Laing Art Gallery/Tyne & Wear Museums

“FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE, DO NOT LOOK BACK.” The riveting story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) has long inspired fascination and curiosity, both about the nature of God’s judgment and the historicity of the events themselves. In this 19th-century painting The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by John Martin, Lot and his two daughters flee the city of Sodom as it is engulfed in a whirlwind of flames and swallowed whole into the bosom of the earth. On a hillside overlooking the city, Lot’s head-turned wife remains behind in the shadows of destruction, forever entombed as a pillar of salt.

By the time the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was written down, the events themselves may have been little more than distant memories of an ancient destruction that illustrated divine justice. The geological events that caused the Sedom salt pillar to form, however, may help explain not only how but also when the stories began.