did no such thing as raping or incest. The Torah and Bible were changed over time due to corruption in religion and for a meager sum of money, the rabbis changed the original story to tarnish the character of Prophets and change the word of God who is the Almighty and Who is the only One.

And there is no proof of this historically and the Koran even says Quran says that the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the gospel were all given by God.

Torah--"We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers," (Sura 2:87).1

Psalms--"We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms," (4:163).

Gospel--"It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong)," (3:3).
Also, "And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah," (5:46).

We see that the Qu'ran states that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel were all given by God. So if it is true what the Muslims -- claim that the Bible is corrupted2015-10-24T23:01:45Z and full of contradictions -- then it would seem they do not believe the Qu'ran since the Qu'ran says that the Word of God cannot be altered:

"Rejected were the messengers before thee: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those messengers," (6:34).

"The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfillment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all," (6:115).

"For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in the Hereafter; no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme felicity," (10:64).

When Muhammed (570-632) was alive, he claimed to receive the revelation of the Qu'ran from Allah. This means that at that time the Bible, which was in existence, could not have been corrupted because the Qu'ran states that God's word cannot be corrupted. The question I have for the Muslims is: "When and where was the Bible corrupted since the Qu'ran says that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel are from Allah and Allah's words cannot be changed?"

in reference to your Quote Torah--"We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers," (Sura 2:87).1
you should look in the original old testament for the quote its in the book of exodus google it it says that they received the original 3 commandments of god and asked moshe to receive the rest on their behalf for they where overwhelmed by god
there is many proofs if you would like to know more google Rabbie MIZRAHI on tora and science

there are many profits like Belam who was an evil man to be a profit and righteous is not the same thing thats the common misunderstanding.... and you should know words like profit, masheyah(masia) is defined by the old testament.. all religions(note jews i consider a nation) based on the old testament and jewish prophets but have changed the criteria of what is a profit and ended up worshiping them at the most at the least they believed that they were all righteous

sorry Auto correction was on *Prophet *know

why would the Jews wish to tarnish their own reputation? If I were the Rabbis I would've erased all the character flaws of the prophets, erased all the flaws of the Israelites (their are many mentioned in the Bible), made Judaism patrilineal instead of matrilineal (thus giving men access to a wide range of girls), not made so many difficult laws (the law against eating pork makes sense in middle east... the law against eating camel not so much)... Suffice to say if the Jewish people had gone out to change the Bible, it certainly wouldn't be the book that we have today.

I believe it tells us a picture far differently then that of what the Rabbi`s have stated. Otherwise the word wouldn`t say Lot was a righteous man. If lot was thinking of incest with his two daughters; why would it say Lot was a righteous man. A righteous man would not think such wicked thoughts.

there are all types of righteous man Noah was said to be righteous specifically in his generation as he would not be compared to others and would fall under wicked in other generations.
btw that is one of the reasons why Lot moved away from Abraham for he felt that next to him he was evil and moved into a place where even at his worst he was still righteous compared to the Sedom people. best thing i say is people when arguing biblical laws please use similar definitions what you consider righteous and what the bible or other people even might be different but according to the context of debating biblically do research what makes a person righteous biblically

where did you read that it says lot was thinking about it??? read it carefully the cites all around him were he lived and went to after before the cave were destroyed. the daughters thought that the whole world has ended as it has before they thought there father was the only man... the daughters decided to get there father drunk and went out cold they laid with there father as it says he dident know that it even happened. ( you could ask hey when there present what would the father think don't worry many people before then claimed to have a virgin birth) now there is a jewish opinion the source i think is the midrash ( if you care i can find it for you) that he did not know of the oldest daughter but when they did the same thing the second night getting him drunk but this time the younger sister laid with him it says that he knew what was happening.. either way he was a rightious man as he was tested by god and he passed (not getting into the test way to complex and my grammar sucks)

no matter how u brake it even if he knew that about the second daughter he did not plan this there intention was pure in heart

btw there is something called a gemara (google it) speaks a story of a rabbi who spoke bad about the daughters he suffered because of it... not that u should be scared as this only happened to him because he was a holy man and his mocking was offensive to there souls... we today are like puppies barking at a person the person doesn't get mad at the puppy...

please people stop debating the bible from a movie you saw... true or not the debate should be based on the original document hence the jewish old testament..

*I think* Lot was righteous in comparison to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sort of the way the Arabs were kind to the Jews in comparison to the Europeans, which is to say the Arabs were cruel... but the Europeans were worse...

i hear what you saying and agree with the arab statement but i disagree about lot.. he was a very righteous man the problem was he was to afraid of god he believed that if he stayed next to a man as holy as abraham he would be judged as evil if compered to abraham so he chose to live among bad people just so god would look at him as wow he such a great man.... even came down to the fact he moved into a cave... even tho his daughters believed the world was over there father i think knew it wast but he was not safe

Well today we have better knowledge than the rabbis about virgins' biological capacity to become pregnant upon first intercourse, and can correct the misperception of Gen. Rabbah 51:9.

I apologize for the very dated response but I am interested in your thoughts as it relates to your observation that "...today we have better knowledge" and would like to ask you a question within that very context. There is no need to convince you of the unknowable brilliance of God but regardless of the awe that brilliance engenders...could it be that an intellect that can bring into being a book that is as important today as it was thousands of years ago, and laid the foundations of western civilization, also intended the story of Lot to be examined again through the contemporary lenses steeped in the science that was unknown when the story was first written; a most brilliant double entendre?

The point I am making concerns the contortions Torah scholars have engaged in for centuries to explain the incestuous encounter and the purpose designed by God himself. Christian are trapped within the same contortions given the lineage through Ruth to David to Jesus. Both the Judaic and Christian apologetic are well presented above but the impact on the average person does nothing but cause a great deal of snickering on one hand or head scratching on the other. Could it be that through the lenses we have at our disposal there is another explanation?

I am of the mind that God fully intended the debate to occur with the message being to question scripture through the lenses we do have at our disposal including the contradictory moral and genetic/scientific aspects. Could it be that God intends us to question all of scripture, be it Jew or Christian, to identify the crumbs that may lead us out of our darkness and back to the author himself? If so, the scriptures are more important today than anybody has estimated them to be in the past thousands of years.

you speak beautiful words I'm assuming you are Cristian as our philosophy on the bible are different.
the biggest believers in the world are probably christians not to be offensive its due to the fact the new testament is solely based on belief and no known fact
i didn't even understand why they worry with jesus coming from that relationship as he is claimed to be son of god and not joseph the carpenter who is the only true relative of david
jews don't have a philosophy we don't believe there is even a commandment to Belive in God
its our(our here means all humans) commandment is to know there is a god and where it says believe that i am god
it truly only means just as simple if you spoke to your son and said believe me son everything will be okay. because i am your father its going to be okay that is the believe concept in jewish eyes.
if one does not know something in the bible that is lack of knowledge everything is clearly broken down the jewish people claim to know the reason for why king david and the mashiah comes from such sexually immortal relationship. we also claim to know every little reason of why in the bible. there are only 4 things that we do not know better yet don't understand in the bible. if you wish to go deeper into this please email me sunshinekingston@gmail.com

there are exact definitions in the bible you just have to learn its language things get lost in translation

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Lot's Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lots-daughters-midrash-and-aggadah>.

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