Israel Drazin
Israel Drazin

What do we know about Lot, Abraham’s nephew?

A careful analysis of Abraham’s nephew Lot raises the question of whether or not he was a righteous man. What did he do to merit saving when the people among whom he lived died by fire?  We may think we know about him, but actually virtually everything the Torah tells us about him is obscure, requiring us to make up our own interpretations and learn lessons from them. There are rational interpretations by rabbis and scholars as well as mystical and midrashic ones. Which should we accept? The following are some questionable items.

  • Why did Abraham take his nephew Lot with him and Sarah when they left Abraham’s father? Did he consider Lot his son at that time and later considered Ishmael as the son who would inherit all he acquired, including Canaan, later called Israel?
  • The Bible states that Abraham left his father’s home with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot and “the nefesh that ‘they’ ” Commentators translate nefesh with its current meaning of “souls” despite the Torah nowhere mentioning the existence of souls, and scripture uses nefesh to mean a person, as in Leviticus 2:1. Thus, the verse simply means that the trio took along their slaves (persons) with them when they left Abraham’s home. However, according to the commentator’s view these were converts. Does the plural “they made” indicate that Sarah and Lot also made converts?
  • Why does the Torah tell us about Lot and what he did? Is the Torah saying that even in a wonderful family like that of Abraham and Sarah, a child can grow up bad, and parents should not be blamed? Is the incident of Lot having children/grandchildren by drunkenly sleeping with his two daughters telling us that the children born were the forbearers of the Moabites and Ammonites who were a despicable people, descendants of despicable acts?
  • Does this sexual episode belittle the messiah who according to tradition is a descendant of King David, who was a descendant of Ruth a Moabite, who in turn was a descendant of Lot’s despicable sex act? Making matters worse, King David was also a descendant of Judah, the patriarch Jacob’s son who had sex with a woman he was convinced was a prostitute, resulting in children, one of whom was the ancestor of King David.
  • Talmudic rabbis gave explanations for most of the names of the men and women mentioned in the Bible and they frequently see an indication of their nature and acts in their names. What is the meaning of Lot’s name? The Hebrew-English dictionary defines lot as a cover, envelope, and veil. Does this tell us anything about Abraham’s nephew? Is it saying he was duplicitous, that he covered up bad behavior and was two-faced and deceptive?
  • Why doesn’t Abraham beseech God in Genesis 18 to save his nephew Lot when God tells him He will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah – Lot was living in Sodom? Abraham prayed that God does not destroy the area if there are 50 righteous people there, which he drops to 10, but does not mention his nephew. This is strange since he earlier went to war to save Lot in Genesis 14. Is Saadiah Gaon (892-942) correct that Abraham considered Lot and his family to be the ten people? Or is Radak (1160-1235) right in stating that Abraham became disillusioned with his nephew and thought that Lot was as evil as the other inhabitants since he chose to live among them?
  • Did Lot want to settle in Sodom because he wanted to live among cruel people?
  • Was Lot a good man? If not, why did God have angels save him?
  • After God rescues Sarah from Pharaoh and Pharaoh apologizes for kidnapping her saying that he only took her because Abraham claimed Sarah was his sister, Pharaoh gave Abraham huge riches, which Abraham apparently shared with his nephew Lot. Each had a huge number of cattle. Oddly, their workers fought against each other. Why could Abraham and Lot not control their workers? Was this Lot’s fault?
  • Abraham had a dream that he would have descendants who would be a chosen nation. Why did Lot want to leave his uncle Abraham and not be part of this nation?
  • When the Bible implies that the two men who came to Lot’s house to save him were angels, should we understand this literally? Maimonides believed that angels do not exist. God needs no helpers. He defined angels as anything or any person who does what God wants. This includes rain and snow.
  • Was the destruction of Sodom and nearby towns a natural phenomenon, an earthquake accompanied by fire or an eruption of a volcano?
  • Lot tried to save his two visitors by offering his two daughters as a replacement to the town people who wanted Lot to send the two visitors to them. The town people refused the offer. Was this because they were gay or were the Sodom inhabitant so sadistic that they enjoyed mistreating strangers more than sex? Was Lot’s offer of his daughters a despicable act? Was it even reasonable? Was he now not worthy of being saved from the impending destruction?
  • Why did Lot’s wife and two of their daughters originally escape death when they were apparently not good people? Lot’s wife ignored the warning not to turn and watch the destruction and the two daughters seduced their father because they wanted children and thought no men were left alive and had sex with him.
  • Why did the two daughters think no men were alive? They had just escaped Sodom and came to a town that dodged destruction. Then, for unknown reasons, perhaps fear of another disaster, they went to live on a mountain.
  • Did Lot’s wife literally turn into salt, or is scripture saying that the sulfur and salt from the eruption covered her after she stopped running away? Wouldn’t this explain why she was turned into salt, meaning she was covered with it?
  • Lot and Noah lived among evil people and neither was able to change their neighbors. Rescued after the destruction of their land, both suffered humiliation by their children. Is there some kind of connection of Noah getting drunk after a calamity and Abraham’s nephew Lot getting drunk for two nights after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? What do these similarities tell us?
  • There is a somewhat similar story to Lot offering his daughters to the Sodom city inhabitants instead of the two men visiting him. It is in Judges 19 where a man and his concubine visited the home of a man in the city of Gibeah. The house was attacked by men who wanted the owner to give them his male guest. The owner offered his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine instead. What gave him the right to give up another man’s concubine? Was it because she was a woman? They would not listen to him. The guest then offered his concubine again. They accepted her, abused her, and she died. What can we learn by comparing the two almost similar stories?
About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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