The Story of Sodom: The Humane Side of the Bible

Sodom and Gomorrah #19 (Genesis 19:14)

How many children did Lot and Lot’s wife have in Sodom? This humane question, although critical to understanding of the story, is mostly ignored by the many who judge Lot’s wife harshly, those who believe she deserved to die. Verse 14, however, reveals the most intriguing fact – Lot’s wife also had married daughters that did not live with them.

I have discussed many times why she had to die. It seems that many of those who, from the comfort of their sofa, judge how a woman escaping for her life should behave, do not even know how many children she had, and how many children she is about to leave in Sodom to die.

But why is this verse hidden when they tell us the story?

Bible Genesis 19:14 talks about the married daughters of Lot in Sodom, those who did not live with them. Why does this humane side of the story of Lot's wife hardly get mentioned? Old Testament in Hebrew with translation and transliteration

Why is this verse kept secret?

Those who follow me regularly know that in the past few months I have been obsessed with Lot’s wife and why she had to die. I have written about it in a previous blog post, discussed it in a video, and yet I have no good answer.  

I have discussed this question with many students and Bible followers. Many seem to have clear answers to why she had to die: “She disobeyed God,” they say. “She could not let go of the past”. And the harshest one: “She was missing the sinful pleasures that Sodom offered.”  

Then I ask, “What would you have done in her place?”

The answer is nearly always said in great confidence: “I would have followed God’s word!”

Unfortunately, I know, firsthand, how impossible it is to know how you would behave when facing real danger, panic, distress, combined with physical exhaustion. I also know that most people need far less than losing their entire city and everyone they know to forgo their commitment to a righteous life. Sometimes, missing a meal or losing some money is enough to throw a person off the path of God. 

But I hardly ever argue it.

Instead, I ask, “And if you left your children behind, what would you do then?”

It seems that most people are not aware that Lot’s wife also had married daughters, daughters who did not live with her, daughters she is about to leave behind to perish in Sodom.   

I can’t help but ask myself why they don’t know?  After all, verse 14 is there for everyone to read together with the rest of the story.

The answer is obvious, most people never delve into the text of the Bible by themselves. They mostly know the Bible second-hand. They mostly know only what those who tell them the Bible want them to know.

But why do theses Bible teachers and leaders do not mention this verse and this fact to us when they tell the rest of the story? What else do they hide from us?

The Human und Humane sides of the Bible

Here I can only guess. And my guess is that telling such details would raise the awareness of how complex the Bible is, and the subtle human existence it describes. It would also highlight the complex decisions we have to make, the pains and suffering that real people undergo. That is, they do not want us to be exposed to the human and humane sides of the Bible.

The people in the Bible are real people, with real feelings, thoughts, ideas and emotions. But when was the last time you tried to think how Abraham felt when he stood in front of God, arguing to save Sodom? Every story of the Bible is about real people, and therefore carries subtle complexities.

This is what many of our religious teachers want us to forget. The Bible is not black and white. It is complex, just the way we, human, are.

So make it a habit to read the Bible carefully by yourself. Put yourself in the mind of the people of the Bible. See what they see, feel what they feel. Only then will you start to understand the true beauty of the Bible and why it is a holy text.  It is not because someone told you so.

The Story of Sodom: Morality is it Absolute or Relative?

Sodom and Gomorrah #18 (Genesis 19:13)

I have now returned from the Italian Alps. So, this time the photo for this post is from there – for your enjoyment – and not, as normal, related to the story of the chapter. I hope you are ready to go back to the Bible and discuss morality in our story, the story of Sodom.

We will continue with verse 13 in chapter 19.  As we have seen in verse 12, the angels are warning Lot and asking him to leave the city. We know that they did not have to give Lot any explanation. After all, Lot already knows they are God’s angels, and he will obey them with or without a reason. Still, they explain. They know that if a person understands the reason for an order, they will obey faster and better. This is a simple secret that many in command nowadays have forgotten. God’s angels remembered.

The angels explain to Lot why they are destroying Sodom. Translation and transliteration of Genesis 19:13. We learn that morality is absolute, not relative.

Is Morality absolute or relative?

During my years of travels, I have met different people from various cultures. Each culture has its own morals, habits, and customs.  Some habits and customs acceptable in one culture can be unacceptable or even considered abomination by another. For example, while in some cultures telling lies is an acceptable behaviour (and when you are caught you simply shrug your shoulders and laugh) in other cultures it is a big shame to be caught lying. In some cultures, killing for the honour of the family is not only acceptable, but demanded; other places will consider it like any other murder.

Every time I encounter such a discrepancy, or when I see behaviours that deeply bother me – like the way women are treated by some cultures – I cannot help but ask myself if I am sure I am right, and whether morality should be judged relative to the culture, or whether it absolute and universal.  The story of Sodom clearly gives us an answer. At least some morals are absolute.

The people of Sodom will be punished, even though they are not familiar with the laws of the Bible, maybe not even with the morals and behaviour code of the desert. Ignorance of morality will not save them.

The angels do not ask if the people of Sodom abide by the laws of their country or the laws of their city – the city of Sodom. It does not matter. The cry coming from the city is sufficient justification for the severe punishment they are going to face – the destruction of their city. In the words of the angels:

Because their cry has grown in the face of God, they will be punished, and Sodom will be destroyed. 

Translation of Genesis 19:13

According to this verse, a sufficient criteria of moral judgement is that many people suffer in the hands of others, that many people cry and beg for God’s help because no human is going to help them. The prophets kept warning that it is how we treat others that God cares the most about and judges us by. To quote Isaiah (1:17). Justice and compassion is what God is asking of us:

Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Is this the morals our society is built upon? Is that how WE see our duty to God?

Lot’s Predicament: Abandoning his Family in Sodom

Sodom and Gomorrah #17 (Genesis 19:12)

Hi everyone. It has been a few weeks since my last ‘regular’ post that explored the story of Sodom and Lot.  From my other posts you could have guessed that I had been travelling in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem and the desert, including the area around the Dead Sea and Sodom. Luckily my car had a great aircondition, as it was so hot, over 40C (100F) that I could barely survive 20 minutes away from it. The time around Sodom was when the story of Lot became vivid in my mind. I could clearly see why hospitality was a matter of life and death in such conditions. I could imagine how Lot and his wife must have physically felt as they ran away up the mountain in this heat. And I could feel great compassion towards them and their suffering. They were real people suffering a horrendous tragedy.

So now I am ready to go back to the Bible and our story of Lot. We will continue from verse 12 in chapter 19.

God’s angels instruct Lot to save his extended family, the family in Sodom that does not live with him. He must take the horrific decision to abandon them.

Lot and His Family

Lot’s guests have just blinded the people of Sodom with immense light. Their act not only saved Lot’s life, but also ensured he knew they were angels and not just ordinary guests. If until now he treated them because they were guests, now he will follow their instructions.

What is the first thing they do once their identity is revealed? They ask Lot a question: “Who else do you have in this city who does not live with you? Sons in law? Sons? Daughters?”

Why do they ask? Don’t they know already? Of course they do. They are angels, after all. So their question must have another meaning. Actually, three I can think of.

The first is the obvious. Lot must still be in shock after his experience outdoors. Giving instructions to a person in shock, a person still confused, there is no guarantee he would follow properly. The angels first need to ease his mind, make him think and tell them about his family, so when he goes out to save them, he will not forget anyone out of confusion.

The second reason is to emphasise, once more, that a single righteous person can make all the difference. Lets count: Lot and his wife and the two daughters living with them – 4, two married daughters (at least) and their husbands – 4, and at least two son make at minimum ten people. But we already know that there were no ten righteous people in Sodom. So at least one of the people to be saved is not righteous. They are to be saved thanks to Lot’s righteousness. Righteousness always benefits and saves others.

The third point is to make us, the readers aware, that Lot and his wife will be leaving a first-degree family behind when they escape the incineration of Sodom. This understanding alone may give us some sympathy with the mental burden he and his wife must be carrying during the escape. Hopefully it will make us think about them as people in unbearable pain, and not just Biblical characters with no feelings or emotions that appear in the story for our quick judgement and condemnation.

The Bible gives us many opportunities to learn that compassion, not judgement, is, the mindset of the righteous. Does the fact that they left family behind change anything in the way you see Lot and his wife? Can you feel any compassion towards them?  

Sodom and Gomorrah: New Lessons in Our Hebrew Bible Academy in May 2022 – Come and Join


We have now added lessons about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19) in our Hebrew Bible Academy www.academy.hebrew-bible.net.

In our Hebrew Bible Academy lessons you will get to know the original Hebrew text so that you can seek YOUR truth, completely unrelated to any religion.
Course overview May 2022

On the surface, or at least the way most of us have learned it, it is a simple story: God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sins of their people and save Lot, the only righteous person in the city. But delving into the original Hebrew text nothing is simple: What were the sins they were punished for? Why Did Lot’s wife had to die?

You might be surprised to learn that the common interpretation that the sin was sexual abomination is only one of many interpretations. The sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah may be more subtle, even though not less horrific.

It is a story divided into 3 episodes.

Lesson #1: Let the Fair Trial Begin

🗓️ 15 May 2022

We will start with the first episode, the story of a trial, in which Abraham, the defence, is doing all in his power to stop the unavoidable destruction of the two cities. 

The three messengers that visited Abraham are now leaving the court to investigate the situation down in Sodom. Once they have left, Abraham, representing the cities, approaches the bench. Whether it is a human acting as a judge or God Himself, justice and proper trials must come first. 

Hebrew Bible Academy New Courses May 2022 Sodom and Gomorrah

Lesson #2: The Outraged People of Sodom and Gomorrah Demand to Know the Angels. What does KNOW mean?

🗓️ 22 May 2022

The second episode of the story takes place in a different setting. Now we see Lot inviting two strangers to his home in Sodom. Did he recognize them as angels?

What were the angels doing in Sodom? Were they testing Lot to see if he deserves rescuing, or were they in the city to confirm, firsthand, if there is a way to save the city? 

Why did the people of Sodom come to Lot’s house in a rage when they found that Lot was harbouring strangers? What were the real intentions of the people of Sodom when they demanded to know the strangers? Could it have been anything but Sodomy? 

How did Lot act? Did he deserve to be saved? 

Hebrew Bible Academy New Courses May 2022 Sodom and Gomorrah

Before the lessons, please feel free to send me any questions or insight you may have and want me to raise during the discussion. After all, we are all in this journey together.

I am excited and looking forward to be sharing this amazing journey with you.

Ran

The Mortal Sin of Sodom – What Was It?

Sodom and Gomorrah recap (Genesis 19:1-11)

So far, chapter 19 has been telling us the story of Lot and the Angels in Sodom. It introduces to us the people of Sodom and their customs.  Verse 11, which we covered in our last post, is the end of the first part of Lot’s story. It is a natural place for us to stop and ask ourselves what do we know about the mortal sin of the people of Sodom, a sin so grave that condemned all the citizens to a horrible death and to a complete destruction of their city.

Those who have been following this blog already know that I believe that everything in the Bible has numerous meanings, and that the ‘on-the-surface’ interpretation is only one out of many. In the story of Sodom, the common interpretation is that their sin was sodomy and rape.

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The Disoriented People of Sodom: Why Temporary Blindness?

Sodom and Gomorrah #16 (Genesis 19:10-11)

Lot, who is negotiating with the people of Sodom outside his home, is in great danger. His guests save his life. Now for the first time, they are revealed to us and to Lot as angels. What can we learn from the way they saved Lot?

Genesis 19:10  translation and transliteration. The angels save Lot from the Sodom crowd

Discussion

Whenever I read these two verses, I can’t help but asking myself why the angles only hit the people of Sodom with temporary blindness (סַּנְוֵרִים) . After all, in a few short hours the entire city of Sodom is going to be destroyed by fire, and all these people will die. Why don’t the angels simply kill them now? What difference could a few hours make?

This meditation always raises two insights in my mind. First, it reminds me the easy hand on the trigger of our security forces. No, I am not talking about self-defence or protecting other people. What comes to my mind is the killing of law breakers at times when they do not impose a threat.   

Stop! Says the Bible.

This is not how morality and the law should work. Even if a person deserves to die, it is not for the messenger, nor the police to punish them. Their lives should be in the hand of the judge, and only the judge should have the right to punish.

It was not the role of the angles to kill the people of Sodom, and even as they had a good reason, they chose to disable the people without harming them. Punishment will take place in the morning.

The second question that always crosses my mind is who am I to decide that a few extra hours of life do not matter? 

A lot can happen in a few hours: a famous mathematician, Galois, formed an entire theory the night before he was shot in a duel. The novelist Ryoki Inoue, finished three books in a day, and many ordinary people found their peace, repented, or found God, in a flash. A whole lifetime can take place in a few hours, and a few hours of grace is what the angels gave the people of Sodom. After all, it is possible that being struck with temporary blindness could have helped some of the people see the light.

Every moment of life is of utmost value. So let’s not dismiss a few hours when others’ life are on the line. Let’s not waste them when our own lives are concerned.  

The Angry People of Sodom Demand – evil – Justice

Sodom and Gomorrah #15 (Genesis 19:9)

The people of Sodom refuse to accept Lot’s daughters instead of the angels. Why? Because justice (by the rule of Sodom) is what they are after, and Lot is breaking the law. They want the angels and will do anything to get them.

Genesis 19:9  Translation and transliteration. The people of Sodom refuse to get lot's daughters, and want to punish Lot. Justice according to their law and rules is what they are after. What does it have to

The people of Sodom demanding justice

The people of Sodom demand justice. They are not a simple mob motivated by their lust. They could have taken the girls if that was their objective (and then continue to the others). They are angry because their rules have been broken. They are angry with Lot, a newcomer to the city ( הָאֶחָד בָּא-לָגוּר ), who despite his newcomer status, does not follow their way of life (וַיִּשְׁפֹּט שָׁפוֹט).

Continue reading

Lot: A Distressed Father’s Impossible Choice

Sodom and Gomorrah #14 (Genesis 19:8)

Lot is willing to sacrifice his two daughters to the crowd to save his angel guests. Unthinkable? A sin? An evil deed? Yet, God still saves him from the destruction of Sodom. Did he deserve being saved?

Bible Genesis: 19:8 translation and transliteration. Sodom: Lot is sacrificing his daughters to the crowd to save the angels

Discussion

Can we even start to comprehend Lot’s predicament? Shouldn’t it change completely our perception of him? Not a righteous person anymore, but an unloving, cruel father who did not care about his daughters. 

Continue reading

Don’t Do Evil!

Sodom and Gomorrah #13 (Genesis 19:6-7)

With the people of Sodom surrounding his house, demanding to surrender the angels to them, Lot comes out and try to talk them out of their evil way. How can we explain that the very same events and words happens again in the story of Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:23)?

The Bible Genesis 19 verses 6 and 7, Hebrew, translation and transliteration. Lot is trying to talk the people of Sodom out of their evil intentions

It’s all about the intentions

Why does Lot use the word תָּרֵעוּ (do evil)?  He does not say, “don’t kill them”; he does not say, “don’t harm them.” Instead, he says, “Do not do evil.”  Why?

One of the most difficult tasks facing any judge, past or present, is figuring out the intention of the person who committed the crime. With good forensic evidence, eyewitnesses, modern science, it is quite often possible to establish the details of many crimes. But once the facts are established, one question always remains, the mindset of the criminal while committing the act: were they aware of what they were doing? Could they comprehend the consequences of their actions? Were they sane?  Could they tell good from evil, and did they know they were committing a crime?

Establishing their intentions, would determine the severity of their punishment.

While we may argue what plans the people of Sodom might have had towards the angels (the Bible deliberately does not tell us clearly their intentions), Lot has to establish that the people of Sodom are aware that their plans are evil. 

After all, in a society in which murder, for instance, is the norm, killers do not consider murder to be evil. Lot had to bring it to their attention. More than that, the Bible had to bring it to our attention, too. The Bible wants us to be clear beyond doubt that the people of Sodom were aware of their actions, and therefore, the horrible punishment they received was just. They plan evil and know it is evil. There are no mitigating circumstances.

But this is controversial point. Something many disagree with. So, I would like to discuss it further. If the Bible is speaking to us, the readers, making sure that we know, beyond doubt, that they are guilty, what does it say about Lot’s actual words?  Were these the very words Lod said, or can the Bible misrepresent them to ensure we are clear about the message?  In other words, could there be factual inaccuracies in the Bible?

Truth vs. historical facts

In Judges 19 we read a story of Levite’s concubine. The story begins exactly like the story of Lot: A man, his woman, and his servant stay for the night at a man’s house in the city of Giv’ah. While having dinner, the people of the city surround the house and demand from the host to surrender his guests (sounds familiar?)  The man refuses, pleading, using Lot’s very words (verse 23):

The Bible Judges 19:23  Hebrew and translation of the story of Levite's concubine

How likely is it that two events hundreds of years apart, are not only replication of each other, but the people involved use the very same words? Is it possible that the Bible is bending the truth to strengthen the message? 

We all know of many Jesus’s parables. He loved them and used many. For example: The Two Debtors, or The Lost Sheep. Jesus did so, not to tell us about particular people, but rather to teach us lessons that otherwise, would have been too hard, if not impossible, to understand.  Would anyone shout, “Who are these debtors?”  Would anyone claim that Jesus was a liar because no such debtors ever existed? Of course not. The stories were true even if the events had never happened.

And this is something we often forget. Truth is not the same as historical facts.

The Bible is true, because it tells us about things that matter, things of the utmost importance, using words and concepts we can understand. And just like Jesus, if a parable is the best way to make us understand a concept, then the Bible uses parables, and if changing words is what needed, than the Bible changes words.

Many confuse truth and historical facts, and are fixated with the historical factuality of particular stories, rather than the message they come to tell us. But for me, the history, as interesting as it may be, does not make a difference. I am interested in the truth alone, and I trust the Bible with telling it to me in ways that touch my heart and soul. As for the historical facts – I am happy to leave the matter to historians.

So what is the truth in the case of Lot? 

In my view, this verse comes to tell us that the intentions behind actions are as important as the actions themselves. This is true when we judge others, and even truer when we ourselves take action. And why is the Bible telling it to us twice? To answer this question I will quote Joseph’s telling king Pharaoh why he had two dreams (Genesis 41:32):

.וְעַל הִשָּׁנוֹת הַחֲלוֹם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, פַּעֲמָיִם–כִּי-נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר מֵעִם הָאֱלֹהִים, וּמְמַהֵר הָאֱלֹהִים לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ

And for that the dream appeared to Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

Outraged, furious People of Sodom Demands to Know the 2 Angels. KNOW ??

Sodom and Gomorrah #12 (Genesis 19:5)

Lot and the angels finished their feast and are getting ready for bed.  But somehow, despite the guests’ attempt to hide their presence, the people of Sodom find about it, and they all come to siege Lot’s house. Is Sodomy their intention?

Genesis 19:5 translation and transliteration.  The people of Sodom come to Lot and want to KNOW the angels. What does the biblical "know" mean?

Discussion

We do not know how the people of Sodom discovered that Lot was having guests for the night. After all, the angles had sneaked in; they prepared unleavened bread to ensure that no smoke or smell came out of the house to hint that a meal is taking place. Yet, they were found out. 

It was probably enough for one person to find out, and the rumour started spreading like fire. “Lot has guests! What a sacrilegious!” they must have shouted to each other, as they were rushing toward Lot’s home.  As we will see in verse 9, the people of Sodom called for justice to be done, justice by the laws of Sodom. Then, when they reach Lot’s home, they demand he must surrender the people out to them, so they could know them.  

And this single word, ְנֵדְעָה, (we will know them) started the legend of Sodom and Sodomy.  

The verb ידע (know) and its derivatives appears in the Bible over 950 times. Out of these, in all but about a few cases it appears in the meaning of knowledge, to be acquainted with, to be familiar with, and other similar meanings. Only in a few dozen cases it appears in the ‘Biblical sense’, that is, euphemism for having sex.

But is it the meaning here?

I am the first to admit that there is no way to deny it.  After all, it is also clear, as we’ll see in the next verse, that the intentions of the people of Sodom were evil. But couldn’t they have wanted to kill them? Couldn’t death have been the penalty of breaking the law? Could it have been lashes?

What were the real intentions of the people of Sodom? The Bible does not tell us. Could it have been Sodomy?  It could have. But there is a difference between knowing that it might have been Sodomy, to the clarity that it can be nothing else. The truth is that as the Bible does not tell us, and that we will never know for sure.

In my view, the interpretation of this single word נֵדְעָה, is one of the places that the Bible is hiding things from us, allowing us to test our own minds and find out about ourselves, and what we see in an ambiguity.

So what does ‘know’ mean in this case?  All we can say is that we do will never know for sure, and this ambiguity must be on purpose.