Sep 14, 2015

New Journal Article on Sodom and Salt

One of many naturally formed salt pillars around the Dead Sea
which have become known as Lot's wife. This pillar is on the
Jordanian side of the Dead Sea north of the Lisan.
Photo by Dan Galissini.

In 1993 Flanagan, McCreery, and Yassine coined the phrase “a Late Bronze gap” (1994: 207) speculating that “the 500 year gap of occupation from ca. 1500 to 1000 B.C. [Late Bronze/Iron Age I in the Jordan valley and Tall Nimrin] must be due to significant sociopolitical and/or environmental phenomena that remain to be explained” (1994: 219; 1996: 286).

A clue to the phenomena of the “Late Bronze gap” can be found in the reference to Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt in Genesis 19:26. In a forthcoming article (Graves 2016), I argue that one possible explanation for the Late Bronze gap in the Jordan valley north of the Dead Sea is the catastrophic destruction of the Cities of the Plain which affected the entire Jordan valley and prevented settlers from repopulating the area. Recent soil analysis of the region indicated abnormally high levels of saline and sulfate compounds in the destruction level above the Middle Bronze layer that made the soil toxic and incapable of supporting life (Silvia 2015: 111–13, 141-42, 155). The fact that the narrative of Genesis 19:26 describes Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, and not some other substance, is also consistent with the use of salt in the violation of a covenant and its associated curse (ban, Heb. ḥêrem) in the ancient Near East (Judg 9:45, see also 1:17; Destruction and curse of Taidu by Adad-nārārī I (1307-1275 B.C.), Arinu by Shalmaneser I (1265-1235 B.C.), Troy by Agamemnon (ca. 1194–1184 B.C.), Hunuša by Tiglath-pileser I (ca. 1114-1076 B.C.), Arpad by Bar-ga’yah (ca. 782-773 B.C.), etc.), and with the well documented practice of throwing salt on property that symbolized infertility and barrenness (Fensham 1962: 50; Gevirtz 1963: 60). Lots’ wife, in being turned into a pillar of salt, was seen through ancient Near Eastern eyes as now being infertile and barren and under the covenant curse. 

The text now makes sense, with theology and archaeology converging to help explain the cryptic comment of the “pillar of salt” in the Hebrew text and help explain why there is a “late Bronze Gap.”

Fensham, F. C.
    1962      “Salt as a Curse in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East.” The Biblical Archaeologist 25(1): 48–50.
Flanagan, J. W.; McCreery, D. W.; and Yassine, K. N.
    1994      Tell Nimrin: Preliminary Report on the 1993 Season. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 38: 205–244.
    1996      Tall Nimrin: Preliminary Report on the 1995 Excavation and Geological Survey. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 40: 271–292.
Gevirtz, S.
    1963      “Jericho and Shechem: A Religio-Literary Aspect of City Destruction.” Vetus Testamentum 13 Fasc. 1: 52–62.
Graves, David E.
    2016      “Sodom And Salt in Their Ancient Near Eastern Cultural Context.” Near Eastern Archaeology Society Bulletin, 61, 15–32.
Silvia, Phil J.
    2015      The Middle Bronze Age Civilization-Ending Destruction of the Middle Ghor. Ph. D. diss., Trinity Southwest University.

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