Friday, January 10, 2014

Lot in the Bible and the Quran


The Biblical Story of Lot – An Analysis and Comparison with the Quranic Narrative

Originally Published: January 10, 2014
Updated: March 22, 2015

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The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
-          George Orwell

The story of Lot (Lut in Arabic) is one of the most well-known and controversial stories in the Bible.  Yet, despite its controversial nature, it is still regarded as a historically accurate portrayal of actual events by most Jews and Christians.  However, many people have questioned the historicity of the story and for good reason, since a careful reading of the story will reveal inconsistencies and contradictions, as well as evidence of deliberate exaggerations by the author(s) of the story for the purposes of political propaganda.  In this article, we will look at the evidence for the view that the Biblical story of Lot can at best be described as an artfully constructed narrative with internal contradictions and inconsistencies which was written for the express purpose of spreading political propaganda against the enemies of Israel.[1]  After having finished this analysis, we will then compare the Biblical story with that of the Islamic one, as found in the Holy Quran.  It is hoped that the evidence will show the reader that the Quranic story is much more credible than the Biblical version, since it lacks the contradictions of the latter.

The Biblical Narrative

The main story of Lot in the Bible is found in Genesis 19: 1-38.  After having told Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) of His intention to destroy Sodom for its depravity, God sent two angels to warn Lot and his family of the impending punishment and to get them out of the doomed city, as they were the only righteous household to be found there.  

The angels took the form of handsome young men, which led the wicked people of Sodom to demand that Lot release them into their custody.  Pleading with the crowd, Lot instead offered his daughters and told them to “do to them as you please.”[2]  When the crowd rejected Lot’s offer and continued to demand that the young men be handed over to them, they were struck with blindness by the angels.

As the hour of Sodom’s destruction drew nearer, the angels ordered Lot and his family to leave the city.  Failing to heed the angels’ warning not to look back at the city while they were escaping, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.  Hence, only Lot and his daughters survived the ordeal and fled to the nearby town of Zoar.

However, Lot and his daughters did not settle in Zoar and before long, they left the town and settled in a nearby cave.  This is where the more controversial part of the story is to be found.  Wrongly convinced that they were the only people left in the entire world, Lot’s daughters concocted a plan to get their father drunk on wine on successive nights in order to have sexual intercourse with him, so as to “preserve offspring through [their] father.”[3]  And so it happened, that on two successive nights, the girls took turns to lay with their father in order to “repopulate” the world.  The result of these incestuous acts would be two sons.  The elder daughter bore a son named Moab, whereas the younger daughter also bore a son and named him Ben-Ammi.  These two sons would be the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites, respectively.[4] 

An Analysis of the Biblical Story

As stated above, despite its controversial nature, the story is widely accepted as historical fact by most Jews and Christians.[5]  However, after an objective analysis of the story, it becomes difficult to hold to that proposition.  In this section of the article, we will see the evidence for why this story must be rejected as a pious forgery.  

First and foremost, we must question why a supposedly “righteous” man such as Lot could be so easily taken advantage of by his daughters.  Contrary to apologetic claims, it is clear from the context that Lot was at least aware of what was happening after his eldest daughter had slept with him.  The New International Version claims that Lot was unaware when the elder daughter lay down with him or when she got up:

“…he did not know when she lay down or when she rose.”[6]

However, according to the famous Jewish commentator Rashi, the original Hebrew text indicates that Lot was aware once the eldest daughter got up after having intercourse with him:

“Heb. וּבְקוּמָהּ, mentioned in conjunction with the elder, is dotted (i.e., there is a dot over the second vav), to denote that when she arose, he did know, but nevertheless he was not careful not to drink on the second night (Nazir 23a). (Said Rabbi Levi: Whoever is inflamed by the lust for illicit relations, will ultimately be made to eat his own flesh (i.e., to commit incest). - [from Gen. Rabbah 51:9] [This does not appear in all editions of Rashi.]”[7]

This should lead us to ask some important questions.  Since, according to the linguistic analysis of the Hebrew text, Lot realized that his eldest daughter had intercourse with him, he should have realized what was going on and been able to stop the younger daughter from also having intercourse with him.  Yet, he did not.  He got drunk again and slept with the younger daughter as well.  Hence, he was just as culpable as his daughters.  Yet, this is despite the fact that Lot was supposedly the only righteous man in Sodom, a city infamous for its sexual depravity!  This dramatic irony has not been lost on scholars.  As the late Professor Alan F. Segal observed:

“So Lot and his now reduced family settle in a cave, where the daughters commit incest by sleeping with their father.  Strange that after saving us from one sexual misfortune, the characters wind up in another one so quickly.”[8]

           Another question one must ask is why weren’t Lot daughters punished or rebuked by God for doing something as depraved as getting their father drunk and taking turns having sex with him, even if it was out of concern for the extinction of the human race?  Why were they even led to think that “there is not a man on earth…”?[9]  After all, God could have easily sent the same angels that had led Lot and his daughters out of Sodom to intervene and tell them that they were not the only ones left and that there were plenty of men left in the world!  Yet, for some unfathomable reason, God did not intervene and prevent this horrible sexual immorality, which happened to occur shortly after the destruction of Sodom for its sexual immoralities!

We also have to wonder what Lot’s reaction was when he found out that he had impregnated his own daughters!  How would that have affected his relationship with his “sons” (or “grandsons”)?  The Biblical text unfortunately does not offer any insight and the answers to these questions are not easy to come by.  It is up to Jews and Christians who believe in the literal reading of this story to answer these questions.       

           Moving on, let us consider some internal contradictions and inconsistencies in the story.  As we have already seen, Lot’s daughters believed that there was no man left on earth other than their father.  But how could this have been true when just a few verses earlier, we were told that Lot and his daughters had fled to the nearby town of Zoar, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah began?

“By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens.”[10]

Are we supposed to believe that there was not one man in Zoar?  Also, did Lot’s daughters conveniently forget about Abraham, their great-uncle, and the many men that were part of Abraham’s settlement?[11]  Does it not seem that Lot’s daughters were conveniently ignoring reality?  As such, perhaps it was not ignorance that drove them to commit incest but something far more sinister.  If that is true, they should have been punished severely for committing the sin of incest, yet the text offers no answers.[12]

            Another question to ask, and which the text does not answer, is where did the family get wine from?  It seems far-fetched to say that in the chaos and confusion of their exodus from Sodom, they would have remembered to pack enough wine.  Where did they get it from then?  If they got it from Zoar, then it only proves that Lot and his daughters had spent some time there before retreating into the cave.  His daughters would definitely have come across many men as a result, and hence could not have believed that Lot was the only man left on earth.  But since the Bible states that they were oblivious to this fact, they clearly could not have gotten the wine from Zoar.  So, if they didn’t get the wine from Sodom or Zoar, then where did it come from?  Rashi offered an interesting and disturbing suggestion:

“Wine was made available to them in the cave, to make it possible for two nations to emerge from them.”[13]

This would suggest that God deliberately gave them wine, knowing that Lot’s daughters would sleep with their father and thus give rise to the Moabites and the Ammonites, two nations which would conveniently become Israel’s greatest enemies in the future.  In other words, God encouraged the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters!  

This brings us to a possible motive for this story.  Is it a mere coincidence that the Bible provides such an embarrassing story for the origins of Israel’s great enemies, the Moabites and Ammonites?  Is this story not only a pious forgery but an ancient propaganda tract, designed to demonize and malign the people with whom the Israelites were often at war with?  Indeed, this is exactly how many Biblical scholars interpret the story.  The 19th-century scholar Amos Kidder Fiske observed:

“There was no doubt of the kinship between the tribes of Israel and the Moabites and Ammonites of that region, or Moab and Ammon, as they were called.  But a keen hostility was felt toward them on account of old conflicts when the Israelites were struggling for the possession of the land of Canaan, and the marauding attacks to which they continued to be subject, especially from the Ammonites on their borders.

          On account of this state of feeling the makers of the ethnic myths would not allow that Moab and Ammon were direct descendants of their great ancestor Abraham, and not only set them off on a collateral line, but have them an incestuous origin, and covered the name of Lot and his daughters with obloquy.  […]  The phrase ‘unto this day’ also plainly indicates an imaginative dealing by the writer with a remote past.”[14]

Similarly, the contemporary scholar Kenneth C. Davis has stated that:

“For the Israelites, this story, adapted from an old Canaanite folklore, mockingly explains the origin of two neighboring tribes.  It also establishes that these tribes were not descended from Abraham and had no divine claim to the Promised Land.”[15]

Additionally, Alan Segal explains that:

“This polemical myth is a way to justify the conquest of Moab and Ammon.  The story admits a relationship between the Israelites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites, by making their ancestors ‘cousins,’ but also suggests that they are not worthy of being within the Abrahamic covenant.  What is particularly telling is that we cannot find evidence of Moabite and Edomite habitation during the patriarchal period.  These stories are not from that period at all.  Rather, these stories function in a polemical way during the monarchy, not during the patriarchal period, and they also developed secondary significance during the Persian and Hellenistic periods…”[16]

Finally, echoing this idea, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman state regarding the patriarchal stories in general (including the story of Lot and his daughters) that:

“…that they offer a colorful human map of the ancient Near East from the unmistakable viewpoint of the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah in the eight and seventh centuries BCE.  These stories offer a highly sophisticated commentary on political affairs in this region in the Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods.  Not only can many of the ethnic terms and place-names be dated to this time, but their characterizations mesh perfectly with what we know of the relationships of neighboring peoples and kingdoms with Judah and Israel.”[17]

Finklestein and Silberman also identify the story of Lot as originating from the “J” or “Yahwist” source.[18]  In other words, there is little doubt that the story of the origin of the Moabites and Ammonites is a myth invented for the purpose of demonizing two nations that were often at war with the Israelite monarchy.  It is not a historically accurate origin story.  

            In closing, we have now seen that the Genesis account of Lot suffers from serious flaws, bringing into question the historicity of the story.  Not only is the story riddled with contradictions and controversy, Jews and Christians must also admit that the main purpose for the story was simply to serve as a propaganda tool against two of Israel’s greatest enemies.  God-fearing Jews and Christians should also ask a very important question:  

Why would God have encouraged incest between Lot and his daughters by deliberately providing them with wine to help Lot’s daughters bring their severely misinformed plot to fruition?

Having dealt with the Biblical story of Lot, let us now discuss the Quranic version.

The Quranic Narrative
 
It behooves us to analyze the Quranic account of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, since both it and the Bible mention the story.  It must be stated outright that the Quran does not attribute to the Prophet Lut (peace be upon him) or his daughters the abhorrent sins of drunkenness and incest.  In contrast to the Bible, the Quran provides a much more positive, albeit brief, account of the blessed prophet, and with none of the inconsistencies that litter the Biblical version.  In fact, Lut (peace be upon him) is mentioned along with other prophets as an honored servant of God:

“And Isma'il and Elisha, and Jonas, and Lut: and to all We gave favour above the nations.”[19]

“And to Lut, too, We gave Judgment and Knowledge, and We saved him from the town which practiced abominations: truly they were a people given to Evil, a rebellious people.”[20]

            On the other hand, despite the obvious differences between the Biblical and Quranic versions of the story, there are of course some similarities as well.  For example, both narratives state that Prophet Lut (peace be upon him) lived among a sinful and depraved people.  The Quran also states that Lut (peace be upon him) had preached to his people to repent to God and to reform their evil ways.[21]  Both also state that God sent angels to lead Lut’s family out of the town before the destruction came upon the sinners.  They also both state that Lut’s wife did not heed the warning to not look back at the city.  In fact, the Quran declares Lut’s wife to be a sinner who is doomed to Hell:

“Allah sets forth, for an example to the Unbelievers, the wife of Noah and the wife of Lut: they were (respectively) under two of our righteous servants, but they were false to their (husbands), and they profited nothing before Allah on their account, but were told: "Enter ye the Fire along with (others) that enter!”[22]

But that is pretty much where the similarities end.  The Quran does not mention what happened to Lut and his family after the destruction of Sodom.  His story is mentioned not as a single historical narrative but instead as separate passages interspersed throughout the Quran and serves as an example of God’s swift justice as well as His favors upon His righteous servants.  But what is left out is just as telling as what is mentioned.  As already mentioned, the Quran does not attribute any flagrant sexual deviancy to Lut (peace be upon him) or his daughters.  Upon comparison to the Biblical story, which is full of inconsistencies, we find the Quranic story to be consistent throughout.

Conclusion

            In this article, we have analyzed the Biblical and Quranic stories of Lot, respectively.  After a summary of the Biblical narrative, we proceeded to discuss the glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the story.  With undeniable evidence of serious flaws in the story, we came to the inevitable conclusion that the story was artfully (or not) crafted for the purpose of serving as a propaganda tool against the enemies of Israel (the Moabites and Ammonites), by attributing to these nations a most embarrassing and shameful origin.  We then compared the Biblical story with the Quranic one, ultimately concluding that the latter story is far more consistent and lacks any of the controversial and downright false aspects of the former.  Jews and Christians are urged to consider the evidence from an objective point of view.    

And Allah knows best!



[1] This does not mean that the whole story was concocted solely to malign the enemies of Israel.  Rather, it means that the author(s) of the story added mythical elements to it for this purpose.

[2] Genesis 19:8 (New International Version).

[3] Genesis 19:32.

[4] Genesis 19:37-38.

[5] See for example the following: http://www.isaiah58.com/broadcasters/manda.htm

The story of the incestuous origins of the Moabites and Ammonites is blindly accepted as historical fact, despite the obvious political nature of the Genesis story, not to mention the serious inconsistencies in the story, as we shall now see.

[6] Genesis 19:33.

[8] Alan F. Segal, Sinning in the Hebrew Bible: How the Worst Stories Speak to Its Truth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 108.

Segal also noted earlier the clear mythical elements of the Genesis story of Lot.  For instance, when discussing Lot’ escape from Sodom, his brief stay in Zoar and final settlement in the cave, Segal wrote:

“It is pretty clear that Lot the character is just running through action after action known to be part of his story with very little attention to uniformity of plot or character. This narrative has the classic marks of myth” (Ibid.).

[9] Genesis 19:31.  See the translation here: http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8214

Some modern translators have obviously tried to deliberately mistranslate the text.  For example, the editors of the New International Version translate the verse as follows (emphasis ours):

“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.”

This deliberate and dishonest translation can be easily exposed through an analysis of the Hebrew text.  The use of the phrases “around here” and “the earth” show clearly that the editors are guilty of academic dishonesty since the original Hebrew uses the words בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ (bā-’ā-re) and הָאָֽרֶץ (hā-’ā-re), respectively, which in both cases refers to the earth and not to some locality.  Indeed, the correct translation for the word “bā-’ā-re” is “on earth” or “on the earth”, as shown by its usage in other verses in Genesis (emphasis ours):

“God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth (Genesis 1:22).

“Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14).

“I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish” (Genesis 6:17).

Would it be correct to translate the Hebrew word in these verses as “around here” (which the NIV editors clearly did not) when the context clearly shows that it is referring to the entire world?  There is no doubt that the translation has been deliberately twisted.  Perhaps the editors were uncomfortable with the clear difficulty of the original Hebrew text and the contradictions it raises.  Hence, they tried to make Lot’s daughters appear less naïve and culpable for their disgusting sin.  Ironically, by choosing to twist the meaning, the editors actually increase the egregious nature of the sin, for instead of committing the sin out of a genuine concern for the continuation of the human race (as erroneous as that was), they were actually more concerned with preserving their “family line”, a much less “noble” concern. 

[10] Genesis 19:23.

[11] In fact, Genesis 19:28 states the Abraham was close enough to the area that Lot and his daughters were in that he was able to actually see the smoke rising from the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah:

“He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.”

Hence, Lot and his daughters were easily within traveling distance from Abraham’s settlement!

[12] According to the previously cited Christian website, Lot’s daughters were indeed guilty of lusting after their father, and it explains this behavior by claiming that they were still influenced by the Sodomite way of life:

“The daughters concocted this scheme to save the human race, believing - or so they said - that the fiery destruction which befell the cities in that area was world-wide and that God had slain everyone else on earth. This, despite the fact that they knew the little city of Zoar had been spared -they had gone there to escape from Sodom! Sodom's insidious influence on their characters is obvious.”

But then, why were they not stopped by the angels that had led them out of Sodom?  Why did the angels save Lot’s daughters when “Sodom’s insidious influence” was alive and well in them?  It makes no sense.

[14] Amos Kidder Fiske, The Myths of Israel: The Ancient Book of Genesis with Analysis and Explanation of Its Composition (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1897), pp. 126-127.

This book is available online at Google Books.

[15] Kenneth C. Miller, Don’t Know Much About the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book But Never Learned (New York: Perennial, 2004), p. 76.

[16] Segal, op. cit., p. 108.

[17] Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and The Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: The Free Press, 2001), pp. 38-39.

[18] Ibid., p. 39. 

The “Yahwist” source is one of the four separate sources that scholars have identified within the Pentateuch.  The other three are the Elohist (E) source, the Deuteronomist (D) source, and the Priestly (P) source.  See the following for more on the Yahwist source: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/651208/Yahwist-source

[19] Surah Al-Anaam, 6:86 (Yusuf Ali Translation).

[20] Surah Al-Anbiya, 21:74.

[21] Surah Al-Araf, 7:80-84.

[22] Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10.

7 comments:

  1. Conclusion: Quran failed to finish the movie of lot and his daughters or censored the sexual scene of the movie as always

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    1. Or...more likely, it has told the real story and set the record straight, counteracting the lies told in the Bible.

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    2. Or... It is impossible to say anything about likelihood. All religious scriptures may very well have been written by humans and humans only. God may not have revealed him/her/it-self to us or does not exist at all. Agnosticism is the only way to go.

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  2. So how is it that the shorter story is deemed as the correct one? If the bible version is guilty of telling more than the truth, isn't there a possibility that quran version is guilty of not telling the whole truth?

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    1. Um, did you read the article? The Biblical version is full of holes and contradictions. The Quranic version is not. Thus, the shorter Quranic version is the correct one.

      The Quran is not concerned with providing a chronological account. Rather, it is concerned with providing the moral of the story and encourage righteousness in people. The Bible seems more concerned with mere story-telling rather than making an important theological or ethical point.

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  3. Salaam, great work bro, were you able to find any information on the true origin of the Moabites and Ammonites? I'd be curious to see what they said of their origins. I'm sure that portions of the biblical story are untrue, but I see Quran as the correction and the criterion. If God forbids Incest then why would he want us to follow a prophet that was given to incest. If Nabi Shulayaman was wise, why would he take to himself many wives when it specifically says not to in deutoronomy? We also cannot forget that the prophets were men and all men make mistakes. The only perfect man was nabi Yashua/aayasha, he was the embodiment of The Word. So I am sometimes hesitant to say that the stories preserved in the previous text are completely incorrect and every lie has a kernal of truth. Just some thoughts. Thanks for this blog bro. May Allah continue to bless you.

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    Replies
    1. Walaikum asl-salaam.

      Jazak Allah Khair for your kind words.

      I haven't done research on the actual origins of either the Moabites or Ammonites. I suspect that the source material is very poor and probably contains more myth than facts.

      The stories in the Bible can be divided into 3 categories by Muslims:

      1. The ones that completely contradict the Quran.
      2. The ones that agree with the Quran.
      3. The ones that neither agree nor disagree with the Quran.

      I think stories like that of Lot in the Bible completely contradict the Quran. A prophet of God would not get drunk and commit incest with his daughters. That is completely unbecoming of a prophet.

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