Weekend Reading: hospitality

This weekend's section is closely entwined with the section I mentioned last week.

Abraham, bearing a new name and receiving a repeat of previous promises, is talking with some visitors. In this conversation, the narrative suddenly reveals that one of the visitors is some embodiment of the Creator of All.*

Abraham was talking about the Promise, and his expected son Isaac.

Now, the narrative shifts, and Abraham's guest asks himself and his friends if he should discuss with Abraham what is about to be done nearby.

In part because of His special love for Abraham, and in conjunction with his desire that Abraham's family learn the paths of righteousness, the Creator reveals that He is searching out the behavior of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

So a discussion begins, of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham implores his Creator: if fifty righteous men are in the cities, will the cities survive?

The reply is in the positive: the cities may be saved, if enough righteous men are present.

Abraham asks again, lowering the number to forty-five. Then to forty; then thirty, then twenty, and finally to ten.

Each time, he gets the reply: that number of righteous men would be enough to save the cities.

The questioning ends there; yet there is no notice that either Abraham or God had found a number which would not be sufficient to save the cities.

The story shifts to Sodom, and the sins that this city shared with Gomorrah. The two other men, identified as incognito angels, visit Sodom. The sins of Sodom appear to be offenses against the ancient moral code of hospitality.**

Lot, Abraham's nephew, shows hospitality. No one else in the town did. The men of the town, in their inhospitality and lustfulness, desire to do harm to the visitors.

The angels search out all of Lots relatives and in-laws. (Though it is not mentioned explicitly, the angels are not able to find 10 in this group...and they are implicitly the only righteous family in the town.)

The next morning, the angels lead Lot, his wife, and daughters out of Sodom. There is some bargaining here, also, as Lot is instructed to run to the mountains. He points out that he can barely reach the town called "Small", and begs that he be able to survive if he reaches that town.

Lot is granted his wish, and he and his family run.

A magnificent destruction is rained down on the valley of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is described as "fire and brimstone", and the one member of Lot's family who turns back is somehow transformed into a pillar of salt. Later, Abraham sees smoke rising over the valley, and knows that judgement has taken place.

Was this a volcanic eruption? Was some other factor involved, in which the salty water of the Dead Sea went through an upheaval, and may have dropped a large piece of salt on someone who lingered behind?

Or was this some kind of special Divine act, a judgement which cannot be explained through geology?

Either way, the story is terrifying.

These cities had been judged so harshly and with such finality.

The details of the unrighteousness of those cities aren't spelled out in full; but those cities definitely had a reputation. And the reputation was enough that this catastrophic destruction was seen as justice.

Stories of judgement are hard to accept, especially when it is embedded in a narrative about an all-powerful Creator. Yet if such a Being exists, He would be capable of sending judgement in many ways. Some of which are earth-shattering cataclysms.

Even though most of the communication between God and humanity has been about blessing, this story underlines that He is capable of, and willing to, execute judgement harshly.

Their story has a coda, which reminds me that Genesis is as much family history as it is religious text.

Lot's daughters imagine that they have seen the end of the world, and the end of any men that can marry them. They use trickery, alcohol, and incest to have children. These children are said to be ancestors of the tribes of Moab and Ammon.

Somewhat like the story of Ishmael, the story of Moab and Ammon seems to have no important meaning in the developing story of Abraham and his interactions with God. Yet they are part of the story of Abraham's family and his connections.

This story also shows a difference between Abraham's immediate family and the family of Lot. Lot may be righteous, but he has little direct communication with God.

Even the concubine Hagar had close communication with God.

This is a subtle distinction. Does it identify people who receive special treatment from God? Does it identify people who were seen by God as especially responsive to Him?

Whichever it is (or if it is both), it is a reminder that Abraham and his household are different from those around him. Even though the big Promise is in the future, they are interacting differently with God in the present.

*Of note: when Hagar runs away, and then realizes that God sees even her, the runaway servant of Abraham, the narrative speaks of "the angel of the LORD".

In this little narrative, Abraham speaks with "the LORD" directly.
The other two guests are "the men", but are identified as "the two angels" in the narrative of the deeds at Sodom.

This may speak of different orders of angels, and their interactions with men. Or, it could speak of different strands of thought that had different understandings of various manifestations of The Creator, a powerful Spirit called the Angel of God, or the potential that many angels answered to Him and did his bidding.

**Many years after I first read of Sodom, I heard a tale from Greek mythology. In that mythology, two incognito deities visit a city near Lydia, and find no hospitality among one thousand homes there.
Except in the home of Philemon and Baukis. The two visitors eventually tell their hosts that they must leave town and travel towards high ground without turning back. Once they reach the high ground, and are allowed to look around, they find that their town has been obliterated in a flood.

I was surprised that Greek mythology had a story which had the same framework as the tale of Lot in Sodom.

Much later, I found this similarity mentioned in Wikipedia.

I also note that in two different places, there were the remnants of cities that had been destroyed in a cataclysm. Both of these were remembered by nearby cultures as places of in-hospitable behavior. Places which received special judgement.

Was this a something that happened multiple times? A place that is noticeably inhospitable, receiving judgement in the form of catastrophe?

Both stories underline the importance of hospitality, as seen by the ancient world.

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