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"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 Pliny, 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, motionless, 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 woman."*
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. "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.† If he had already supernatural conduct, there seems no reason why he should have sought such offices from Hobab."
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.
a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, &c. In trackless, and often sandy deserts, it is sometimes. as difficult to find one's way as over a trackless ocean.* Beacons are therefore necessary to direct the march. Among those beacons, smoke and fire were commonly used by the Persians, Arabians, and other nations. It was usual among the Arabs, as we learn from Frontinus, to announce the appearance of an enemy by smoke in the day-time, and by fire at night: and I have seen the same signals used on the coast of Scotland for similar purposes. To raise the smoke, a wet bundle of straw was used. Toland and Von-der-Hardt imagined that the pillar of cloud, and fire, of Exodus, was, in reality, a fire similar to that above-mentioned; a sacred fire carried about on a portable altar, of which the smoke by day, and light by night, directed the marches of the Israelites and this, for aught we know, may have actually been the case: but the Hebrew historian, who could not be ignorant of such a custom, makes a miraculous cloud of it, in which cloudt he places Jehovah, or his angel, to direct the journeys and encampments of his chosen people. Moses, however, seems not to have put much faith in its direction, since he was so solicitous to have Hobab to be a guide. (See Num. x. 31.) But to return to the text: Michaelis and some others would have
*The coinpass is now sometimes actually used in traversing those deserts.
This same cloud covered the Convention-tent, or Tabernacle, immediately after it was reared; and continued to direct the encampments as before.
the original to be translated a standing, or constant cloud: but I see no cause for departing from the ancient versions, which are more agreeable to the Hebrew construction. It is not necessary to suppose that the cloud was in the form of a pillar. We still, in common talk, call clouds and volumes of smoke pillars, when they have little or no resemblance to real ones."*
The Passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, and the Destruction of Pharaoh and his host. The details of this occurrence are as follows:
"Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back BY A STRONG EAST WIND ALL THAT NIGHT, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them, to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot-wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel: for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand
*Geddes' "Critical Remarks upon the Hebrew Scriptures," London Quarto ed. vol. i. pp. 224, 225.