But his wife was the salt of the earth

Lewinsky In the comments thread to my last, a reader pointed out this article from The New York Times Book Review. The reviewer, one Kathryn Harrison, looks at Lot’s Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women’s Quest for Authority.

The book, I gather, is a meditation on the story of Abraham’s nephew Lot: how he chose to live in Sodom and Gomorrah; how he attempted to spare the Lord’s messengers by offering his own daughters to would-be assailants; how his family (minus Lot’s salty bride) escaped to a mountain cave; and how the two daughters decided to “preserve the seed of our father” by getting him good and drunk and then sleeping with him.

At least, I think that’s what the book’s about. The review is rather difficult to penetrate, and it’s hard to know where the author ends and the reviewer begins. She waxes faux elegant that “biblical genealogy traces Lot’s seed through David all the way to Jesus.”

She’s not so much wrong as way off the mark: The descendents of Abraham, not Lot, are the primary line that eventually produces a certain carpenter from Nazareth. One of Lot’s daughters is said to have produced the Moabites, and Ruth the Moabite is part of Jesus’ family tree. However, the remove is so distant as to, well, remove the point that Harrison is trying to make: “Ultimately, the hope of mankind, of ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ arrives through an act of incest.”

No, I think the point is that the “hope of mankind” is part of the same messy, blemished historical process that churns us all up before churning us back under. To say that incest is a fact of human history is one thing, but Harrison, whose memoir The Kiss is an account of the incestuous relationship between her and her estranged father, is all about blurring lines and breaking down old taboos. And, in this case, she thinks she’s found the killer argument to stump the sermons and soda-water set.

Near the end, she segues into the story of Monica Lewinsky — apparently on the assumption that while she wasn’t Bill Clinton’s daughter, she was young enough to be his daughter. Harrison writes that “Lewinsky’s refusal to present herself as a victim may be news as good for women as Monica herself was bad news for Bill, ushering in an era in which women needn’t apologize for ambition, even when it’s vulgar and destructive. After all, she didn’t.”

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  • Carl

    Wow! Thanks for the followup. This blog is always one of my favorites, so I’m glad to get some feedback. Also, I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t understand what the reviewer was getting at in that article. Knowing that she’s the author of a memoir about incest does help fit the puzzle pieces together a little bit better though.

    Thanks again.


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