The Sanctity and Cult of Lot
|In 1913, when an Arab cleared the site of the church of SS. Lot and Procopius for the purpose of putting up a building, the first mosaic pavement of Kh. al-Mukhayyat became known. The discovery was communicated to Father Abel, by Father Maurice Gisler, O.S.B., in a letter dated Dec. 1, 1913; the former published a description of the mosaic and discussed the three Greek inscriptions which indicated that the mosaic belonged to a church dedicated to SS. Lot and Procopius (Revue Biblique 1914, 112ff; 1915, 91f). Both the mosaic and in particular the inscriptions were treated repeatedly since then and will be dealt in detail below...|
"O God of St. Lot"
Detail of Inscription no. 12, from the Church of SS. Lot and Procopius at Khirbat al-Mukhajjat - Mt. Nebo
The complete inscription reads: "At the time of the most holy and most saintly bishop John Your holy place was built and finished by its priest and sacristan Barichas in the month of November of the times of the sixth infiction. O God of Saint Lot and of Saint Procopius, receive the offering and the present of the brothers Stephen and Elias, the children of Cometissa. O God of the holy martyrs, receive the present of Sergius and Procopius his son. For the welfare of Rabatha (the daughter) od Anastasia and for the repose of John (the son) of Anastasius and for those who contributed; the Lord knows their names."
"O St. Lot"
Inscription no. 13, from the Church of SS. Lot and Procopius at Khirbat al-Mukhajjat - Mt. Nebo
The inscription reads: "O St. Lot, receive the prayer of Rome and Porphyria and Mary, your servants."
|The invocations in inscriptions 12 and 13 addressed to "the God of St. Lot" and to "St. Lot" reveal the fact that Lot was believed to be a saint and that he actually enjoyed a special veneration. As a matter of fact this belief is based on the narrative of Genesis and strengthened by the statements of the Book of Wisdom 10,6; 19,16 and the Second Epistle of St. Peter 2,7 f. So we need not be surprised to hear that this conviction led to a special veneration of him, at least in certain circles. In fact our inscriptions are not the only witnesses of Lot's sanctity and cult; we find further evidence of both in the writings of the ancient Fathers, in a number of ancient calendars and martyrologies and in inscriptions; monuments, both ancient and modern, and some legends testify the same; in short, a thin thread of tradition bearing witness to this fact can be traced through the millennia which separate us from the time of Lot. Since the time is long and the list of saints is constantly growing we need not be surprised to find that in our time the tradition has grown somewhat dim, but it has not died out completely, as visitors to the convent of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem can still ascertain. The ancient sources to which we have referred make it clear that Lot not only kept himself free from the crimes which brought down the vengeance of God on his fellow-citizens, but practiced positive virtues, such as hospitality, which made him so pleasing in the eyes of God that he himself was spared when his fellow-citizens were destroyed, and at his intercession the inhabitants of the small town of Bala, later known as Segor, were likewise spared (Gen 19).
The invocations in inscriptions 12 and 13 addressed to "the God of St. Lot" and to "St. Lot" reveal the fact that Lot was believed to be a saint and that he actually enjoyed a special veneration. As a matter of fact this belief is based on the narrative of Genesis and strengthened by the statements of the Book of Wisdom 10,6; 19,16 and the Second Epistle of St. Peter 2,7 f. So we need not be surprised to hear that this conviction led to a special veneration of him, at least in certain circles. In fact our inscriptions are not the only witnesses of Lot's sanctity and cult; we find further evidence of both in the writings of the ancient Fathers, in a number of ancient calendars and martyrologies and in inscriptions; monuments, both ancient and modern, and some legends testify the same; in short, a thin thread of tradition bearing witness to this fact can be traced through the millennia which separate us from the time of Lot. Since the time is long and the list of saints is constantly growing we need not be surprised to find that in our time the tradition has grown somewhat dim, but it has not died out completely, as visitors to the convent of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem can still ascertain. The ancient sources to which we have referred make it clear that Lot not only kept himself free from the crimes which brought down the vengeance of God on his fellow-citizens, but practiced positive virtues, such as hospitality, which made him so pleasing in the eyes of God that he himself was spared when his fellow-citizens were destroyed, and at his intercession the inhabitants of the small town of Bala, later known as Segor, were likewise spared (1).
Canonized, so to say, in Genesis Lot was acknowledged as "a just man" both by the author of the book of Wisdom (2) and in the Second Epistle of Peter (3); this latter writer holds up Lot as a model and patron for the early Christians, who were living in conditions not much different from those in which he lived; since he, in spite of his surroundings, kept himself pure the Christians could and should do likewise (4).
The early Fathers of the church, such as Tertullian, Augustine, Ambrose and Chrysostom, accept the testimony of the Scriptures; they extol Lot's justice and above all his hospitality, and do not hesitate to call him a saint (5).
That the judgement of the Scriptures and Fathers led to a special veneration of Lot, we know not only from the two inscriptions in our church at Mekhayyat, but also from the inscription in a church at Madaba and from the church of Lot at Segor.
In the Orthodox Greek church at Madaba there is still preserved the interesting mosaic map of the Holy Land, illustrating a very large number of holy places; these places are accompanied by texts which make it clear just what the artist intended. One of those texts reads: To tou Hagiou Lot, that is, "the sanctuary of Saint L(ot). From the illustration it appears that the last two letters of the proper name are missing, so there was at first some hesitation regarding the name to be supplied, in spite of the fact that the first letter was certain and that the inscription referred to a church in the immediate vicinity of Segor, the place spared at the intercession of Lot; but after the discovery of the inscriptions at Mekhayyat, which clearly proclaim Lot a saint, all doubts have vanished and the inscription of Madaba is now taken as another clear proof of the veneration of Lot in these regions (6).
The inscription on the map of Madaba refers to a church, which is represented as standing near the edge of the hills to the cast of the town, which in the Bible (7) was called Bala(k) and Segor and in Byzantine times Zoora (8); today that oasis is known as Ghor et-Safi. The ruins in this Ghor have been explored by quite a number of scholars (9), who have found remains which could well have belonged to a church (10): bases, shafts, capitals - one with a cross, several stones with crosses, etc. (11) On the side of a cliff there is a small hermitage (12) with a Greek inscription scratched into the wall, which reads : "0 Lord God of this holy place, come to the help of your servant.--- Future investigations may reveal more about the church of Lot at Segor, whose existence is rendered certain by the testimony of the Madaba map.
|In the Christian Liturgy. A feast in honor of Lot or at least a commemoration of him in the liturgy is further evidence of his sanctity and veneration. One witness of such a feast is the lectionary found in 1911 by the archpriest Kekelidse in the church of St. George in the village of Lah'ili in the Caucasus and published by him in the following year. A second witness of the same fact is the lectionary of the National Library of Paris in the Georgian manuscript no. 3. Both of these lectionaries shed light on the calendar used by the Georgians at Jerusalem shortly before the Arab invasion of the seventh century, as Goussen (13) believes, or about the beginning of the eighth century according to P. Abel. (14) The interesting rubrics in these lectionaries were collected and published in 1923 by Henrich Goussen (15), who added some useful notes. According to him (16) the Parisian manuscript has the following for October 9th: "On Golgotha (sic) near Bethlehem the commemoration of the Patriarch Abraham and of the just Lot and the deposition of the Apostle Andrew." For the same day in the Lah'ili lectionary we read : In Galilee (sic) the memory of the Patriarch Abraham and the Just Lot." The epithet just " given to Lot in both lectionaries is the same as the one given to him in the Book of Wisdom and in the Second Epistle of Peter and suggests a dependence on those sources. For our purpose this detail suffices, though the topographical indications and the references to several other saints are not without interest.
The two texts mention three places: the Parisian, Golgotha and Bethlehem ; the other, Galilee; the other saints are Abraham and the Apostle Andrew. At first sight it looks as if there were a contradiction between the different sources in the topographical indications. This however, is not necessarily the case, for also the two other saints mentioned in the text were commemorated on various days and in different places. St. Andrew, for instance, was commemorated not only on Golgotha, but also at the Anastasis (November 30) and at the Apostoleion on the Mount of Olives (March 5, April 29, August 17); Abraham was commemorated on Golgotha not only on October 9th, but also on August 21st, and Grethenios (about 1400 ) vouches for the fact that he had a special place of veneration on tile Mount of Olives (17). This last mentioned fact has led both Goussen (18) and Abel (19) to the conclusion that the Galilee mentioned in our text was not the one in the northern part of Palestine but the one on the Mount of Olives, especially since from this place the region near the Dead Sea is visible and it might have served to recall the separation of Abraham and Lot recorded in Genesis 13, though the same event may have been commemorated also at Bethel, as we shall see immediately.
The Parisian manuscript states that on October 9th both Lot and Abraham were commemorated on Golgotha. Golgotha figures a number of times in these lectionaries and in each case the place of the crucifixion of Our Saviour is meant, so we have every reason to think that also in this case that same place is meant, especially since tradition ever since the fourth century (20) has associated with it the memory of Abraham, and on August 21st he had a special commemoration there along with Isaac and Jacob (21). There would not have been the least doubt about the place in question if it had not been for the phrase which follows which seems to locate Golgotha near Bethlehem. But in the light of what has already been said, it seems best to hold that in our case Golgotha means the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, known also as Calvary.
The addition near Bethlehem" after the proper name "Golgotha" as given rise to a number of conjectures, since no Golgotha near Bethlehem is known. Bethlehem itself is mentioned a number of times in these lectionaries and in every case it means the town in which Jesus was born; in no other passages are Lot or Abraham associated with it. Since we think that by Golgotha the place of that name in Jerusalem is meant, it seems necessary to postulate some error here. One solution proposed by Father Abel (22) is that instead of Golgotha one should read "Gallim-Galla-Beit-jala," which is "near Bethlehem." In this case the memory of Lot would have been celebrated at Beit-Jala.
But Father Abel has also another solution for the difficulty; instead of "near Bethlehem," he says, one might possibly read "near Bethel," and in this case the church at el-Mokâter, described in the SWP 11, p. 353, might be meant. This suggestion pleased Schneider, (23) who, however, proposed a slight modification; he would prefer to locate the assumed church of Lot and Abraham at Burj Betin, which is also near Bethel, whilst at el-Mokâter or Khirbet el-Makâtir he proposes to locate a memorial of Jacob. (24) The substitution of Bethel for Bethlehem has this in its favor that it takes us into a region rich in memories of Lot and Abraham and would be a very natural place for keeping alive those memories by special liturgical functions,
From what has been said are we to conclude that there was a place near Bethel which was called Golgotha or are we to assume a text which sounds something like this : "At Golgotha (and) near Bethel," etc.? In the first case our lectionaries would indicate two places in which Lot was commemorated in a special way; in the second case, three.
The tradition regarding the sanctity and veneration of Lot represented by the two lectionaries which we have just studied was continued by medieval martyrologies listed by Dom Henri Quentin (25) and Migne. (26) These have separated the commemoration of Lot from that of Abraham; whilst the latter continues to be commemorated on October 9th, Lot is placed on October 10th and in one case on October 12th. Moreover, the epithet given to Lot is no longer " just" but "prophet." The Bollandists, (27) finally, also mention Lot on October 10th, but this mention is reduced to a single word - the proper name, without any addition whatsoever. In our present-day martyrologies the name has disappeared completely.
Even if the commemoration of Lot has disappeared from our liturgical books, his memory still lives on here in the East in a number of place names and monuments. The place names, such as Bahr Lut, (28) Qubbet Lût (29) and Kefr Lot, (30) cannot readily be taken as evidence of the sanctity and cult of Lot, but his memorials at Beni Na'im, Nebi Yakin and the convent of the Holy Cross can.
|At Beni Na'im, 51 km. east of Hebron, there is a mosque in which Mohammedans venerate the tomb of Lot. Inscriptions (31) on the cenotaph state that " this is the tomb of Lot, peace and blessings be on him;- and "my Lord Lût is an apostle of God." "Apostle" is more than a prophet; the same term is applied to Mohammed in that inscription. In literary sources Mader (32) has traced this tradition back to the time of Daniel the Russian (1106-7). Since the mosque contains material decorated with a cross Mader thinks that the mosque may have been preceded by a Byzantine church in which a cenotaph may possibly have preserved the memory of Lot, not far from the tomb of Abraham at Hebron.
At Nebi Yakin, (33) about half an hour's walk south of Beni Na'im, some imaginary footprints and a cave, associated with Lot, are the objects of special veneration.
At the monastery of the Holy Cross the memory of Lot is kept alive by a grotto, an altar and pictures. At the time of writing (1948) the political situation does not permit me to visit the monastery personally, but Dr. A. Schmidt, who is living at the monastery at present, supplied me with the following information. In the garden, about 150 m. from the monastery, there is a grotto which is associated with Lot and at one time evidently served as a chapel. Steps lead into this natural cave which is about 10 steps in diameter; above the cave there is an area paved with stones; nearby is the cemetery of the community. In the church itself on the wall around an altar dedicated to Lot there are modern pictures which illustrate the legend associated with that spot. The pictures represent three angels visiting Abraham ; on leaving they forget their sticks. Then comes the destruction of Sodom and the flight of Lot. Another scene shows Abraham giving Lot the three sticks, which he should plant and water and if they become a tree it will be clear that God has pardoned Lot whatever guilt he may have incurred. The water had to be fetched from the Jordan and to be efficacious it was necessary that no one drank of it. Year after year Lot went to the Jordan to get water and each time on his way back he encountered Satan disguised as a poor woman who asked for a drink and so the water was rendered useless; this continued for 36 years; finally in the 37th year Lot succeeded in bringing back water from which no one had drunk; it caused the sticks to grow; they united into one tree which later furnished the wood on which the Redeemer of the world was crucified. This legend evidently has the purpose of showing that Lot, even if he had sinned, did penance, was forgiven and reconciled with God. The place where the sticks were planted, watered and grew is pointed out beneath the altar near the afore-mentioned pictures. It still bears witness to the fact that Lot was considered a saint and thus carries on the tradition of which the two inscriptions at Mekhayyat are some of the oldest witnesses. (34)
The story regarding the origin of the wood of the cross was probably associated with the monastery of the Holy Cross from its very foundation, but its form varied. The older form, which we find in the Legenda Aurea Sanctorum, written by Jacobus de Voragine in the 13th century, does not make any mention of Lot ; in his place we find Seth who obtained three seeds from the tree of life of Paradise which he placed in the mouth of Adam at his death; those seeds produced the tree from which was derived the wood which served as the cross of the Redeemer. The purpose of the story is clear; it wanted to link the tree of life in Paradise with the cross, which became the tree of life for redeemed mankind. The persons in the story evidently had a secondary significance and so we find that in its later form Abraham and Lot were substituted for Adam and Seth, perhaps because the former two, who were closely connected with these regions, had a more immediate appeal to the imagination and sympathy of the local people. The transition from the older form to the more recent one can be noted already in about the middle of the l4th century, when Fra Niccol6 of Poggibonsi associates the wood of the cross not only with Adam and Seth (35) but in some way already with Abraham; (36) Lot is not yet mentioned; Lot begins to figure in the legend only about the beginning of the 15th century. Koikylides and Phokylides; (37) have listed a number of pilgrims of the 15th and 16th century who state that Lot planted the twigs which became the tree from which was taken the wood of the cross. The association of Lot with the tree of the cross had to be accounted for; this was done in the course of time, as we learn from the Annales of Michael Glycas (Parisl 1660, in folio); (38) in local tradition the explanations varied slightly, as we can see by comparing the account given above with the accounts given by L. Bauer, (39) G. M. Crowfoot and L. Baldensperger, (40) Tobler, (41) Peradze, (42) the authors of various guides, (43) etc. (44) The aim of this later form of the story seems to be to inculcate the obligation of doing penance for sins committed ; lie who perseveres in penance will obtain pardon from God, just as Lot did.
(1) See Genesis 19.
(2) "She (wisdom) delivered the just man (Lot) who fled from the wicked..." Wisdom 10,6; "But they were struck with blindness, as those others were at the door of the just man..." Wisdom 19,16.
(3) "And delivered just Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked - For in sight and hearing he was just: dwelling among them, who from day to day vexed the just soul with unjust words." 2 Peter 2,7 f.
(4) 2 Peter 2,9 : "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly from temptation."
(5) Zschokke, Die Biblischen Frauen des Allen Testaments, Freiburg in Breisgau, 1882, pp. 73-88, gives detailed references.
(6) See RB 1914, p. 114; ib. 1910, p. 112; Croisière pp. 88 ff.; C. M. Kaufmann, Handbuch der altchristlichen Epigraphic, Freiburg in Bresgau, 1917, p. 439.
(7) Genesis 14, 2
(8) Onom. p. 42, lines 1 ff. ; in the notes ib. variants are indicated; the Onom. was evidently used by the author of the Madaba map and in certain cases his text was better than the one that has come down to us.
(9) See F. M. Abel, Géog. II, p. 466: So'ar (Zoora).
(10) ZDPV 57 (1934), p. 204 and Plan 9; see also pp. 205, 207.
(11) Biblica 5 (1924), p. 437; p. 435, Fig. 17; RB 1931, pp. 95-8; see SEG 8, nos. 334 and 335.
(12) ZDPV 1934, pp. 207 f.; 1935, pp. 72 ff.
(13) LK 1923, p. 3.
(14) RB 1914, p. 454.
(15) LK 1923, pp. 1-42.
(16) Ib. p. 35.
(17) RB 1914. p. 462. no. 44.
(18) LK 1923, p. 35.
(19) RB 1914. p. 462, no. 44.
(20) RB 1924, pp. 611 f., no. 2.
(21) 1923. p. 29.
(22) RB 1924, p. 618, no. 35.
(23) ZDPV 1934, p. 189.
(24) Ib. pp. 186 ff. - On p. 190 he states that, according to the Georgian calendar published by Goussen, LK 1923, p. 35, there was a commemoration of Jacob at - Bethel this is wrong; the calendar, 1.c., has " Bethlehem."
(25) Les Martyrologes Historiques du Mogen Age, Paris, 1908, pp. 349, 442, 483, 587, 596.
(26) PL 123, cols. 22, 171 f., 377 ; 124, col. 559, where we find the following observation to the 10th of October of Usuard's martyrology : "Lot propheta... in Romano parvo hodie (Oct. 10) ponitur, unde in Adonem et Notkerum transiit, a nostro ( sc. ab Usuardo Monacho, saec. 9 ) praetermissus, sed a Wandalberto hoc ornatus elogio: Senis justitiae titulis Loth sanctus adornat." And among the auctaria to Usuard for Oct. 12 we read, PL 124, col. 568: "Hagenoyen. huc refert Loth prophetam cum vitae compendio, ex sacris litteris de more collecto."
(27) Offord, QS 1915, p. 92, has the following : "In a work entitled Liber Vitae by Walter de Grey Birch the author mentions Lot as included in a list of Sanctified and Beatified Patriarchs of the Old Testament; the source which he quotes for this fact is "Stone 960" in the British Museum."
(28) This is the name which the Arabs give to the Dead Sea; Father Abel has collected the traditions which associated Lot with this sea and its surroundings in Une Croisière autour de la Mer Morte, Paris, 1911, pp. 87 if. - Clermont-Ganneau, Gomorrhe, Sêgor et les Filles de Lot in Revue archéologique 33 (1877), p. 198, lists a number of persons who have become geographical entities; besides Lot and his daughters, also: Sihon: Chihan, 'Og: Au'djè, Chobak: Chaubak. 'Eglon : 'Adjloun, Bela': Bela' (Segor), Balaq: Balqa.
(29) AASOR 13 (1933). p. 67 (at el-Mishrifeh); see Les Guides Bleus: Syrie, Palestine, p. 120.
(30) ARP 11, p. 472; QS 1897, p. 220.
(31) JPOS 4 (1924), pp. 21 f.. nos. 9 ff.
(32) ACB pp. 157-165.
(33) Ib. pp. 166-168.
(34) The doubt might easily arise in someone's mind whether our inscriptions really refer to the Lot mentioned in the Bible. Could they not possibly refer to some other saint of this name ? The writer has taken that possibility into consideration, though no one else has ever mentioned it. A careful search in martyrologies, etc., proved that this name is indeed very rare ; the writer could find only two other saints with this name . In the Vitae Patrum (PL 73, cols. 913, 936 and 942) there are short notices of an abbot by the name of Lot; in two instances he is merely mentioned in connection with his disciple Peter ; in the third instance there is a somewhat longer notice informing us that " the abbot Lot came to the abbot Joseph and said to him: Abbot, according to my strength I observe the rule after a fashion, fast a little, pray, meditate, rest, and according to my strength I strive to purify my thoughts; what else then must I do ? Thereupon rising the old man raised his hands towards heaven and his fingers became as ten lamps of fire and he said to him : If you wish you shall become entirely as fire." -Another "Saint Abba Lot" is mentioned under date of April 26 in the Syriac manuscript LXIX of the Vatican. which was written at Aleppo in 1547 by Phadlalla from Jerusalem and seems to represent an old Jerusalem tradition ; see F. Nau, Un Martyrologe et Douze Ménologues Syriaques in PO 10 (1915), Paris, p. 76,9 -- Seeing that the Biblical Lot really enjoyed a reputation as a saint it would be difficult to imagine that he should have been supplanted in the very territory where his descendants lived by a rather obscure and little know saint. For me it seems certain that our inscription refer to the nephew of Abraham.
(35) A Voyage beyond the Seas (1346-1350), translated by T. Bellorini and E. Hoade, Jerusalem, 1945, p. 57 "The cross of Christ was the wood which Seth the son of Adam, our father, brought from paradise..."
(36) Ib.: "In the centre of the church there is a wall with a door, on which is painted St. Abraham, and how here sprang up the tree of the holy cross..."
(37) APXAIA, Jerusalem, 1912, pp. 478, 483, 497, 528, 547.
(38) Migne, Dictionnaire des Apocryphes II, Paris, 1858, cols. 469 f.; the same in English in E. Pierotti. Jerusalem Explored I, 1864, p. 243,
(39) Das Palästinische Arabische, Leipzig, 1913, pp. 180 f.
(40) From Cedar to Hyssop, London, 1932, pp. 130-133 (various forms of the legend are given).
(41) Topographie von Jerusalem und seine Umgebungen, II, Pp. 733 f.
(42) An Account of the Georgian Monks and Monasteries in Palestine in Georgica, Autumn, 1937, pp. 220 f.; see also p. 203.
(43) Ancient and Modern Palestine, II, p. 4; Meistermann, Guide, London, 1923, p. 292.
(44) Jér. II, pp. 942 f.
|This contribution was first published in: The Town of Nebo (Khirbet el-Mekhayyat). With a Brief Survey of Other Ancient Christian Monuments in Transjordan, Jerusalem 1949, 5.193-199.|