The incestuous story of Lot and his daughters, one of the most shocking episodes in the Bible, is depicted in the Book of Genesis 19, which opens with the visit of two angels disguised as travelers, to the wicked city of Sodom.
Lot, the son of Abraham’s brother Haran, used to live in Sodom with his wife and daughters. In Gen 19, when God plans to overturn and destroy the five cities of the plain, he sends two angels to the city of Sodom to warn Lot and to make sure they leave the city before it is punished for their wicked way. However, things go wrong when the men of the town, young and old, surrounded Lot’s house demanding to know the identity of his guests, with the intention to rape the angels. Lot became highly alarmed about the welfare of his guests and begged the Sodomites not to do such a terrible thing. Instead, he offered his two daughters to the mob, whom he says are virgins. Though his intention to save his guests is commendable, his disturbing offer demonstrates a shocking disregard for the safety of his own daughters.
However, before any mishap, the angels struck the intruders with blindness, took Lot and his family forcibly out of their house and advised them to leave the city immediately and take shelter in a cave in the hills, to avoid the imminent calamity. They also warned them not to look back, while leaving Sodom. Unfortunately, as Lot’s wife impulsively turned back to have look at the destruction, she promptly became a pillar of salt.
While staying isolated in the cave only with their father for a considerable period, the daughters gradually became confused and thought that they are the last people left alive on the earth. In their confusion they forgot that, before taking shelter in the cave, they left the city of Zoar, which surely had some men in it, even after God had completed punishing Sodom and the surrounding cities.
Consequently, the girls assumed it was their responsibility to bear children and enable the continuation of the human race. As they believed all men were dead except their father, they decided to be impregnated by him to continue the human race and the family line. Assuming that their father would not knowingly participate in any such action, they saturated him with drinks and made him drunk enough to have sexual intercourse with them for two successive nights.
Consequently, both of the sisters were conceived by their father and eventually gave birth to two sons. While the son of the elder daughter was named Moab, meaning ‘from the father’, which explicitly points to an incestuous copulation, the younger sister named her son Ben-Ammi, which means ‘son of my family’, which is a more veiled reference to the situation. Those two children are the fathers of two nations, the Moabites and Ammonites that have been at odds with and the source of much suffering for Israel down through history.
The shocking episode of Lot and his daughters enjoyed a long and a surprising afterlife in the art of Northern Europe. While it is strongly argued by the Theologists that neither Lot nor his daughters acted out of lust, eroticism was clearly the major motivation for the painters, who represented the story on canvas. Perhaps the greatest of the many depictions of Lot and his daughters was created by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens in 1614.
Later, in 1625, Rubens turned to an earlier moment in the story, which was much less frequent in artistic representation than Lot's seduction in the cave, the mournful procession of Lot and his family leaving the city of Sodom, with the solemnity of a classical frieze.
Lot and his Daughters Leaving Sodom was also depicted by Guido Reni, which was first recorded in the Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome in 1640 and remained there until 1844, when it was acquired by the National Gallery.