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Lot’s Wife

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Lot's Wife near  the Dead Sea DSCF8241

Lot's Wife near the Dead Sea by GflaiG via Flickr

Lot’s Wife is character in the Old Testament. Her tale has become emblematic with regard to the dangers in not trusting God.

When delivered from Sodom, Lot and his wife are warned by the Lord to not look back because the city is being utterly destroyed. The destruction arises because “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly” (Genesis 13:13).

Lot’s wife disobeys. As she turns to look back she is transformed into a pillar of salt. Lot, however, doesn’t look back and survives the ordeal.

Feminists point out that the name of Lot’s wife is not mentioned in the Bible.

Historians, tour guides and geologists each have their own take on what really happened. Two prevailing naturalistic theories are:

  1. Lot’s wife is a natural rock salt formation that occurs in the Dead Sea area, which can still be viewed today.
  2. Salt floes in the dead sea were thrust upward by surging waters, “hence legend is created out of what can now be explained as a simple geological phenomenon.”¹

From a practical perspective we could say that the story of Lot’s wife instructs us to “not look back” when life and, perhaps, our very physical, economic, psychological or spiritual survival demands that we move forward and not get stuck in the past.

Related Posts » Eurydice, Orpheus

¹ “The geologists said that Lot’s wife did not appear to turn into a pillar of salt because she dared to look back but because of the briny nature of the Dead Sea. But the research shows it was more likely a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Harris said by telephone from Canada that the Dead Sea was full of salt floes that might have been thrown up by surging water to resemble a female outline. ‘Hence legend is created out of what can now be explained as a simple geological phenomenon.'” Source: “Geologists Zero In on Sodom and Lot’s Wife” in New York Times » http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B03E0D71739F934A25751C1A963958260

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16 thoughts on “Lot’s Wife

  1. Why salt?

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  2. Why salt? That’s a good question. I could probably go into my dictionaries of the Bible and find some ‘official’ interpretations. But off the top of my head, I can’t really say. We have to remember, however, that the Bible works on several levels. For believers these metaphors are not just situation-specific but can also work through time.

    Christians are called the “salt of the Earth” but I think the connotation isn’t so favorable here in the Old Testament. Maybe it points to being spiritually “dry” and not full of the “waters” of the Holy Spirit?

    Again, just a guess without going to my reference books…

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  3. It is interesting to me that she turned into something elemental. I wondered if the symbolism had any connection to prior pagan symbols.

    I haven’t really been able to find satisfactory information about similar stories. I know that the natural pillars of salt in the Dead Sea area could lend themselves to stories.

    Biblical links include the covenant of salt. (Numbers 18:19).

    According to Barbara Walker’s “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” (a favorite of mine), the Roman rite of confarreato is said to have used salt to represent blood and there are possible links to Cabalistic tradition between Lot’s wife and the Triple Goddess.

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  4. Smith’s Bible Dictionary, an old classic, says that salt was part of the sacrificial offering, a symbol of purity and used in various ways to counteract the heat. I’ll have to check my other dictionaries (in the basement) when I get a bit of time. It’s an interesting thing…

    Thanks for the mention of the Triple Goddess. Just looked at Wiki. One of those ideas that I’ve heard about but never looked at carefully.

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  5. I looked at two more dictionaries and saw what you mentioned about the changing salt structures by the Dead Sea. Interesting. Salt, they said, was also an important preservative. So I came to see how the natural pillars could have influenced the text, along with the idea that looking back is looking back to spiritual death instead of moving forward to eternal life.

    “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke: 17, 32-33)

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  6. Smith’s Bible Dictionary, I will have to get a copy of that. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find other stories inspired by or related to the salt structures by the Dead Sea?
    The citation from Luke is an important element. (I couldn’t resist).
    Perishing in the act of looking back seems to be a recurring theme in traditional stories…I wonder what parallels there are in the concept of time and faith, being present in the moment. There is a lot of grist for further research here, I think.

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  7. The Ramayana includes a story about a woman named Ahalya being turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment.

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  8. Yeah, I tend to look at this in a sort of Jungian-developmental way. It’s good to reminisce about the past but not to try to live in it. I don’t know if you like Elton John but on one of his cd’s his lyricist Bernie Taupin puts it this way:

    And you can’t go back and if you try it fails
    Looking up ahead I see a rusty nail
    A sign hanging from it saying “Truth for sale”
    And that’s what we did
    No lies at all just one more tale
    About the Captain and the Kid

    http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-Captain-and-The-Kid-lyrics-Elton-John/A47A8B799F4AF6E7482571C400065C79

    Smith’s is online:

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/smith_w/bibledict.toc.html

    And with search:

    http://www.studylight.org/dic/sbd/

    So why pay more? 😉

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  9. I read Jung’s “Man and his Symbols” years ago and believe it shaped my perspective.

    Thanks for the great links!

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  10. Yeah, I’m not really a Jungian but believe that some of his ideas are useful. Especially ‘projection.’ As for the pursuit of pagan and non-Biblical parallels to the OT story we’ve been discussing, I wouldn’t be surprised if you came up with several.

    Now, how these parallels come about and what they signify, this is something that each person tends to interpret in his or her own way. Catholics, for instance, say that Catholic imagery incorporates but also ‘elevates’ pagan precursors and parallels…

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  11. Why salt when God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of Salt? This is what God showed me. Because Lot was an influential businessman well known in the gates of Sodom, it only stands to reason that his wife would be well known also. We can say that she was also a “pillar” of her community simply because of her status. She was, at the least some kind of chief official or someone very well known. But remember God says in Gal. 6:7 Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Well God simply hands down his judgment based on her heart. Her heart of with Sodom and Sodom was in her heart. So when she stopped and looked back, she went from being a pillar (prominent figure) of her community to being a pillar (of salt) of her community (or respresenting her community) …if you get the play on words here. God used salt because it’s a preservative. So when Jesus said in Luke 17:28-33 to remember Lot’s wife, He’s saying, look, there’s proof of why you should remember these things–for there is a preserved statue as a visual aid as to what I’m telling you. Several historians like Josephus and Clement of Rome have noted seeing for themselves this pillar of salt which still stands today in the Jordan Valley.

    God is thorough that way!

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  12. My view is that we don’t exactly know what Josephus saw or why he wrote the things he did. Historians tend to be political creatures, just like anyone else. And back in those days, if a socially visible person said the wrong thing he or she was in deep trouble.

    This might be part of the reason why Josephus treats the Jesus story so lightly. He was a political survivor in a world dominated by the Romans. How that might affect his telling of the Pillar of Salt story, I’m not sure.

    At any rate, I tend to go with St. Augustine’s interpretation:

    “[She] serves as a solemn and sacred warning that no one who starts out on the path of salvation should ever yearn for the things that he has left behind.”

    –Augustine, City of God l0.8

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  13. “[She] serves as a solemn and sacred warning that no one who starts out on the path of salvation should ever yearn for the things that he has left behind.”

    –Augustine, City of God l0.8

    I like that interpretation.

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  14. I was wondering the very same thing and read from several answers here. Some have been very insightful. I also found another very interesting answer. I tend to go by the Bible and look at other sources with skepticism, but this may be helpful for some of you.

    http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/229/Q2/

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  15. Oh God is great may God help us 2 be greatful 2 Him nd do his will

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  16. Well at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what we think because it is what it is. Read your bibles if you don’t believe there’s no reason to read it. Isaiah 55:5-9 says it all. Our thoughts are not his thoughts our ways are not his ways. Every word in the bible are examples for us to live by and to build our faith in God. All the scientists, geologist and whoever will never know How or Why when it comes to God.

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