Pillar of Salt: Is it Real?
by Glenn R Morton 2019
During the last semester of my senior year in undergrad, I had to take 13 hours to graduate. I was taking some really rough physics courses as part of my degree that semester which required taking most of the Master’s level courses, just so my degree would read, Bachelors of Science in Physics rather than just Bachelors of Science. Stupidly I had thought that would make a difference to someone. I needed a pud course. I took a easy humanities requirement, Old Testament Survey. This was at Oklahoma University, so it wasn’t like we had someone who believed any of the stuff in the Bible teaching the course. I remember well, how the professor ridiculed and mocked the story of Lot’s wife as a just-so story, a story to explain the natural occurrence of salt in the Dead Sea area. Being a new Christian at the time, I didn’t like the way the prof ridiculed everything in the Bible but I had no answer to how Sodom happened.
Some of you probably saw the headlines last Fall about a meteoric airburst destroying Sodom. There is a Biologos thread about it but no one in the thread mentioned Lot’s wife, which is a bit disappointing. I spoke to the researchers and they let me see an article that has not been published. They were hoping to publish in Nature, but I doubt that will happen given that they uploaded a conference paper to Research Gate and the publicity in the press. Nature doesn’t like publishing things that have already been published. That happened to Bob Fink’s analysis of the Divje Babe Neanderthal flute mentioned in To be or not To Be Neolithic article of mine. I won’t use any information the researchers sent me but I will use the now removed Research Gate article because it has been widely disseminated. Collins and Sylvia also don’t mention Lot’s wife and I think it is time she got her due. I think I know how she turned into a pillar of salt.
The events depicted below are from the archaeological site of Tell-Hammam in Jordon around 1700 BC, which is the work of Collins and Sylvia.
Genesis 19:24-28 says:
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven,
and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the Lord;
and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace .
Genesis 19:15 says:
And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.
At dawn, the angels forced Lot, his wife and the two daughters who were unmarried and still at home, to leave the city. These four were the only escapees from the town. All other children and presumably grandchildren of Lot were left behind to die.
Once outside the city, the angels warned (Genesis 19:17):
Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
Escape to the mountain, don’t stay in the plain. Given what happened, this was great advice.
Lot bargained with the angels to let him go to an insignificant town, which is literally what Zoar means. The company of four were set on their way by the angels, and told not to look back. Where Zoar is believed to be located is on the east side of the Dead Sea relatively high above the lake about 30 miles from Tell-Hammam or Sodom. Today we out of shape westerners think such a trip in one day would be very hard to make. Such a trip was not uncommon on foot for earlier historical times. Lucas Bridges, the son of the first missionary to the Ona Indians in Tierra del Fuego describes a two day trip:
" With the Ona men as companions, I could leave Najmishk in the morning and reach Harborton in the evening of the following day-- a matter of forty miles a day . We were not racing, nor were we fatigued at the finish , thought all of us invariably carried some small burden."1
Sometime late during that day, just as Lot and his family were approaching Zoar, a meteor zoomed into the atmosphere and in an airburst about 1 km high completed the destruction of the city and set in motion a sequence of physical events that led to Lot’s wife being covered in salt.
Meteors entering the earth’s atmosphere have extremely rapid velocities with respect to the earth. 15 to 20 km/s. When they hit the thicker part of the atmosphere, the pressure on the meteor exceeds the molecular forces holding the meteor together. At that point, the meteor will break into much smaller pieces and effectively dump their kinetic energy into the atmosphere. The altitude at which this happens depends upon the speed, the type of material the meteor is made of, the angle of entry and the density of the meteor. The thing to remember is that when this event happens megatons of TNT worth of energy are imparted to the air which causes high temperatures a blast wave to propagate downward. A good but short video with an explanation of what happened of the Chelyabinsk, Russia airburst and which shows some of the damage can be seen here.
Collins and Sylvia say that the airburst had to have happened around 650 m above sea level so as to contain the damage within the walls of the Dead Sea Vally. This would mean it was about 1 km above the Dead Sea plain. If it had happened at a higher altitude then it would have affected many more towns than were reported to have been destroyed. They estimate that airburst released 10 megatons of TNT of energy, which is enough to flatten the mudbrick buildings.2
The archaeologists also found melted rock and bubbles in melted zircons which would required a temperature of 8,000 to 12,000 deg C for a few milliseconds.2 No wonder when Abraham went to the edge of the Dead Sea Valley the next day it is said, " the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace ."
When the airburst hit the water of the Dead Sea, two things would happen in the blink of an eye, the surface level would become superheated water, meaning the water should boil but the pressure is too high for the water to boil (at that instant), and the surface of the water would be depressed sending a tsunami traveling south. The water’s surface would rebound eventually and Dead Sea waters would cover the land in the north in a tsunami. Collin and Sylvia note that soil samples show evidence of top soil destruction and contamination with salt.
At the northern end of the Dead Sea, when the superheated water was relieved of its pressure, it would explode into steam and possibly melted salt or gaseous salt. Salt melts at 801 deg C and the boiling point of salt, not salt water, just salt is 1465 C.
If you recall, the angels told Lot to get to the mountain, don’t stay in the plain. This was wise advice for the airburst was going to cause a tsunami of, well, Biblical proportions. It would superheat the surface water for quite a ways south. Lot and company were further south by the time the meteor struck, so the temperatures were less than that wickedly hot 12,000 C. Thus, if Lot’s wife was lollygagging behind, looking back longingly at where her life had been, and she had not reached a sufficiently high elevation and distance from the event, she would have been hit with superheated water. When that water touched her relatively cold body(compared to the water temperature of 120 C or more), it would have deposited a layer of salt and anhydrite all over everything it touched, as the liquid exploded into steam. The salt and anhydrite would cool, turning her into a pillar of salt with a human body for a core. Lot’s wife would look like a pillar of stone.
Since apparently Lot could see what happened to his wife, it means he and his daughters barely escaped the death zone. Surely his wife was not that far behind them. But Lot was spared along with his daughters, the only three survivors of Sodom’s destruction.
Those who doubt the Scripture never seem to admit that maybe there is an explanation for these strange events. When one doesn’t believe what Scripture says, one doesn’t try to find explanations and thus, they miss out on the fun of discovery.
1.E. Lucas Bridges, The Uttermost Part of the Earth, (New York: Dutton, 1949), p.325
2. Steve Collins and Philip Sylvia, “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications” Conference Paper, Nov 2015, p. 4