Lot’s Wife

About Lot’s Wife posted by Glendale Community College (http://english.glendale,cc,ca.us/lotswife.html)

This is a poem that you probably won’t know; it’s by Kristine Batey, a contemporary poet living in Chicago, and it’s called “Lot’s Wife.” It is a retelling of the famous Old Testament story of the woman who disobeyed God by looking back as she and Lot were fleeing from the wicked city of Sodom, which God was destroying, and she was therefore killed by God, was turned into a pillar of salt. Of course, the story was used for centuries to sermonize about the importance of obedience to God, but notice how this poet enlarges our sensitivity to the human dimension of the story by imaginatively reconstructing the consciousness of Lot’s wife, who is never even named in the biblical account.

Lot’s Wife

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.
Good, to a God, and good in human terms
are two different things.
On the breast of the hill, she chooses to be human,
and turns, in farewell–
and never regrets
the sacrifice.


Of course, this poem, with its evocation of the female struggle in a male-dominated Hebrew culture, and its implicit condemnation of the Old Testament God’s brutality, could not have been written before the 20th century. It prompts reflection on several issues–not the least of which is the constraint that our own religion–which is always the right one, the best one–often places on our appreciation for people of other faiths. At any rate, Lot’s wife is viewed here not as an example of a person justly punished for disobedience–which is the Old Testament author’s use of her–but as a positive model of heroic empathy, of imaginative participation in the lives of others. She looks back for a very good, very human reason. Unlike her husband Lot, she reached beyond the confines of the self, to identify with the non-Hebrew people of the condemned city. And that kind of empathy, which is also fostered by the great literature of the world, is the experience from which social trust is built. It leads to cooperation and civility and mutual concern. In other words, stories create and maintain social bonds. They also show us the consequences of our actions, and they help us to deal with suffering and loss. And, as my own writing about our corner of America repeatedly tries to show, stories help us to live responsibly, and meaningfully, in a particular place. In any case, people who have little or no exposure to literature that requires empathetic identification with different, often troubled people, literature that demands interpretive sensivity and critical judgment, are simply not prepared for civic responsibility in the 21st century.


(The following references are added by Janice Kollitz.)
Allusion in the poem to Lot’s wife from Genesis

Genesis 19
New International Version 1984

Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

1The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2“My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

3But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

9“Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marrya his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18But Lot said to them, “No, my lords,b please! 19Yourc servant has found favor in yourd eyes, and youe have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.f)

23By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

Lot and His Daughters

30Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. 32Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

33That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

34The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moabg; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammih; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
Footnotes:
a 14 Or were married to
b 18 Or No, Lord; or No, my lord
c 19 The Hebrew is singular.
d 19 The Hebrew is singular.
e 19 The Hebrew is singular.
f 22 Zoar means small.
g 37 Moab sounds like the Hebrew for from father.
h 38 Ben-Ammi means son of my people.
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Lot’s Wife: Midrash and Aggadah
Discuss

by Tamar Kadari

The Bible does not mention Lot’s wife by name, but the Rabbis referred to her as “Idit” (Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Vayera 8). This woman’s sorry end teaches of her life: even though she was rescued from the upheaval of Sodom, she was stricken together with the other inhabitants of the city, from which the Rabbis conclude that her actions, as well, were no different from those of the rest of Sodom’s populace. Jealous of others, she offered no hospitality to guests. The angels did not initially want to be her guests, but rather those of her husband Lot, since he was more righteous (Num. Rabbah 10:5); she even tried to bar their entry to the house. Lot’s wife divided their house into two parts and told her husband: “If you want to receive them, do so in your part” (Gen. Rabbah 50:6). Lot wanted the members of his household to participate in the meritorious act of hospitality, as had Abraham, and he asked his wife to bring them salt. She responded: “Do you even wish to learn this bad habit from Abraham?” (Gen. Rabbah 50:4). She finally complied with her husband’s request, but she acted cunningly in order to remove the guests from her house. She went to her women neighbors to borrow salt. They asked her: “Why do you need salt, why didn’t you prepare enough beforehand?” She answered, “I took enough for our own needs, but guests came to us and it is for them that I need salt.” In this manner all the people of Sodom knew that Lot was harboring guests. They stormed his house and demanded that he hand them over to the townspeople (Midrash Aggadah [ed. Buber], Gen. 19:26). Because she sinned through salt, Lot’s wife was punished by being turned into a pillar of the same material (Gen. Rabbah 51:5).

Another explanation for Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt is based on her having four daughters, two married and two betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands remained in the doomed city, as did her two future sons-in-law (Gen. Rabbah 50:9; see also “Lot’s Daughters”). When Lot and his wife were saved from the destruction of the city, she took pity on her married daughters who had remained in Sodom and looked behind her. As soon as she saw the back of the Shekhinah (Divine Presence), she was transformed into a pillar of salt (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, ed. Higger , chap. 25).

The pillar of salt was left by God as a memorial for all time (Yalkut Shimoni on Esth., para. 1056). Moses saw the pillar of Lot’s wife when God showed him all the land of Canaan before his death (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Masekhta de-Amalek, Beshalah 2). Anyone who sees Lot’s wife is required to recite two blessings. The first, “Blessed be the One who remembers the righteous,” expresses thanksgiving and praise to God for having remembered Abraham, by the merit of whose righteousness He saved Lot and his wife from the upheaval; this blessing relates to the miracle that was performed for Lot. The second blessing, “Blessed be the true Judge” (that is recited upon hearing of someone’s death), is recited for the punishment visited on Lot’s wife (BT Berakhot 54a–b). A late aggadah relates that Lot’s wife stands in her place to the present; every day passing oxen lick her feet and every morning she rises once again to her previous shape as a pillar of salt (Sefer ha-Yashar, Vayera 39).

40 responses to “Lot’s Wife

  1. Reading biblical stories in modern fashion is interesting. I liked the author’s interpretation of why Lot looked back.

  2. The message behind Lot’s Wife was a powerful one. Her being turned in to a pillar of salt is just a measure of how she will be forever in time unchanging. She was not willing to move on to God’s plan so he made it so she could never move forward. Though it was extreme, the message that is being conveyed is that if one is not open enough to trust and let go and surrender to God then you must be accountable for that, despite how negative the consequences are.

  3. This poem was so-so for me. i don’t completely understand the whole situation with lots wife turning back and turning into a pillar of salt. I mean what i do understand is that it was an act of disobedience towards God, but was it truly necessary to do that? i mean it’s hard for some people to let go of the past, it takes them a little longer to let go, but eventually they do. And i’m pretty sure she would have been accustomed to her new life once she forgot the old life. Not a fan of the story. Poem was okay.

  4. Lot’s wife decision to stay in the city can be connected to the fact that she was drawn into the life of sins. Ultimately, it is one’s decision to decide what course of life they want.

  5. Many theologians, ministers, and Bible scholars are all trying to figure out what God’s trying to say by deciphering the Words in the Bible over the past centuries. As a result, many different brands of theologies were established and Christian denominations were founded. No one but God can say definitively what a verse in the Bible is all about simply because no one is God, we as human can only speculate at best. Therefore, I believe what one thinks about a story in a Bible is only one version among the many interpretations that exist today, not necessarily the truth itself.

  6. I don’t agree with the author’s perspective of Lot’s wife’s motivations for looking back. This city was incredibly depraved. Two strangers walk into a town as visitors and are almost immediately greeted with a large group of people trying to force these guests to have sex with them (i.e. rape); I don’t think she was punished simply because she turned her head. I think it says a lot about a person’s character if they long for a city that chooses to live in that manner.

  7. This poem has some good themes to discuss and of course the main one is a believer in God. One of the themes known as neither her reasons for looking back nor her name are given in the Bible.

  8. The lot’s wife is a bible orientated poem, the poem reminds me Adam and Eve and the situation of temptation.

  9. I am a believer in god but this poem does not bother me whatsoever. it is just another interpretation in about life. however even though with me being a believer in god that does not mean I follow the bible and stand by it 100%. there is many things in the bible I do not agree with. with that being said I really like the poem because it is retold in a modern fashion through a different perspective about the beginning of life.

  10. If there is one thing I learned about life is that it goes on. Time is one thing you cannot stop and whatever is in the past just let it go and move on.

  11. I believe its easier to be honest and truthful. Its easier to be a good person than it is to be an evil one. The sins people do aren’t because its easier to sin but because sin is what is brought out of us because we are tooken for granted when we try to be a good person. This poem stood out to me.

  12. Having personally struggled with the accurate interpretations of this man made bible, I appreciate this poem. Its a different outlook on what really could have been. An interpretation that wasn’t discussed nor considered. The world we live in everyday is not the bible, and I truly feel that those who feel like it is parish more then those who don’t. Maybe God calls those home, or maybe they just didn’t do anything to survive. I have faith in faith, but I know from life experience that the faith is in the doing. I also believe in the devil, who was once an angel himself and probably has a closer relationship with God than any of us on earth do. We don’t know God, we know of him. We we not fortunate enough to exist at a time when miracles and demonic possessions were evident. We’ve read, heard, learned. It is all one’s interpretation at this point, so who’s to say what’s what?

    • I agree with what you had to say that everyday is not the bible. Time doesn’t continue so that humans can relive events, I mean that’s the whole reason why we need to learn history that way mistakes are made more then they’re suppose to be right? The Bible is an insight on what is right and wrong for the most part.

  13. As a believer of God, this poem bothers me greatly. However as a human being I can see how the author of this poem tries to show the Lot’s wife’s thoughts in all of this. I like this explanation of why the wife looks back. Anyone who has read the Bible only takes the moral that you do not defy God just because your curiosity made you want to look back. The author of this poem shows that she did not mean to disrespect God but rather yet say her last goodbye to the life she has known.

  14. No matter what century, there will always be temptations/sin. There is a lot of bad and good out there. More bad than good I’d say. Surrounding yourself with only good is a difficult to do because the temptation is always there. Moving on is possible only with faith.

  15. My interest level in this poem slowly diminished over time the longer I read it. To be honest I didn’t find it that interesting, like I heard someone talk about this before. I made it to the half way point and gave up, sorry…but this poem didn’t really speak out to me.

  16. I have read and seen this story told in so many ways. Yes it is powerful, yes in so many ways. The mindset that people had at that time is still the same today (good or bad), but the bottom line to me is, if that if things were done this way today. many people would think twice about Gods word whether they are religious or not. There is a message in all of us, something positive and something negative. It is the other person who hears the message to decide what they are going to do with it. Let us live our lives as if things can be removed from us at anytime, and go from there.

  17. It is much easier to sin than the be a righteous person. Sins will always be around you and the temptation to sin may be in the back of your mind. To stay on the righteous path is very difficult as Lot’s Wife shows. And once we turn off the the righteous path things will turn against us, particularly god.

  18. The modernization of the biblical story does give more clarity and curiosity to the readers. This poem expresses the reason of sin and disobedience to God. Lot’s wife goes through really hard situations in her life. The situations that she faces are also applicable in our daily lives. God is always giving us chances to be right with him all we have to do it fly away from sin and not look back. However, we are tempted every day to just remember the joy we feel when we sin. This means that, just like Lot’s wife, we are not completely faithful to God. The main point of this poem is to trust in God in whatever he wants us to do no matter how crazy it might seem. We also have remember Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

  19. This poem seemed to me like it was telling us that we should always fear god and obey him , if we know something is coming we should listen to our hearts and obey it. This women wouldn’t of have been formed into salt if only she had done the right thing. This poem has a deep message that we should all learn from.

  20. It’s interesting how Lot’s wife’s name is never mentioned, but this was a interesting interpretation. Very modern. It allows the reader to understand her more because the hardships she faces are the same that we deal with day to day. The same temptations that we deal with. God was giving them a chance to get right, to leave that horrible sinful city, and all they had to do was run and not look back. She didn’t have complete faith in God, didn’t trust him enough to leave her life in his hands. So she looked back. The message to me here is to trust in a higher purpose, have faith that everything will work out okay. Leave the heartbreaking past behind me. Move forward. Move forward with my daughter 🙂

  21. The fact that this biblical story is modernized is interesting. Having this story modernized gives the element of relation to a wider variety of an audience. Reading a biblical story that’s told in the words of old Hebrew language would be far more difficult. This poem directly represents the cause and effect of sin and disloyalty to their God.

  22. Lot’s wife is modernized, she is given the same problems mothers have today with the problems they face with hardship or their kids. I think it stands to cross the years and describe how people never really change even from the beginning.

  23. The poem definitely offered an interesting perspective on Lot’s Wife. It is a very contemporary interpretation, but if the author could see what kind of place Sodom was, and what turning back really meant, perhaps should would use a different allusion to deliver her message. She may have had empathy, but it was empathy for a horrible place. Sodom was a proud city with proud people. Pride is the origin of sin, so for her to look back meant that she made the choice to value that awful lifestyle over the new life promised by God.

  24. It brings the people in the Bible to be seen as humans, people who fall in temptations, who find it hard to let go of certain things in their life and start all over. In life those who are born obeying God will maintain themselves that way while those that live day by day surrounded by what society says and not living by what the Bible requests end up staying here on Earth and turning into salt rather than going to heaven and living forever.

  25. This was also a great poem because of the story that was told. We all face adversity in life but we must be optimistic and overcome it. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and we should always remember there’s always tomorrow.

  26. The hardest thing to do i think is move on after something happens in your life, trusting its going to work out without looking back. This was an excellent poem and i really liked it.

  27. Sadly I am not familiar with this poem. I did, in fact enjoy it very much so. I like how they revamped this story and retold it. Even though it’s difficult to move on everyone has to at one point or another. This story really makes you think.

  28. I am a very religious person and I respect all other religion. Whenever I go to sleep at night I sit in my bed and think about my all day and release if I did any mistake and try to solve it. So, it always great to look back and release it’s a relieve.

  29. The story was really familiar and interesting. It reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve and the situation with the apple except this time with the pillar of the salt. God was only trying to improve her life but she wasn’t ready for a new change.

  30. I think Lot’s wife was an example of disobedience and allowed people to realize that God wasn’t playing around when he told them not to look back. I think god just wanted to prove a point that in the end he will take care of everything if you just listen.

  31. I growing up in a deeply religious family and something that I notice in the teachings of the so called “The Book of God” was fear, revenge, and eternal punishment. Story after story the God that it was been form in my mind was a vengefully God, nothing good! Then I started to realize that religion can be direct instrument to consolidate the power over the masses which are predestined to be exploited.

  32. adversity, you must be able to overcome it and move on, like life it isn’t always going to be easy but you will find ways to overcome it if you have that determination and ability like god has given you.

  33. Its hard to move on but the things that lie ahead are there for you to become stronger in ones self and develop new greatness.

  34. I too am very familiar with this story and I believe Lot’s wife was still drawn to the old life in the city. However, those cities were full of sin and corruption and God wanted to break any connection Lot and his family had with them. Lot’s wife was still drawn to the old ways and chose them over God.

  35. I really like this poem…I am familiar with this story and I thought this was a creative way of telling this story.

  36. This poem was very interesting because I am very familiar with the story of Lot from the bible. They say she looked back because she was being disobedient or because she was curious about the past. I beleive that she looked back because she couldn’t quite let go of what was left behind. God was trying to do a new thing in her life, but she wasn’t ready to let goof the old stuff in her life and let the new stuff come in. The pillar of salt is symbolic of being preserved in time. To preserve things is to keep them for that time and she was definitely preserved in that time in her life.

  37. This poem was very interesting because I am very familiar with the story of Lot from the bible. They say she looked back because she was being disobedient or because she was curious about the past. I beleive that she looked back because she couldn’t quite let go of what was left behind. God was trying to do a new thing in her life, but she wasn’t ready to let goof the old stuff in her life and let the new stuff come in. The pillar of salt is symbolic of being preserved in time. To preserve things is to keep them for that time and she was definitely preserved in that time in her life.

  38. I really like the poem. It is a story from the first book of the Bible retold in modern fashion through a different perspective. The poem gives the story a fresh look from a solid humanist standpoint, something normally attributed to early modern Christian society, though the story retains its strong Jewish tone.

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