SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 12 Genesis 18-19

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 18-19. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17

Genesis 18
Translation from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Three Visitors

Genesis 19
Translation from New International Version (NIV)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

There are three major stories here, all attributed to the J-author for those who believe in multiple authors: welcoming strangers, bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom, and the desctruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s a lot (no pun intended) here. Chapter 18 is about the character of Abraham.

Hospitality is a major issue in the Pentateuch. “Be kind to strangers because you were mistreated in Egypt” is a recurring theme. Here, in verse 1, “the Lord appeared to him” is usually followed immediately by what the Lord said. Prior visits by God are accompanied by an act of worship, building an altar, etc. Here, hospitality becomes an act of worship.

“In the heat of the day” means noon-ish. The text pre-dates the division of time into units like hours, so particular time is designated by experiences (cooling breeze, heat, sunrise, sunset, etc.) This is a time of day when people would not normally be out, so Abraham “looked up and saw” implies a suddenness or surprise.

The three men do not appear to be supernatural, at least not in appearance. Both Abraham and later the folk in Sodom see them as humans. Angels often appear in human form.

In verse 2, as soon as he sees them, Abraham “hurried” to greet them. Comment on Abraham’s personality is that he takes the initiative in welcoming strangers.

Abraham downplays his hospitality, although some of this is lost in stpauler’s translation. In 18:5, the translation above says “let me get you something to eat” but a better (literal) translation is “a morsel of bread.” but in the next sentence, he is very generous with “finest flour,” cakes, etc. He bathes their feet (a major comfort in those days to people travelling through difficult terrain in sandals), he invites them to rest under a tree in the shade. “Finest flour” is later used for meal offerings. Calf was a delicacy, and this one is choice and tender… Milk was highly esteemed. The point is that Abraham is extremely open-hearted and generous, even to strangers.

In verse 10, the message is given to both Abraham and Sarah. This is in contrast to Eden, where the message was only given to Adam (and to Noah, but Mrs Noah isn’t even named.)

The naming of Isaac: (Assuming multiple authors, for a moment) - In 18:12, Sarah laughs at the news that she will have a child when she is already so old. The same thing happens in Gen 17:17 (attributed to P-author) and in 21:6 (attributed to E-author.) This is used as an indication, by those believing in multiple authors, that there was once an oral tradition (Abraham and Sarah laugh, hence the name Isaac meaning “laughter”) that was reflected in different authors, and eventually blended into a single text.

There is considerable difficulties/confusion in the Hebrew text, usually masked by English. The verbs relating to the three strangers are sometimes singular, sometimes plural. The traditional explanation is that Abraham speaks only to the leader (in v 3) but the invitation in verses 4-5 apply to all three.

There is also some confusion about God speaking or angels speaking. This happens often, we saw it in 16:7-11 when an angel speaks to Hagar but she responds to God directly. We’ll see it again in Genesis 22 at the almost-sacrifice of Isaac, and at the burning bush in Exodus 3, and elsewhere.


The story is extraordinary. First, God engages in consultation with Abraham. It’s partly a test, of course: if Abraham is to be a blessing for others and he and his children are “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just”, then this is a test to see whether Abraham really will pursue justice. “Doing what is right and just” is pretty much the Mission Statement of the text, given to Abraham.

Second, Abraham’s prior conversations with God have been about him (Abraham) and his well-being and future. This conversation is about others, total strangers. “Abraham displays an awareness of suffering and an ability to respond beyond his immediate personal interests. He shows himself to be a moral man, a compassionate person.” [Sarna]

Next extraordinary thing is that Abraham holds God accountable (v 25.)

Then, note the important reversal from earlier. In the flood story, the whole world is wicked and destroyed, only the righteous survive. For Abraham to say, “don’t destroy the innocent along with the guilty” would be obvious. But Abraham argues stronger, let the wicked survive for the sake of the innocent. Justice is defined as: it’s worse if the innocent suffer than if the guilty go unpunished.

Reading this story, one might think God is pretty gullible. But of course, this is only God testing Abraham.

The reduction to ten righteous individuals being enough to outweigh the wickedness of the community leads to Jewish tradition desiring/requiring ten persons to gather for certain types of prayers. The number ten symbolizes totality in the text.

(I’ll do the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah later)

The past April the SDMB had this thread concerining this story.

UDS posted:

followed by cmkeller’s posting:

I’ll be back with more later.

I want to add a point to the Abraham bargaining with God sequence, that I forgot to add. This is in marked contrast to Noah. God tells Noah that He is going to destroy the entire world except for Noah and his family, and Noah’s reaction is essentially to shrug his shoulders and start building the ark. Abraham’s reaction is the opposite, and the correct one, showing sympathy for those who face terrible judgement, and trying to avert destruction of others.

Yes, but it makes me wonder if 10 is the cutoff or just the arbitrary narrative number. Meaning, if Abraham had kept “pushing”, he could have gotten God down to 1 innocent person. Meaning, God would not have destroyed Sodom (and the other 4 cities?) if he had kept bringing the number down thus saving Lot.

Also, it’s not mentioned, but I’m assuming the two angels got out of there before the sulfur came raining down?

I don’t think so.


I think that the text here is about community. The entire city behaves badly and is punished for it; a single individual would not form a righteous “community.” Thus, the text is implicitly suggesting that ten people form a community.

The fate of the angels is not mentioned, but one assumes they weren’t harmed.

Now, a few other points about Chapter 19:

First, note the thematic parallels between the opening of Chapters 18 and 19, as follows:

  • Ch 18: Abraham shows hospitality to three strangers;
  • Ch 19: Lot shows hospitality to two strangers
  • Ch 18: After the hospitality, there is a discussion on the blessings of fertility
  • Ch 19: After the hospitality (and destruction), there is a grotesque fertility with Lot’s daughters

So the chapters establish a link between hospitality and fertility. I would summarize that link as: (1) we are all guests in God’s world; and (2) the same act (sex) can be pure or impure/distorted. Procreation and family are not just biological functions; the family that is hospitable is both biological AND spiritual.

The fault of the sons-in-law (19:14) is not disbelief, but lack of seriousness and insensitivity to the moral evil around them.

Tradition varies on the offense of Sodom. The J author here implies sexual depravity, but Isaiah (1:9ff) says it was lack of justice, Jeremiah (23:14) says moral laxity, and Ezekiel (16:49) says disregard of the needy. I like the interpretation given by UDS in the thread quoted above.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is expressed primarily in moral terms. The description of the catastrophe itself is minimal. The translation is often “fire and brimstone”, see:

The pillar of salt is common misconception. Deuteronomy 29:22 describes Sodom destroyed by sulphur and salt, so Lot’s wife would have suffered the same fate as many other inhabitants: disappearing in a blanket of salt. The popular notion of her turning into a salt statue was possibly suggested by some of the salt formations near the Dead Sea. (Tour guides in the area today can show you the original Mrs Lot’s salt formation, they each have their favorite.) The salt may be symbolic, as well, since ancient conquerers were said to spread salt on the fields as a punishment. (See: )

The sexual incident with Lot’s daughters is somewhat parallel to Noah’s. Lot daughters believe that the entire world has been destroyed, and so they commit incest to repopulate the world. They are not dealt with harshly by the text. And later, in the book of Ruth, the marriage of Boaz (from Judah) and Ruth (from Moab) leads to King David, so re-unites the family.

The text plainly says she became a pillar (Strong’s 5333) of salt. There’s no indication that the rest of the family got even a speck of salt on them, and there’s no reason why their small party should have been widely separated. Turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt is a very minor part of the miracle of Yahweh’s destruction of two cities, so there is no need to seek a non-miraculous explanation.

Again, the text plainly says that they first fled to Zoar, which was not destroyed. They moved to a cave because Lot feared the residents there, so unless his daughters were imbeciles, they knew there were other people around. A much more reasonable speculation is that the residents of Zoar feared that Lot’s family was cursed by their association with Sodom, and drove them out. His daughters then assumed that no man would have them, not that Lot was the only man on earth.

Although the dietary laws haven’t been given at this point, it seems strange that the rule about not boiling a calf in its mother’s milk came to be interpreted as a complete separation of milk and meat dishes given the meal that Abraham has prepared in this story.

Tall el-Hammam is one of the sites proposed for Sodom. It was a major city that was destroyed in a fire in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Living in a land with such ruins would lend itself to stories about why the city was destroyed, especially if it was a natural phenomenon. There may have been a tradition of stories about the destruction of Sodom long before it got attached to the story of Abraham and Lot.

The rule about separation of milk and meat comes from the fact that the commandment “not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk” is repeated three times in the Pentateuch. The rabbis in Talmudic times and before reasoned that God would not be redundant, so appearing three times implies three different aspects. My recollection (cmkeller, please correct if I’ve misremembered) is that the first time indicates not to eat meat and milk together; the second times is to keep separate dishes for meat and milk; and the third time is not to profit from any combination of meat and milk.

The commandment being specific (kid in its mother’s milk) did not stop the rabbis from the expansion to all meat and all milk. (There were some rabbis who held that chicken and milk was permissible, since a chicken does not have “mother’s milk”, but they didn’t prevail.)

There is much debate about why Abraham would serve the calf with milk. There are several answers, the two that I remember off the top of me head:
(1) The laws of milk/meat weren’t given until Sinai, much later. (Many rabbis are still uncomfortable with the patriarchs violating laws, regardless of the chronology.)
(2) The milk was served first, then the meat (permissible.) Verse 8 says he served “curds and milk and the calf” so the order implies that all was kosher.

Sorry, I did not mean to imply a “natural” phenomenon. The later reference to “sulphur and salt” implies that the fate of Lot’s wife was a literary parallel to what happened to the other inhabitants. In much the same way that I meant the incident with Lot’s daughters to be a literary parallel to Noah: sexual misbehavior following mass destruction. In much the same way that Lot’s hospitality is set up as a parallel to Abraham’s. I’m talking of this as literature, not historical fact. That allows for multiple interpretations and multiple readings. Sorry if I was unclear.

A few more notes:

Lot’s wife’s name is Edith, at least according to one Midrash.

In another incident, Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, went to visit Lot in Sodom and got in a dispute with a Sodomite over a beggar, and was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The Sodomite demanded Eliezer pay him for the service of bloodletting, and a Sodomite judge sided with the Sodomite. Eliezer then struck the judge in the forehead with a stone and asked the judge to pay the Sodomite.

The Talmud and the Sefer haYashar (midrash) also recount two incidents of a young girl (one involved Lot’s daughter Paltith) who gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city. When the townspeople discovered their acts of kindness, they burned Paltith and smeared the other girl’s body with honey and hung her from the city wall until she was eaten by bees. (Sanhedrin 109a.) It is this gruesome event, and her scream in particular, the Talmud concludes, that are alluded to in the verse that heralds the city’s destruction: “So said, ‘Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see…’”

Archibald Sayce translated an Akkadian poem describing cities that were destroyed in a rain of fire, written from the view of a person who escaped the destruction; the names of the cities are not given.

Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. —Ezekiel 16:49-50

The Quran contains seven references to “the people of Lut”, the biblical Lot, but meaning the
residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (references 7:80–84, 11:77–83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165–175, 27:56–59, and 29:27–33), and their destruction by Allah is associated explicitly with their sexual practices:

The ‘people of Lot’ transgressed consciously against the bounds of God. Their avarice led to inhospitality and robbery, which in turn led to the humiliation of strangers by mistreatment and rape. It was their abominable sin of homosexual sex which was seen as symptomatic of their attitudes, and upon Lot’s exhorting them to abandon their transgression against God, they ridiculed him, and threatened him with dire consequences; Lot only prayed to God to be saved from doing as they did. Then Gabriel met Lot and said that he must run from the town quickly, as Allah gave this command for Gabriel to give to Lot for saving his life. In the Quran it was written that Lot’s wife was killed when she turned her head back to look at the disaster, and that only Lot and his family were saved during the destruction of their town, with the understanding that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are identified in Genesis, but “the location remains unnamed in the Qur’an”.

In the Quran, surah (chapter) 26 Ash-Shu`arā’ (The Poets) –

So, We saved him and his family, all. Except an old woman among those who remained behind.

—Quran 26:170–171
Commentary: This was his wife, who was a bad old woman. She stayed behind and was destroyed with whoever else was left. This is similar to what Allah says about them in Surat Al-A`raf and Surah Hud, and in Surat Al-Hijr, where Allah commanded him to take his family at night, except for his wife, and not to turn around when they heard the Sayhah as it came upon his people. So they patiently obeyed the command of Allah and persevered, and Allah sent upon the people a punishment which struck them all, and rained upon them stones of baked clay, piled up.

—Tafsir ibn Kathir (Commentary by Ibn Kathir)


According to the Midrash, as quoted by Rashi, 10 was not arbitrary. Abraham calculated that the presence of 8 righteous people was not enough for G-d to not destroy the world over in Noah’s time (Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives). (Rashi makes a brief comment about why not 9, but I don’t quite get it, so I’m still looking for a commentary that elaborates on that point.)

CK Dexter Haven:

Close. The first time indicates (as the plain meaning of the verse) not to COOK meat in milk, the second indicates not to eat meat cooked in milk (by a non-Jew), the third is not to profit from the product in any way.

The separate dishes are not a distinct requirement, but are an extension of the “cooking” prohibition. It is a principle of Jewish law that utensils absorb some degree of flavor when they are used with hot food, and that they will disgorge some of the absorbed flavor when touched by something similarly hot. If a hot piece of meat is placed on a plate (and thus the plate absorbs some meat flavor), and then some time afterward, a hot dairy product is placed on the same plate (thus prompting the plate to disgorge some meat flavor into the dairy), the hot dairy product will, in effect, be cooking the meat (flavor is considered significant in Jewish law regarding food mixtures).

In theory, if someone committed himself to always eating only cold food, there’s no Halachic reason he can’t use the same dishes for meat and dairy.

Not quite. All Rabbis agree that chicken in milk is not in the scope of the original Torah prohibition. However, the Rabbis decreed that Jews should not eat a chicken-in-dairy mixture because chicken can be easily confused with (mammal) meat.

Another explanation I’ve read is that he wanted to offer the guests their choice (bearing in mind that there were more than one) of milk or meat, and didn’t want any of them to be uncomfortable asking for what the other didn’t want. However, he stood over them the entire time they ate (“while they ate, he stood nearby under a tree”) specifically so he could warn them if one of them had attempted to eat milk and meat together.

New thread Genesis 20-22