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THE PILLAR OF SALT.
One of the most remarkable incidents in the history of the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, is, that the wife of Lot, looking and probably lingering behind, " became a pillar of salt.”
The explanation of this, now usually current, is that of Bishop Patrick. The reader has, no doubt, seen it in many varied forms of phraseology, and we may therefore present it in the words of the author. The Bishop thinks, then, " that some of that storm which overwhelmed her country, overtook her; and falling upon her, as she stood staring about, and minded not her way or guide, suddenly wrapped her body in a sheet of nitro-sulphureous matter; which, congealing into a crust as hard as stone, made her appear, they say, as a pillar of salt, her body being, as it were, candied in it.” This explanation is, however, older than Patrick, though he may be regarded as having made it current in this country; for this view of the subject had been before entertained by many Jewish and Christian writers.
It is to be noticed, that the word translated a “pillar," does not express any particular form, but denotes any fixed standing object. The probability seems to be, however, that by the rapid cooling of the nitro-sulphureous crust which enveloped the woman, she became fixed in a standing position, which might become a nucleus for more of the same materials, leaving an object of considerable bulk widest at the base, but probably of no considerable height.
It would scarcely seem that such a saline body was likely to be of long duration, in a very humid climate, subject in winter to heavy rains, and the action of water-courses. If God designed that it should be preserved as a monument of the transaction, there is no difficulty in supposing that it was so. But this does not appear to have been the case. There is no allusion to any such monument as still subsisting, in the whole Scripture; and the usual formula “unto this day,” by which the sacred writers in the history of great transactions usually indicate the continuance, to their own time, of ancient monuments and names, is in this instance omitted. Besides, the whole appearance of the district, and of the lake which now covers the vale of Siddim, is, to this day, a most grand and standing monument of the whole of that dreadful judgment of which the death of Lot's wife was one incident; and of the woman herself, the record in the book of Genesis is itself the most striking and ineffaceable memorial.
Nevertheless, when men, acquainted with this history, found in the neighbourhood something like a pillar, or some erect figure composed of salt, they immediately concluded that they had found the pillar into which Lot's wife was turned. Some necessity was felt to account for its preservation for so many ages; and while, on the one hand, it was alleged that it was preserved by the miraculous reproduction of the wasted parts; on the other, it has been held sufficient to suppose, that all waste was naturally repaired by the deposits of the dense exhalations with which the air was impregnated.
The first notice of its existence supposed existence is in the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, written in the first or second century before Christ. Speaking of the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, the writer says: “Of whose wickedness even to this day the waste land that smoketh is a testimony, and plants bearing fruit that never come to ripeness; and a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soul.” Wisd. x. 7. This shows clearly enough the opinion prevailing among the Jews in the time of the writer of the Book of Wisdom.
Josephus declares that it was standing in his time, and that he had seen it with his own eyes. This is conclusive that he had seen a pillar of salt by the Dead Sea, and that he believed it to be the one into which Lot's wife was changed; but we have no evidence which can satisfy us that his impression was correct. Any actual transmitted knowledge of such a monument, must have been broken during the sojourn in Egypt for some generations; and ever afterwards, and indeed always, the monument, if it still existed, lay in a quarter away from all travelled routes, and but rarely visited by Jews, even when Palestine was fully peopled. Clement of Rome, a Christian contemporary of Josephus, also states in one of his epistles, that the pillar of Lot's wife was still in existence; and Irenæus, in the next century, repeats the statement, with the addition of an hypothesis as to how it came to last so long with all its parts entire.
The statement of Jewish rabbis and Christian fathers is to the same effect: but as they merely repeat these earlier statements, little is really added to the weight of testimony. At length travellers began to enquire after this remarkable monument. The success of their enquiries may enlighten us as to the source and origin of the earlier accounts; and may well suggest that the natives of the region and neighbouring shepherds, have in all instances imposed upon the credulity of travellers, by following their usual practice of answering leading questions in accordance with the assumed wish of the enquirer, and even by pointing out any object that could be made to pass for what the traveller sought. We have been at some pains to make, for our own satisfaction, a collection of instances; and we find that hardly any two of them agree as to the locality in which the mysterious pillar was shown to them, or in which they were assured that it existed. Some find it on the east side of the lake, others on the west side ; some near the northern extremity, others at the southern; some find it upon a rock, or cliff, or
slope; others upon the beach, or in the water, or under the water. In proportion as inquiry has become more exact, our accounts of this pillar have been fewer, and most of the best travellers who have been in this quarter for the last two hundred years, have left the subject altogether unnoticed.
The researches of the recent American expedition to the Dead Sea, have thrown new and interesting light upon the subject. The course of their survey could hardly fail to bring under
marked object upon either shore; and one they did find, an obviously natural formation, which-or others in former times like which might readily be taken by persons unaccustomed to weigh circumstances with the precision we are now accustomed to exact, for the pillar of Lot's wife.
Among the salt mountains of Usdum, (an apparent transposition of Sodom,) on the west side of the kind of bay which forms the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, the party beheld, while boating along the shore, to their great astonishment, a lofty round pillar, standing apparently detached from the general mass, at the head of a deep, narrow, and abrupt chasm. They landed, and proceeded towards this object over a beach of soft, slimy mud, encrusted with salt; and at a short distance from the water, covered with saline fragments and flakes of bitumen, the pillar was found to be of solid salt, capped with carbonate of lime, cylindrical in front, and pyramidal behind. The upper or rounded part is about forty feet high, resting upon a kind of oval pedestal or mound, from forty to sixty feet above the level of the sea. It slightly decreases in size upwards, crumbles at the top, and is one entire mass of crystallisation. It is not isolated, though it appears so in front. A prop or buttress connects it with the mountain behind, and the whole is covered with debris of a light stone color. It is added by the narrator of the expedition, that "its peculiar shape is, doubtless, owing to the action of the winter rains."
It had previously been heard from the Arabs that such a pillar was to be found somewhere upon the shores of the sea; but their reports in all other matters had proved so unsatisfactory, that little attention had been paid to them in this instance, Lieut. Lynch, the officer who was in command of the expedition, and who has written the account of its discoveries, does