An initial reading of the Lot Narrative in Genesis 19:1-11 gives an impression that Lot was visited by messengers of God one night, and that the depraved populace of Sodom tried to ‘have their way’ with them. Lot seconded the messengers safely away in his house from the homosexually-inclined men of the town, and tried to offer two of his virgin daughters to them instead, but the townsmen refused and then tried to assault Lot himself. Lot was rescued by the two messengers who pulled him into the house away from the depraved mob, and then the messengers blinded everyone in the mob through the power of God.
The concept of personal rights can be applied to the ancient world, but not in the connotation or context that it is used in the present western world. The ancient Israelite came from a socially different structure than that which is common-place for westerners today. The ancient system of patriarchy that was used in Israel saw that all families were under the control and jurisdiction of the oldest male in the linage. This is vastly different to the current western method of thinking that each person is their own, and capable and responsible of making their own choices and decisions. According to Di Vito, the rights of the family members were dictated to them by the patriarch of that family, and that sometimes the women would be sold as concubines and the children as labourers. Given this standpoint, it is reasonable to assume that while a person was able to make decisions themselves, they were only able to do so within the confines of a predicated standard of identity within the socio-familial group. Thus, a person was defined by their placement within a familial group and was granted the individual rights according to that station.
Taking Di Vito’s statement “…the goals of the permeable individual are characteristically and repeatedly subordinated to those of the lineal group…”, it is evident in the Lot narrative that the aforementioned patriarchal societal structure was in place. Lot had taken in the two travelling messengers unto his own house, which from reading the narrative should have provided some protection from the native Sodomites, according to custom. However, even though Lot observed all the traditional hospitality responsibilities of the host and head-of-house that were required of him, the Sodomites refused to recognise Lot’s station as head of his house. This could be due to Lot originally being an outsider to Sodom and the locals never fully accepting him in, as is discussed by Toensing, regardless of how prominent his station was.
Di Vito’s characterisation of the Old Testament and modern concepts of personal identity are noteworthy in analysing the Lot Narrative. The depraved mob of Sodomites clearly display the lack of personal respect and boundaries in the way that they actively and openly seek the two messengers that Lot had taken into his home. When reading this narrative, it is easy to place the modern western concepts of individualism and self identity onto the personages involved in the reading, however doing so may change the intent of the author, as the author did not have this view of individual self. Indeed, the Old Testament view of individualism was centred on the family unit, rather than the family member. Using this understanding and view, the initial reaction to the reading of the Lot Narrative can be altered to accept Lot was acting according to the dictates of his social environment.
Di Vito, R.A., 'Old Testament Anthropology and the Construction of Personal Identity', Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (1999) 217-238
Holy Bible, The. King James Version. (1989). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT.
Toensing, Holly J., ‘Women of Sodom and Gomorrah: Collateral Damage in the War against Homosexuality?’,
Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 21:2 (2005) 61-74