“Have you ever known sisters to deliver babies on the same day?” asked Hodesh.
“Never,” replied her fellow midwife, Jemima. “But if rumors are true, there is reason for this ‘coincidence.’”
“I do not traffic in rumors.”
“Of course not, Hodesh.” Jemima, the younger of the two, cleared her throat unnecessarily and placed soiled linens in a woven bag to carry to the stream for washing. “Shall I take your laundry with me while you stay to watch over the babies?”
“That would be a kindness.” Hodesh looked toward the tent where the two women lay with their newborn sons. “Have you ever seen two babies who looked more alike and yet were not twins? Remarkable.”
“Not so remarkable, I think. As I said, if rumors are true …”
“Hush, Jemima. And thank you for taking my linens.” Hodesh handed her bag over as a manner of dismissing her friend’s gossip and ducked back into the tent.
Jemima settled herself on a low rock on the streambank where other women had gathered to wash their laundry.
“So, Jemima,” one called out, “Are the women well? Are their babies healthy?”
“I would be surprised if they even lived,” another said. “Such wickedness in their family!”
Jemima, remembering Hodesh’s gentle rebuke, merely said, “They each have very healthy sons. Strong and robust little ones, and that is a blessing.”
“A blessing? This world is not fair,” the second woman said as she gathered her clean clothes and pounded her feet into the loose soil with each step up the bank to her small house nearby.
“Do not mind her words, Jemima. She is …”
“I know. I have been there for one of the deliveries, the last of the stillbirths she has suffered. Her hopes of becoming a mother are fading with each passing year.” Jemima turned her attention to a particularly soiled cloth that she plunged once more into the cool, rushing water.
“I am glad you returned to Zoar to have your children,” Hodesh told the new mothers. One sat up against some pillows nursing her child while her younger sister lay back with her baby already full and slumbering upon her breast. She looked to be nodding off as well.
“My sister was frightened to come into town again,” said the older sister, Paltith, “considering what we’d … after our … well, our father … .”
“Yes, yes, it would be hard to have stayed, though. You said you had lived in a cave?” asked Hodesh. “That’s certainly no place to deliver a child, let alone two on the same day. You two would have been no help to one another, and I doubt your father would have known what to do if there had been complications.”
“You know of our father?”
“I recall when you three first arrived from Sodom. You barely escaped its destruction.”
“Yes, but we left again so soon I wasn’t sure if anyone remembered us.”
“That is a day few of us will forget, I’m sure.”
“And perhaps today as well. I can imagine what people are saying about our family now.” She pulled the baby off one breast and moved him to the other.
“Don’t worry about what people say. You have a healthy son and an equally healthy nephew. God has smiled on you.”
“That is gracious, Hodesh, but I heard Jemima talking to you outside the tent.”
“Then you also heard me put a stop to her chattering. She is still new to midwifing. She will learn not to judge.”
“Did I hear my name?” Jemima asked as she pulled back the tent flap and stepped inside.
“Yes. We were just saying how wonderful it is to have two strong baby boys born on one day.”
“That’s just what I was telling the women laundering by the stream.”
“You were?” said Paltith.
“Well, they wanted to gossip, but I put a stop to that.”
“Did you now?” Hodesh said with a wink toward Paltith.
“I certainly did. I put a stop to it and told them God visited his blessings upon these sisters today.”
“I suppose you must be right,” Paltith said. “I don’t know why, though. If you knew what … .” She looked away to a corner of the tent.
“Shall I tell you what I think?” asked Hodesh.
Both Paltith and Jemima turned their gazes upon her. The baby sucked less and less noisily and then gave a little snore. Paltith moved him higher up her chest, her chin resting against his tiny head, as he started to doze.
“I think,” Hodesh said, “that God holds nothing against your children.”
“But we …”
“The circumstances of your conceptions are known, Paltith. They are of no consequence in your babies’ relationship with God.”
“No?” said Paltith.
“No?” Jemima echoed as she leaned over the younger sister sleeping with the baby in her arms. She adjusted the child and pulled a blanket up over them, then once again sat beside Paltith.
“We’ve heard of your last night in Sodom.” Hodesh looked into Paltith’s eyes and saw tears welling up. “I don’t need to recount those stories we’ve heard.”
“But I keep wondering what our father’s Aunt Sarah would say, or his Uncle Abraham.”
“If they took one look at these baby boys, I’m sure all they would say is ‘Well, well, what beautiful babies.’”
“Do you think that likely?”
“I’ve seen enough older relatives turn into blabbering puddles of giddiness when given the opportunity to hold a healthy newborn. Why should yours be any different?”
“It is doubtful they will ever have the chance. I think my father unlikely to try to resume relationship with Abraham and Sarah.”
“That’s as may be,” Hodesh said. “Still, your duty now is to your son, as your sister’s is to hers. I would not be surprised if God has plans for them. Now, have you thought of names?”
Paltith looked down at her sleeping child. “We have. My son is to be called Moab, and my nephew is Ben-Ammi.”
“The child from your father and the son of your father’s people!” Jemima blurted. “You mean to reveal to all that … ?
“They mean to honor their father even so, as good daughters should.”
Paltith gave a grateful smile to Hodesh even as she began to nod off herself.
“Now let us leave these mothers to rest. They will need our help later when their little ones awaken from their slumbers.”
Jemima walked out of the tent after Hodesh. As they stood outside, she said, “You are a good and wise woman.”
“Or perhaps just experienced. As you will be one day, Jemima. As you will be.”
And they sat at the tent flap listening to the heavy, deep breathing of the two young mothers and the gentle baby snores from their newborn sons.
While this story is born of imagination, these two sisters and their sons are real people found in Genesis 19. For background on the notion that the daughters are not to be blamed in these pregnancies, see Lot and His Daughters’ Motives for Their Incestuous Union.