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.
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
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
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.
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
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).