Today's Reading: Genesis 19:30-38. If you want to know the story of the strangers in Sodom to see what all the fuss is about, read all of Genesis 19
"Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters."
This story is the strangest story in the entire Bible, but it has some familiar scenes. Like Abraham in yesterday's reading, Lot is sitting at the city gate. We don't know why, but he's waiting. In a portal-- a place between places, danger. He is prone to strangeness. He falls to his knees before the strangers, he insists they come to his home, but (here is where the similarities break off) he shows them a more remarkable hospitality than Abraham. When the men of Sodom ask to sleep with the strangers he offers his daughters. "They're virgins!" he screams above the men surrounding his house.
This story is not for children.
But then, it's quite about children.
Where to go from here?
We're told that only four refugees make it out alive of two sister cities (how close to home?); insult to injury, one of these four becomes salt.
It gets worse.
A widower and two motherless daughters (who have each lost their fiancés to sulphur) go to Zoar, the nearest but smallest town.
Of course no stranger goes unnoticed in a small town, but what to do with these? They are aliens, marked from the second they walk in the gate, maybe burned from the fire they fled. Now who are the three strangers? Now who will greet them with kneeling? feed them? tend the scrapes and cuts they earned from running through the desert? weep, for even a moment?
The story of Lot makes me miserable.
Where to go from here?
Lot is afraid. He chooses to live in a cave. What shame. What fear.
His daughters have no other plans. Everyone they know has died. The women of Zoar insist they should cheer up. They're lucky to have a living father who can provide for them.
Here's where I turn to Derrida to make some sense, because I do not know where else to go from here. This passage is from Of Hospitality, a book of lectures given in 1996, and describes Oedipus on his first entrance to Thebes.
"The first moment, then, is the arrival of the arrival, Oedipus. Without knowledge. Without the knowledge, the knowledge of the place: where he is, where he is going. Between the profane and the sacred, the human or the divine. Isn't this always the situation of the absolute arrival?" (35)
Not quite an Oedipal moment, the sisters incite something stranger. Who is arriving now? Two children. Two sacred, profane children.
Two children whose children figure into the story of Abraham's children. Children human and divine. Conceived in strangeness. Born in caves.
Unlike a Greek tragic hero, Lot has no fatal flaw. Unless one counts leaving the portal: choosing the plains over the other side of the mountain, choosing to welcome strangers over treating them with indifference, choosing a hole in the ground over an inhospitable village.
But can we blame him? them?
Their family saga quiets down after this chapter. One imagines a cave could be liveable, and that Lot, his daughters, their sons pass a small life in their hole.
But who is left to kneel? To welcome this grotesque family to a real bed, a fit table?