The story of Lot and his daughters strikes us today as disturbing, perhaps even immoral. But in Christian tradition Lot came to be revered and honored as Saint Lot. There are two explanations why this happened. According to the first, God did not blame Lot for the sin he committed with his daughters because they had made him drunk beforehand. The plotting daughters, for their part, seem to have been excused because they recognized the need to regenerate the world after the terrible annihilation they had witnessed. According to the second view, the story of Lot and his daughters, like others in the Old Testament, was written by Israelites who were perpetually at war with the Moabites and the Ammonites; the story is seen as having been written to discredit the origins of the Israelites’s traditional enemies to the east.

But Christian tradition does not hold Lot completely blameless, points out Vassilios Tzaferis.a “When Lot later met Abraham,” writes Tzaferis, “he asked him what he must do to atone.” According to a Christian legend first recorded in a 1231 A.D. text, Abraham gave Lot the three staffs left by the angels who had visited Abraham’s tent at Mamre to declare that in a year the then-90-year-old Sarah would give birth to a son (Genesis 18:10). “Abraham told Lot to plant the staffs near Jerusalem,” the legend continues, “and to water them with water from the Jordan River. If the staffs blossomed, it would be a sign that God had forgiven Lot’s transgression.” The legend relates that Lot planted the staffs outside the walls of Jerusalem. “In the 16th or 17th century,” Tzaferis notes, “the story was again embellished by adding that during King Solomon’s reign, the tree [that issued from the staffs] was used to supply timber for the Temple. But the timbers would fit nowhere so they were discarded as useless and accursed.” The discarded timbers then became the cross on which Jesus was crucified. A church was built in the sixth century on the spot where Lot is said to have planted the angels’ staffs. Today, on the foundations of that early church stands the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross, a striking landmark in the valley near the center of Jerusalem, right below the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, and the Israel Museum.

Islamic tradition was also interested in Lot, who is described as a prophet in the Qur’an (Sura 37: 134). Early-ninth-century A.D. Arabic inscriptions may indicate a Muslim interest in Lot. In the tenth century A.D., Arab writers such as Yaqut and Ibn ‘Abbas mention the story of Lot and add the names of his two daughters, Rubbah and Saghur, and identify the two springs by which each was supposed to have been buried. These springs may correspond to the two main water sources in the area, one near the village of Safi and the other at Deir ‘Ain ‘Abata.—K.P.