Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint
Today’s Passage: Genesis 19
As a child, I was terrified by stories in which people were turned to stone. Medusa was the most horrifying of monsters to me, and the narrated portion of Conan the Adventurer’s opening freaked out my business. And it didn’t even have to be human people, or even stone necessarily! Trolls were the bad guys in The Hobbit and The World of David the Gnome, but scenes in which the rising sun turned them to stone still gave me the jibblies. I declined to see Ernest: Scared Stupid with my brother and father. And even when my brother and I rented it in high school, the numerous organic-to-mineral transmutations in Return to Oz left me unsettled. But I’ve saved the best for last: my first encounter with this harrowing phenomenon was drawn directly from today’s passage.
I was probably about four at the time. It must have been the episode of Superbook about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I followed the plot with rapt attention: surely Lot and his family would heed the angels’ warning to leave without looking back, right? But Lot’s wife didn’t. I watched in horror as, from the feet up, her body transmuted into sodium chloride. It set me on edge for the rest of the day. I felt like the world was ending around me, and I refused to look over my shoulder for fear that the prohibition might still be in effect.
Looking back (ha!) on the event, I find it hard to dissect the psychology of my juvenile phobia. It’s really just another form of death, isn’t it? Your body can no longer sustain biological processes. But there are certainly worse ways to die than others, and there’s something horrifying about a demise that leaves behind not a corpse, but a statue: an uncanny monument to the victim’s death. Mount Sodom, to this day, has a halite formation called “Lot’s Wife,” a geographic feature ostensibly serving as a constant reminder of the perils of disobedience.
I could say more about Lot’s wife. I’d like to mention the more scientific approaches to the phenomenon the Bible describes as vatehi netsiv melach (“she became a pillar of salt”), the first of which I heard from a Sunday school teacher in fourth grade and only vaguely remember. But we’ll never see Lot again after this chapter, and I feel the need to say a proper goodbye to him, as the text does.
You’ll never see the final scene of this chapter in a Superbook-style animated children’s cartoon, that’s for sure. In a scene reminiscent of our farewell to Noah, Lot’s unmarried daughters suppose themselves the only survivors of an apocalypse, get their father drunk on two back-to-back nights, and sleep with him in order to continue the family line. Lot goes out on the lowest of low points, a victim of incestual rape. Abraham’s family tree will be founded on God’s promised blessing, and Lot might have left himself a normal familial legacy, but instead the Moabites and Ammonites can trace their origins back to this grotesque thing. Actions have consequences: Lot made his bed in Sodom and Gomorrah, and now, as he exits the narrative, he has to sleep in it.
So, Lot ends on that note, but we don’t have to. I want to conclude by sharing some music with you. This is one of my favorite songs, “Pillar of Salt” by Star Salzman, an arrangement of Yasunori Mitsuda’s work from the Xenogears soundtrack, featuring lyrics from the Hebrew text of Psalm 2:1-4 and Genesis 19:24-26. Enjoy, and as Jesus said, remember Lot’s wife.