Son of Haran, Abraham's brother, and, consequently, nephew of Abraham; emigrated with his grandfather, Terah, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran (Gen. xi. 31). Lot joined Abraham in the land of Canaan, and in the time of famine went with him to Egypt (ib. xii. 4, xiii. 1). Owing to Lot's riches in flocks and tents a quarrel arose between his herdsmen and those of Abraham, the result of which was the separation of uncle and nephew. Lot chose the fertile plain of the Jordan, and extended his tents to Sodom (ib. xiii. 5-12). After the defeat of the King of Sodom and his allies in the valley of Siddim, Lot, who had been dwelling among them, was taken prisoner, with all his family and property, by Chedorlaomer; but he was rescued by Abraham (ib. xiv. 12-16).
In Gen. xix. Lot is represented as the counterpart of Abraham in regard to hospitality: like Abraham, he rose to meet the angels, whom he took for men, bowing to them; and, like Abraham, too, he "pressed" them to enter his house and "made them a feast" (ib. xix. 1-3). When his dwelling was surrounded by the profligate people of Sodom, Lot placed his duty as a host above that as a father and offered them his two unmarried daughters. The angels then announced to him that their mission was to destroy the guilty cities, and urged him to leave the place. Lot tried, but unsuccessfully, to persuade his sons-in-law to leave also. He himself hesitated to flee, and the angels took him, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand, "the Lord being merciful unto him," and led him out of the city. They then enjoined him to flee to the mountain without looking behind him; but the mountain being so far off Lot requested them to spare the small city of Zoar in order that he might find refuge there; and his request was granted. During the flight to Zoar, Lot's wife, who looked behind her, was turned into a pillar of salt (ib. xix. 4-22, 26).
Lot, fearing that Zoar, also, might be destroyed eventually, went up to the mountain and dwelt in a cave, where, by an incestuous intercourse with his two daughters, he became the ancestor of the two nations Moab and Ammon (ib. xix. 30-38). Lot is twice mentioned in the expression "children of Lot," applied to Ammon and Moab (Deut. ii. 19; Ps. lxxxiii. 8).
Lot is generally represented by the Rabbis in an unfavorable light. When the quarrel arose between his shepherds and those of Abraham (Gen. xiii. 7), there was a quarrel between Abraham and Lot also. The latter sent his flocks to graze in fields that did not belong to him; and when Abraham, induced by the complaints of the wronged owners, remonstrated,Lot showed himself rebellious (Targ. of pseudo-Jonathan and Yer. to Gen. xiii. 7; Pesiḳ. R. 3 [ed. Friedmann, pp. 9b-10a]; Gen. R. xli. 6-7). Lot, while separating himself from Abraham, separated himself from God also, saying, "I have no desire either in Abraham or in his God" (Gen. R. xli. 9-10). It was only after the wicked ("rasha'") Lot had left Abraham that God spoke again to the latter (Pesiḳ. R. l.c.; comp. Gen. xiii. 14). Lot was given over to lust; therefore he chose Sodom as his residence (Pesiḳ. R. l.c.; Gen. R. xli. 9), and his daughters' act of incest was due to his neglect. The account of it was therefore read every Saturday in the synagogues as a warning to the public (Nazir 23b; Gen. R. li. 12).
The above-mentioned incident of the flocks shows that Lot was not too conscientious; he was besides very greedy of wealth; and at Sodom he practised usury (Gen. R. li. 8). His hesitation to leave the city (comp. Gen. xix. 16) was due to his regret for his great wealth which he was obliged to abandon (Gen. R. l. 17). The Rabbis cited the drunkenness of Lot as an example of the degree of intoxication which renders a man irresponsible ('Er. 65a). All the special favors which Lot received from God were granted through the merit of Abraham; otherwise he would have perished with the people of Sodom (Gen. R. xli. 4; Midr. ha-Gadol to Gen. xiii. 11). His being spared at the time of the destruction of Sodom is recorded also as a reward for not having betrayed Abraham when the latter told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister (ib. li. 8).
The Pirḳe Rabbi Eli'ezer, however, shows a much milder attitude toward Lot, interpreting the word "ẓaddiḳ" of Gen. xviii. 23 as referring to him (Pirḳe R. El. xxv.). Besides passing over in silence Lot's shameful deeds, it records the hospitality which, in imitation of Abraham, he practised at Sodom: even after the people of Sodom had proclaimed that any hospitable person would be burned, he continued to practise it under cover of night. This trait is mentioned also in Gen. R. (l. 8); but it is there narrated in a manner which renders Lot's merits insignificant. It is further said (ib. l. 9; Lev. R. xxiii.) that Lot pleaded the whole night in favor of the people of Sodom. The Alphabet of Ben Sira (ed. Bagdad, pp. 2b, 17b, 19b), apparently borrowing from the Koran (suras vii. 78-82, xxii. 43), calls Lot "a perfectly righteous man" ("ẓaddiḳ gamur") and prophet (comp. II Peter ii. 7, 8; Epstein, "Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim," 121).
Genesis Rabbah (l. 14) concludes that Lot had at the time of the destruction of Sodom four daughters, two married and two betrothed, and that the latter escaped with their father. But he had previously had a daughter named Peloṭet, who was married to one of the inhabitants of Sodom. She secretly practised hospitality, but being one day discovered by the people of Sodom, was sentenced to be burned (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," "Lek Leka," ed. Leghorn, p. 23a). Lot's wife, called "'Irit" or "'Idit," desirous to see whether her other two daughters followed her, looked behind her; but she then saw the back of the Shekinah and was accordingly punished for her imprudence (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.). She was turned into a pillar of salt because she had previously sinned by not giving salt to strangers (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan and Yer. to Gen. xix. 26; comp. Gen. R. li. 7). According to a legend, oxen used to consume every day the pillar of salt by licking it down to the toes, but it was restored by the morning (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; Sefer ha-Yashar, "Wayera," p. 28a, b). Lot's wife, being turned into a pillar of salt, was not considered as a dead body, contact with which rendered one unclean (Niddah 70b). The transformation was one of those miraculous occurrences at sight of which one must recite a benediction (Ber. 54a).
Lot is regarded by the critics as an eponym representing the supposed common ancestor of the two tribes or nations of Moab and Ammon. His relation to Abraham is in this view intended to mark the ethnographic connection of these two tribes with the Israelites; and his choice of an eastern location may be taken as indicating a voluntary relinquishment of all claims of the Moabites and Ammonites to Canaan. His relations with his daughters probably represent some rough pleasantry common among the Israelitish folk and indicating their scorn for their nearest neighbors. Fenton, however ("Early Hebrew Life"), suggests that in a matriarchal state such unions would not be indecorous, since in social stages where descent was tracedonly through the mother the father would be no relation to the children.
The story about Lot's wife, also, bears marks of popular origin, and is regarded by critics and travelers as a folk-legend intended to explain some pillar of crystallized rock-salt resembling the female human form. Owing to its composition, such a pillar would soon dissolve. One in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea was identified by Josephus ("Ant." i. 11, § 4) as that of Lot's wife; and another (or the same) had that name at the time of Clement of Rome (I Cor. xi. 2).
As Lot is declared to have dwelt in a cave (Gen. xix. 30), Ewald ("History of Israel," i. 313) and Dillmann (ad loc.) identify him with Lotan, the leader of one of the tribes of Horites or cave-dwellers (Gen. xxxvi. 22, 29). The Dead Sea is still called "Baḥr Luṭ."