Lesson of Lot’s Wife

& LOY Commentary 7 Comments

Lot's wife serves as a warning that overattachment to possessions can come at the cost of one's life.

(Matt. 24:17-18; Mark 13:15-16; Luke 17:31-32)

(Huck 184, 216; Aland 235, 290; Crook 286, 328)[1]

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא מִי שֶׁעַל הַגָּג וּנְכָסָיו בַּבַּיִת לֹא יֵרֵד לִיטּוֹל אוֹתָם וּמִי שֶׁבַּשָּׂדֶה אַל יַבִּיט אַחֲרָיו זִכְרוּ אֶת אֵשֶׁת לוֹט

“On the day calamity strikes, a person on the roof whose belongings are inside should not go down to get them. Neither should a person outdoors look back—remember what happened to Lot’s wife![2]

A reproduction of our reconstruction in an ancient Hebrew script. Font, based on the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran (1QIsaa), created by Kris Udd.

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Reconstruction

To view the reconstructed text of Lesson of Lot’s Wife click on the link below:

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“Choose Repentance
or Destruction” complex
Calamities in Yerushalayim

Woes on Three Villages

Generations That Repented Long Ago

Innocent Blood

Sign-Seeking Generation

Days of the Son of Man

Lesson of Lot’s Wife

Preserving and Destroying

Indiscriminate Catastrophe

Carrion Birds

Like Children Complaining

Story Placement

Many scholars have concluded that Luke’s placement of Lesson of Lot’s Wife as the sequel to Days of the Son of Man is artificial.[3] Their conclusion is based upon two premises we believe to be false: 1) the inappropriateness of a command to take flight when the Son of Man comes[4] and 2) Luke’s dependence upon the Gospel of Mark.

As to the first premise, scholars have correctly pointed out that there is no possibility of escaping the final judgment when the Son of Man comes. Therefore, they conclude, Lesson of Lot’s Wife, which urges instantaneous flight when the coming crisis arrives, does not have an organic connection to Days of the Son of Man. But we have argued that it was the Anthologizer’s lumping together of Days of the Son of Man with Like Lightning—pericopae that originally belonged to separate contexts—that created the impression that Days of the Son of Man concerns the eschatological coming of the Son of Man.[5] The authors of Matthew and Luke deepened this impression by making redactional changes to Days of the Son of Man to make it explicitly refer to the eschatological appearance of the Son of Man.[6] Originally, however, Days of the Son of Man described the conditions that prevailed during the time when Jesus, in his capacity as the Son of Man, served as a portent of doom to his generation. Just as the people in the days of Noah and Lot were incorrigible right up to the moment they were overwhelmed in the deluge or wiped out in the hail of fire and brimstone, so Jesus believed his generation would persist in its dreams of achieving liberation through a militant nationalist uprising and in its concomitant refusal to seek redemption through pursuing the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. The result of his generation’s obduracy would be a catastrophic clash between the Jews of the land of Israel and the mighty legions of the Roman Empire. Thus, in our view, the fact that Lesson of Lot’s Wife is inappropriate to the eschatological appearance of the Son of Man is no argument against Luke’s placement of this pericope. The incongruity scholars have perceived between Days of the Son of Man and Lesson of Lot’s Wife is rather evidence that corroborates our hypothesis that originally Days of the Son of Man referred not to the eschaton but to the inevitable outbreak of war with Rome, when flight would not only be possible but advisable in the extreme.

Matthew’s additions to Mark’s eschatological discourse.

As to the second premise, scholars who hold to the theory of Markan Priority point out that the Gospel of Mark preserves a version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife in Jesus’ eschatological discourse (Mark 13). These scholars also note that Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife agrees with the Markan placement of this pericope. Hence they conclude that the non-Markan source common to Matthew and Luke (usually designated “Q”) lacked a version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife and that the author of Luke must have extracted Lesson of Lot’s Wife from the Markan eschatological discourse and inserted it into his Son of Man discourse in Luke 17. However, even from the point of view of Markan Priority these conclusions are neither inevitable nor easy to reconcile with the author of Luke’s editorial habits. As some Markan-priorist scholars have conceded, it is highly unusual for the author of Luke to interpolate Markan material into a Q context.[7] Moreover, the case that Q lacked a version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife is severely weakened by the fact that the author of Matthew incorporated nearly all of the Son of Man material found in Luke 17 into his version of Jesus’ eschatological discourse, which was based on Mark 13. Since Mark 13 already contains a version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, the author of Matthew would have had no reason to incorporate the non-Markan version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife as well.

Of course, from the perspective of Lindsey’s hypothesis, according to which the author of Mark used the Gospel of Luke as a source, there can be no question of the author of Luke’s borrowing from Mark 13. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to observe that the author of Mark perceived that Lesson of Lot’s Wife is better suited to the conditions of war with Rome than to the eschatological appearance of the Son of Man. Was this perception informed only by his recognition that there is no chance of escape on the day the Son of Man is revealed, or was the author of Mark influenced by Anth.’s version of Days of the Son of Man, which made no reference to the Son of Man’s eschatological appearance?

We believe Lesson of Lot’s Wife originally belonged with other pericopae in which Jesus warned his contemporaries of the perils of militant nationalist ideologies in a narrative-sayings complex we have entitled “Choose Repentance or Destruction.” For a complete overview of the “Choose Repentance or Destruction” complex, click here.

Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. __________________________________________________________________

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

As we discussed in the Story Placement section above, it appears that the author of Luke based his version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife on the Anthology (Anth.). The author of Mark incorporated Luke’s and/or Anth.’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife into his version of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. The author of Matthew based his version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife on Mark’s, but it is likely that he was also influenced by the version he found in Anth.[8]

Crucial Issues

  1. Is the reference to Lot’s wife a Lukan addition or an integral part of this pericope?

Comment

L1 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ (GR). The phrase “in that day,” with which Luke 17:31 opens Lesson of Lot’s Wife, has no parallel in the Markan or Matthean versions of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, but its absence in Mark 13:15 and Matt. 24:17 is due to the author of Mark’s editorial insertion of Lesson of Lot’s Wife into the instructions to take flight when the “abomination of desolation” is installed in the Temple (Mark 13:14-18), which the author of Matthew accepted (Matt. 24:15-20). Since the phrase ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ (en ekeinē tē hēmera, “in that day”) reverts easily to Hebrew (see below), and since it provides a necessary transition between Days of the Son of Man and Lesson of Lot’s Wife, we have accepted Luke’s wording in L1 for GR.

The Flight of Lot by Nicolaes Maes (ca. 1675-1680). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא (HR). In LXX the phrase ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ occurs some twenty-six times as the translation of בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא (bayōm hahū’, “in that day”).[9] Compare Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, L119-120, where we reconstructed ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ as בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.

The phrase “in that day” marks a transition from the comparison of the days of Noah and the days of Lot with the days of the Son of Man to a discussion of how Jesus’ contemporaries should act when the impending calamity, described apocalyptically in terms of the great flood and the overturn of Sodom, finally strikes. In prophetic literature the phrase “in that day” frequently signifies the day on which the prophesied crisis is realized.[10]

L2 ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος (GR). In L2 we encounter one of the rare occasions when Mark preserved Anth.’s wording more faithfully than Luke. Luke’s ὃς ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος (hos estai epi tou dōmatos, “who will be on the roof”) reverts awkwardly to Hebrew—the future tense verb being unnecessary—and in L8, which is parallel to L2, all three synoptic evangelists have ὁ + prepositional phrase. It seems, therefore, that in L2 the author of Luke changed Anth.’s (ho, “the”) to ὅς (hos, “who,” “which”)—a stylistic improvement—and added ἔσται (estai, “he will be”) for the sake of clarity.

מִי שֶׁעַל הַגָּג (HR). On reconstructing ἐπί (epi, “upon”) with עַל (‘al, “upon”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L11.

In LXX δῶμα (dōma, “housetop,” “roof”) never occurs as the translation of a word other than גָּג (gāg, “housetop,” “roof”).[11] Similarly, the LXX translators rendered nearly all instances of גָּג as δῶμα.[12] The phrase ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος (epi tou dōmatos, “on the roof”) appears as the translation of עַל הַגָּג ( ‘al hagāg, “on the roof”) in Josh. 2:6 and 4 Kgdms. 23:12.

An artist’s depiction of houses in Capernaum at the time of Jesus. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

First-century houses in the land of Israel were typically flat-roofed, and it was not unusual to use the roof, which was accessed by an outdoor stairway, as a workspace or for leisure activities.[13] Rabbinic sources refer to Passover celebrations held on the housetops in Jerusalem (t. Pes. 6:11), to reading books on the roof (m. Eruv. 10:3), and to housetops as storage places (t. Maas. 3:4, 6). Being on a housetop was such a common occurrence that rabbinic sources even consider cases when a man tosses up a writ of divorce to his wife on the roof (m. Git. 8:3).[14] Thus, the scenario envisioned in Lesson of Lot’s Wife of a person being caught on a roof when catastrophe strikes is not in the least improbable.

L3 καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ (GR). Whereas the reference to the hypothetical person’s belongings appears in the conditional clause in Luke’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife (“if…his belongings”; L3), the author of Mark transferred this reference to the imperatival clause (“let him not…take something”; L7). The author of Mark probably made this change in order to make the first scenario parallel the second, in which the reference to a belonging, this time a tunic, again occurs in the imperatival clause (L10). Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife reflects the author of Mark’s redactional activity.

וּנְכָסָיו (HR). In LXX nearly all instances of σκεῦος (skevos, “vessel,” “implement”) occur as the translation of כְּלִי (keli, “vessel,” “tool,” “weapon,” “garment”).[15] Likewise, we find that the LXX translators rendered the great majority of instances of כְּלִי as σκεῦος.[16] References to כֵּלִים (kēlim, “vessels,” “items”) in houses are found in rabbinic sources. For instance, Rabbi Yitzhak is reported to have said, גדישין בשדה ככלים בבית (“stacks [of grain] in the field are like vessels in the house”; y. Bab. Kam. 6:3 [28a]). Rabbi Yitzhak’s statement also provides a parallel to the house-field contrast found in the two scenarios envisioned in Lesson of Lot’s Wife.[17] On the basis of these observations, we considered reconstructing καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ (kai ta skevē avtou, “and his belongings”) as וְכֵלָיו (vechēlāv, “and his items”).

Nevertheless, our preference for the reconstruction וּנְכָסָיו (ūnechāsāv, “and his property”) in Lesson of Lot’s Wife has been influenced by a rabbinic tradition that describes Lot’s flight from Sodom:

נכסי צדיקים שבתוכה אובדים ושבחוצה לארץ פליטין ושל רשעים בין מתוכה ובין מחוצה לה אובדין ר′ אליעזר או′ מוכיח לדבר לוט שלא היה בסדום אלא מפני נכסיו אף הוא יצא וידיו על ראשו שנ′ מהר המלט שמה דייך שתמלט את נפשך

The property of [נִכְסֵי] righteous persons that is inside it [i.e., a condemned city—DNB and JNT] is destroyed, but what is outside the land [occupied by the city—DNB and JNT] they spare. But [the property of—DNB and JNT] wicked persons, whether inside or out, is destroyed. Rabbi Eliezer says, “One may prove it from the case of Lot, who was in Sodom only on account of his property [נְכָסָיו]. Even he went out with his hands on his head [i.e., empty-handed—DNB and JNT], as it is said, Flee there quickly! [Gen. 19:22], [which is to say,] ‘It is enough for you that you should save your life!’” (t. Sanh. 14:4; Vienna MS)

As it always occurs in the plural, the noun נְכָסִים (nechāsim, “property,” “wealth”), which is used for Lot’s property in the source cited above, is a good candidate for reconstructing the plural σκεύη (skevē, “belongings”) in Luke 17:31, despite the fact that none of the instances of נְכָסִים were rendered σκεύη in LXX.[18] This fact is considerably ameliorated by the recognition that there are only five instances of נְכָסִים in the Hebrew Scriptures (Josh. 22:8; Eccl. 5:18; 6:2; 2 Chr. 1:11, 12), so the LXX translators had few opportunities to supply a Greek equivalent for this term. In Mishnaic Hebrew the noun נְכָסִים enjoyed a much wider currency.

“Lot’s Wife,” watercolor by Alfred George Stevens (1817-1875). Image courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In addition to the semantic and formal equivalence of נְכָסִים ∥ σκεύη, the use of נְכָסִים in the Tosefta passage cited above parallels the context of Lesson of Lot’s Wife in important respects: 1) the scenarios in both sources describe flight from one’s home in a crisis that necessitates abandoning one’s possessions; 2) both contexts are related specifically to the story of Lot;[19] 3) both sources presuppose a positive view of Lot, an opinion that is not shared in all ancient Jewish sources;[20] and 4) both sources link abandonment of property to saving one’s life (in Luke, saving one’s life occurs in Preserving and Destroying, Luke 17:33, the verse immediately following Lesson of Lot’s Wife). These distinctive traits suggest that Lesson of Lot’s Wife and the Tosefta passage cited above reflect the same ancient Jewish milieu,[21] in which case the use of common vocabulary (e.g., נְכָסִים) is only natural. We believe the weight of these common characteristics is sufficient to tip the balance in favor of reconstructing καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ (kai ta skevē avtou, “and the belongings of him”) in L3 with וּנְכָסָיו (ūnechāsāv, “and his property”).[22]

L4 ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ (GR). Just as the author of Mark transferred the reference to the hypothetical person’s belongings to the imperatival clause (see above, Comment to L3), so he moved the reference to the location of said belongings to the same clause (L7). We believe the Lukan order reflects that of Anth.

בַּבַּיִת (HR). On reconstructing οἰκία (oikia, “house”) with בַּיִת (bayit, “house”), see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L7.

L5 μὴ καταβάτω (GR). L5 is the only line in our reconstruction document in which there is complete agreement among the three synoptic versions of Lesson of Lot’s Wife.

לֹא יֵרֵד (HR). Although אַל (’al) would be a perfectly acceptable reconstruction of the negative particle μή (), we observe that in Mishnaic Hebrew it is more common to find sentences with the structure -מִי שֶׁ + scenario + לֹא + prohibited action. Examples of this grammatical structure include:

מִי שֶׁיֶּשׁ לוֹ מְזוֹן שְּׁתֵּי סְעוֹדוֹת לֹא יִטּוֹל מִן הִתַּמְחּוּיי

One who [-מִי שֶׁ] has food for two meals, let him not [לֹא] take from the plate. (m. Peah 8:7)

מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ מָּאתַיִם זוּז לֹא יִטּוֹל לקש לֶקֶט שִׁכְחָה וּפֵיאָה וּמַעְשַׂר עָנִי

One who [-מִי שֶׁ] has two hundred zuz, let him not [לֹא] take gleanings, the forgotten sheaf, peah or the tithe for the poor. (m. Peah 8:8)

מִי שֶׁהָיוּ פֵירוֹתָיו בְּעִיר אַחֶרֶת וְעֵרְבוּ בְנֵי אוֹתָהּ הָעִיר לָבוֹא אֶצְלוֹ לֹא יָבִיאוּ לוֹ מִפֵירוֹתָיו

One whose [-מִי שֶׁ] fruits were in another town, and its inhabitants made an eruv in order to bring [the fruits] to him, they may not [לֹא] bring him any of his fruits. (m. Betz. 5:6)

כֹּהֵן שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּיָדָיו מוּמִים לֹא יִשָׂא אֶת כַּפָּיו ר′ יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵ′ אַף מִי שֶׁהָיוּ יָדָיו צְבוּעוֹת אֶסְטֵס לֹא יִשָּׂא אֶת כַּפָּיו מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהָעָם מִיסְתַּכְּלִים בּוֹ

A priest who has defects on his hands may not lift his palms. Rabbi Yehudah says, “Even the one whose [-מִי שֶׁ] hands were dyed with pigment may not [לֹא] lift his palms because the people would look at him [rather than pay attention to the blessing—DNB and JNT].” (m. Meg. 4:7)

ר′ יְהוּדָה או′ אַף מִי שֶׁיֶּשׁ לוֹ אִשָּׁה וּבָנִים לֹא יִשָּׂא אֶת אַיְילוֹנִית שֶׁהִיא זוֹנָה הָאֲמוּרָה בַתּוֹרָה

Rabbi Yehudah says, “Even the one [i.e., a priest—DNB and JNT] who [-מִי שֶׁ] has a wife and children may not [לֹא] marry a barren woman, for she is the prostitute that is spoken of in the Torah.” (m. Yev. 6:5)

Since these examples are so similar to the pattern we encounter in Lesson of Lot’s Wife, it makes sense to negate יֵרֵד (yērēd, “let him go down”) with לֹא.[23]

In LXX most instances of καταβαίνειν (katabainein, “to descend”) occur as the translation of יָרַד (yārad, “descend”).[24] We also find that the LXX translators rendered יָרַד far more often as καταβαίνειν than as any other verb.[25]

Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt, as depicted in a stained-glass window. Photographed by Badener. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L6 μηδὲ εἰσελθέτω (Mark 13:15). Mark’s prohibition “and let him not enter” is absent in the Lukan and Matthean parallels. The author of Mark probably added μηδὲ εἰσελθέτω (mēde eiselthetō, “and let him not enter”) because he knew that entering the house would be necessary in order for the person to retrieve his belongings. But the addition is pedantic and spoils the overall symmetry and simplicity of the pericope. In the Lukan and Matthean versions of Lesson of Lot’s Wife each scenario contains a single prohibition (L5: “let him not go down”; L9: “let him not turn back”). The author of Matthew probably dispensed with μηδὲ εἰσελθέτω because he realized that it could be omitted without harming the sentence, but he may have been emboldened to make this deletion by observing its absence in Anth.[26]

L7 ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ (Matt. 24:17). Matthew’s ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ (arai ta ek tēs oikias avtou, “to take the [things] from his house”) is stylistically better than Mark’s τι ἆραι ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ (ti arai ek tēs oikias avtou, “something to take from his house”), and it may be that the change from the singular (“something”) to plural (“things”) was influenced by the plural phrase τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ (“his belongings”), which we believe the author of Matthew would have found in Anth. It strikes us as distinctly odd for the possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ (avtou, “his”) to be attached to “house,” since the act of retrieval logically stresses the person’s ownership of the property, rather than of the house, which he is abandoning. But having replaced τὰ σκεύη (“the belongings”; L3) with τι (“something”; L7), the author of Mark was left with no other object that could take the possessive pronoun. In fact, Mark’s sentence would have made just as much sense if αὐτοῦ had been omitted altogether: ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω μηδὲ εἰσελθέτω τι ἆραι ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας (“The one on the roof, let him not go down nor enter to take something from the house”). Therefore, the presence of αὐτοῦ in Mark 13:15 should be regarded as a verbal relic, a word that is retained from an earlier source (in this case Luke and/or Anth.) even though it no longer serves a vital function in its redactional context.

לִיטּוֹל אוֹתָם (HR). In LXX αἴρειν (airein, “to take up”) almost always occurs as the translation of נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift,” “carry”),[27] but since we prefer to reconstruct direct speech in Mishnaic-style Hebrew, נָטַל (nāṭal, “take”) is a more suitable option for HR.[28]

L8 καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ (GR). We have accepted Matthew’s wording in L8 for GR. The Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark to use the preposition ἐν (en, “in”) strongly suggests that the author of Matthew had his eye on Anth. at this point, while Matthew’s use of the definite article before ἀγρός (agros, “field”), absent in Luke, is not only Hebraic, it parallels the definite article before δῶμα (dōma, “roof”) in L2, which occurs in all three versions of Lesson of Lot’s Wife. Luke’s ὁμοίως (homoiōs, “likewise”), meanwhile, looks like a Lukan stylistic improvement.[29] Moreover, we have found that ὁμοίως in Luke is often due to Lukan redaction.[30] Compare the author of Luke’s addition of ὁμοίως in L22 of Days of the Son of Man. There, as in Lesson of Lot’s Wife, the author of Luke used ὁμοίως to coordinate two parallel scenarios.

וּמִי שֶׁבַּשָּׂדֶה (HR). On reconstructing ἀγρός (agros, “field”) with שָׂדֶה (sādeh, “field”), see Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl, Comment to L4.

Whereas the first scenario takes place within a village, town or city, the second scenario unfolds outside the settlement’s limits.

Lot’s Wife, sculpted by William Hamo Thornycroft. Photographed by Stephencdickson. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L9 μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (GR). All three synoptic evangelists agreed to write μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω (mē epistrepsatō, “let him not turn back”). Luke and Mark agree on the phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (eis ta opisō, “to the behind”), while the author of Matthew shortened this to ὀπίσω (opisō, “behind”). However, it is only in Luke’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife that the prepositional phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω serves a vital function, namely to allude to the story of Sodom’s destruction.[31] In that account Lot and his family are warned not to look back (MT: אַל תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ [’al tabiṭ ’aḥarechā]; LXX: μὴ περιβλέψῃς εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω [mē periblepsēs eis ta opisō]; Gen. 19:17), and when Lot’s wife did look back (MT: וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ מֵאַחֲרָיו [vatabēṭ ’ishtō mē’aḥarāv]; LXX: καὶ ἐπέβλεψεν ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω [kai epeblepsen hē gūnē avtou eis ta opisō]; Gen. 19:26), she suffered tragic consequences. Without the words εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω in Luke 17:31 readers are unprepared for Jesus’ admonition in Luke 17:32 to remember Lot’s wife. By contrast, had the phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω been omitted from Mark’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, no reader unacquainted with the synoptic parallels would have sensed that anything was missing.[32] The logical conclusion to be reached from these observations is that the words εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω in Mark 13:16 are another verbal relic (see above, Comment to L7) from an earlier version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife. If that earlier version was not identical to Luke’s (as Lindsey’s hypothesis supposes), it must have resembled Luke’s version very closely indeed.

אַל יַבִּיט אַחֲרָיו (HR). Whereas in L5 we reconstructed μή (, “no,” “not”) with לֹא (lo’, “no,” “not”) in good MH style, here in L9 we have preferred to reconstruct μή with אַל (’al, “no,” “not”) because of the allusion to Gen. 19:17, where we read אַל תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ (’al tabiṭ ’aḥarechā, “do not look behind you”).

In LXX most instances of ἐπιστρέφειν (epistrefein, “to turn around”) occur as the translation of שָׁב (shāv, “return”),[33] however there are a few examples of ἐπιστρέφειν occurring as the translation of הִבִּיט (hibiṭ, “look”):

ἐπίστρεψον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἰδὲ ἐκ τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ ἁγίου σου καὶ δόξης

Turn around [ἐπίστρεψον] from heaven and see from your holy and glorious house! (Isa. 63:15)

הַבֵּט מִשָּׁמַיִם וּרְאֵה מִזְּבֻל קָדְשְׁךָ וְתִפְאַרְתֶּךָ

Look [הַבֵּט] from heaven and see from your holy and wonderful dwelling! (Isa. 63:15)

ἐπιστρέψατε καὶ ἴδετε εἰ ἔστιν ἄλγος κατὰ τὸ ἄλγος μου

Turn around [ἐπιστρέψατε] and see if there is anguish such as my anguish! (Lam. 1:12)

הַבִּיטוּ וּרְאוּ אִם־יֵשׁ מַכְאוֹב כְּמַכְאֹבִי

Look [הַבִּיטוּ] and see if there is anguish like my anguish! (Lam. 1:12)[34]

In view of the allusion to Gen. 19:17, הִבִּיט is the best option for HR.

It is significant that although the prohibition μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω (“let him not turn back”) clearly alludes to Gen. 19:17, the wording does not match that which occurs in LXX. The difference is not restricted to the person (second person in Gen. 19:17; third person in Lesson of Lot’s Wife), but includes the actual verb employed (περιβλέπειν [periblepein, “to look around”] in LXX; ἐπιστρέφειν [epistrefein, “to turn around”] in Lesson of Lot’s Wife). These differences suggest that Lesson of Lot’s Wife is not dependent on LXX but reflects the work of a Greek translator who translated directly from a Hebrew source (viz., the Hebrew Life of Yeshua) in which the allusion to Gen. 19:17 was already embedded.[35]

L10 ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ (Mark 13:16). Having omitted the reference to Lot’s wife, which would have fit awkwardly in the context where the author of Mark inserted these verses, the author of Mark was forced to come up with a new reason why a person in the field should not turn back. The reason he supplied (“to take his cloak”) parallels the reason for coming down from the roof in the first scenario (“to take something from his house”). Why the author of Mark specified a cloak and not some other belonging is anyone’s guess.

Pillar of salt near the Dead Sea traditionally identified as Lot’s wife. Photographed by Stéphanie Gromann. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L11-12 μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ (GR). Contrary to those scholars who regard the admonition to remember Lot’s wife as a Lukan addition,[36] we have cited evidence to suggest that the admonition is original.[37] It is merely the prejudice of Markan priority that causes some scholars to dogmatically attribute Luke 17:32 to Lukan redaction.

זִכְרוּ אֶת אֵשֶׁת לוֹט (HR). The verb μνημονεύειν (mnēmonevein, “to remember”) is relatively rare in LXX, but where it does occur it usually does so as a translation of זָכַר (zāchar, “remember”).[38] The LXX translators more frequently rendered זָכַר as μιμνήσκεσθαι (mimnēskesthai, “to remember”).[39] Nevertheless, there is no more suitable option for HR than זָכַר. The imperative in its plural form, זִכְרוּ (zichrū, “Remember!”), occurs in Isa. 46:8, 9; Jer. 51:50; Mal. 3:22; Ps. 105:5; 1 Chr. 16:12 (= μνημονεύετε), 15.

On reconstructing γυνή (gūnē, “woman,” “wife”) with אִשָּׁה (’ishāh, “woman,” “wife”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L12.

On reconstructing Λώτ (Lōt, “Lot”) with לוֹט (lōṭ, “Lot”), see Days of the Son of Man, Comment to L23.

The construct phrase אֵשֶׁת לוֹט (’ēshet lōṭ, “the wife of Lot”) does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. It does, however, occur in early rabbinic literature:

ומנין שהראהו אשת לוט שנא′ עד צוער

And whence do we learn that he [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] showed him [i.e., Moses—DNB and JNT] Lot’s wife [אֵשֶׁת לוֹט]? Because it is said, As far as Zoar [Deut. 34:3] [It was to Zoar that Lot fled with his wife and daughters; cf. Gen. 19:23—DNB and JNT]. (Mechilta de-Shimon ben Yohai 17:14 [ed. Epstein-Melamed, 125])

More often, Lot’s wife is referred to by the phrase אִשְׁתּוֹ שֶׁל לוֹט, as we see, for example, in the following rabbinic statement:

תנו רבנן הרואה…אשתו של לוט…צריך שיתן הודאה ושבח לפני המקום

Our rabbis taught [in a baraita]: The one who sees…Lot’s wife [אִשְׁתּוֹ שֶׁל לוֹט]…it is necessary that he should give thanks and praise in the presence of that place [or, in the presence of the Omnipresent One]. (b. Ber. 54a)

This ruling attests to the belief that the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was transformed according to Gen. 19:26 was still standing. This belief is also attested in Wis. 10:7, and Josephus claimed to have seen it himself (Ant. 1:203). Thus, in Jesus’ day Lot’s wife was understood to be a real and present reminder of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. To this day there are various mineral outcroppings near the Dead Sea that pilgrims identify as Lot’s wife.

Redaction Analysis

Luke’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife is much closer to Anth.’s form of this pericope than the versions appearing in Mark and Matthew. Many of the redactional changes the author of Mark made to Lesson of Lot’s Wife were aimed at integrating Lesson of Lot’s Wife into the secondary context of the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, although based on Mark’s, is a little closer to Anth.’s wording than Mark’s on account of the author of Matthew’s habit of “correcting” Mark’s wording on the basis of Anth.

Luke’s Version[40]

Lesson of Lot’s Wife
Luke Anthology
Total
Words:
34 Total
Words:
33
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
31 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Luke:
31
%
Identical
to Anth.:
91.18 % of Anth.
in Luke:
93.94
Click here for details.

The redactional changes the author of Luke made to Lesson of Lot’s Wife are extremely limited and stylistic in nature. In L2 the author Luke changed (“the [one]”) to ὃς ἔσται (“whoever will be”), and in L8 the author of Luke dropped the definite article before “field” and inserted ὁμοίως (“likewise”). Otherwise, he preserved intact Anth.’s wording of Lesson of Lot’s Wife.

Mark’s Version[41]

Lesson of Lot’s Wife
Mark Anthology
Total
Words:
28 Total
Words:
33
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
15 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Mark:
15
%
Identical
to Anth.:
53.57 % of Anth.
in Mark:
45.45
Click here for details.

In order to fit Lesson of Lot’s Wife into Jesus’ instructions about fleeing from the Roman invasion, the author of Mark dropped the words “in that day” (L1) and the reference to Lot’s wife (L11-12). The decision to omit Lot’s wife also required the author of Mark to supply in L10 a new reason for the prohibition against looking back. His addition to L10 probably influenced the author of Mark’s decision to postpone reference to the belongings of the man on the roof (L7) until the end of the first scenario (cf. GR L3), so as to maintain balance between the two scenarios. Thus, nearly all of Mark’s changes to Lesson of Lot’s Wife are related to his decision to insert this pericope into his eschatological discourse. The only Markan change to Lesson of Lot’s Wife unrelated to its integration into a new context is the addition of “and let him not enter” in L6, which appears to be a clumsy attempt to explain that only descent from the roof for the purpose of collecting belongings was prohibited, not descent per se.

Despite these redactional changes the author of Mark made to this pericope, Mark’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife provides valuable evidence that Lesson of Lot’s Wife originally concerned the coming military clash with the Roman Empire, not the eschatological appearance of the Son of Man.

Matthew’s Version[42]

Lesson of Lot’s Wife
Matthew Anthology
Total
Words:
24 Total
Words:
33
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
17 Total
Words
Taken Over
in Matt.:
17
%
Identical
to Anth.:
70.83 % of Anth.
in Matt.:
51.52
Click here for details.

Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife replicates that of Mark in most respects. The agreements of Matthew’s version with Luke against Mark are few (L7 [cf. L3]; L6; L8) and also happen to be literary and/or stylistic improvements. Thus, none of the author of Matthew’s changes to Lesson of Lot’s Wife were motivated by a desire to get back to a more original form of the pericope. The Matthean redaction in Lesson of Lot’s Wife was motivated by a desire for a tighter, more coherent presentation of Mark’s pericope.

Results of This Research

1. Is the reference to Lot’s wife a Lukan addition or an integral part of this pericope? We have discovered two crucial pieces of evidence that support the hypothesis that the reference to Lot’s wife in Luke is original to the pericope. The first piece of evidence is internal to the Gospels: the phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω occurs in the Lukan and Markan versions of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, but whereas the phrase εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω has a clear function in Luke—namely to allude to the story of Lot’s wife—this phrase serves no clear purpose in Mark. It therefore appears that εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω in Mark is a carryover or “verbal relic” from a pre-Markan version of the pericope that included a reference to Lot’s wife. The second piece of evidence is external to the Gospels: in t. Sanh. 14:4 Rabbi Eliezer bears witness to a tradition according to which Lot’s escape from Sodom leads to the reflection that in certain crises one should be grateful merely for having escaped with one’s life. The sequence of ideas in t. Sanh. 14:4 parallels the flow of thought in Luke 17, where Lesson of Lot’s Wife, which urges abandonment of one’s property in a time of crisis, leads into Preserving and Destroying, which discusses how one’s life is to be saved. These internal and external clues make for a strong case that the story of Lot and his wife stands behind the original version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife.

Conclusion

In Lesson of Lot’s Wife, Jesus warned his contemporaries that when the clash with the Roman Empire finally takes place, worrying about their possessions could come at the cost of their lives.


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Mineral outcropping near the Dead Sea traditionally identified as the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was transformed. Photographed by Wilson44691. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] Some scholars have maintained that the author of Luke extracted Lesson of Lot’s Wife from Mark’s eschatological discourse and inserted it after Days of the Son of Man. Cf., e.g., Bultmann, 117; Kloppenborg, 157-158; Nolland, Luke, 2:857; Catchpole, 248 n. 56; Bovon, 2:513. Others have supposed that Luke’s placement of Lesson of Lot’s Wife reflects the order of a pre-synoptic source (usually identified as “Q”). Cf., e.g., Manson, Sayings, 144-145; Knox, 1:113-114; Bundy, 390 §299. On the other hand, Fitzmyer (2:1165) argued for the original unity of Days of the Son of Man and Lesson of Lot’s Wife.
  • [4] In addition to the scholars mentioned in the previous footnote, see Beare, 187 §184.
  • [5] See Days of the Son of Man, under the subheading “Story Placement.”
  • [6] The author of Matthew changed “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man” to “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37). See Days of the Son of Man, Comment to L10. The author of Luke changed “so it will be in the days of the Son of Man” to “it will be like that in the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30). See Days of the Son of Man, Comment to L32 and Comment to L33-35.
  • [7] See Marshall, 664; Bovon, 2:514.
  • [8] Cf. Marshall, 665; Gundry, Matt., 483. Pace Kloppenborg (158 n. 247), who denied any influence from a non-Markan source on Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife.
  • [9] In LXX the phrase ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ occurs as the translation of בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא in Exod. 32:28; Num. 6:11; 9:6; Deut. 31:22; Josh. 4:14; 14:9; 1 Chr. 29:22; 2 Chr. 15:11; Ps. 145[146]:4; Hos. 2:18, 20, 23; Amos 2:16; 8:3, 9; Mic. 5:9; Obad. 8; Zeph. 1:9, 10; Zech. 12:8; 14:6; Jer. 4:9; Ezek. 20:6; 24:26, 27; 45:22.
  • [10] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L119-120.
  • [11] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:358.
  • [12] See Dos Santos, 34.
  • [13] See Shmuel Safrai, “Home and Family” (Safrai-Stern, 2:728-792, esp. 731-732).
  • [14] In each of the examples of housetop activities we have cited from rabbinic sources, the term for “roof” or “housetop” is גָּג.
  • [15] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1269-1271.
  • [16] See Dos Santos, 93.
  • [17] Additional references to כֵּלִים in houses include:

    נתחלפו לו כלים בבית האומן אינו רשיי לשתמש בהם

    If his tools [כֵּלִים] were mixed up [with someone else’s] in the workshop, he is not authorized to use them. (t. Bab. Kam. 10:22; Vienna MS)

    מעשה באחד ששכח כלים בבית הכנסת

    An anecdote concerning a person who forgot items [כֵּלִים] in the synagogue…. (t. Toh. 8:10 [ed. Zuckermandel, 669])

  • [18] See Dos Santos, 133.
  • [19] While Lot is not explicitly mentioned in the man-on-the-roof scenario, Lot had just been mentioned in Days of the Son of Man, and Lot’s wife is referenced in the man-in-the field scenario.
  • [20] On a positive view of Lot underlying Days of the Son of Man, see Days of the Son of Man, Comment to L33-35. A positive assessment of Lot’s character, however, was by no means unanimous in the ancient Jewish sources. Jubilees, for instance, expresses a sharply negative view of Lot (Jub. 16:7-9), while Philo viewed Lot as a mediocre man (Abr. §212). On differing views of Lot in ancient Jewish sources, see Erkki Koskenniemi, “‘Remember Lot’s Wife’: Gen 19:1-19 Rewritten,” in Rewritten Bible Reconsidered: Proceedings of the Conference in Karkku, Finland August 24-26 2006 (ed. Antti Laato and Jacques van Ruiten; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 125-147.
  • [21] The fact that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus is the tradent of the Tosefta tradition concerning Lot only strengthens our supposition regarding the shared background of t. Sanh. 14:4 and Lesson of Lot’s Wife, since Rabbi Eliezer, who lived both before and after the destruction of the Second Temple, had a reputation for handing on traditions that he had received from earlier generations of the Second Temple period (cf. m. Avot 2:8).
  • [22] An alternative to the reconstructions discussed above is מַה שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ (mah sheyēsh lō, “what that there is to him”). Examples of this type of expression also occur in rabbinic sources:

    המלך תפס את העבד בידו והכניסו לבית גנזיו והראהו כלי כסף וכלי זהב אבני′ טובות ומרגליות וכל מה שיש לו בבית גנזיו ומאחר כן הוציאו והראהו אילנות גנים ופרדסים וקרפיפות וכל מה שיש לו בשדות

    The king took the slave by the hand and brought him into the treasury and showed him items of silver and items of gold, gemstones and pearls, and all that he had [וְכָל מַה שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ] in his treasury. And after that, he brought him out and showed him trees and gardens and parks and enclosures and all that he had [וְכָל מַה שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ] in the fields. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, Shemot 3:8 [ed. Epstein-Melamed, 2])

    כל שיש לי בבית הזה מסור בידך

    All that I have [כָּל שֶׁיֵּשׁ לִי] in this house is given into your hand. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, §1 [ed. Schechter, 6])

    Nevertheless, our reconstruction of καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ (“and the belongings of him”) with וּנְכָסָיו (“and his property”) is closer to the Greek text of Luke 17:31.

  • [23] On the use of לֹא in MH to negate imperatives, see Segal, 223 §471.
  • [24] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:727-728.
  • [25] See Dos Santos, 85.
  • [26] Cf. Marshall, 665.
  • [27] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:34-36.
  • [28] On the form of the פ″נ infinitive in MH, see Segal, 78 §169.
  • [29] Cf. Marshall, 665.
  • [30] On ὁμοίως as an indicator of Lukan redaction, see Calamities in Yerushalayim, Comment to L13.
  • [31] Cf. Marshall, 665.
  • [32] In other words, the author of Mark could just as easily have written μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ (mē epistrepsatō arai to himation avtou, “let him not turn back to take his tunic”) with no appreciable loss of meaning. That this is the case is partially proven by Matthew’s version of Lesson of Lot’s Wife, in which εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω is shortened to ὀπίσω, which thereby reduces, but does not altogether eliminate, Mark’s superfluous phrase.
  • [33] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:531-534.
  • [34] There are also variant readings in 1 Kgdms. 16:7 (Alexandrinus) and Jonah 2:5 (Sinaiticus) where ἐπιστρέφειν occurs as the translation of הִבִּיט.
  • [35] On the other hand, in the writings of Philo we read this:

    τήν γὰρ Λὼτ γυναῖκα ἐπιστραφεῖσαν εἰς τοὐπίσω φασίν οἱ χρησμοὶ γενέσθαι στήλην ἁλός

    For the wife of Lot, turning back [ἐπιστραφεῖσαν] behind her—so say the oracles—became a pillar of salt. (Somn. 1:247)

    Philo here used a participial form of the same verb, ἐπιστρέφειν, used in Lesson of Lot’s Wife. Does this suggest that Philo and the author (or translator) of Lesson of Lot’s Wife were acquainted with a LXX variant that read μὴ ἐπιστρέψῃς in Gen. 19:17 instead of μὴ περιβλέψῃς?

  • [36] Cf., e.g., Bultmann, 117; Nolland, Luke, 2:857; Bovon, 2:521; Wolter, 2:311. On the other hand, Gundry (Matt., 493) and Fitzmyer (2:1165) accepted the admonition to remember Lot’s wife as original to Luke’s source.
  • [37] See above, Comment to L3, where we observed similarities between the complex of ideas represented in t. Sanh. 14:4 and the Lukan versions of Days of the Son of Man, Lesson of Lot’s Wife and Preserving and Destroying, and Comment to L9, where we concluded that εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω in Mark 13:16 is a verbal relic of an earlier version of the pericope that contained an allusion to the story of Lot’s escape from Sodom.
  • [38] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:931.
  • [39] See Dos Santos, 54.
  • [40]
    Lesson of Lot’s Wife
    Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὃς ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά καὶ ὁ ἐν ἀγρῷ ὁμοίως μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ
    Total Words: 34 Total Words: 33
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 31 Total Words Taken Over in Luke: 31
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 91.18% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Luke: 93.94%

  • [41]
    Lesson of Lot’s Wife
    Mark’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω μηδὲ εἰσελθέτω τι ἆραι ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ
    Total Words: 28 Total Words: 33
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 15 Total Words Taken Over in Mark: 15
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 53.57% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Mark: 45.45%

  • [42]
    Lesson of Lot’s Wife
    Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι τὰ ἐκ τῆς οἰκίας αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω ὀπίσω ἆραι τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά καὶ ὁ ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ
    Total Words: 24 Total Words: 33
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 17 Total Words Taken Over in Matt.: 17
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 70.83% Percentage of Anth. Represented in Matt.: 51.52%

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