The Salty Women of Sodom (Genesis 18-23)

Monday, February 14, 2022


Thank you, thank you to Kayla G. for all your work on creating this transcript!

Channing: [00:01:22] Friends, welcome back. In this week's episode, we'll be covering Genesis chapters 18 through 23 for the dates, February 14th through the 20th. Before we continue with the episode, we'd like to offer our listeners a content warning for sexual abuse, rape, and incest. These are sensitive topics for anyone. So we encourage you to take good care of yourselves and follow your intuition as you listen to and engage with this week's content.

Elise: [00:01:51] I think one thing that we're reminded of this week is just how jam-packed the Bible is and how quickly the Come Follow Me manual asks us to move. In one year, we've said multiple times behind the scenes that we need, like two, or three, or five, or 10 years to work through the Hebrew Bible. Like, for example, this week in the chapters that are assigned, we see Abraham and Sarah who meet three holy strangers.

[00:02:16] Sarah is promised a son. We hear Abraham pushing back and negotiating with God to preserve Sodom and Gomorrah if there are even, like, 10 righteous people there. Then we have the whole story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the city, Lot meets three strangers with hospitality while offering up his daughters as sacrifice so that an angry mob doesn't harm Lot and his guests. We have stories of sexual abuse and incest and rape when we come to the unnamed daughters of Lot. And we also have the story of Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt after she looked back upon the destruction of sodomy. 

Channing: [00:02:52] So that's not even the entirety of this week's chapters, the remaining portion of the text for this week's assignment. We see Sarah giving birth to Isaac and Sarah casting Hagar out of their household. Again, if you haven't listened to last week's episode, we encourage you to do so because we talk about Sarah and Hagar in more depth in that episode, because we knew we wouldn't be able to have a chance to talk about everything.

[00:03:17] In this week's chapters, God also commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God stops him. And finally, in chapter 23, Sarah dies and is buried by Abraham and her family. 

Elise: [00:03:29] There’s so, so, so much here. And for this episode, we've decided to focus on hospitality, Lot’s unnamed daughters and Lot's wife, but there are really so many other avenues that you could explore this week.

For example, just two ideas that we've thought about. For example, a large theme of these chapters is hospitality. In your own study, you might choose to compare and contrast the stories of how Abraham and Sarah welcome and meet these holy strangers and how Lot welcomes and meets these holy strangers in sodomy.

[00:04:02] You might also continue studying Hagar and Sarah's story from last week. And this week you might even turn to the story of Abraham and Isaac and ask some really, really tough questions about the morality and ethics of God. Was it ethical of God to command Abraham to kill Isaac? And what are the implications of a God who commands child sacrifice?

Channing: [00:04:22] There are so many avenues that you could take to explore the texts this week and as we sat down to prepare this episode, we really wanted to share a focus between all of these points because they're all worthy of exploration, but we ultimately decided to go where the text was calling us most and where we felt was most relevant.

So if you're not getting the content on this week's podcast that you're hoping to, we encourage you to reach out and listen to other podcasts and find other content. For sure somebody is going to be talking about the Abraham and Isaac story. For sure someone's going to be talking about Sarah and Hagar.

[00:05:00] So definitely reach out, widen your horizons and yeah, get to know some more new content from different perspectives, but we're also really hopeful that what we offer here today can be enlightening and hopefully healing, especially as we approach the text from a feminist lens. So for this week's episode, we're going to focus on three things.

[00:05:24] The first thing we're going to talk about Sodom and Gomorrah really broadly. We're going to talk about what the traditional interpretations of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah have been, then we're going to zoom in into two particular points within the story. We're going to talk about Lot's daughters. And then we're going to talk about Lot's wife.

[00:05:45] So this episode won't move chronologically in the text, but before we can really zoom in and focus in on these really important characters in the text, I think we need to look a little bit closer at the backdrop of their story and better understand the circumstances that all of these women were facing. And this means taking a closer look at the city of Sodom.

[00:06:06] Holly Joan Toensing wrote an article titled “Women of Sodom and Gomorrah: Collateral Damage in the War against Homosexuality.” In this article, Toensing argues, “Associating the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality is common among the Christian Right. More specifically, many associate God’s annihilation of those cities with the idea that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were gay, engaging in sodomy. Although they are expressed in elite discourse, conservative biblical scholars associate Sodom or its destruction with homosexuality. They focus on the words and actions of the men of Sodom as they are depicted in Genesis 18&19, and second, they understand the central proposed action of all of the city’s men wanting “to know” Lot’s guests - as being what they call “homosexual sex,” explicitly assuming that the sexual orientation of the men of Sodom was homosexual and implicitly linking homosexual desire with violence. In this article I argue that the views of the Sodom and Gomorrah story held by the Christian Right as well as conservative biblical scholars overlook the presence and role of women in the entire narrative about the cities, that it is more logical to assume that the sexual orientation of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah is heterosexual rather than homosexual, and instead assert that the wickedness of these cities is the inhospitable treatment of sojourners at its worst, through the sexual humiliation of rape.”

Elise: [00:07:47] In the same article, Toensing illustrates with multiple textual examples, as well as contemporary law codes and cultural beliefs surrounding the value of gendered bodies, virgin bodies, and strangers or alien bodies that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has more to do with dishonorable intentions to humiliate and harm Lots guests, which is rooted in fear of the other, and are also based on sociopolitical differences than it is about homosexuality.

[00:08:17] Toensing provides this really compelling analysis that the law codes of the time permitted of kind of like a vetting process of suspicious visitors through a violent interrogation process, which often consisted of sexual humiliation. Toensing provides analysis of the text, which places the men's insistence on knowing these visitors to primarily mean interrogation and Lot seeking to take care of or preserve his guests, offers his daughters up in an attempt to assuage what he assumes is the men's sexual appetites. This isn't the first episode that we've done that addresses rape and we feel pretty confident based on previous work that we've done on the podcast, but also studies of patriarchy and rape culture that it’s starting to feel like common knowledge that rape is not so much about sexual gratification or pleasure as it is about power and control and domination.

[00:09:13] Rape is about power, not sex. And in Toensing’s analysis, Lot’s solution to his perception of the potential rape of his guests is to offer up his preferred and socially acceptable alternative, which is his daughters. It was more permissible for men to rape women than it was for men to sexually humiliate other men.

[00:09:34] However, Toensing argues that because these daughters were betrothed to men of Sodom, right? They were engaged to be married to other men that lived in the city. To rape these daughters would be to cause dishonor to one of their own. So the men of Sodom refuse the offer of Lot's daughters and continue to press and try and break down the door so that this angry mob can have access to Lot's guests. Toensing argues that this is the inhospitable treatment of these guests by the men of the city, which warrants its destruction, not homosexuality.

Channing: [00:10:08] In the book of Ezekiel chapter 16 verses 49 and 50, Sodom and Gomorrah is referenced. These scriptures say: “Behold, this was the inequity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy.” Verse 50 says, “And they were haughty and committed abomination before me: therefore, I took them away as I saw good.” We see in this verse that the sins of Sodom have much more to do with pride and an abandonment of the poor and needy, which is a similar category in which the stranger or immigrant is usually paired with in other places in the Bible.

[00:10:50] An interesting side note is that the topical guide for ‘abomination’ in Ezekiel chapter 16, verse 50, does reference ‘homosexual behavior’ in the Topical Guide. But the text itself never references homosexuality and only ever references adultery, based on the way that homosexuality is correlated only to Sodom and Gomorrah and nowhere else in the text says, to me anyway, thath this is not necessarily something inherent in the text, but an assumption applied to it. Scholarship on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Toensing’s article, shows the city and its inhabitants as complex and varied and not as simple and black and white as we'd like to categorize it.

[00:11:35] In an interview that journalist Jeff Krehely did with Bishop Gene Robinson, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, Kreheley asked Robinson, “One of the stories that so-called biblical experts use when fighting LGBTQ equality is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. How do you, Robinson, set that story in the context in which it was originally written versus how it is used today?”

[00:12:01] To this Robinson replied, “This is a really important story because it's where we get the word sodomite used to describe homosexuals and nothing could be further from the truth. The story is about a very wealthy city, perhaps it was the prototype of the gated community. Because they wanted to protect their wealth they canceled a very important tradition throughout the Middle East, welcoming the stranger. That kind of hospitality makes life possible in a desert culture. Travel was very difficult and you would offer hospitality to anyone because not to do so might mean death. Some men in Sodom didn't want strangers coming into the city because they feared they would see the wealth and return with an army. Lot, the central figure in the story, welcomes two men into his home who turned out to be angels of God. The men want Lot to send the men out to them so that they can rape them and Lot refuses to do so. When the Bible talks about the sin of Sodom, people have mistakenly thought that the sin was men having sex with men. The story goes on to say that Lot would not turn over his guests, but was happy to send his virgin daughters out to them so they could rape her instead. This is not a story about two men who fall in love and pledge themselves to a monogamous, faithful, lifelong, intended relationship. This is about homosexual rape.

[00:13:25] No one is arguing for homosexual rape or any kind of rape, because it is an act of violence. With Sodom and Gomorrah, we have internal commentary on the story elsewhere in scripture. Ezekiel has virtually the same story and the prophets talk about the sin of Sodom as being that of greed and lack of care for the poor. Cancellation of the law of hospitality was a sin against the poorest and most vulnerable. This is the same conclusion that Jesus himself draws, inciting Sodom, when he talks about the disciples going into a town and not being received, he says, ‘shake the dust off your feet and go on into the next town. It will be worse for those folks who did not receive you, welcome you, offer you hospitality, than for the people of Sodom.’ Robinson says, “within the scriptures themselves, homosexual rape is not the right interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet those who argue against homosexuality keep using it.”

[00:14:24] I really appreciated what Robinson said about Sodom and Gomorrah. I think he provides really excellent examples of why the interpretation of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was caused by homosexuality is problematic and not supported by the text itself. And finally, additionally, how loving LGBTQ+ relationships are not the same as the instance of rape in Genesis 19.

Elise: [00:14:50] And unfortunately, even with all of these sources, there will be some who cling to the traditional fundamental interpretation and insist on linking homosexuality as an appropriate justification for destruction. They will, just like we have here, provide their own textual evidence to argue their point of view.

[00:15:08] Rachel Held Evans writes that, “If you're looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, “what does it say?” but “what am I looking for?” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.” And to this, we would add, if you are looking for verses to condemn our LGBTQ+ siblings, you will find them. If you're looking for verses which celebrate and protect LGBTQ individuals and siblings, you will find them. And for us, the popular belief that homosexuality is the causation of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of irresponsible readership and a weaponization of the text and homophobia.

[00:16:22] With this type of reading the reader distances themselves from the texts so far that they cannot see what's what or who is really in it. Brené Brown says, “People are hard to hate up close. Move in.” And we can say the same thing about linking the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexual behavior. Move in, look at the story. Look at your LGBTQ+ friends. And if you don't have any, ask yourself, why the heck not? Look at the text again and ask yourself, where am I in this story? And we can promise you with this story, that question is going to effing hurt. 

Channing: [00:17:03] Yes, that is so true because this story is complicated. It's painful. And honestly, parts of it are really horrific. So, if we turn to the text and we ask the question, “who am I in this story?”, we're going to have to grapple and wrestle with quite a bit of stuff. If we ask ourselves, “am I part of an angry mob who would sooner use my power to violate and harm others because the law currently works in my favor? Am I unable to welcome anyone into my inner circle who does not look like or believe the same as me? In what ways do I use my power to humiliate people who are different from me?” Then, if we turn to the figure of Lot, we might ask, “Am I Lot? Do I offer up others to be humiliated? Do I lack the creativity to subvert systems, which inflict violence and instead participate in these systems in different, but equally harmful ways? Do I stand at the threshold of the safety of my house and talk about power and violence without ever implicating myself? Do I negotiate between, do I play devil's advocate? Do I permit some harms and violences, but not others?” And then maybe we turn to the figure of Lot's daughters and ask, “Have I suffered violence at the hands of others? Maybe even those who were supposed to protect me? In what ways is my suffering socially seen as appropriate and acceptable, but would be unthinkable and untenable in someone else's body?”

[00:18:36] And then we turn to the figure of the angel visitors. We can ask, “Am I them? Do I step in, do I use my power to stop violence when I see it? Do I use my creativity to problem solve and protect others from violence and humiliation?” “Who am I in this story?” is a question that provides a reading that internalizes, instead of weaponizes the text.

[00:19:01] If you are a person with privilege, and as white women, this includes Elise and I, for sure, we should feel implicated by the text. We can choose to hold the text as a mirror, or we can choose to hold it as a sword. We choose to hold it as a mirror and ask you, what do you see? So now that we've looked closer at the backdrop of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we’re ready now to turn to the figures of Lot’s daughters and examine their story a little bit more closely.

Elise: [00:19:32] Yeah, so as we talked about before in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Lot welcomes these strangers into his house in the city, the men of the city surround the house like a super angry mob, and they demand that Lot release his guests to the crowd so that they may rape them. And instead, to quell the mob, Lot offers up two of his daughters.

[00:19:50] Verse eight says, “I have two daughters, which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing.” The men of the city do not agree to this, and they continue to try to break into Lot's house. However, the holy guests smite the men that were at the door and they caused them to become blind.

[00:20:14] Then the holy guests tell Lot and his family to flee because God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Somehow as they're fleeing the group of Lot and his wife, their sons, their daughters, and their sons in law, dwindled down to just be in the very end Lot and his two daughters. They originally flee to Zoar, but Lot says he is afraid to stay there. So he flees Zoar too and ends up deciding to stay in a mountain cave with his two daughters. As the story unfolds, we learn that the daughters believe, as the story says, the daughters believe that they are the last people alive on earth. And the story says that the daughters make a plan to get their father drunk so that they can have sex with him in an attempt to get pregnant so that they might as verse 32 says “preserve seed of our father.”

[00:21:02] After two nights, both daughters have slept with their father and become pregnant. The eldest daughter bears a son named Moab and the younger daughter bears a son named Ben-ammi. We also learn that the word Moab means “from dad” and the name Ben-ammi means “son of my relative''. A lot of what we're going to talk about in this section is inspired by and paraphrases from or quotes directly from professor Reverend Wil Gafney's article titled “Lot Sexually Manipulates his two Daughters.”

[00:21:35] First, like Channing was talking about, this theme of hospitality. For how much the text and the story seemed to value hospitality, it should be noted that Lot is more concerned with the protection and wellbeing of him and his male guests than of his daughters. In fact, Lot offers his daughters as sacrifice to the men of the city, knowing full well that gang rape means death. Thus in this story, we see a patriarchal society here that not only privileges men over women, but protects men's sexuality over women’s. A society that sees women's sexuality as a bargaining tool, as an offering, which renders women expendable- right?- of little purpose or significance and disposable and also sees their sexuality as dispensable to men.

[00:22:24] Within patriarchal societies, rape culture abounds, because we have taught ourselves to see women as sex objects in a patriarchal culture. We value hyper-masculine traits or characteristics or values of power, control, and domination. And we see this with the men of the city who are wanting to rape the male guests. We see that as an act of power and domination, even within patriarchy, men are asserting themselves through attempts and power and control and exploiting one sexuality renders the victim powerless and the perpetrator powerful and in control. The rape of women denies women freedom to say no, and turns them into objects and fragments able to be dismembered and murdered and forgotten.

[00:23:10] In this section of the story. We see Lot sexually abusing his daughters through controlling their sexuality in Sodom, right? He offers them up as sacrifice, knowing full well what would happen to them.

Channing: [00:23:23] As the story continues to progress and Lot and his family escape the city, Lot moves his daughters to the cave in the mountain and we hear the daughters repeat a story that, as Gafney suggests, their father has told to them for his own incestuous motives. This is a story that all of humanity has been destroyed. Even the city of Zoar from which they just fled. And now seeing that it is a woman's role and responsibility to bear children, sons, and carry on the family line, how are the daughters supposed to make sense of their God-given duty? This is to say, look how conveniently the story works out for a Lot. If he can convince his daughters that the three of them are the only ones left and that it's their responsibility to carry on the family line then perhaps they will be less resistant to Lot raping them.

[00:24:17] And we're using terms here like incest and rape intentionally, because Gafney reminds us, can children rape their parents? Gafney also writes “the reader or hearer must also imagine Lot is not so drunk as to impede his ability to have sex, but at the same time, so intoxicated that he does not notice his own daughters having sex with him.”

[00:24:43] Gafney, and we, agree that this is highly improbable. Gafney also notes that this story shares so many similarities with reports of incest. Similarities include an absent mother figure who is either absent emotionally or physically. In this case, Lot's wife has turned into a pillar of salt before they ever make it fully out of the city. There's a use of alcohol or drugs. There's blame that is placed on the younger persons in the relationship. This crafts an entire biblical story to make it seem like it was the 12 and 14 year old daughters’ plan all along to get their father drunk and have sex with him as if Lot is now free of blame and it was really all the young daughters’ faults. Finally, the similarity of isolation of all the victims and controlling their access to other people. What says isolated like a cave in the mountains and a story that the entire Earth's population has been destroyed? 

[00:25:42] Here too, author Ilona Rashkow writes “Although the daughters in this instance appear to be the active initiators of the incestuous behavior, more than one daughter’s being involved brings the story closer into line with clinical incest, where the incestuous father commonly moves from older to younger daughters…Within the patriarchal world of the Hebrew Bible, fathers commit incest with their children and remain unpunished while the children involved are damned forvever.”

Elise: [00:26:12]We also wanted to share a bit of womanist midrash from Gafney to bring the story into full view. Gaffney writes, ““Lot indoctrinated Zeqenah and Qetanah with this belief, and would often say, as if thinking out loud, that it is terrible how humanity will end with them since there is no one left to populate the world. He would tell them stories about the first human family, Adam and Eve, Cain, Abel, and Seth, and ask questions like, “I wonder how they had children?” Zeqenah answered “they must have had sisters,” and Qetanah said “I guess they were allowed to have sex with their sisters, because the world needed people,” and Lot knew that he had them. It was only a matter of time… On the night when Zeqenah gave him the cup of wine, Lot understood that this was the night, so he drank a bit more than he was used to and feigned drunkenness. The girls were young and innocent; they wouldn’t know the difference anyway. The same thing happened the next night, with Qetanah. At first, Zeqenah and Qetanah believed that their father really didn’t know what happened, but when they told him about it, they could see he wasn’t surprised. As days passed, they began to notice their father leering at them, and the truth dawned on them; the whole thing was the old man’s plan.”

Channing: [00:27:31] We also want to share a poem written by Susan Gross, titled “Lot's Daughters Reveal it was Child Abuse.” 

When a man is drunk

it generally doesn’t get up,

so this too is absurd:

that we seduced him

after drowning him in wine.

The truth

hurts in one’s tissues

when one pisses and squats

and hurts in the head

knowing that this man

fed us bread,

fashioned us dolls out of wheat stalks,

smiled, joked, bounced

balls for us

and represented

the gender, the species

that we would have loved someday.

That we both conceived on just two nights

is worse nonsense.

No. It went on for years.

That we each bore only one

is from the blood drying up,

our heads shutting it off,

not wanting to be women anymore,

only in our teens.

Do not be a boy

we prayed, not another boy.

So there were only Moab and Benammi.

They lived in the cave with us,

repeated Father’s mistakes

to the tenth generation.

Elise: [00:28:43] I think it's really, really important and powerful that we're pulling these, these poems and this midrash and all of these other sources from articles to kind of bring the story into relief and see how tricky the text is in this, in this story, framing it as if young girls kind of devise this entire plan, but really, perhaps, a retelling reads the two young daughters as victims who were experiencing, who were experiencing childhood sexual abuse. Who were innocent in the whole story and not kind of these masterminds as if the texts as the text makes them out to be.

Channing: [00:29:18] However, we do want to note that in our research we've come across quite a bit of narratives, that frame Lot's daughters in this kind of child “responsible trickster” narrative kind of way. And we wanted to give voice to that, um, if only to make readers aware of it, because as you'll see, as we go through and share some of it, we're not entirely sure that this is the most liberating interpretation of their story.

[00:29:44] This trickster narrative is one that showcases these girls as powerful matriarch, doing what they must do in order to survive in a violently patriarchal world. We want to share this reading, not only for the reasons we mentioned before, but also because we believe it's important to offer a critique before jumping to celebration.

[00:30:04] We can't jump ahead to what some might see as a more liberating and empowering story of the unnamed daughters without first addressing and critiquing the power structures that put them in this situation to begin with. This is to say that there would be no need for these unnamed daughters to act either as a trickster or a powerful matriarch, if they were not first subjugated to the abuse of their father, which was encouraged and supported by a patriarchal society that values men, control, power and domination.

Elise: [00:30:36] And still, I think, I still find myself hesitant to fully stand behind any or all of these interpretations. Sometimes the trickster narrative or the empowerment narrative starts to sound a bit like powerf feminism or the idea that society does not oppress women because women have the power to control what happens to them.

[00:30:54] And then on the other hand, reading the story as a story full of childhood sexual abuse is also such a heavy story to bare. So how do we find space for a third way of kind of a third way that witnesses the daughters in their abuse and their pain while also recognizing these daughters as powerful matriarchs?

Channing: [00:31:15] I think the other important point to remember in this story is that these girls are young. They're not like, they're not fully grown women. They're 12 and 14 years old. And one of the things that you and I talked about in preparation for this episode is that really tricky space of saying, well, don't worry, these girls free themselves, but, it seems really difficult to get behind an interpretation that requires 12 and 14 year old girls to liberate themselves from a situation that people of power have put them into and exploited them in. So, we just wanted to highlight all of the different interpretations and lenses that have been applied to this story so that one, our listeners can be aware of them and two so that, and see the ways that other people are trying to make their way through this text. One of the interpretations that we came across, which is from Reverend Wil Gafney, is one that we feel wrote the story of Lot's daughters, the ending of their story in a way that does offer some closure and some accountability for their story.

[00:32:22] In Gafney's retelling of their story, eventually when these daughters found out that they were pregnant and were with child, and eventually when they discovered that they didn't have to be stuck in the cave with Lot forever, they ran away. They ran away to other cities, to other communities, and found support from their community.

[00:32:43] Eventually they raised their children and their children raised children and their children's childrens raised children. Throughout those generations, Gafney says that they told stories about what happened to Lot's daughters by Lot. They knew what happened. Gafney says that it's many generations later when Ruth the Moabite became part of the Israelites and she made a tiny edit to the scriptures. The tiniest edit to the Torah that showcased, or was able to indicate to future readers of the text, that Lot knew what he did to his daughters. And therefore everyone else who read the text would also know too. And so in this way, there's some type of retroactive accountability for Lot and retroactive grace and understanding for what these daughters went through and the space to explore and to hold their story with tenderness.

Elise: [00:33:43] From here, I think we'd like to focus our attention on another woman that shows up in the text, which is Lot's wife. She, like many other women in the texts, gets no name. And she has a really bad reputation too. Traditional interpretations hold her story as like a cautionary tale of disobedience against the cautions and commandments from God.

[00:34:03] Even LDS narratives hold this traditional interpretation. For example, the Come Follow Me manual asks a very biased question. It says, “What did Lot’s wife do wrong?” That question alone already assumes so much. And it inserts so much bias into the text. The manual then answers that question with a BYU devotional speech given by Jeffrey R. Holland in January 2010 titled, “The Best is Yet to Be.” Holland says, ““Just what did Lot’s wife do that was so wrong? Apparently, what was wrong with Lot’s wife was that she wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her.

[00:34:49] It is possible that Lot’s wife looked back with resentment toward the Lord for what He was asking her to leave behind. We certainly know that Laman and Lemuel were resentful when Lehi and his family were commanded to leave Jerusalem. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future… A more theological way to talk about Lot's wife is to say that she did not have faith. She doubted the Lord's ability to give her something better than she already had. Apparently, she thought that nothing that lay ahead could possibly be as good as what she was leaving behind.”

[00:35:27] To review the interpretive words of Elder Holland, Lot's wife was a woman of many sins, including holding Sodom in her heart, having resentment for being asked to leave what she loved, looking back longingly, over attachment to the past, she had no faith and she doubted the Lord. 

Channing: [00:35:44] When I saw this lesson was coming up for Come Follow Me, it brought me back four years ago. I have this little notebook that, Elise, you probably remember when you sat next to me in Sunday school. It has, like, a little bicycle on it, it’s green, and I take all my Sunday notes in it. And I remember sitting in a discussion about Lot's wife four years ago and writing in, like, super big letters, “What the heck.” And I still have it. It's still there. And some of the questions that I asked about this story, as I sat and listened to some of the discussion happening in this gospel doctrine class, were: “Where are the women in this story? Lot’s wife, wicked and disobedient, but are we sure? There seems to be so much love for Lot but not for his wife. What & how & why?” Writing is a way that I work through some of my frustration and questions and things that I have, which should surprise no one at this point. But I wrote a small little essay trying to work my way through the story. And I returned to it in preparation for this episode. And I wanted to share just a little bit, "Lot was saved because God loved him." one class member said. "But not his wife." I whispered. There was no love, no saving for her. At least not this time. Not in that room. Not in that text. She stays etched as a nameless, faceless defector. "Don't look back" is her lesson and she is condemned for learning it. Even as I felt the rise of anger in me, truth was kicked up from the dust of her story. There is something more here. Dig deeper, it said.”

[00:37:24] At the time that I wrote this, I didn't really have the same confidence in my ability to wrestle with the text. So I really relied strongly on interpretations from others. And at the time I identified with the interpretation that was offered by author Heather Farrell in her book,”Walking with the Women of the Old Testament” which reframes Lot's wife’s story as a devoted mother. Farrell writes, “I imagine her, like a mother dashing into a burning building to save her baby, turning back to Sodom, not longing for its comforts but trying to save her children.” Farrell also quotes Michelle Stone’s 2014 article titled “Claiming our Heroines- The Untold Story of Lot's Wife,” which was posted on the Feminist Mormon Housewives website. Stone writes, “Lot’s wife did not choose her children over Christ, she chose them over her own self-preservation. She did not follow them into sin - she reached out in an infinitely loving attempt to save them. She does not judge and turn away, she loves and turns back, and by so doing gives us permission to do the same.” This interpretation really struck me at the time and portions of it still ring true to me today.

[00:38:37] Lot's wife really was the first woman to stick out to me in sacred text. And for years, her story has sat like a weight on my chest, begging for her story to be remade and told. Lucky for us, Lot’s unnamed wife has received much attention from many feminists, readers, and interpreters of the text. In the midrash tradition, Lot's wife is named Edith. We will refer to her by this name and use it interchangeably throughout the episode. 

Elise: [00:39:05] There are a couple of things that we know about Edith. She is likely from Sodom herself. We know that she has at least two daughters. We know that she married a wealthy immigrant. And this is more than enough information to begin to piece together her life.

[00:39:18] The woman and the text are different from us today, but they're also very similar. Edith likely cleaned, washed, cooked, bathed, fed, prepared, cuddled, laughed, smiled, cried, befriended, lost, grieved. All the acts of everyday life common for women today were common then too. 

Channing: [00:39:40] We also see a lot of similarities between Noah's wife, who we named Naamah, and Lot's wife Edith. For example, both of them grew up in communities which are named wicked. In both cases, the wickedness of these communities are directly attributed in the text to the wickedness of the men in those communities. Both Naamah and Edith lived to see the destruction of the places and people they grew up loving. Both Naamah and Edith suffered great loss.

[00:40:10] Both Naamah and Edith persevere and preserve. Their story endings look different, but they share many similarities, which are difficult to ignore. In a similar way that we explored the story of Naamah and Noah's wife, I think that it's really appropriate to turn to poetry, to also understand Edith's story. 

Elise: [00:40:30] A poem titled “Lot's Wife” by Kristine Batey illustrates the small details, which make up Edith's experience in Sodom. Just like that quote from Brené Brown, “People are hard to hate close up, move in,” Batey's poem does just that. Batey writes:

While Lot, the conscience of a nation,

struggles with the Lord,

she struggles with the housework.

The City of Sin is where

she raises the children.

Ba'al or Adonai–

Whoever is God–

the bread must still be made

and the doorsill swept.

The Lord may kill the children tomorrow,

but today they must be bathed and fed.

Well and good to condemn your neighbors' religion,

but weren't they there

when the baby was born,

and when the well collapsed?

While her husband communes with God,

she tucks the children into bed.

In the morning, when he tells her of the judgment,

[that is, God's decision to destroy the city]

she puts down the lamp she is cleaning

and calmly begins to pack.

In between bundling up the children

and deciding what will go,

she runs for a moment

to say goodbye to the herd,

gently patting each soft head

with tears in her eyes for the animals that will not understand.

She smiles blindly to the woman

who held her hand at childbed.

It is easy for eyes that have always turned to heaven

not to look back;

those who have been--by necessity--drawn to earth

cannot forget that life is lived from day to day.

Channing: [00:42:01] Another poem was written by Natalie Diaz. She is a Mojave poet and registered member of the Gila River Indian tribe. Her poem titled “Of Course She Looked Back” was shared on the Poetry Unbound podcast with poet Pádraig Ó Tuama.

[00:42:15] Diaz's poem has eerily similar themes to the poem that we read of Noah's wife who refused to leave without her nine-year-old sister. “Of Course She Looked Back” by Natalie Diaz: 

“You would have, too.

She had to look back.

When she did, she saw

pigeons glinting like debris above

ruined rooftops. Towers swaying.

Women in broken skirts

strewn along burned-out streets

like busted red bells.

The noise was something else—

dogs wept, roosters howled, children

and guitars popped like kernels of corn

feeding the twisting blaze.

She wondered had she unplugged

the coffee pot? The iron?

Was the oven off?

Her husband uttered Keep going.

Whispered Stay the course, or

Baby, forget about it. She couldn’t.

[00:43:11] One of the questions Pádraig Ó Tuama asks about this poem is really striking for us. He asks, who suffers on behalf of other people's ideologies? This is a compelling question to ask, especially given the way this story is used to justify continued harm to LGBTQ+ persons. Diaz also asks the reader to zoom in, to move in, to witness alongside Edith the horror left in the wake of destruction.

[00:43:40] The women in broken red skirts busted like broken red bells, children and guitars popped like kernels of corn. Are these the images of justice? One of the questions we have for the text, both in this story and in the story of Noah is what about the women and the children? If the men of the city are the cause of the wickedness, why must everyone suffer alongside them?

[00:44:05] Surely, there must have been 10 righteous women. Surely, 10 righteous children? But then I remember that women are not people in the text. They are property. Children are not people, either. They are property. In this context, women and children destroyed alongside their men are not people in their own right, but collateral damage, unrighteous by association, of which they likely had little say in. And so there's a part of me, the part that wants to retell Edith's story that wonders if Edith grew up in the tradition of her grandmothers, listening to stories, rise and fall like bread dough. If she listened to her mother tell stories, she worked her hands over and under, over and under the perfectly rhythmed pattern of a plain cloth.

[00:44:57] And tell the story of her mother's mother's mother's mother's mother who lived through the 150 days and nights of watery torment and wept at the site of destruction. Naamah who made a vow written on her heart that she should have never, never left without her. Her friend, her sister, her mother, her beloveds. And Naamah, she would never, never forget the screams, the floating bloated bodies.

[00:45:27] And she would never understand a God who weeps tears of destruction and perhaps never, never forgive herself for not turning around at the threshold of the ark. For not standing her ground and saying, I will not leave without her. Perhaps Edith knew Naamah by heart, knew the story after the ark. What comes after the flood and after the rain, perhaps Edith understood that a life after is not always rainbows and Naamah’s daughters, daughters, daughters, daughter pass down the same, which weaves and reads like a covenant. 

[00:46:07] Rainbows are promised not to destroy. If there is a next time, I'll make sure God remembers to keep it. And perhaps as Edith packed her bags at the angel's behest, she remembered Naamah and she remembered the words her mother spoke to her and in turn she spoke to her own daughters at each bleeding moon, if there is a next time. And perhaps she realized the next time was here and it was now. Perhaps she packed her ivory bone comb.

[00:46:35] Her small spiral button, her spindle and shuttle, and tucked them away in her daughter's bags. Perhaps in her own bag was her childhood soft cloth doll, a tattered square from the edge of her own swaddle and a tiny clay vial passed down from mother to daughter, mother to daughter, never opened, but said to hold the last few saltwater drops of the floodwaters as they receded, collected by Naamah’s hand. And with these few items and the courage that can only be passed down through generations, did Edith flee the city waiting for the moment that her heart beat out of her chest to turn to face God, to hold this vial and her voice above the fire and brimstone of the God who weeps and declare in the name of her mother's mother's mother's mother's mother, I will not leave without her.

[00:47:30] And perhaps in this moment, God remembered Naamah and God remembered Edith and God remembered the promise that God made and realized that a flood of flame was still a flood, but perhaps the heat of the moment had dried the seawater in the tiny clay, vile and Edith holding her ground dried with.

[00:47:56] And perhaps God wept now, perhaps God saw the courage of Edith and it repented the Lord that he had made a promise and not kept it. And perhaps God understood that tears and weeping alone do not stop the wicked. And perhaps God saw Lot take his daughters into a cave and it repented the Lord that though the city burned, the rape and the destruction and the violence and the wickedness of men had not stopped.

[00:48:26] And perhaps God remembered Edith. And so enlarged her form, which was made from the salted water of the great flood of tears until it towered over the valley of Sodom. In the tradition of my mothers, who came from the lands of Switzerland and Sweden, there's a widely held belief that certain large geological formations are ensouled.

[00:48:48] They contain a life presence within them. These rock formations are sacred and widely respected. Modern day roads and buildings go out of their way to avoid disturbing and developing over or near these rock formations. In these traditions, these stones are the homes and bodies of revered land goddesses who create, protect and renew the land with their presence.

[00:49:11] We also know that there's a great towering geological formation of gypsum, clay, and tiny sand grains on Mount Sodom, which is southwest of the Dead Sea. And this tower is named Lot's wife. According to the University Space Research Association, Mount Sodom is made entirely of rock salt and continues to rise at a rate of five to nine millimeters per year.

[00:49:35] And so I wonder, does Edith whose name literally means she who witnesses, still rise? Her mother's mother's vile and voice to the wind? Does Edith still stand as protest to the burning earth in the name of the women and children that we call collateral damage? Perhaps Edith, the mother of Sodom, is she who calls from the high places.

[00:50:00] Perhaps Edith, the mother of Sodom, is she who faces God. Perhaps Edith stands as a witness and a reminder to remember the God who turns back, even when it is God who has forgotten. Perhaps in her continual rising call to remember to look back, Edith preserves. She calls back the saver or the trace, the essence of God who keeps their promises, the shepherd who remembers the one, even when it is God who has forgotten.

[00:50:33] And perhaps this is why Jesus says of her in Luke chapter 17, verse 32, “Remember Lot's wife.” And perhaps this is why Jesus follows this admonition with his own reminder, that “whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” 

[00:50:56] Salt is a sacred substance in these times. Sacrificial offerings are salted and newborn babies are rubbed in it. According to Jesus, the salt of the earth is the stuff the righteous are made of and this is something to savor. Perhaps Edith is more than the authors of the text and the authors of our manuals expect her to be. Perhaps Edith, this salty woman of Sodom, is she who preserves. She passes her mother's mother's salt water resistance down through the ages in the clay vessels of her daughters. Sodium chloride in our veins and fire in our hearts, speaking still from the high places above and below. Remember, remember.

Elise: [00:51:46] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminist podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:52:05] Financial donations support the many hours of research work and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty-makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends!

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