Genesis Chapter 19
17. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
26. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
The Old Testament
In Judaism, one common view of Lot’s wife turning to salt was as punishment for disobeying the angels’ warning. By looking back at the “evil cities,” she betrayed her secret longing for that way of life. She was deemed unworthy to be saved and thus was turned to a pillar of salt.
Another view in the Jewish exegesis of Genesis 19:26, is that when Lot’s wife looked back, she turned to a pillar of salt upon the “sight of God,” who was descending down to rain destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. One reason that is given in the tradition is that she turned back to look in order to see if her daughters, who were married to men of Sodom, were coming or not.
Another Jewish legend says that because Lot’s wife sinned with salt, she was punished with salt. On the night the two angels visited Lot, he requested that his wife prepare a feast for them. Not having any salt, Lot’s wife asked her neighbors for salt, which alerted them to the presence of their guests, resulting in the mob action that endangered Lot’s family.
The Bible tells a story that should remind us of the dangers of being unable to change with changing circumstances. When God determines to destroy the irredeemably wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah Gomorrah (whose unforgivable sin, by the way, was not homosexuality but cruelty to strangers; see Ezekiel 16:49), He advises Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the only decent people in the city, to flee Sodom and not look back (Genesis 19:17). But unlike Abraham, who marched willingly into an unknown future, Lot is hesitant to leave his familiar surroundings. He knows how depraved a community Sodom is, but it has been his home. He is used to it and does not know what life will be like outside it. He may feel he is too old to learn new ways and start over somewhere else. He virtually has to be dragged out of his house. Though God has warned the family to flee and not look back, Lot’s wife cannot tear herself away and turns around for one last look, at which point, the Bible tells us, she is turned into a pillar of salt. Tourist guides at the Dead Sea today will point out the column of salt that was once, thousands of years ago, Mrs. Lot.
Why salt? There were so many other punishments that might have befallen her. I like to think that she turned to salt because salt is a preservative. In the premodern world, salt was used not so much to flavor food as to preserve it, to keep it from changing and spoiling. To live preserved in salt is the fate of people who are so bound to the past or so unsure of their ability to cope with the future that they continue to do what they have always done, even when it no longer fits the new circumstances in which they live.
Harold S Kushner