Justifiable Rape? (Part 2): Lot’s Daughters

200px-gentileschi_artemisia_-_lot_and_his_daughters_-_1635-1638In my last post I asked, “Is rape ever justifiable?” specifically in light of the story of Lot and his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-38).

On Facebook my post received even less attention than my usual posts.  Hmm.  I guess people don’t want to talk about these types of stories.  For me it’s not an option since I teach the Old Testament (and while it’s hard when it comes to stories like this one, I still believe all Scripture is profitable for teaching–you can quote me on that).

If you’re curious, I discuss this story in more depth in Prostitutes and Polygamists (150-152).

Here are three reasons to view the behavior of Lot’s daughters negatively.

First, by getting their father drunk they took away his ability to give consent, which means we could call what took place rape.  It’s never good to get someone drunk to have sex with them. This message cannot be stated loudly or often enough, particularly on college campuses.

Second, sex between a father and a daughter was particularly abhorrent and lesser forms of incest were to be punished with death (see Lev. 20:11-21).  Once again, in a world where sexual abuse within families is tragically not uncommon, this passage should never be construed as a license for incest.

Third, their father could have arranged marriages for them from the nearby town of Zoar as he apparently did in Sodom, since both of Lot’s daughters were to be married (Gen. 19:14).

Here are three reasons to NOT view their behavior negatively.

First, the first command in the Bible was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), so one could argue that they were simply being obedient to God’s initial commission.

Second, other unorthodox forms of sexual behavior seem to be permitted or even encouraged elsewhere in Scripture.  The practice of levirate marriage, a man impregnating his brother’s widow in order to perpetuate his line was codified in the law (Deut. 25:5-6).  One could argue that Lot’s daughters were acting in the spirit of this practice (before it became law).  Tamar is praised by Judah for being “more righteous” than he after she tricked him into sleeping with her to perpetuate the line of her dead husband Er, the son of Judah (Gen. 38; see also my discussion of this incident in Prostitutes and Polygamists, pages 95-101).

Third, their scheme spared their father the shame of being responsible for getting his own daughters pregnant.  I heard this argument from a female scholar who was presenting a paper at a recent Society of Biblical Literature meeting (in San Antonio). I need to think more about this point, but I initially found it a compelling argument.

I’m still troubled by this incident, but the fact that Lot’s daughters would have been experiencing shock and grief after the deaths of their mother, their fiancees, and almost everyone else they knew should cause us to view their desperate, but improper, actions with compassion.

What do you think?  Was their behavior justifiable?  Do you see other reasons to condemn or defend Lot’s daughter’s actions?

 

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One comment

  1. I love this “…should cause us to view their desperate, but improper, actions with compassion.” I think this idea needs to take deeper root in our interactions and evaluations. Both sides seem to be guilty, you can’t say “I think this is wrong” without being accused of being ungracious and you can’t say “I understand the difficulty or why you might have done that” without being accused of compromise. Still not sure what to think about whether the actions were justified in this case. I suspect we don’t feel or understand the pressure on women in that culture in regard to heirs.

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