Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lot and the Flood

A careful analysis of the Lot story and its relation to the Flood story serves to undermine a much trumpeted supposed success of the Documentary Hypothesis and serves as a reminder that the DH is not nearly as strong as some of its proponents claim. Richard Elliott Friedman, in The Bible With Sources Revealed, codes all of Gen. 18-19 -- the stories of the angels visiting Avraham and the destruction of Sodom -- as being from the pen of J with the exception of a single verse, Gen. 19:29, which he codes as being from P. Gen. 19:29:

ויהי בשחת אלקים את ערי הככר ויזכר אלקים את אברהם וישלח את לוט מתוך ההפכה בהפך את הערים אשר ישב בהן לוט.
And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Avraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt.
Why should this one verse be from P? The main reason is that it uses the name "Elokim" for God rather than the "YKVK" otherwise used throughout the two chapters. It is also a stand-alone description of the story that can be read without the rest of the text, although having a summary at the end of the story is not unheard of. However, Gordon Wenham (Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. vol. 2, pp. 42-43) points out that there are thematic and textual reasons why this verse belongs with the rest of the story. This, in turn, sheds serious question on the Documentary Hypothesis in general.

Click here to read moreThe story of the destruction of Sodom is a close parallel to the story of the Flood. In both stories, wickedness leads to destruction with only one person (and family) surviving. After both destructions, the survivor becomes drunk and his children act improperly.

Both stories begin with a character walking -- Noach walks with God (Gen. 6:9) and Avraham walks with the angels (18:16). Noach is described as righteous (6:9; 7:1) and Avraham is described as being praiseworthy for teaching his family to be righteous (18:19).

Both stories have the unusual description of God thinking (6:5-8; 18:17-21). Both times, the ruin is described with the word "sh-ch-t" (6:13, 17; 9:11, 15; 18:28, 31, 32; 19:13, 14, 29). God warns Noach in advance and then commands him to enter the ark (6:13-21; 7:1-4), and the angels warn Lot in advance and then command him to leave (19:12-13, 15-16).

The angels put out their hand (19:10) and Noach reached out his hand to bring back the dove (8:9). The angels shut the door (19:10) and God shut the door on Noach (7:16). When asking for permission to go to Zoar, Lot asks to "find favor in your eyes" (19:19), which is certainly reminiscent of Noach finding favor in God's eyes (6:8).

The animals' survival is referred to by the word "lehachayos" (6:19-20; 7:3), which is the word used by Lot's daughters for having children (19:32, 34).

All of these together indicate an intentional parallel between the two stories. With that in mind, the parallel between God (Elokim) remembering Noach (8:1) and God (Elokim) remembering Lot (19:29) in the exact same words and with the same name of God, is hard to dismiss as being apart from the rest of the story. Wenham writes (p. 45), "This parallel would seem sufficient explanation of the usage here, since all the other terms in this verse seem to be drawn from the preceding narrative."

Above, I put all of the verse references that Friedman codes as P in bold and all those from J in italics. Note that the linguistic parallels transcend any single literary source. Why would texts from different sources link to each other linguistically? This phenomenon points to all of the passages coming from a single source. This has led Wenham to state that this "requires a reassessment of the normal source-critical analysis of the flood story" (p. 43). And, certainly, Gen. 19:29.

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