Why Did Lot Sacrifice His Daughters? (4 Possible Justifications)

In the biblical story of Lot’s daughters, Lot offered up his children to be raped by a mob. Why is he still considered righteous?

Mar 8, 2024By Joshua Witworth, BA English Literature, Certified Private Pilot
why lot sacrifice daughters justifications

 

People often cite Sodom and Gomorrah as the perfect example of God’s wrath. Abraham attempted to negotiate with God to save the cities, only to find that only Lot was righteous among the people there. Yet, Lot’s daughters were offered up to the mob there. There are a few theories about why Lot is still considered righteous, but nothing is definitive. From their devaluation based on their reproductive organs to a manipulation of the law, here are the most prominent theories about Lot’s daughters.

 

Content Warning: This post contains discussions that some readers may find sensitive or offensive. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to stop reading. Reader discretion is advised.

 

The Offering of Lot’s Daughters

lot entertaining the two angels manetti rutilio
Lot Entertaining the Two Angels, by Rutilio Manetti, 1630s, Source: The Web Gallery of Art

 

The tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is pretty well known. It’s where the English word “sodomy” comes from and is a great example of God’s wrath in the Old Testament. But hidden within this tale is an absolutely baffling take on righteousness. The book of Genesis contains an amazing story that begins in Chapter 18 Verses 22-33. This story is about Abraham trying to quell the Lord’s anger. God first tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham then tries to barter with God saying that if he can find 50 righteous people then he should spare the cities.

 

God agrees. So, Abraham begins to haggle and asks for 45. God agrees. Then 40. Agreed. And the numbers get all the way down to 10. God said, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

 

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Abraham sets out and finds just one person. Lot.

 

angel blinds crowd lots daughters
Blinding the Inhabitants of Sodom, by Charles-Andre Van Loo, 18th century, Source: Artvee.dl

 

The tale picks up again in Genesis 19:1-22. Two angels go to Sodom and they find Lot outside the gate. He then convinces them to stay with him instead of sleeping in the town square. After they get to his house, a mob, made up of the people of Sodom, surrounds the house and tells Lot to send out the two men who are staying with him “so that we may know them.”

 

Lot, rightfully, is a bit nervous and goes out to try and reason with the crowd. It starts with him asking them to think about their actions before doing anything rash. But they are set on it.

So in Verse 8 Lot addresses the crowd and says, “Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

 

The mob is not appeased with this trade offer and begins to crowd in on Lot. The angels then pull Lot inside and cause the crowd to become blinded. They tell Lot to get his family and scram, lest they get caught in the destruction. Lot heads into town to try and save his sons-in-law, who think he’s joking. So Lot, his two daughters, and his wife escape to the hills while Sodom and Gomorrah are completely decimated.

 

1. Lot’s Daughters Were Lower “Value”

sodom and gomorrah lots daughters
Sodom and Gomorrah Afire, by Jacob de Wet II, 1680, Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

On August 18, 1920, the United States of America ratified the 19th Amendment to give women the right to vote. If the United States is touted as one of the pinnacles of social progressiveness and it took that long for the nation to give women the right to vote, then it’s easy to understand that in the Old Testament, women were of lesser “value” than men.

 

In Biblical times, the general organization of society was extremely patriarchal. As outlined by Debbie Young-Somers in an article written for the British Library, “…many biblical women are known only by their relationship to men.” 

 

The obvious examples in the story are Lot’s daughters and Lot’s wife. Lot’s wife even disobeys God’s direct commandment not to look back at Sodom and Gomorrah and turns into a pillar of salt, but she remains unnamed.

 

What this means for the greater context of the story is that women were just less valuable in society than men. Because of this, offering his daughters isn’t as big of a disgrace to Lot as it would be for Lot’s guests to be violated by the mob.

 

It is also used as an example to demonstrate just how ungodly these towns were. They specifically denied an offering of two virgins in an attempt to have these two angels. The mob was unaware of their level of divinity, but it served as a direct rejection of God. There are more progressive ideas out there regarding this story, and they seem to fit the narrative of a loving God a little better.

 

2. God Saved Lot’s Daughters Like Abraham and Isaac

abraham and isaac
The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1750s, Source: The MET Museum

 

Another possible interpretation of this tale is one that is mirrored later on in the book of Genesis. Just a few chapters later in Chapter 22 we see that Abraham, who was the one righteous enough to haggle with the Lord, has just had a son. He loved his son greatly, as you would expect a father to.

 

That’s when God orders him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Which, interestingly, mirrors God sacrificing Jesus, his only son. But Abraham takes Isaac as he is commanded and right before he sacrifices him, divine intervention stays his hand. There are a few different interpretations of what that means exactly. It is sometimes interpreted as an inexplicable force that made him hold off for a bit. Or Abraham swinging a knife down to have something stop his hand mid-swing. Regardless of the specific force, Abraham doesn’t complete the sacrifice. Instead, there is a ram caught in the bushes that Abraham and Isaac offer to God.

 

Now, bringing this idea back to Lot, when the mob is nice and surly, Lot’s daughters are offered. There is an interpretation that the rejection of this offer is because God stopped the crowd from accepting it. This idea suggests that Lot was righteous due to his willingness to sacrifice his own offspring for the sake of the divine entities.

 

While this is a beautiful idea, there are a few things that feel odd about it still. For one, we are unsure if the angels had warned Lot yet, or told him of their divinity. Additionally, it feels dismissive of the value of women. So there must be other options out there.

 

3. Hospitality is Why Lot Offered the Trade

penelope weaving odyssey
Penelope and Her Suitors, by John William Waterhouse, 1912, Source: ArtUK.org

 

A more interesting take is offered by Nachmanides’ teachings. In his 13th-century commentary, he outlines a misinterpretation. Just as in the fashion that John Steinbeck suggests in The Grapes of Wrath, this misinterpretation completely changes the story.

 

With this specific line:

 

(Hebrew)  וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֶל-לוֹט וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אַיֵּה הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ הַלָּיְלָה; הוֹצִיאֵם אֵלֵינוּ, וְנֵדְעָה אֹתָם.

And they called unto Lot, and said unto him: ‘Where are the men that came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.’”

 

That word in Hebrew that translates as “to know” has two potential interpretations. It could be the cognitive version of knowledge or the sexual implication of knowledge. While it is most commonly interpreted to be a sexual reference, Nachmanides prefers the cognitive translation; the crowd wasn’t requesting that the men be sent out to be raped, it was for the crowd to learn of their intentions within the town. Since Sodom and Gomorrah are never explicitly stated to be committing certain sins and are simply called Godless locations, it is fair to interpret this phrase to be a question of what the angels were doing in the town.

 

One sin is lacking charity. If we’re to follow this interpretation, the people of Sodom didn’t want to offer charity. They felt they had the best land in the world. This led them to be overly protective.

 

gentileschi lots daughters
Lot and His Daughters, by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1636-38, Source: Toledo Museum

 

The mob’s goal was to find out these two men’s intentions in their land and to get them out by whatever means possible. While not explicitly sexual, the implication is still brutal and violent.

 

Therefore, the Nachmanides’ interpretation of this is that Lot was maintaining his hospitality. Similar to the shock that came from the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, at times when someone is being hosted they expect full protection. This is also referenced in Homer’s The Odyssey when Odysseus’s wife is hosting the terrible suitors.

 

If we’re following Nachmanides’ interpretations then we are to read the offering of Lot’s daughters as a simple appeasement for the sake of hospitality. A lovely idea, but flawed based on the context. In other parts of the Old Testament, we see the same verbiage used here for “to know” in the context of sex. Earlier in the same book even. In Genesis Chapter 4 Adam “knows” Eve and she conceives a child.

 

Later in the book of Judges, chapter 19 verse 22-26, we see pretty much the exact same situation where a concubine is offered to a mob surrounding a house, and the concubine is brutally raped and beaten to death. With all of that in mind, although it’s a lovely sentiment, this interpretation seems to fall short in context.

 

4. Lot Was Drawing on Legal Precendent

mesopotamia law code of hammurabi 1750
A Picture of the Code of Hammurabi, Mesopotamia, 1750 BCE, Source: ArtHistoryProject.com

 

If we maintain the aforementioned understanding of the Hebrew word that translates to “to know” then we continue the chapter, we get a brand new idea that changes everything.  Since the angels are powerful enough to take care of the crowd and tell Lot to get his family and get out, Lot sets out to get his sons-in-law. This happens in verse 14. Lot explains to them what’s about to happen and they laugh at him. They simply assume he is cracking jokes and do not leave.

 

Now, some people assume Lot had four daughters, but there’s nothing to back this up. These two men were supposed to marry the daughters Lot had offered to the crowd. This is even backed up by the entirety of verse 14 which says, “So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters…”

 

This is new information that was not made known to the reader in the earlier scene. But it’s incredibly important. If Lot’s daughters were to be married, then Lot seems to have been drawing on the Code of Hammurabi. Specifically, law 130, “If a seignior bound the [betrothed] wife of a[nother] seignior, who had no intercourse with a male and was still living in her father’s house, and he has lain in her bosom and they have caught him, that seignior shall be put to death, while that woman shall go free” (ANET, 171).

 

If we bring this into the context, then it’s reasonable to think that Lot was attempting to manipulate the crowd into making a terrible decision that would cause them all to be put to death.

 

burning of sodom camile lots daughters
The Burning of Sodom, by Camile Corot, 1843-57, Source: The MET Museum

 

Even though it would have resulted in Lot’s daughters not having the same “value” when being married off, it may have resulted in a far more favorable outcome than the angels, the literal servants of God, being raped. There’s also the negative of having these women go through an incredibly horrific event, which would take a serious toll on their mental health, but that’s an issue for another time.

 

Regardless, it could be seen to be more righteous to try and lure a crowd of evil-doers to be convicted of a crime resulting in capital punishment, than to be a terrible host and allow divinity to be so desecrated. An interesting take on this is that it also takes into account the hospitality issue mentioned in Nachmanides’ commentary and can still be interpreted as God’s willingly holding off the mob from accepting such a trade.

 

By all accounts, this feels like the superior argument. Sadly, as comes with all religious interpretations, we don’t get an explicit answer. That’s where faith comes in — and that’s a whole different topic altogether.

Author Image

By Joshua WitworthBA English Literature, Certified Private PilotJosh is a career aviator and writer with a passion for seeking the deeper meaning in life. Having traveled the world as a flight attendant in early life, Josh got a unique perspective on the diverse views on things, so he seeks the greatest truth and the “why” behind everything. He utilizes his unique background of a Liberal Arts degree combined with his Southern Baptist upbringing gives an insight that is hard to find. One of his greatest joys is discussing the combination of philosophy, theology, and history with his Pastor father and anyone else that will listen.