Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Righteous Lot

7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) (2 Pet 2:7-8).

Peter's commendation of Lot's character is puzzling to Bible readers because it doesn't seem to be derivable from the depiction of Lot in Genesis. It may be necessary to distinguish between the historical Lot of Genesis and the literary Lot, who undergoes character development in the Intertestamental literature. For instance:

She it was who, while the godless perished, saved the upright man as he fled from the fire raining down on the Five Cities (Wisdom 10:16, NJB).

This whole section of 2 Peter uses words and pictures from Intertestamental literature (1 Enoch) and Greek mythology ("tartarus"). So the positive image of Lot is probably filtered through that kind of material.

This might be analogous to how, in our own culture, we use allusive analogies to famous movies, or legends about the Founding Fathers (e.g. George Washington's cherry tree).

That's understood to be a fictional gloss. It may be that in 2 Peter and Jude, we have examples of audience adaptation, where the author is evoking popular tropes that had resonance with their readers. The Genesis account would be the historical core, but with this overlay. 

There are other examples of this. Take Ezekiel's creative description of Adam's fall or Lucifer's fall in Ezk 28. Readers would instantly recognize the allusion to Gen 3, but Ezekiel has recast that in a more poetic vein. 


  1. Catholics tend to appeal to things like this to go against Sola Scriptura. "Hey, look there's information that comes from outside Scripture (tradition)."

    My counter-arguments to that have been:

    1) It's not entirely clear if the New Testament writers believe these things are literal history. The problem with that is that it becomes harder to make a case about a historical Adam, etc. But I think the argument would go something like the readers and writers had a shared understanding that these embellishments weren't literal history. My assumption is that historical accounts in Scripture were taken as literal history and meant to be. I'm not an expert in this era of Jewish literature so I'm not sure how hard or easy it would be to determine how the average person understood the literalness of Scripture vs other historical (or historically grounded) literature.

    2) Even if they were literal history, we only suspect they may be literal history because they are recorded in the New Testament (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). If they didn't show up in the New Testament, very few Christians (Roman Catholic or otherwise) would assume the intertestimental accounts are literal history. So even if we somehow got correct history from non-Scriptural sources this shows that only Scripture would be infallible.

    3) I know of few mainstream Roman Catholics who would call Adam historical (at least in this era) let alone these New Testament references.

    Anyway, things to think about.

    1. 2 Pet/Jude are somewhat unusual in this regard. Even so, Peter's readers would be expected to believe in the historicity of Lot and the Sodom/Gomorrah episode. Even OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha take the historicity of OT narratives as a starting-point.

    2. That's a good point.

      They also point to Paul using the names Jambres and Jamnia for the Egyptian priests.

      I think that proves too much.

      But, again, I think your point about that being the starting point makes sense.

    3. "Catholics tend to appeal to things like this to go against Sola Scriptura. 'Hey, look there's information that comes from outside Scripture (tradition).'"

      i) As you know, that's a caricature of sola scripture, which doesn't reject extrabiblical information or allusions. For instance, the Bible refers to lots of people and places for which there's extrabiblical information. The point, though, is a distinction between revelation and non-revelation, inspired sources and uninspired sources.

      ii) As you also know, Catholics are extremely selective about what traditions they credit or codify. For instance, if one were going to canonize a writing from the Intertestamental pseudepigrapha, then 1 Enoch would be a much better candidate than Tobit, in terms of its prominence and literary/theological influence. So Catholic appeal to tradition is inconsistent.

    4. I don't assume Paul thought those were the actual names of the Egyptian magicians. We like to name things for ease of reference. If they don't have names, we invent names. Take the traditional names of the Magi: Balthasar, Melchior, and Casper. If, say, you were going to do a Christmas play combining the nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, it's helpful to name the characters, even if they were originally anonymous.