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It says in Genesis 19 that Lot had escaped to the city of Zoar, and the overthrowing of Sodom and Gomorrah did not begin until the next morning, when the sun rose. By this time, Lot was already safe with his family in the city of Zoar.

Yet it then invokes imagery that appears to show them running, for it says Lot's wife was behind Lot when she looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. The questions are:

1) Were they in motion, running, or already safe in the city? The rest of the context makes it abundantly clear nothing started until they were safe in the city of Zoar already.

2) What does "looking back" mean? Does this mean anyone in the city of Zoar who looked at what was going on was also turning into pillars of salt?

3) How was Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt? Not through the rain from the sky, surely, because the place they were in was supposed to be untouched by this.

  • Why could she not have looked back almost as soon as they left? It does not say she turned into salt by seeing the destruction, just for turning back to look during the trip. – sabbahillel Nov 6 '17 at 17:37
  • So your answer is, she looked back during the trip, and then at some later time, she became a pillar of salt? – Gregory Magarshak Nov 6 '17 at 17:53
  • A common misconception is that she turned into a pillar of salt by seeing the destruction of Sodom and Amorah, but in fact the Torah does not say this. She turned into a pillar of salt by looking back at the city. – ezra Nov 6 '17 at 19:09
  • It seems to say that she turned to salt as soon as she looked back as it was a punishment for not wanting to leave and regretting the loss of S'dom enough to make her part of that community. Thus the merit of Avraham could not save her. – sabbahillel Nov 6 '17 at 20:00
  • the title and the question seem to be asking two different things. can you clarify the connection between the two? – Menachem Nov 7 '17 at 0:37
2

1) Malbim addresses this by explaining that the destruction had actually began the moment they left the city. He believes this is indicated by the phrase וה' המטיר, arguing that whenever the name appears before the action it means that the action was already occurring. In this case that means that when Lot was coming to Zoar, God was already raining down destruction on Sodom.

It is still possible to make sense of this even without accepting Malbim's view. As I noted in this answer Ralbag, Chizkuni, and R. Bachye citing Ibn Ezra explain that it was not Lot's wife that was turned to salt, but the land was turned to salt (i.e. destroyed). Following this interpretation, we could easily understand that Lot's wife looked back once they were safe in Zoar, and she saw the land destroyed.

2) This would depend on how you interpret Lot's wife turning into salt. If, like the above mentioned commentaries, you assume that Lot's wife merely looked at the destruction then presumably anyone who looked would have also seen the destruction. If, however, you assume that Lot's wife was turned into salt as some form of direct Divine punishment, then it might have been unique to her.

3) This again would depend on your interpretation. According to some of the commentaries she didn't turn into salt. According to some it would have been a miraculous act of God. Still others would say that it was a natural process wherein the destruction overtook her because she tarried by looking back (but this last option doesn't really help if you assume that they were already safe in Zoar when the destruction began).

  • 2
    If she didn't die, then why would Lot's daughters have acted as they did? – Monica Cellio Jan 21 at 18:01
  • @MonicaCellio Good question! Ralbag himself states later that she had died when she tarried by looking back at the destruction (i.e. even though the verse about the salt was referring to the land and not to her, she still died at that time). This approach doesn't help us that much if we are trying to argue that Lot's wife was safe in Zoar, so perhaps we can modify it and suggest that she died anyway in Zoar (even though it was technically safe). Alternatively, maybe she was alive but her daughters didn't <cont.> – Alex Jan 21 at 18:56
  • <cont.> think she could bear children (which wouldn't fit so well with the verse specifying that Lot and his two daughters went to the cave, implying that Lot's wife was no longer there), or maybe she simply didn't come with them for some reason (not such a compelling suggestion). Or, possibly, that part of my answer is simply untenable. – Alex Jan 21 at 18:56

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