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by the citation of geographic testimony and learned criticism.
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Death of
Lot's Wife. These incidents are thus briefly detailed : “The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."*
The commonly prevalent supposition is that these events were supernatural. When a small boy, I was taught that Lot's wife was miraculously metamorphorsed into a column of salt. I supposed that the elements of her body were all completely changed. But fair criticism entirely dissipates this whimsical idea. I believe that the raining of “brimstone and fire upon Sodom from the Lord out of heaven," was nothing more than a perfectly natural occurrence. It may have been lightning, which perhaps struck and ignited the ground, which was exceedingly bituminous and therefore quickly set on fire;-or possibly it was all the result of a natural
eruption. As for the statementt that the Lord sent this destruction as an especial judgment upon the people for their wickedness, I do not believe it. The representa
* Genesis, xix. 23—26. lbid, chap. xviii.
tion is altogether degrading to the character of the Deity. But perhaps the ignorant semi-barbarians of that time supposed it to have been the especial and vindictive work of God. Whatever may be the truth on this point, the awful occurrence did not prove morally restraining to those whose lives were spared; for they soon after committed a crime as filthy as any of those for which we are told the inhabitants of the doomed cities were destroyed.* The idea that God overwhelmed them for the express reasons stated, coming down beforehand, and talking about it, very familiarly,t and yet saved the lecherous daughters of Lot, is to me exceedingly ridiculous and very abhorrent.
Even those who have considered this event as a veritable manifestation of God's displeasure, have in some instances argued that the means by which it was effected were purely natural.
Different opinions have been expressed in regard to the meaning of the statement that Lot's wife "became a pillar of salt.” One writer, though he does not himself favor the supposition, tells us that "some modern interpreters are of opinion that the saline statue, here mentioned, was a monument erected by posterity to the memory of Lot's wife.”[
The following observations are from the pen of Dr. Priestly : *See Gen. xix. 30–36. ^ Ibid, xviii. 20—33.
Dr Alexander Geddes”“Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures,” vol. i. p. 101.
“A pillar of salt may signify a lasting memorial, that is, of her rashness and disobedience. Or her body might be so covered and impregnated with a saline substance, as to remain a long time without perishing."*
I extract from the work of an English author, the following remarks, which furnish a very reasonable solution of this matter:
“The word netzib, rendered pillar, is used to signify an erect attitude,-a standing still,-a fixture; and does not necessarily imply any particular form. As to the cause of this woman's privation of life, and her conversion into an inert mass, we learn from Deut. xxix. 23, that 'the whole land is brimstone, and salt of burning; it is not sown, nor bears, nor any herbs grow therein, like the overthrow of Sodom. By the brimstone here mentioned, we understand the sulphuric and fatal vapors which always attend volcanic eruptions, as well as mineral brimstone itself. Lot's wife has not been the only person who has suffered by proximity to volcanic effluvia ; witness the history of the death of the elder Piiny, at Vesuvius, related in the younger Pliny's letters. But Moses says, salt of burning formed one of the agents in the overthrow of Sodom; this, we presume, is what is now called Asphaltum, because being a bitumen, it might be ranged by the Hebrews among salts (as it is by several ancient writers; hence, Herodotus speaks of salt burning in a lamp.) As Asphaltum is very inflammable, it justly bears the epithet of burning
* Priestly's Notes on the Scriptures, vol. i. p. 56.
or fiery. And this is the accurate character of the place to this day; Asphaltum being found on the Dead Sea, or Sea of Sodom, which rolls its waters over the site of the destroyed cities.
On the whole, then, we infer that Lot's wife, delaying her flight, and too slowly quitting the scene of devastation, was surprised by a shower of bitumen or sulphur falling upon her; amid which she stood erect, motion. less, deprived of life ; and formed the centre or nucleus for a mass which gathered around her, and which becoming hard and permanent as it cooled, was well known as the monument and fixed station of this unhappy
The Pillar of Cloud by day and Fire by night, that
guided the Israelites. On this subject, I cite the comments of two very learned men, as expressing the idea which to me appears more rational than the supposition of a literal cloud created and moved steadily along overhead by supernatural agency. To the explanation here given I subscribe fully:
PALFREY. 6 The Lord went before them, by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them in the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; he took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.'t The word 'pil
*"Examination of Scripture Difficulties,” by Wm. Carpenter. p. 27. + Exodus, xiii. 21, 22.
lar,' or column, is the same which is used in the book of Judges,* where certainly no supernatural object was intended. Nor can I allow it to be as evident as has been supposed, that the historian designed to represent the pillar of cloud and fire which marshalled the Israelitish journeyings, as being of that character. When masses of men were moving through the vast plains of the East, we know that it was anciently the practice for their movements to be regulated by a fire near the leader's person, whose flame would be visible in the night-time, and its wreath of smoke by day, marking the spot where his tent was pitched when encamped, and the road which he was taking when on the march. It at least deserves careful consideration, whether the verse which I have quoted was intended to declare that the Lord went before the people in a flame and smoke, in any other sense, than that he was always in communication with their leader; he was always present in the smoke and flame, which, according to convenient and prevailing custom, were the artificial signal of the leader's presence. And this view appears to derive confirmation from the fact that Hobab was subsequently engaged by Moses to be his guide, as one acquainted with the intricacies of the wilderness.f If he had already supernatural conduct, there seems no reason why he should have sought such offices from Hobab.” I
Geddes. “The Lord going before them, by day in * Judges, xx. 40. + Numbers, x. 29, 32.
# Palfrey's Academical Lectures on the Jewish Scriptures and Antiquities," vol. i. pp. 149, 150.