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In Genesis 19 (NRSV),

30 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. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.

"Earth" refers only to the place in which they now living in which is the mountain in contrast to the areas outside the mountain which had been referred to by "all the world".

Simply, why were the daughters of Lot reluctant to search for husbands outside the mountain?

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The confusion in this story is caused by the NRSV's overly literal translation methodology and its under adherence to that methodology in verse 31.

So there are two problems with the translation.

The first problem is that the Hebrew idiom דרך כל הארץ, which the NRSV translates as "the manner of all the world", is a Hebrew euphemism for sexual relations.1 Because the word "world" in this verse is used in a euphemism that stands on its own, independent of the verse, it has no relation to, and does not contrast with, modify or limit the prior "earth". In fact, what Lot's daughters intend to say is that there are no men left in the entire world to have relations with them so that they will bear children.

The second problem with the NRSV translation is that it uses two different words, "earth" and "world" to translate the same Hebrew word, ארץ ("aretz"), that is used in both instances. This variation in translation sets the stage for the misunderstanding.

In understanding this verse it is important to consider the narrative. Nothing in the preceding narrative indicates that Lot and his daughters are anything but righteous. There is an assumed stricture on incest, but up to this point in the text no explicit prohibition. There is an explicit command in Genesis 1:28 and in Genesis 9:7 to be fruitful and multiply. So in the narrative of this verse we can only assume that Lot's daughters would not have done what they did unless they were convinced that there was no other choice in order to fulfill the commandment, i.e. that there were no other men anywhere who could father children.

The NIV attempts to address the translation problem in this verse by both rendering the meaning of the idiom and translating the idiom literally:

One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children--as is the custom all over the earth.

The NLT chooses to render the idiom and forfeits the literal translation:

One day the older daughter said to her sister, "There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can't get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children.

The ISV both defeats the euphemistic intent of the idiom and renders the idom literally (!)

One day the firstborn told the younger one, "Our father is old, and there's no man in the land to have sex with us, as everybody else throughout all the earth does.


1. The Masoretic text on which the NRSV is based uses euphemisms and "clean language" in all except one instance when referring to sexual acts.

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  • excellent information my friend!
    – N.Ish
    Mar 25 '17 at 18:37
  • Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim thank you the translation will not change the fact that (the manner of all earth) is a general statement that not confided to sexual acts , instead it refers to any custom or habit or social system , the thanslation of the Hebrew word eretz will not change anything these are an irrelevant points.. if you don't mind you can take a look at my comments below Mar 26 '17 at 9:21
  • @Knowledge I added further explanation, from the narrative context, in the answer above. In this verse, דרך כל הארץ is a euphemism for the sexual act and has nothing to do with geography. Genesis 6:12 is another example of this idiom. Joshua 23:14 uses the same idiom as a euphemism for death. In no example of this idiom does ארץ refer to geography, only to a type of event or behavior that the speaker prefers not to mention explicitly. See also "כי דרך נשים לי" in Genesis 31:35. Mar 26 '17 at 11:01
  • Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim thank you again but the examples that you cited (the first example is somehow irrelevant ) imply that the thing referred to implicitly or explicitly is prevalent everywhere and any time at the time of the speaking, not had been prevalent and is no longer at that time , and therefore the phrase (in the way of all the Earth) entails Time and space , moreover as I clarified below there is no reason to think that Lot and his daughters thought that the whole Earth had been destroyed Mar 26 '17 at 13:15
  • @Knowledge The problem with interpreting the idiom literally is that the result is to cast aspersions on the righteousness of Lot and his daughters. Genesis 7:11 includes the idiom ערובות השמים, literally "the chimneys of the sky". Would you ask where we might find these chimneys? Genesis 31:7 has עשרת מונים, literally "ten times". Do you think that means exactly 10 and not 9.3 or 14.6 times? Genesis 25:8 has נאסף אל עמיו, "gathered to his peoples". Does this mean anything else other than he died and was buried? Interpreting Biblical idioms and mannerisms literally leads to much silliness. Mar 27 '17 at 6:13
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Good question.

In Genesis 13:10 we get some context of the geography

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

So Zoar was part of the plain of Jordan.

In Genesis 19:29

And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.

So Abraham asked, and God agreed and sent Lot out of Sodom. He sent Him to a small city and named it Zoar. Then Gen. 19:29 God sends Lot out of the cities in which he dwelt again.

Then Gen. 19:30

And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.

So they were in the caves of the mountain, of course afraid to leave because God's outside destroying cities.

This is why Lot's eldest daughter says in Gen. 19:31

And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:

So why were they reluctant to go outside the mountain to seek a husband? Because they'd been moved out of at least two cities Sodom and Zoar those cities were then destroyed by God. So as far as they were concerned there wasn't anyone left to go find, and if there were they would be running the risk of entering a city that might soon be destroyed by God.

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  • N.Ish thank you for your answer but when the daughters had been in the mountain there was no destruction to be afraid of because at that time god had already finished destroying all the cities that he wanted to destroy and they were aware of this fact ..so your explanation is not convicing Mar 25 '17 at 18:11
  • @Knowledge, that's not how the text reads. You'd have to be thinking "God obliterated some cities, what's the big deal go find a husband.". Gen 19:29 explains God's destruction of the plain of Jordan, and His removal of Lot from those cities. The mere fact they end up in a cave on a mountain, is a big clue as to the severity of God's destruction. It's not as if they wanted to live in a cave. They were from Sodom, they like city living. So it may be you want to look at it a bit more realistically. If God destroyed a city next to you, your not gonna be out meeting people.
    – N.Ish
    Mar 25 '17 at 18:25
  • N.Ish thank you again , the text is clear and the translation of the (nrsv) or any other translation indicates that the daughters of Lot knew for sure that there still a manner in which men still marrying women outside the mountain there is nothing in the story that indicates that they misunderstood the fact that only the cities of the plain are the only cities that will be destroyed for a particular reason, there is nothing in their words indicates that they are the only survivors on the whole world or that they will repopulate the world.... NOTHING Mar 26 '17 at 9:02
  • So it may be you want to look at it a bit more realistically there is nothing that make them so terrified as you mentioned for the destruction is ended ,realistically they will not chose to do what they did with their own father when it is possible to go and find husbands from anywhere else ..from Ur of the Chaldeans , from Haran , from Bethel , Hebron to be sure realistically it is far more better to go and live and marry from anywhere else than the mountain Mar 26 '17 at 9:11
  • @Knowledge, so your thinking that running for their lives from Sodom as fire from heaven devours the city, their mother turning into a pillar of salt as they flee, entering Zoar, just to be removed as the destruction of the cities of the plains come from heaven and then to end up in a cave in a mountain saying "Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:". You're thinking their totally over their mom dying and the cities around them being destroyed with fire from heaven, what are they afraid of?
    – N.Ish
    Mar 26 '17 at 17:19
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If they thought it was okay then why the need to get their father so drunk that he didn’t know when they laid with him and when they left. Also remember.... the angel had to literally take them by their hands and drag them out of the city. I used to think they were righteous and that his wife was just being wistful. After a closer look though... I think they were saved just because of their relationship with Abraham. (If he had more than 2 married daughters then God wouldn’t have destroyed the cities) ( Lot, his wife, his 2 virgin daughters, at least 2 married daughter and their husbands.) That’s 8 that we would think would be righteous, another married daughter would give us 10. Maybe Lot and his family weren’t as righteous as we think.

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  • Welcome to BHSX - thanks for your comments. The fact that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob also suggests an extreme moral deficiency in Lot who had absorbed too much of Sodom's culture.
    – user25930
    Aug 14 '18 at 22:04

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