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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

Part 15 out of 19

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theory "romantic and irrational." He goes on to say: "The
original of our speaking was from God; not that God put into
Adam's mouth the very sounds which he designed he should use as
the names of things; but God made Adam with the powers of a man;
he had the use of an understanding to form notions in his mind of
the things about him, and he had the power to utter sounds which
should be to himself the names of things according as he might
think fit to call them."

This echo of Gregory of Nyssa was for many years of little avail.
Historians of philosophy still began with Adam, because only a
philosopher could have named all created things. There was,
indeed, one difficulty which had much troubled some theologians:
this was, that fishes were not specially mentioned among the
animals brought by Jehovah before Adam for naming. To meet this
difficulty there was much argument, and some theologians laid
stress on the difficulty of bringing fishes from the sea to the
Garden of Eden to receive their names; but naturally other
theologians replied that the almighty power which created the
fishes could have easily brought them into the garden, one by
one, even from the uttermost parts of the sea. This point,
therefore, seems to have been left in abeyance.[418]

[418] For the danger of "the little system of the history of the
world," see Sayce, as above. On Dugald Stewart's contention, see
Max Muller, Lectures on Language, pp. 167, 168. For Sir William
Jones, see his Works, London, 1807, vol. i, p. 199. For
Schlegel, see Max Muller, as above. For an enormous list of
great theologians, from the fathers down, who dwelt on the divine
inspiration and wonderful gifts of Adam on this subject, see
Canon Farrar, Language and Languages. The citation from Clement
of Alexandria is Strom.. i, p. 335. See also Chrysostom, Hom.
XIV in Genesin; also Eusebius, Praep. Evang. XI, p. 6. For the
two quotations given above from Shuckford, see The Creation and
Fall of Man, London, 1763, preface, p. lxxxiii; also his Sacred
and Profane History of the World, 1753; revised edition by
Wheeler, London, 1858. For the argument regarding the difficulty
of bringing the fishes to be named into the Garden of Eden, see
Massey, Origin and Progress of Letters, London, 1763, pp. 14-19.

It had continued, then, the universal belief in the Church that
the names of all created things, except possibly fishes, were
given by Adam and in Hebrew; but all this theory was whelmed in
ruin when it was found that there were other and indeed earlier
names for the same animals than those in the Hebrew language;
and especially was this enforced on thinking men when the
Egyptian discoveries began to reveal the pictures of animals with
their names in hieroglyphics at a period earlier than that agreed
on by all the sacred chronologists as the date of the Creation.

Still another part of the sacred theory now received its
death-blow. Closely allied with the question of the origin of
language was that of the origin of letters. The earlier writers
had held that letters were also a divine gift to Adam; but as we
go on in the eighteenth century we find theological opinion
inclining to the belief that this gift was reserved for Moses.
This, as we have seen, was the view of St. John Chrysostom; and
an eminent English divine early in the eighteenth century, John
Johnson, Vicar of Kent, echoed it in the declaration concerning
the alphabet, that "Moses first learned it from God by means of
the lettering on the tables of the law." But here a difficulty
arose--the biblical statement that God commanded Moses to "write
in a book" his decree concerning Amalek before he went up into
Sinai. With this the good vicar grapples manfully. He supposes
that God had previously concealed the tables of stone in Mount
Horeb, and that Moses, "when he kept Jethro's sheep thereabout,
had free access to these tables, and perused them at discretion,
though he was not permitted to carry them down with him." Our
reconciler then asks for what other reason could God have kept
Moses up in the mountain forty days at a time, except to teach
him to write; and says, "It seems highly probable that the angel
gave him the alphabet of the Hebrew, or in some other way unknown
to us became his guide."

But this theory of letters was soon to be doomed like the other
parts of the sacred theory. Studies in Comparative Philology,
based upon researches in India, began to be reenforced by facts
regarding the inscriptions in Egypt, the cuneiform inscriptions
of Assyria, the legends of Chaldea, and the folklore of
China--where it was found in the sacred books that the animals
were named by Fohi, and with such wisdom and insight that every
name disclosed the nature of the corresponding animal.

But, although the old theory was doomed, heroic efforts were
still made to support it. In 1788 James Beattie, in all the
glory of his Oxford doctorate and royal pension, made a vigorous
onslaught, declaring the new system of philology to be "degrading
to our nature," and that the theory of the natural development of
language is simply due to the beauty of Lucretius' poetry. But
his main weapon was ridicule, and in this he showed himself a
master. He tells the world, "The following paraphrase has
nothing of the elegance of Horace or Lucretius, but seems to have
all the elegance that so ridiculous a doctrine deserves":

"When men out of the earth of old
A dumb and beastly vermin crawled;
For acorns, first, and holes of shelter,
They tooth and nail, and helter skelter,
Fought fist to fist; then with a club
Each learned his brother brute to drub;
Till, more experienced grown, these cattle
Forged fit accoutrements for battle.
At last (Lucretius says and Creech)
They set their wits to work on SPEECH:
And that their thoughts might all have marks
To make them known, these learned clerks
Left off the trade of cracking crowns,
And manufactured verbs and nouns."

But a far more powerful theologian entered the field in England
to save the sacred theory of language--Dr. Adam Clarke. He
was no less severe against Philology than against Geology. In
1804, as President of the Manchester Philological Society, he
delivered an address in which he declared that, while men of all
sects were eligible to membership, "he who rejects the
establishment of what we believe to be a divine revelation, he
who would disturb the peace of the quiet, and by doubtful
disputations unhinge the minds of the simple and unreflecting,
and endeavour to turn the unwary out of the way of peace and
rational subordination, can have no seat among the members of
this institution." The first sentence in this declaration gives
food for reflection, for it is the same confusion of two ideas
which has been at the root of so much interference of theology
with science for the last two thousand years. Adam Clarke speaks
of those "who reject the establishment of what, WE BELIEVE, to be
a divine revelation." Thus comes in that customary begging of
the question--the substitution, as the real significance of
Scripture, of "WHAT WE BELIEVE" for what IS.

The intended result, too, of this ecclesiastical sentence was
simple enough. It was, that great men like Sir William Jones,
Colebrooke, and their compeers, must not be heard in the
Manchester Philological Society in discussion with Dr. Adam
Clarke on questions regarding Sanskrit and other matters
regarding which they knew all that was then known, and Dr.
Clarke knew nothing.

But even Clarke was forced to yield to the scientific current.
Thirty years later, in his Commentary on the Old Testament, he
pitched the claims of the sacred theory on a much lower key. He
says: "Mankind was of one language, in all likelihood the
Hebrew....The proper names and other significations given in
the Scripture seem incontestable evidence that the Hebrew
language was the original language of the earth,--the language in
which God spoke to man, and in which he gave the revelation of
his will to Moses and the prophets." Here are signs that this
great champion is growing weaker in the faith: in the citations
made it will be observed he no longer says "IS," but "SEEMS"; and
finally we have him saying, "What the first language was is
almost useless to inquire, as it is impossible to arrive at any
satisfactory information on this point."

In France, during the first half of the nineteenth century, yet
more heavy artillery was wheeled into place, in order to make a
last desperate defence of the sacred theory. The leaders in
this effort were the three great Ultramontanes, De Maistre, De
Bonald, and Lamennais. Condillac's contention that "languages
were gradually and insensibly acquired, and that every man had
his share of the general result," they attacked with reasoning
based upon premises drawn from the book of Genesis. De Maistre
especially excelled in ridiculing the philosophic or scientific
theory. Lamennais, who afterward became so vexatious a thorn in
the side of the Church, insisted, at this earlier period, that
"man can no more think without words than see without light."
And then, by that sort of mystical play upon words so well known
in the higher ranges of theologic reasoning, he clinches his
argument by saying, "The Word is truly and in every sense `the
light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.'"

But even such champions as these could not stay the progress of
thought. While they seemed to be carrying everything before them
in France, researches in philology made at such centres of
thought as the Sorbonne and the College of France were
undermining their last great fortress. Curious indeed is it to
find that the Sorbonne, the stronghold of theology through so
many centuries, was now made in the nineteenth century the
arsenal and stronghold of the new ideas. But the most striking
result of the new tendency in France was seen when the greatest
of the three champions, Lamennais himself, though offered the
highest Church preferment, and even a cardinal's hat, braved the
papal anathema, and went over to the scientific side.[419]

[419] For Johnson's work, showing how Moses learned the alphabet,
see the Collection of Discourses by Rev. John Johnson, A. M.,
Vicar of Kent, London, 1728, p. 42, and the preface. For
Beattie, see his Theory of Language, London, 1788, p. 98; also
pp. 100, 101. For Adam Clarke, see, for the speech cited, his
Miscellaneous Works, London, 1837; for the passage from his
Commentary, see the London edition of 1836, vol. i, p. 93; for
the other passage, see Introduction to Bibliographical
Miscellany, quoted in article, Origin of Language and
Alphabetical Characters, in Methodist Magazine, vol. xv, p. 214.
For De Bonald, see his Recherches Philosophiques, part iii, chap.
ii, De l'Origine du Language, in his Oeuvres, Bruxelles, 1852,
vol. i, Les Soirees de Saint Petersbourg, deuxieme entretien,
passim. For Lamennais, see his Oeuvres Completes, Paris, 1836-
'37, tome ii, pp.78-81, chap. xv of Essai sur l'Indifference en
Matiere de Religion.

In Germany philological science took so strong a hold that its
positions were soon recognised as impregnable. Leaders like the
Schlegels, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and above all Franz Bopp and
Jacob Grimm, gave such additional force to scientific truth that
it could no longer be withstood. To say nothing of other
conquests, the demonstration of that great law in philology which
bears Grimm's name brought home to all thinking men the evidence
that the evolution of language had not been determined by the
philosophic utterances of Adam in naming the animals which
Jehovah brought before him, but in obedience to natural law.

True, a few devoted theologians showed themselves willing to lead
a forlorn hope; and perhaps the most forlorn of all was that of
1840, led by Dr. Gottlieb Christian Kayser, Professor of
Theology at the Protestant University of Erlangen. He does not,
indeed, dare put in the old claim that Hebrew is identical with
the primitive tongue, but he insists that it is nearer it than
any other. He relinquishes the two former theological
strongholds--first, the idea that language was taught by the
Almighty to Adam, and, next, that the alphabet was thus taught to
Moses--and falls back on the position that all tongues are thus
derived from Noah, giving as an example the language of the
Caribbees, and insisting that it was evidently so derived. What
chance similarity in words between Hebrew and the Caribbee tongue
he had in mind is past finding out. He comes out strongly in
defence of the biblical account of the Tower of Babel, and
insists that "by the symbolical expression `God said, Let us go
down,' a further natural phenomenon is intimated, to wit, the
cleaving of the earth, whereby the return of the dispersed became
impossible--that is to say, through a new or not universal flood,
a partial inundation and temporary violent separation of great
continents until the time of the rediscovery" By these words the
learned doctor means nothing less than the separation of Europe
from America.

While at the middle of the nineteenth century the theory of the
origin and development of language was upon the continent
considered as settled, and a well-ordered science had there
emerged from the old chaos, Great Britain still held back, in
spite of the fact that the most important contributors to the
science were of British origin. Leaders in every English church
and sect vied with each other, either in denouncing the
encroachments of the science of language or in explaining them

But a new epoch had come, and in a way least expected. Perhaps
the most notable effort in bringing it in was made by Dr.
Wiseman, afterward Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. His is
one of the best examples of a method which has been used with
considerable effect during the latest stages of nearly all the
controversies between theology and science. It consists in
stating, with much fairness, the conclusions of the scientific
authorities, and then in persuading one's self and trying to
persuade others that the Church has always accepted them and
accepts them now as "additional proofs of the truth of
Scripture." A little juggling with words, a little amalgamation
of texts, a little judicious suppression, a little imaginative
deduction, a little unctuous phrasing, and the thing is done.
One great service this eminent and kindly Catholic champion
undoubtedly rendered: by this acknowledgment, so widely spread
in his published lectures, he made it impossible for Catholics or
Protestants longer to resist the main conclusions of science.
Henceforward we only have efforts to save theological
appearances, and these only by men whose zeal outran their

On both sides of the Atlantic, down to a recent period, we see
these efforts, but we see no less clearly that they are mutually
destructive. Yet out of this chaos among English-speaking
peoples the new science began to develop steadily and rapidly.
Attempts did indeed continue here and there to save the old
theory. Even as late as 1859 we hear the eminent Presbyterian
divine, Dr. John Cumming, from his pulpit in London, speaking of
Hebrew as "that magnificent tongue--that mother-tongue, from
which all others are but distant and debilitated progenies."

But the honour of producing in the nineteenth century the most
absurd known attempt to prove Hebrew the primitive tongue belongs
to the youngest of the continents, Australia. In the year 1857
was printed at Melbourne The Triumph of Truth, or a Popular
Lecture on the Origin of Languages, by B. Atkinson,
M.R.C.P.L.--whatever that may mean. In this work, starting with
the assertion that "the Hebrew was the primary stock whence all
languages were derived," the author states that Sanskrit is "a
dialect of the Hebrew," and declares that "the manuscripts found
with mummies agree precisely with the Chinese version of the
Psalms of David." It all sounds like Alice in Wonderland.
Curiously enough, in the latter part of his book, evidently
thinking that his views would not give him authority among
fastidious philologists, he says, "A great deal of our consent to
the foregoing statements arises in our belief in the Divine
inspiration of the Mosaic account of the creation of the world
and of our first parents in the Garden of Eden." A yet more
interesting light is thrown upon the author's view of truth, and
of its promulgation, by his dedication: he says that, "being
persuaded that literary men ought to be fostered by the hand of
power," he dedicates his treatise "to his Excellency Sir H.
Barkly," who was at the time Governor of Victoria.

Still another curious survival is seen in a work which appeared
as late as 1885, at Edinburgh, by William Galloway, M.A., Ph.D.,
M.D. The author thinks that he has produced abundant
evidence to prove that "Jehovah, the Second Person of the
Godhead, wrote the first chapter of Genesis on a stone pillar,
and that this is the manner by which he first revealed it to
Adam; and thus Adam was taught not only to speak but to read and
write by Jehovah, the Divine Son; and that the first lesson he
got was from the first chapter of Genesis." He goes on to say:
"Jehovah wrote these first two documents; the first containing
the history of the Creation, and the second the revelation of
man's redemption,...for Adam's and Eve's instruction; it is
evident that he wrote them in the Hebrew tongue, because that was
the language of Adam and Eve." But this was only a flower out of

And, finally, in these latter days Mr. Gladstone has touched
the subject. With that well-known facility in believing anything
he wishes to believe, which he once showed in connecting
Neptune's trident with the doctrine of the Trinity, he floats
airily over all the impossibilities of the original Babel legend
and all the conquests of science, makes an assertion regarding
the results of philology which no philologist of any standing
would admit, and then escapes in a cloud of rhetoric after his
well-known fashion.

This, too, must be set down simply as a survival, for in the
British Isles as elsewhere the truth has been established. Such
men as Max Muller and Sayce in England,--Steinthal, Schleicher,
Weber, Karl Abel, and a host of others in Germany,--Ascoli and De
Gubernatis in Italy,--and Whitney, with the scholars inspired by
him, in America, have carried the new science to a complete
triumph. The sons of Yale University may well be proud of the
fact that this old Puritan foundation was made the headquarters
of the American Oriental Society, which has done so much for the
truth in this field.[420]

[420] For Mr. Gladstone's view, see his Impregnable Rock of Holy
Scripture, London, 1890, pp. 241 et seq. The passage connecting
the trident of Neptune with the Trinity is in his Juventus Mundi.
To any American boy who sees how inevitably, both among Indian
and white fishermen, the fish spear takes the three-pronged form,
this utterance of Mr. Gladstone is amazing.


It may be instructive, in conclusion, to sum up briefly the
history of the whole struggle.

First, as to the origin of speech, we have in the beginning the
whole Church rallying around the idea that the original language
was Hebrew; that this language, even including the medieval
rabbinical punctuation, was directly inspired by the Almighty;
that Adam was taught it by God himself in walks and talks; and
that all other languages were derived from it at the "confusion
of Babel."

Next, we see parts of this theory fading out: the inspiration of
the rabbinical points begins to disappear. Adam, instead of
being taught directly by God, is "inspired" by him.

Then comes the third stage: advanced theologians endeavour to
compromise on the idea that Adam was "given verbal roots and a
mental power."

Finally, in our time, we have them accepting the theory that
language is the result of an evolutionary process in obedience to
laws more or less clearly ascertained. Babel thus takes its
place quietly among the sacred myths.

As to the origin of writing, we have the more eminent theologians
at first insisting that God taught Adam to write; next we find
them gradually retreating from this position, but insisting that
writing was taught to the world by Noah. After the retreat from
this position, we find them insisting that it was Moses whom God
taught to write. But scientific modes of thought still
progressed, and we next have influential theologians agreeing
that writing was a Mosaic invention; this is followed by another
theological retreat to the position that writing was a
post-Mosaic invention. Finally, all the positions are
relinquished, save by some few skirmishers who appear now and
then upon the horizon, making attempts to defend some subtle
method of "reconciling" the Babel myth with modern science.

Just after the middle of the nineteenth century the last stage of
theological defence was evidently reached--the same which is seen
in the history of almost every science after it has successfully
fought its way through the theological period--the declaration
which we have already seen foreshadowed by Wiseman, that the
scientific discoveries in question are nothing new, but have
really always been known and held by the Church, and that they
simply substantiate the position taken by the Church. This new
contention, which always betokens the last gasp of theological
resistance to science, was now echoed from land to land. In
1856 it was given forth by a divine of the Anglican Church,
Archdeacon Pratt, of Calcutta. He gives a long list of eminent
philologists who had done most to destroy the old supernatural
view of language, reads into their utterances his own wishes, and
then exclaims, "So singularly do their labours confirm the
literal truth of Scripture."

Two years later this contention was echoed from the American
Presbyterian Church, and Dr. B. W. Dwight, having stigmatized as
"infidels" those who had not incorporated into their science the
literal acceptance of Hebrew legend, declared that "chronology,
ethnography, and etymology have all been tortured in vain to make
them contradict the Mosaic account of the early history of man."
Twelve years later this was re-echoed from England. The Rev.
Dr. Baylee, Principal of the College of St. Aidan's, declared,
"With regard to the varieties of human language, the account of
the confusion of tongues is receiving daily confirmation by all
the recent discoveries in comparative philology." So, too, in
the same year (1870), in the United Presbyterian Church of
Scotland, Dr. John Eadie, Professor of Biblical Literature and
Exegesis, declared, "Comparative philology has established the
miracle of Babel."

A skill in theology and casuistry so exquisite as to contrive
such assertions, and a faith so robust as to accept them,
certainly leave nothing to be desired. But how baseless these
contentions are is shown, first, by the simple history of the
attitude of the Church toward this question; and, secondly, by
the fact that comparative philology now reveals beyond a doubt
that not only is Hebrew not the original or oldest language upon
earth, but that it is not even the oldest form in the Semitic
group to which it belongs. To use the words of one of the most
eminent modern authorities, "It is now generally recognised that
in grammatical structure the Arabic preserves much more of the
original forms than either the Hebrew or Aramaic."

History, ethnology, and philology now combine inexorably to place
the account of the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of
races at Babel among the myths; but their work has not been
merely destructive: more and more strong are the grounds for
belief in an evolution of language.

A very complete acceptance of the scientific doctrines has been
made by Archdeacon Farrar, Canon of Westminster. With a
boldness which in an earlier period might have cost him dear, and
which merits praise even now for its courage, he says: "For all
reasoners except that portion of the clergy who in all ages have
been found among the bitterest enemies of scientific discovery,
these considerations have been conclusive. But, strange to say,
here, as in so many other instances, this self-styled
orthodoxy--more orthodox than the Bible itself--directly
contradicts the very Scriptures which it professes to explain,
and by sheer misrepresentation succeeds in producing a needless
and deplorable collision between the statements of Scripture and
those other mighty and certain truths which have been revealed to
science and humanity as their glory and reward."

Still another acknowledgment was made in America through the
instrumentality of a divine of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
whom the present generation at least will hold in honour not only
for his scholarship but for his patriotism in the darkest hour of
his country's need--John McClintock. In the article on
Language, in the Biblical Cyclopaedia, edited by him and the Rev.
Dr. Strong, which appeared in 1873, the whole sacred theory is
given up, and the scientific view accepted.[421]

[421] For Kayser, see his work, Ueber die Ursprache, oder uber
eine Behauptung Mosis, dass alle Sprachen der Welt von einer
einzigen der Noahhischen abstammen, Erlangen, 1840; see
especially pp. 5, 80, 95, 112. For Wiseman, see his Lectures on
the Connection between Science and Revealed Religion, London,
1836. For examples typical of very many in this field, see the
works of Pratt, 1856; Dwight, 1858; Jamieson, 1868. For citation
from Cumming, see his Great Tribulation, London, 1859, p. 4; see
also his Things Hard to be Understood, London, 1861, p. 48. For
an admirable summary of the work of the great modern
philologists, and a most careful estimate of the conclusions
reached, see Prof. Whitney's article on Philology in the
Encyclopaedia Britannica. A copy of Mr. Atkinson's book is in the
Harvard College Library, it having been presented by the Trustees
of the Public Library of Victoria. For Galloway, see his
Philosophy of the Creation, Edinburgh and London, 1885, pp. 21,
238, 239, 446. For citation from Baylee, see his Verbal
Inspiration the True Characteristic of God's Holy Word, London,
1870, p. 14 and elsewhere. For Archdeacon Pratt, see his
Scripture and Science not at Variance, London, 1856, p. 55. For
the citation from Dr. Eadie, see his Biblical Cyclopaedia,
London, 1870, p. 53. For Dr. Dwight, see The New-Englander, vol.
xvi, p. 465. For the theological article referred to as giving
up the sacred theory, see the Cyclopaedia of Biblical,
Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, prepared by Rev. John
McClintock, D. D., and James Strong, New York, 1873, vol. v, p.
233. For Arabic as an earlier Semitic development than Hebrew,
as well as for much other valuable information on the questions
recently raised, see article Hebrew, by W. R. Smith, in the
latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For quotation
from Canon Farrar, see his language and Languages, London, 1878,
pp. 6,7.

It may, indeed, be now fairly said that the thinking leaders of
theology have come to accept the conclusions of science regarding
the origin of language, as against the old explanations by myth
and legend. The result has been a blessing both to science and
to religion. No harm has been done to religion; what has been
done is to release it from the clog of theories which thinking
men saw could no longer be maintained. No matter what has become
of the naming of the animals by Adam, of the origin of the name
Babel, of the fear of the Almighty lest men might climb up into
his realm above the firmament, and of the confusion of tongues
and the dispersion of nations; the essentials of Christianity, as
taught by its blessed Founder, have simply been freed, by
Comparative Philology, from one more great incubus, and have
therefore been left to work with more power upon the hearts and
minds of mankind.

Nor has any harm been done to the Bible. On the contrary, this
divine revelation through science has made it all the more
precious to us. In these myths and legends caught from earlier
civilizations we see an evolution of the most important religious
and moral truths for our race. Myth, legend, and parable seem,
in obedience to a divine law, the necessary setting for these
truths, as they are successively evolved, ever in higher and
higher forms. What matters it, then, that we have come to know
that the accounts of Creation, the Fall, the Deluge, and much
else in our sacred books, were remembrances of lore obtained from
the Chaldeans? What matters it that the beautiful story of
Joseph is found to be in part derived from an Egyptian romance,
of which the hieroglyphs may still be seen? What matters it that
the story of David and Goliath is poetry; and that Samson, like
so many men of strength in other religions, is probably a
sun-myth? What matters it that the inculcation of high duty in
the childhood of the world is embodied in such quaint stories as
those of Jonah and Balaam? The more we realize these facts, the
richer becomes that great body of literature brought together
within the covers of the Bible. What matters it that those who
incorporated the Creation lore of Babylonia and other Oriental
nations into the sacred books of the Hebrews, mixed it with their
own conceptions and deductions? What matters it that Darwin
changed the whole aspect of our Creation myths; that Lyell and
his compeers placed the Hebrew story of Creation and of the
Deluge of Noah among legends; that Copernicus put an end to the
standing still of the sun for Joshua; that Halley, in
promulgating his law of comets, put an end to the doctrine of
"signs and wonders"; that Pinel, in showing that all insanity is
physical disease, relegated to the realm of mythology the witch
of Endor and all stories of demoniacal possession; that the Rev.
Dr. Schaff, and a multitude of recent Christian travellers
in Palestine, have put into the realm of legend the story of
Lot's wife transformed into a pillar of salt; that the
anthropologists, by showing how man has risen everywhere from low
and brutal beginnings, have destroyed the whole theological
theory of "the fall of man"? Our great body of sacred literature
is thereby only made more and more valuable to us: more and more
we see how long and patiently the forces in the universe which
make for righteousness have been acting in and upon mankind
through the only agencies fitted for such work in the earliest
ages of the world--through myth, legend, parable, and poem.




A few years since, Maxime Du Camp, an eminent member of the
French Academy, travelling from the Red Sea to the Nile through
the Desert of Kosseir, came to a barren slope covered with
boulders, rounded and glossy.

His Mohammedan camel-driver accounted for them on this wise:

"Many years ago Hadji Abdul-Aziz, a sheik of the dervishes, was
travelling on foot through this desert: it was summer: the sun
was hot and the dust stifling; thirst parched his lips, fatigue
weighed down his back, sweat dropped from his forehead, when
looking up he saw--on this very spot--a garden beautifully green,
full of fruit, and, in the midst of it, the gardener.

"`O fellow-man,' cried Hadji Abdul-Aziz, `in the name of Allah,
clement and merciful, give me a melon and I will give you my

The gardener answered: `I care not for your prayers; give me
money, and I will give you fruit.'

"`But,' said the dervish, `I am a beggar; I have never had
money; I am thirsty and weary, and one of your melons is all that
I need.'

"`No,' said the gardener; `go to the Nile and quench your

"Thereupon the dervish, lifting his eyes toward heaven, made this
prayer: `O Allah, thou who in the midst of the desert didst make
the fountain of Zem-Zem spring forth to satisfy the thirst of
Ismail, father of the faithful: wilt thou suffer one of thy
creatures to perish thus of thirst and fatigue? '

"And it came to pass that, hardly had the dervish spoken, when an
abundant dew descended upon him, quenching his thirst and
refreshing him even to the marrow of his bones.

"Now at the sight of this miracle the gardener knew that the
dervish was a holy man, beloved of Allah, and straightway offered
him a melon.

"`Not so,' answered Hadji Abdul-Aziz; `keep what thou hast, thou
wicked man. May thy melons become as hard as thy heart, and thy
field as barren as thy soul!'

"And straightway it came to pass that the melons were changed
into these blocks of stone, and the grass into this sand, and
never since has anything grown thereon."

In this story, and in myriads like it, we have a survival of that
early conception of the universe in which so many of the leading
moral and religious truths of the great sacred books of the world
are imbedded.

All ancient sacred lore abounds in such mythical explanations of
remarkable appearances in nature, and these are most frequently
prompted by mountains, rocks, and boulders seemingly misplaced.

In India we have such typical examples among the Brahmans as the
mountain-peak which Durgu threw at Parvati; and among the
Buddhists the stone which Devadatti hurled at Buddha.

In Greece the Athenian, rejoicing in his belief that Athena
guarded her chosen people, found it hard to understand why the
great rock Lycabettus should be just too far from the Acropolis
to be of use as an outwork; but a myth was developed which
explained all. According to this, Athena had intended to make
Lycabettus a defence for the Athenians, and she was bringing it
through the air from Pallene for that very purpose; but,
unfortunately, a raven met her and informed her of the wonderful
birth of Erichthonius, which so surprised the goddess that she
dropped the rock where it now stands.

So, too, a peculiar rock at Aegina was accounted for by a long
and circumstantial legend to the effect that Peleus threw it at

A similar mode of explaining such objects is seen in the
mythologies of northern Europe. In Scandinavia we constantly
find rocks which tradition accounts for by declaring that they
were hurled by the old gods at each other, or at the early
Christian churches.

In Teutonic lands, as a rule, wherever a strange rock or stone is
found, there will be found a myth or a legend, heathen or
Christian, to account for it.

So, too, in Celtic countries: typical of this mode of thought in
Brittany and in Ireland is the popular belief that such features
in the landscape were dropped by the devil or by fairies.

Even at a much later period such myths have grown and bloomed.
Marco Polo gives a long and circumstantial legend of a mountain
in Asia Minor which, not long before his visit, was removed by a
Christian who, having "faith as a grain of mustard seed," and
remembering the Saviour's promise, transferred the mountain to
its present place by prayer, "at which marvel many Saracens
became Christians."[422]

[422] For Maxime Du Camp, see Le Nil: Egypte et Nubie, Paris,
1877, chapter v. For India, see Duncker, Geschichte des
Alterthums, vol. iii, p. 366; also Coleman, Mythology of the
Hindus, p. 90. For Greece, as to the Lycabettus myth, see Leake,
Topography of Athens, vol. i, sec. 3; also Burnouf, La Legende
Athenienne, p. 152. For the rock at Aegina, see Charton, vol. i,
p. 310. For Scandanavia, see Thorpe, Northern Antiquities,
passim. For Teutonic countries, see Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie;
Panzer, Beitrag zur deutschen Mythologie, vol. ii; Zingerle,
Sagen aus Tyrol, pp. 111 et seq., 488, 504, 543; and especially
J. B. Friedrich, Symbolik und Mythologie der Natur, pp. 116 et
seq. For Celtic examples I am indebted to that learned and
genial scholar, Prof. J. P. Mahaffy, of Trinity College, Dublin.
See also story of the devil dropping a rock when forced by the
archangel Michael to aid him in building Mont Saint-Michel on the
west coast of France, in Sebillot's Traditions de la Haute
Bretagne, vol. i, p. 22; also multitudes of other examples in the
same work. For Marco Polo, see in Grynaeus, p. 337; also
Charton, Voyageurs anciens et modernes, tome ii, pp. 274 et seq.,
where the legend is given in full.

Similar mythical explanations are also found, in all the older
religions of the world, for curiously marked meteoric stones,
fossils, and the like.

Typical examples are found in the imprint of Buddha's feet on
stones in Siam and Ceylon; in the imprint of the body of Moses,
which down to the middle of the last century was shown near Mount
Sinai; in the imprint of Poseidon's trident on the Acropolis at
Athens; in the imprint of the hands or feet of Christ on stones
in France, Italy, and Palestine; in the imprint of the Virgin's
tears on stones at Jerusalem; in the imprint of the feet of
Abraham at Jerusalem and of Mohammed on a stone in the Mosque of
Khait Bey at Cairo; in the imprint of the fingers of giants on
stones in the Scandinavian Peninsula, in north Germany, and in
western France; in the imprint of the devil's thighs on a rock
in Brittany, and of his claws on stones which he threw at
churches in Cologne and Saint-Pol-de-Leon; in the imprint of the
shoulder of the devil's grand mother on the "elbow-stone" at the
Mohriner see; in the imprint of St. Otho's feet on a stone
formerly preserved in the castle church at Stettin; in the
imprint of the little finger of Christ and the head of Satan at
Ehrenberg; and in the imprint of the feet of St. Agatha at
Catania, in Sicily. To account for these appearances and myriads
of others, long and interesting legends were developed, and out
of this mass we may take one or two as typical.

One of the most beautiful was evolved at Rome. On the border of
the medieval city stands the church of "Domine quo vadis"; it
was erected in honour of a stone, which is still preserved,
bearing a mark resembling a human footprint--perhaps the bed of a

Out of this a pious legend grew as naturally as a wild rose in a
prairie. According to this story, in one of the first great
persecutions the heart of St. Peter failed him, and he
attempted to flee from the city: arriving outside the walls he
was suddenly confronted by the Master, whereupon Peter in
amazement asked, "Lord, whither goest thou?" (Domine quo
vadis?); to which the Master answered, "To Rome, to be crucified
again." The apostle, thus rebuked, returned to martyrdom; the
Master vanished, but left, as a perpetual memorial, his footprint
in the solid rock.

Another legend accounts for a curious mark in a stone at
Jerusalem. According to this, St. Thomas, after the ascension
of the Lord, was again troubled with doubts, whereupon the Virgin
Mother threw down her girdle, which left its imprint upon the
rock, and thus converted the doubter fully and finally.

And still another example is seen at the very opposite extreme of
Europe, in the legend of the priestess of Hertha in the island of
Rugen. She had been unfaithful to her vows, and the gods
furnished a proof of her guilt by causing her and her child to
sink into the rock on which she stood.[423]

[423] For myths and legend crystallizing about boulders and other
stones curiously shaped or marked, see, on the general subject,
in addition to works already cited, Des Brosses, Les Dieux
Fetiches, 1760, passim, but especially pages 166, 167; and for a
condensed statement as to worship paid them, see Gerard de
Rialle, Mythologie comparee, vol. vi, chapter ii. For imprints
of Buddha's feet, see Tylor, Researches into the Early History of
Mankind, London, 1878, pp. 115 et seq.; also Coleman, p. 203, and
Charton, Voyageurs anciens et modernes, tome i, pp. 365, 366,
where engravings of one of the imprints, and of the temple above
another, are seen. There are five which are considered authentic
by the Siamese, and a multitude of others more or less strongly
insisted upon. For the imprint os Moses' body, see travellers
from Sir John Mandeville down. For the mark of Neptune's
trident, see last edition of Murray's Handbook of Greece, vol. i,
p. 322; and Burnouf, La Legende Athenienne, p. 153. For imprint
of the feet of Christ, and of the Virgin's girdle and tears, see
many of the older travellers in Palestine, as Arculf, Bouchard,
Roger, and especially Bertrandon de la Brocquiere in Wright's
collection, pp. 339, 340; also Maundrell's Travels, and
Mandeville. For the curious legend regarding the imprint of
Abraham's foot, see Weil, Biblische Legenden der Muselmanner, pp.
91 et seq. For many additional examples in Palestine,
particularly the imprints of the bodies of three apostles on
stones in the Garden of Gethsemane and of St. Jerome's body in
the desert, see Beauvau, Relation du Voyage du Lavant, Nancy,
1615, passim. For the various imprints made by Satan and giants
in Scandanavia and Germany, see Thorpe, vol. ii, p. 85;
Friedrichs, pp. 126 and passim. For a very rich collection of
such explanatory legends regarding stones and marks in Germany,
see Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Marchen und Gebrauche aus Meklenburg,
Wien, 1880, vol. ii, pp. 420 et seq. For a woodcut representing
the imprint of Christ's feet on the stone from which he ascended
to heaven, see woodcut in Mandeville, edition of 1484, in the
White Library, Cornell University. For the legend of Domine quo
vadis, see many books of travel and nearly all guide books for
Rome, from the mediaeval Mirabilia Romae to the latest edition of
Murray. The footprints of Mohammed at Cairo were shown to the
present writer in 1889. On the general subject, with many
striking examples, see Falsan, La Periode glaciaire, Paris, 1889,
pp. 17, 294, 295.

Another and very fruitful source of explanatory myths is found in
ancient centres of volcanic action, and especially in old craters
of volcanoes and fissures filled with water.

In China we have, among other examples, Lake Man, which was once
the site of the flourishing city Chiang Shui--overwhelmed and
sunk on account of the heedlessness of its inhabitants regarding
a divine warning.

In Phrygia, the lake and morass near Tyana were ascribed to the
wrath of Zeus and Hermes, who, having visited the cities which
formerly stood there, and having been refused shelter by all the
inhabitants save Philemon and Baucis, rewarded their benefactors,
but sunk the wicked cities beneath the lake and morass.

Stories of similar import grew up to explain the crater near
Sipylos in Asia Minor and that of Avernus in Italy: the latter
came to be considered the mouth of the infernal regions, as every
schoolboy knows when he has read his Virgil.

In the later Christian mythologies we have such typical legends
as those which grew up about the old crater in Ceylon; the salt
water in it being accounted for by supposing it the tears of Adam
and Eve, who retreated to this point after their expulsion from
paradise and bewailed their sin during a hundred years.

So, too, in Germany we have multitudes of lakes supposed to owe
their origin to the sinking of valleys as a punishment for human
sin. Of these are the "Devil's Lake," near Gustrow, which rose
and covered a church and its priests on account of their
corruption; the lake at Probst-Jesar, which rose and covered an
oak grove and a number of peasants resting in it on account of
their want of charity to beggars; and the Lucin Lake, which rose
and covered a number of soldiers on account of their cruelty to a
poor peasant.

Such legends are found throughout America and in Japan, and will
doubtless be found throughout Asia and Africa, and especially
among the volcanic lakes of South America, the pitch lakes of the
Caribbean Islands, and even about the Salt Lake of Utah; for
explanatory myths and legends under such circumstances are

[424] As to myths explaining volcanic craters and lakes, and
embodying ideas of the wrath of Heaven against former inhabitants
of the neighboring country, see Forbiger, Alte Geographie,
Hamburg, 1877, vol. i, p. 563. For exaggerations concerning the
Dead Sea, see ibid., vol. i, p. 575. For the sinking of Chiang
Shui and other examples, see Denny's Folklore of China, pp. 126
et seq. For the sinking of the Phrygian region, the destruction
of its inhabitants, and the saving of Philemon and Baucis, see
Ovid's Metamorphoses, book viii; also Botticher, Baumcultus der
Alten, etc. For the lake in Ceylon arising from the tears of
Adam and Eve, see variants of the original legend in Mandeville
and in Jurgen Andersen, Reisebeschreibung, 1669, vol. ii, p. 132.
For the volcanic nature of the Dead Sea, see Daubeny, cited in
Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. Palestine. For lakes in
Germany owing their origin to human sin and various supernatural
causes, see Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Marche und Gebrauche aus
Meklenburg, vol. i, pp. 397 et seq. For lakes in America, see
any good collection of Indian legends. For lakes in Japan sunk
supernaturally, see Braun's Japanesische Marche und Sagen,
Leipsic, 1885, pp. 350, 351.

To the same manner of explaining striking appearances in physical
geography, and especially strange rocks and boulders, we mainly
owe the innumerable stories of the transformation of living
beings, and especially of men and women, into these natural

In the mythology of China we constantly come upon legends of such
transformations--from that of the first Counsellor of the Han
dynasty to those of shepherds and sheep. In the Brahmanic
mythology of India, Salagrama, the fossil ammonite, is recognised
as containing the body of Vishnu's wife, and the Binlang stone
has much the same relation to Siva; so, too, the nymph Ramba was
changed, for offending Ketu, into a mass of sand; by the breath
of Siva elephants were turned into stone; and in a very touching
myth Luxman is changed into stone but afterward released. In
the Buddhist mythology a Nat demon is represented as changing
himself into a grain of sand.

Among the Greeks such transformation myths come constantly before
us--both the changing of stones to men and the changing of men to
stones. Deucalion and Pyrrha, escaping from the flood,
repeopled the earth by casting behind them stones which became
men and women; Heraulos was changed into stone for offending
Mercury; Pyrrhus for offending Rhea; Phineus, and Polydectes with
his guests, for offending Perseus: under the petrifying glance
of Medusa's head such transformations became a thing of course.

To myth-making in obedience to the desire of explaining unusual
natural appearances, coupled with the idea that sin must be
followed by retribution, we also owe the well-known Niobe myth.
Having incurred the divine wrath, Niobe saw those dearest to her
destroyed by missiles from heaven, and was finally transformed
into a rock on Mount Sipylos which bore some vague resemblance to
the human form, and her tears became the rivulets which trickled
from the neighbouring strata.

Thus, in obedience to a moral and intellectual impulse, a
striking geographical appearance was explained, and for ages
pious Greeks looked with bated breath upon the rock at Sipylos
which was once Niobe, just as for ages pious Jews, Christians,
and Mohammedans looked with awe upon the salt pillar at the Dead
Sea which was once Lot's wife.

Pausanias, one of the most honest of ancient travellers, gives us
a notable exhibition of this feeling. Having visited this
monument of divine vengeance at Mount Sipylos, he tells us very
naively that, though he could discern no human features when
standing near it, he thought that he could see them when standing
at a distance. There could hardly be a better example of that
most common and deceptive of all things--belief created by the
desire to believe.

In the pagan mythology of Scandinavia we have such typical
examples as Bors slaying the giant Ymir and transforming his
bones into boulders; also "the giant who had no heart"
transforming six brothers and their wives into stone; and, in
the old Christian mythology, St. Olaf changing into stone the
wicked giants who opposed his preaching.

So, too, in Celtic countries we have in Ireland such legends as
those of the dancers turned into stone; and, in Brittany, the
stones at Plesse, which were once hunters and dogs violating the
sanctity of Sunday; and the stones of Carnac, which were once
soldiers who sought to kill St. Cornely.

Teutonic mythology inherited from its earlier Eastern days a
similar mass of old legends, and developed a still greater mass
of new ones. Thus, near the Konigstein, which all visitors to
the Saxon Switzerland know so well, is a boulder which for ages
was believed to have once been a maiden transformed into stone
for refusing to go to church; and near Rosenberg in Mecklenburg
is another curiously shaped stone of which a similar story is
told. Near Spornitz, in the same region, are seven boulders
whose forms and position are accounted for by a long and
circumstantial legend that they were once seven impious herdsmen;
near Brahlsdorf is a stone which, according to a similar
explanatory myth, was once a blasphemous shepherd; near Schwerin
are three boulders which were once wasteful servants; and at
Neustadt, down to a recent period, was shown a collection of
stones which were once a bride and bridegroom with their
horses--all punished for an act of cruelty; and these stories are
but typical of thousands.

At the other extremity of Europe we may take, out of the
multitude of explanatory myths, that which grew about the
well-known group of boulders near Belgrade. In the midst of
them stands one larger than the rest: according to the legend
which was developed to account for all these, there once lived
there a swineherd, who was disrespectful to the consecrated Host;
whereupon he was changed into the larger stone, and his swine
into the smaller ones. So also at Saloniki we have the pillars
of the ruined temple, which are widely believed, especially among
the Jews of that region, to have once been human beings, and are
therefore known as the "enchanted columns."

Among the Arabs we have an addition to our sacred account of
Adam--the legend of the black stone of the Caaba at Mecca, into
which the angel was changed who was charged by the Almighty to
keep Adam away from the forbidden fruit, and who neglected his

Similar old transformation legends are abundant among the Indians
of America, the negroes of Africa, and the natives of Australia
and the Pacific islands.

Nor has this making of myths to account for remarkable
appearances yet ceased, even in civilized countries.

About the beginning of this century the Grand Duke of Weimar,
smitten with the classical mania of his time, placed in the
public park near his palace a little altar, and upon this was
carved, after the manner so frequent in classical antiquity, a
serpent taking a cake from it. And shortly there appeared, in
the town and the country round about, a legend to explain this
altar and its decoration. It was commonly said that a huge
serpent had laid waste that region in the olden time, until a
wise and benevolent baker had rid the world of the monster by
means of a poisoned biscuit.

So, too, but a few years since, in the heart of the State of New
York, a swindler of genius having made and buried a "petrified
giant," one theologian explained it by declaring it a Phoenician
idol, and published the Phoenician inscription which he thought
he had found upon it; others saw in it proofs that "there were
giants in those days," and within a week after its discovery
myths were afloat that the neighbouring remnant of the Onondaga
Indians had traditions of giants who frequently roamed through
that region.[425]

[425] For transformation myths and legends, identifying rocks and
stones with gods and heroes, see Welcker, Gotterlehre, vol. i, p.
220. For recent and more accessible statements for the general
reader, see Robertson Smith's admirable Lectures on the Religion
of the Semites, Edinburgh, 1889, pp. 86 et seq. For some
thoughtful remarks on the ancient adoration of stones rather than
statues, with refernce to the anointing of stones at Bethel by
Jacob, see Dodwell, Tour through Greece, vol. ii, p. 172; also
Robertson Smith, as above, Lecture V. For Chinese transformation
legends, see Denny's Folklore of China, pp. 96, 128. For Hindu
and other ancient legends of transformations, see Dawson,
Dictionary of Hindu Mythology; also Coleman, as above; also Cox,
Mythology of the Aryan Nations, pp. 81-97, etc. For such
transformations in Greece, see the Iliad, and Ovid, as above;
also Stark, Niobe und die Niobiden, p. 444 and elsewhere; also
Preller, Griechische Mythologie, passim; also Baumeister,
Denkmaler des classischen Alterthums, article Niobe; also
Botticher,as above; also Curtius, Griechische Geschichte, vol.i,
pp. 71, 72. For Pausanius's naive confession regarding the
Sipylos rock, see book i, p. 215. See also Texier, Asie Mineure,
pp. 265 et seq.; also Chandler, Travels in Greece, vol. ii, p.
80, who seems to hold to the later origin of the statue. At the
end of Baumeister there is an engraving copied from Stuart which
seems to show that, as to the Niobe legend, at a later period,
Art was allowed to help Nature. For the general subject, see
Scheiffle, Programm des K. Gymnasiums in Ellwangen: Mythologische
Parallelen, 1865. For Scandinavian and Teutonic transformation
legends, see Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, vierte Ausg., vol. i, p.
457; also Thorpe, Northern Antiquities; also Friedrich, passim,
especially p. 116 et seq.; also, for a mass of very curious ones,
Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Marchen und gebrauche aus Meklenburg, vol.
i, pp. 420 et seq.; also Karl Simrock's edition of the Edda,
ninth edition, p. 319; also John Fiske, Myths and Myth-makers,
pp. 8, 9. On the universality of such legends and myths, see
Ritter's Erdkunde, vol. xiv, pp. 1098-1122. For Irish examples,
see Manz, Real-Encyclopadie, article Stein; and for multitudes of
examples in Brittany, see Sebillot, Traditions de la Haute-
Bretagne. For the enchanted columns at Saloniki, see the latest
edition of Murray's Handbook of Turkey, vol. ii, p. 711. For the
legend of the angel changed into stone for neglecting to guard
Adam, see Weil, university librarian at Heidelberg, Biblische
Legende der Muselmanner, Frankfort-am-Main, 1845, pp. 37, 84.
For similar transformation legends in Australia and among the
American Indians, see Andrew Lang, Mythology, French translation,
pp. 83, 102; also his Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. i, pp. 150
et seq., citing numerous examples from J. G. Muller,
Urreligionen, and Dorman's Primitive Superstitions; also Report
of the Bureau of Ethnoligy for 1880-'81; and for an African
example, see account of the rock at Balon which was once a woman,
in Berenger-Feraud, Contes populaires de la Senegambie, chap.
viii. For the Weimar legend, see Lewes, Life of Goethe, book iv.
For the myths which arose about the swindling "Cardiff giant" in
the State of New York, see especially an article by G. A.
Stockwell, M. D., in The Popular Science Monthly for June, 1878;
see also W. A. McKinney in The New-Englander for October, 1875;
and for the "Phoenician inscription," given at length with a
translation, see the Rev. Alexander McWhorter, in The Galaxy for
July, 1872. The present writer visited the "giant" shortly after
it was "discovered," carefully observed it, and the myths to
which it gave rise, has in his possession a mass of curious
documents regarding this fraud, and hopes ere long to prepare a
supplement to Dr. Stockwell's valuable paper.

To the same stage of thought belongs the conception of human
beings changed into trees. But, in the historic evolution of
religion and morality, while changes into stone or rock were
considered as punishments, or evidences of divine wrath, those
into trees and shrubs were frequently looked upon as rewards, or
evidences of divine favour.

A very beautiful and touching form of this conception is seen in
such myths as the change of Philemon into the oak, and of Baucis
into the linden; of Myrrha into the myrtle; of Melos into the
apple tree; of Attis into the pine; of Adonis into the rose
tree; and in the springing of the vine and grape from the blood
of the Titans, the violet from the blood of Attis, and the
hyacinth from the blood of Hyacinthus.

Thus it was, during the long ages when mankind saw everywhere
miracle and nowhere law, that, in the evolution of religion and
morality, striking features in physical geography became
connected with the idea of divine retribution.[426]

[426] For the view taken in Greece and Rome of transformations
into trees and shrubs, see Botticher, Baumcultus der Hellenen,
book i, chap. xix; also Ovid, Metamorphoses, passim; also
foregoing notes.

But, in the natural course of intellectual growth, thinking men
began to doubt the historical accuracy of these myths and
legends--or, at least, to doubt all save those of the theology in
which they happened to be born; and the next step was taken when
they began to make comparisons between the myths and legends of
different neighbourhoods and countries: so came into being the
science of comparative mythology--a science sure to be of vast
value, because, despite many stumblings and vagaries, it shows
ever more and more how our religion and morality have been
gradually evolved, and gives a firm basis to a faith that higher
planes may yet be reached.

Such a science makes the sacred books of the world more and more
precious, in that it shows how they have been the necessary
envelopes of our highest spiritual sustenance; how even myths
and legends apparently the most puerile have been the natural
husks and rinds and shells of our best ideas; and how the
atmosphere is created in which these husks and rinds and shells
in due time wither, shrivel, and fall away, so that the fruit
itself may be gathered to sustain a nobler religion and a purer

The coming in of Christianity contributed elements of inestimable
value in this evolution, and, at the centre of all, the thoughts,
words, and life of the Master. But when, in the darkness that
followed the downfall of the Roman Empire, there was developed a
theology and a vast ecclesiastical power to enforce it, the most
interesting chapters in this evolution of religion and morality
were removed from the domain of science.

So it came that for over eighteen hundred years it has been
thought natural and right to study and compare the myths and
legends arising east and west and south and north of Palestine
with each other, but never with those of Palestine itself; so it
came that one of the regions most fruitful in materials for
reverent thought and healthful comparison was held exempt from
the unbiased search for truth; so it came that, in the name of
truth, truth was crippled for ages. While observation, and
thought upon observation, and the organized knowledge or science
which results from these, progressed as regarded the myths and
legends of other countries, and an atmosphere was thus produced
giving purer conceptions of the world and its government, myths
of that little geographical region at the eastern end of the
Mediterranean retained possession of the civilized world in their
original crude form, and have at times done much to thwart the
noblest efforts of religion, morality, and civilization.


The history of myths, of their growth under the earlier phases of
human thought and of their decline under modern thinking, is one
of the most interesting and suggestive of human studies; but,
since to treat it as a whole would require volumes, I shall
select only one small group, and out of this mainly a single
myth--one about which there can no longer be any dispute--the
group of myths and legends which grew upon the shore of the Dead
Sea, and especially that one which grew up to account for the
successive salt columns washed out by the rains at its
southwestern extremity.

The Dead Sea is about fifty miles in length and ten miles in
width; it lies in a very deep fissure extending north and south,
and its surface is about thirteen hundred feet below that of the
Mediterranean. It has, therefore, no outlet, and is the
receptacle for the waters of the whole system to which it
belongs, including those collected by the Sea of Galilee and
brought down thence by the river Jordan.

It certainly--or at least the larger part of it--ranks
geologically among the oldest lakes on earth. In a broad sense
the region is volcanic: On its shore are evidences of volcanic
action, which must from the earliest period have aroused wonder
and fear, and stimulated the myth-making tendency to account for
them. On the eastern side are impressive mountain masses which
have been thrown up from old volcanic vents; mineral and hot
springs abound, some of them spreading sulphurous odours;
earthquakes have been frequent, and from time to time these have
cast up masses of bitumen; concretions of sulphur and large
formations of salt constantly appear.

The water which comes from the springs or oozes through the salt
layers upon its shores constantly brings in various salts in
solution, and, being rapidly evaporated under the hot sun and dry
wind, there has been left, in the bed of the lake, a strong brine
heavily charged with the usual chlorides and bromides--a sort of
bitter "mother liquor" This fluid has become so dense as to have
a remarkable power of supporting the human body; it is of an
acrid and nauseating bitterness; and by ordinary eyes no
evidence of life is seen in it.

Thus it was that in the lake itself, and in its surrounding
shores, there was enough to make the generation of explanatory
myths on a large scale inevitable.

The main northern part of the lake is very deep, the plummet
having shown an abyss of thirteen hundred feet; but the southern
end is shallow and in places marshy.

The system of which it forms a part shows a likeness to that in
South America of which the mountain lake Titicaca is the main
feature; as a receptacle for surplus waters, only rendering them
by evaporation, it resembles the Caspian and many other seas; as
a sort of evaporating dish for the leachings of salt rock, and
consequently holding a body of water unfit to support the higher
forms of animal life, it resembles, among others, the Median lake
of Urumiah; as a deposit of bitumen, it resembles the pitch
lakes of Trinidad.[427]

[427] For modern views of the Dead Sea, see the Rev. Edward
Robinson, D. D., Biblical Researches, various editions; Lynch's
Exploring Expedition; De Saulcy, Voyage autour de la Mer Morte;
Stanley's Palestine and Syria; Schaff's Through Bible Lands; and
other travellers hereafter quoted. For good photogravures,
showing the character of the whole region, see the atlas forming
part of De Luynes's monumental Voyage d'Exploration. For
geographical summaries, see Reclus, La Terre, Paris, 1870, pp.
832-834; Ritter, Erdkunde, volumes devoted to Palestine and
especially as supplemented in Gage's translation with additions;
Reclus, Nouvelle Geographie Universelle, vol. ix, p. 736, where a
small map is given presenting the difference in depth between the
two ends of the lake, of which so much was made theologically
before Lartet. For still better maps, see De Saulcy, and
especially De Luynes, Voyage d'Exploration (atlas). For very
interesting panoramic views, see last edition of Canon Tristram's
Land of Israel, p. 635. For the geology, see Lartet, in his
reports to the French Geographical Society, and especially in
vol. iii of De Luynes's work, where there is an admirable
geological map with sections, etc.; also Ritter; also Sir J. W.
Dawson's Egypt and Syria, published by the Religious Tract
Society; also Rev. Cunningham Geikie, D. D., Geology of
Palestine; and for pictures showing salt formation, Tristram, as
above. For the meteorology, see Vignes, report to De Luynes, pp.
65 et seq. For chemistry of the Dead Sea, see as above, and
Terreil's report, given in Gage's Ritter, vol. iii, appendix 2,
and tables in De Luynes's third volume. For zoology of the Dead
Sea, as to entire absence of life in it, see all earlier
travellers; as to presence of lower forms of life, see
Ehrenberg's microscopic examinations in Gage's Ritter. See also
reports in third volume of De Luynes. For botany of the Dead
Sea, and especially regarding "apples of Sodom," see Dr. Lortet's
La Syrie, p. 412; also Reclus, Nouvelle Geographie, vol. ix, p.
737; also for photographic representations of them, see portfolio
forming part of De Luynes's work, plate 27. For Strabo's very
perfect description, see his Geog., lib. xvi, cap. ii; also
Fallmerayer, Werke, pp. 177, 178. For names and positions of a
large number of salt lakes in various parts of the world more or
less resembling the Dead Sea, see De Luynes, vol. iii, pp. 242 et
seq. For Trinidad "pitch lakes," found by Sir Walter Raleigh in
1595, see Lengegg, El Dorado, part i, p. 103, and part ii, p.
101; also Reclus, Ritter, et al. For the general subject, see
Schenkel, Bibel-Lexikon, s.v. Todtes Meer, an excellent summery.
The description of the Dead Sea in Lenormant's great history is
utterly unworthy of him, and must have been thrown together from
old notes after his death. It is amazing to see in such a work
the old superstitions that birds attempting to fly over the sea
are sufficated. See Lenormant, Histoire ancienne de l'Orient,
edition of 1888, vol. vi, p. 112. For the absorption and
adoption of foreign myths and legends by the Jews, see
Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, p. 390. For the
views of Greeks and Romans, see especially Tacitus, Historiae,
book v, Pliny, and Strabo, in whose remarks are the germs of many
of the mediaeval myths. For very curious examples of these, see
Baierus, De Excidio Sodomae, Halle, 1690, passim.

In all this there is nothing presenting any special difficulty to
the modern geologist or geographer; but with the early dweller
in Palestine the case was very different. The rocky, barren
desolation of the Dead Sea region impressed him deeply; he
naturally reasoned upon it; and this impression and reasoning we
find stamped into the pages of his sacred literature, rendering
them all the more precious as a revelation of the earlier thought
of mankind. The long circumstantial account given in Genesis,
its application in Deuteronomy, its use by Amos, by Isaiah, by
Jeremiah, by Zephaniah, and by Ezekiel, the references to it in
the writings attributed to St. Paul, St. Peter, and St.
Jude, in the Apocalypse, and, above all, in more than one
utterance of the Master himself--all show how deeply these
geographical features impressed the Jewish mind.

At a very early period, myths and legends, many and
circumstantial, grew up to explain features then so

As the myth and legend grew up among the Greeks of a refusal of
hospitality to Zeus and Hermes by the village in Phrygia, and the
consequent sinking of that beautiful region with its inhabitants
beneath a lake and morass, so there came belief in a similar
offence by the people of the beautiful valley of Siddim, and the
consequent sinking of that valley with its inhabitants beneath
the waters of the Dead Sea. Very similar to the accounts of the
saving of Philemon and Baucis are those of the saving of Lot and
his family.

But the myth-making and miracle-mongering by no means ceased in
ancient times; they continued to grow through the medieval and
modern period until they have quietly withered away in the light
of modern scientific investigation, leaving to us the religious
and moral truths they inclose.

It would be interesting to trace this whole group of myths:
their origin in times prehistoric, their development in Greece
and Rome, their culmination during the ages of faith, and their
disappearance in the age of science. It would be especially
instructive to note the conscientious efforts to prolong their
life by making futile compromises between science and theology
regarding them; but I shall mention this main group only
incidentally, confining my self almost entirely to the one above
named--the most remarkable of all--the myth which grew about the
salt pillars of Usdum.

I select this mainly because it involves only elementary
principles, requires no abstruse reasoning, and because all
controversy regarding it is ended. There is certainly now no
theologian with a reputation to lose who will venture to revive
the idea regarding it which was sanctioned for hundreds, nay,
thousands, of years by theology, was based on Scripture, and was
held by the universal Church until our own century.

The main feature of the salt region of Usdum is a low range of
hills near the southwest corner of the Dead Sea, extending in a
southeasterly direction for about five miles, and made up mainly
of salt rock. This rock is soft and friable, and, under the
influence of the heavy winter rains, it has been, without doubt,
from a period long before human history, as it is now, cut ever
into new shapes, and especially into pillars or columns, which
sometimes bear a resemblance to the human form.

An eminent clergyman who visited this spot recently speaks of the
appearance of this salt range as follows:

"Fretted by fitful showers and storms, its ridge is exceedingly
uneven, its sides carved out and constantly changing;...and
each traveller might have a new pillar of salt to wonder over at
intervals of a few years."[428]

[428] As to the substance of the "pillars" or "statues" or
"needles" of salt at Usdum, many travellers speak of it as "marl
and salt." Irby and Mangles, in their Travels in Egypt, Nubia,
Syria, and the Holy Land, chap. vii, call it "salt and hardened
sand." The citation as to frequent carving out of new "pillars"
is from the Travels in Palestine of the Rev. H. F. Osborn, D. D.;
see also Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, vol.ii, pp. 478, 479. For
engravings of the salt pillar at different times, compare that
given by Lynch in 1848, when it appeared as a column forty feet
high, with that given by Palmer as the frontpiece to his Desert
of the Exodus, Cambridge, England, 1871, when it was small and
"does really bear a curious resemblance to an Arab woman with a
child upon he shoulders", and this again with the picture of the
salt formation at Usdum given by Canon Tristram, at whose visit
there was neither "pillar" nor "statue." See The Land of Israel,
by H. B. Tristram, D. D., F. R. S., London, 1882, p. 324. For
similar pillars of salt washed out from the mud at Catalonia, see

Few things could be more certain than that, in the indolent
dream-life of the East, myths and legends would grow up to
account for this as for other strange appearances in all that
region. The question which a religious Oriental put to himself
in ancient times at Usdum was substantially that which his
descendant to-day puts to himself at Kosseir. "Why is this
region thus blasted?" "Whence these pillars of salt?" or
"Whence these blocks of granite?" "What aroused the vengeance of
Jehovah or of Allah to work these miracles of desolation?"

And, just as Maxime Du Camp recorded the answer of the modern
Shemite at Kosseir, so the compilers of the Jewish sacred books
recorded the answer of the ancient Shemite at the Dead Sea; just
as Allah at Kosseir blasted the land and transformed the melons
into boulders which are seen to this day, so Jehovah at Usdum
blasted the land and transformed Lot's wife into a pillar of
salt, which is seen to this day.

No more difficulty was encountered in the formation of the Lot
legend, to account for that rock resembling the human form, than
in the formation of the Niobe legend, which accounted for a
supposed resemblance in the rock at Sipylos: it grew up just as
we have seen thousands of similar myths and legends grow up about
striking natural appearances in every early home of the human
race. Being thus consonant with the universal view regarding
the relation of physical geography to the divine government, it
became a treasure of the Jewish nation and of the Christian
Church--a treasure not only to be guarded against all hostile
intrusion, but to be increased, as we shall see, by the
myth-making powers of Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans for
thousands of years. The spot where the myth originated was
carefully kept in mind; indeed, it could not escape, for in that
place alone were constantly seen the phenomena which gave rise to
it. We have a steady chain of testimony through the ages, all
pointing to the salt pillar as the irrefragable evidence of
divine judgment. That great theological test of truth, the
dictum of St. Vincent of Lerins, would certainly prove that the
pillar was Lot's wife, for it was believed so to be by Jews,
Christians, and Mohammedans from the earliest period down to a
time almost within present memory-- "always, everywhere, and by
all." It would stand perfectly the ancient test insisted upon by
Cardinal Newman," Securus judicat orbis terrarum."

For, ever since the earliest days of Christianity, the identity
of the salt pillar with Lot's wife has been universally held and
supported by passages in Genesis, in St. Luke's Gospel, and in
the Second Epistle of St. Peter--coupled with a passage in the
book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which to this day, by a majority
in the Christian Church, is believed to be inspired, and from
which are specially cited the words, "A standing pillar of salt
is a monument of an unbelieving soul."[429]

[429] For the usual biblical citations, see Genesis xix, 26; St.
Luke xvii, 32; II Peter ii, 6. For the citation from Wisdom, see
chap. x, v. 7. For the account of the transformation of Lot's
wife put into its proper relations with the Jehovistic and
Elohistic documents, see Lenormant's La Genese, Paris, 1883, pp.
53, 199, and 317, 318.

Never was chain of belief more continuous. In the first century
of the Christian era Josephus refers to the miracle, and declares
regarding the statue, "I have seen it, and it remains at this
day"; and Clement, Bishop of Rome, one of the most revered
fathers of the Church, noted for the moderation of his
statements, expresses a similar certainty, declaring the
miraculous statue to be still standing.

In the second century that great father of the Church, bishop and
martyr, Irenaeus, not only vouched for it, but gave his approval
to the belief that the soul of Lot's wife still lingered in the
statue, giving it a sort of organic life: thus virtually began
in the Church that amazing development of the legend which we
shall see taking various forms through the Middle Ages--the story
that the salt statue exercised certain physical functions which
in these more delicate days can not be alluded to save under
cover of a dead language.

This addition to the legend, which in these signs of life, as in
other things, is developed almost exactly on the same lines with
the legend of the Niobe statue in the rock of Mount Sipylos and
with the legends of human beings transformed into boulders in
various mythologies, was for centuries regarded as an additional
confirmation of revealed truth.

In the third century the myth burst into still richer bloom in a
poem long ascribed to Tertullian. In this poem more miraculous
characteristics of the statue are revealed. It could not be
washed away by rains; it could not be overthrown by winds; any
wound made upon it was miraculously healed; and the earlier
statements as to its physical functions were amplified in
sonorous Latin verse.

With this appeared a new legend regarding the Dead Sea; it
became universally believed, and we find it repeated throughout
the whole medieval period, that the bitumen could only he
dissolved by such fluids as in the processes of animated nature
came from the statue.

The legend thus amplified we shall find dwelt upon by pious
travellers and monkish chroniclers for hundreds of years: so it
came to he more and more treasured by the universal Church, and
held more and more firmly--"always, everywhere, and by all."

In the two following centuries we have an overwhelming mass of
additional authority for the belief that the very statue of salt
into which Lot's wife was transformed was still existing. In
the fourth, the continuance of the statue was vouched for by St.
Silvia, who visited the place: though she could not see it, she
was told by the Bishop of Segor that it had been there some time
before, and she concluded that it had been temporarily covered by
the sea. In both the fourth and fifth centuries such great
doctors in the Church as St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, and
St. Cyril of Jerusalem agreed in this belief and statement; hence
it was, doubtless, that the Hebrew word which is translated in
the authorized English version "pillar," was translated in the
Vulgate, which the majority of Christians believe virtually
inspired, by the word "statue"; we shall find this fact insisted
upon by theologians arguing in behalf of the statue, as a result
and monument of the miracle, for over fourteen hundred years

[430] See Josephus, Antiquities, book i, chap. xi; Epist. I;
Cyril Hieros, Catech., xix; Chrysostom, Hom. XVIII, XLIV, in
Genes.; Irenaeus, lib. iv, c. xxxi, of his Heresies, edition
Oxon., 1702. For St. Silvia, see S. Silviae Aquitanae
Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta, Romae, 1887, p. 55; also edition of
1885, p. 25. For recent translation, see Pilgrimage of St.
Silvia, p. 28, in publications of Palestine Text Society for
1891. For legends of signs of continued life in boulders and
stones into which human beings have been transformed for sin, see
Karl Bartsch, Sage, etc., vol. ii, pp. 420 et seq.

About the middle of the sixth century Antoninus Martyr visited
the Dead Sea region and described it, but curiously reversed a
simple truth in these words: "Nor do sticks or straws float
there, nor can a man swim, but whatever is cast into it sinks
to the bottom." As to the statue of Lot's wife, he threw doubt
upon its miraculous renewal, but testified that it was still

In the seventh century the Targum of Jerusalem not only testified
that the salt pillar at Usdum was once Lot's wife, but declared
that she must retain that form until the general resurrection.
In the seventh century too, Bishop Arculf travelled to the Dead
Sea, and his work was added to the treasures of the Church. He
greatly develops the legend, and especially that part of it given
by Josephus. The bitumen that floats upon the sea "resembles
gold and the form of a bull or camel"; "birds can not live near
it"; and "the very beautiful apples" which grow there, when
plucked, "burn and are reduced to ashes, and smoke as if they
were still burning."

In the eighth century the Venerable Bede takes these statements
of Arculf and his predecessors, binds them together in his work
on The Holy Places, and gives the whole mass of myths and
legends an enormous impulse.[431]

[431] For Antoninus Martyr, see Tobler's edition of his work in
the Itinera, vol. i, p. 100, Geneva, 1877. For the Targum of
Jerusalem, see citation in Quaresmius, Terrae Sanctae
Elucidation, Peregrinatio vi, cap. xiv; new Venice edition. For
Arculf, see Tobler. For Bede, see his De Locis Sanctis in
Tobler's Itinera, vol. i, p. 228. For an admirable statement of
the mediaeval theological view of scientific research, see
Eicken, Geschichte der mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung,
Stuttgart, 1887, chap. vi.

In the tenth century new force is given to it by the pious Moslem
Mukadassi. Speaking of the town of Segor, near the salt region,
he says that the proper translation of its name is "Hell"; and
of the lake he says, "Its waters are hot, even as though the
place stood over hell-fire."

In the crusading period, immediately following, all the legends
burst forth more brilliantly than ever.

The first of these new travellers who makes careful statements is
Fulk of Chartres, who in 1100 accompanied King Baldwin to the
Dead Sea and saw many wonders; but, though he visited the salt
region at Usdum, he makes no mention of the salt pillar:
evidently he had fallen on evil times; the older statues had
probably been washed away, and no new one had happened to be
washed out of the rocks just at that period.

But his misfortune was more than made up by the triumphant
experience of a far more famous traveller, half a century
later--Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela.

Rabbi Benjamin finds new evidences of miracle in the Dead Sea,
and develops to a still higher point the legend of the salt
statue of Lot's wife, enriching the world with the statement that
it was steadily and miraculously rene wed; that, though the
cattle of the region licked its surface, it never grew smaller.
Again a thrill of joy went through the monasteries and pulpits of
Christendom at this increasing "evidence of the truth of

Toward the end of the thirteenth century there appeared in
Palestine a traveller superior to most before or since--Count
Burchard, monk of Mount Sion. He had the advantage of knowing
something of Arabic, and his writings show him to have been
observant and thoughtful. No statue of Lot's wife appears to
have been washed clean of the salt rock at his visit, but he
takes it for granted that the Dead Sea is "the mouth of hell,"
and that the vapour rising from it is the smoke from Satan's

These ideas seem to have become part of the common stock, for
Ernoul, who travelled to the Dead Sea during the same century,
always speaks of it as the "Sea of Devils."

Near the beginning of the fourteenth century appeared the book of
far wider influence which bears the name of Sir John Mandeville,
and in the various editions of it myths and legends of the Dead
Sea and of the pillar of salt burst forth into wonderful

This book tells us that masses of fiery matter are every day
thrown up from the water "as large as a horse"; that, though it
contains no living thing, it has been shown that men thrown into
it can not die; and, finally, as if to prove the worthlessness
of devout testimony to the miraculous, he says: "And whoever
throws a piece of iron therein, it floats; and whoever throws a
feather therein, it sinks to the bottom; and, because that is
contrary to nature, I was not willing to believe it until I saw

The book, of course, mentions Lot's wife, and says that the
pillar of salt "stands there to-day," and "has a right salty

Injustice has perhaps been done to the compilers of this famous
work in holding them liars of the first magnitude. They simply
abhorred scepticism, and thought it meritorious to believe all
pious legends. The ideal Mandeville was a man of overmastering
faith, and resembled Tertullian in believing some things "because
they are impossible"; he was doubtless entirely conscientious;
the solemn ending of the book shows that he listened, observed,
and wrote under the deepest conviction, and those who re-edited
his book were probably just as honest in adding the later stories
of pious travellers.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, thus appealing to the
popular heart, were most widely read in the monasteries and
repeated among the people. Innumerable copies were made in
manuscript, and finally in print, and so the old myths received a
new life.[432]

[432] For Fulk of Chartres and crusading travellers generally,
see Bongars' Gesta Dei and the French Recueil; also Histories of
the Crusades by Wilken, Sybel, Kugler, and others; see also
Robinson, Biblical Researches, vol. ii, p. 109, and Tobler,
Bibliographia Geographica Palestinae, 1867, p. 12. For Benjamin
of Tudela's statement, see Wright's Collection of Travels in
Palestine, p. 84, and Asher's edition of Benjamin of Tudela's
travels, vol. i, pp. 71, 72; also Charton, vol. i, p. 180. For
Borchard or Burchard, see full text in the Reyssbuch dess
Heyligen Landes; also Grynaeus, Nov. Orbis, Basil, 1532, fol.
298, 329. For Ernoul, see his L'Estat de la Cite de Hierusalem,
in Michelant and Reynaud, Itineraires Francaises au 12me et 13me
Siecles. For Petrus Diaconus, see his book De Locis Sanctis,
edited by Gamurrini, Rome, 1887, pp. 126, 127. For Mandeville I
have compared several editions, especially those in the
Reyssbuch, in Canisius, and in Wright, with Halliwell's reprint
and with the rare Strasburg edition of 1484 in the Cornell
University Library: the whole statement regarding the experiment
with iron and feathers is given differently in different copies.
The statement that he saw the feathers sink and the iron swim is
made in the Reyssbuch edition, Frankfort, 1584. The story, like
the saints' legends, evidently grew as time went on, but is none
the less interesting as showing the general credulity. Since
writing the above, I have been glad to find my view of
Mandeville's honesty confirmed by the Rev. Dr. Robinson, and by
Mr. Gage in his edition of Ritter's Palestine.

In the fifteenth century wonders increased. In 1418 we have the
Lord of Caumont, who makes a pilgrimage and gives us a statement
which is the result of the theological reasoning of centuries,
and especially interesting as a typical example of the
theological method in contrast with the scientific. He could
not understand how the blessed waters of the Jordan could be
allowed to mingle with the accursed waters of the Dead Sea. In
spite, then, of the eye of sense, he beheld the water with the
eye of faith, and calmly announced that the Jordan water passes
through the sea, but that the two masses of water are not
mingled. As to the salt statue of Lot's wife, he declares it to
be still existing; and, copying a table of indulgences granted by
the Church to pious pilgrims, he puts down the visit to the salt
statue as giving an indulgence of seven years.

Toward the end of the century we have another traveller yet more
influential: Bernard of Breydenbach, Dean of Mainz. His book of
travels was published in 1486, at the famous press of Schoeffer,
and in various translations it was spread through Europe,
exercising an influence wide and deep. His first important
notice of the Dead Sea is as follows: "In this, Tirus the
serpent is found, and from him the Tiriac medicine is made. He
is blind, and so full of venom that there is no remedy for his
bite except cutting off the bitten part. He can only be taken by
striking him and making him angry; then his venom flies into his
head and tail." Breydenbach calls the Dead Sea "the chimney of
hell," and repeats the old story as to the miraculous solvent for
its bitumen. He, too, makes the statement that the holy water of
the Jordan does not mingle with the accursed water of the
infernal sea, but increases the miracle which Caumont had
announced by saying that, although the waters appear to come
together, the Jordan is really absorbed in the earth before it
reaches the sea.

As to Lot's wife, various travellers at that time had various
fortunes. Some, like Caumont and Breydenbach, took her
continued existence for granted; some, like Count John of Solms,
saw her and were greatly edified; some, like Hans Werli, tried to
find her and could not, but, like St. Silvia, a thousand years
before, were none the less edified by the idea that, for some
inscrutable purpose, the sea had been allowed to hide her from
them; some found her larger than they expected, even forty feet
high, as was the salt pillar which happened to be standing at the
visit of Commander Lynch in 1848; but this only added a new proof
to the miracle, for the text was remembered, "There were giants
in those days."

Out of the mass of works of pilgrims during the fifteenth century
I select just one more as typical of the theological view then
dominant, and this is the noted book of Felix Fabri, a preaching
friar of Ulm. I select him, because even so eminent an
authority in our own time as Dr. Edward Robinson declares him to
have been the most thorough, thoughtful, and enlightened
traveller of that century.

Fabri is greatly impressed by the wonders of the Dead Sea, and
typical of his honesty influenced by faith is his account of the
Dead Sea fruit; he describes it with almost perfect accuracy,
but adds the statement that when mature it is "filled with ashes
and cinders."

As to the salt statue, he says: "We saw the place between the
sea and Mount Segor, but could not see the statue itself because
we were too far distant to see anything of human size; but we saw
it with firm faith, because we believed Scripture, which speaks
of it; and we were filled with wonder."

To sustain absolute faith in the statue he reminds his reader's
that "God is able even of these stones to raise up seed to
Abraham," and goes into a long argument, discussing such
transformations as those of King Atlas and Pygmalion's statue,
with a multitude of others, winding up with the case, given in
the miracles of St. Jerome, of a heretic who was changed into a
log of wood, which was then burned.

He gives a statement of the Hebrews that Lot's wife received her
peculiar punishment because she had refused to add salt to the
food of the angels when they visited her, and he preaches a short
sermon in which he says that, as salt is the condiment of food,
so the salt statue of Lot's wife "gives us a condiment of

[433] For Bernard of Breydenbach, I have used the Latin edition,
Mentz, 1486, in the White collection, Cornell University, also
the German edition in the Reyssbuch. For John of Solms, Werli,
and the like, see the Reyssbuch, which gives a full text of their
travels. For Fabri (Schmid), see, for his value, Robinson; also
Tobler, Bibliographia, pp. 53 et seq.; and for texts, see
Reyssbuch, pp. 122b et seq., but best the Fratris Fel. Fabri
Evagatorium, ed. Hassler, Stuttgart, 1843, vol. iii, pp. 172 et
seq. His book now has been translated into English by the
Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society.

There were, indeed, many discrepancies in the testimony of
travellers regarding the salt pillar--so many, in fact, that at a
later period the learned Dom Calmet acknowledged that they shook
his belief in the whole matter; but, during this earlier time,
under the complete sway of the theological spirit, these
difficulties only gave new and more glorious opportunities for

For, if a considerable interval occurred between the washing of
one salt pillar out of existence and the washing of another into
existence, the idea arose that the statue, by virtue of the soul
which still remained in it, had departed on some mysterious
excursion. Did it happen that one statue was washed out one
year in one place and another statue another year in another
place, this difficulty was surmounted by believing that Lot's
wife still walked about. Did it happen that a salt column was
undermined by the rains and fell, this was believed to be but
another sign of life. Did a pillar happen to be covered in part
by the sea, this was enough to arouse the belief that the statue
from time to time descended into the Dead Sea depths--possibly to
satisfy that old fatal curiosity regarding her former neighbours.

Did some smaller block of salt happen to be washed out near the
statue, it was believed that a household dog, also transformed
into salt, had followed her back from beneath the deep. Did more
statues than one appear at one time, that simply made the mystery
more impressive.

In facts now so easy of scientific explanation the theologians
found wonderful matter for argument.

One great question among them was whether the soul of Lot's wife
did really remain in the statue. On one side it was insisted
that, as Holy Scripture declares that Lot's wife was changed into
a pillar of salt, and as she was necessarily made up of a soul
and a body, the soul must have become part of the statue. This
argument was clinched by citing that passage in the Book of
Wisdom in which the salt pillar is declared to be still standing
as "the monument of an unbelieving SOUL." On the other hand, it
was insisted that the soul of the woman must have been
incorporeal and immortal, and hence could not have been changed
into a substance corporeal and mortal. Naturally, to this it
would be answered that the salt pillar was no more corporeal than
the ordinary materials of the human body, and that it had been
made miraculously immortal, and "with God all things are
possible." Thus were opened long vistas of theological

[434] For a brief statement of the main arguments for and against
the idea that the soul of Lot's wife remained within the salt
statue, see Cornelius a Lapide, Commentarius in Pentateuchum,
Antwerp, 1697, chap. xix.

As we enter the sixteenth century the Dead Sea myths, and
especially the legends of Lot's wife, are still growing. In
1507 Father Anselm of the Minorites declares that the sea
sometimes covers the feet of the statue, sometimes the legs,
sometimes the whole body.

In 1555, Gabriel Giraudet, priest at Puy, journeyed through
Palestine. His faith was robust, and his attitude toward the
myths of the Dead Sea is seen by his declaration that its waters
are so foul that one can smell them at a distance of three
leagues; that straw, hay, or feathers thrown into them will
sink, but that iron and other metals will float; that criminals
have been kept in them three or four days and could not drown.
As to Lot's wife, he says that he found her "lying there, her
back toward heaven, converted into salt stone; for I touched her,
scratched her, and put a piece of her into my mouth, and she
tasted salt."

At the centre of all these legends we see, then, the idea that,
though there were no living beasts in the Dead Sea, the people of
the overwhelmed cities were still living beneath its waters,
probably in hell; that there was life in the salt statue; and
that it was still curious regarding its old neighbours.

Hence such travellers in the latter years of the century as Count
Albert of Lowenstein and Prince Nicolas Radziwill are not at all
weakened in faith by failing to find the statue. What the former
is capable of believing is seen by his statement that in a
certain cemetery at Cairo during one night in the year the dead
thrust forth their feet, hands, limbs, and even rise wholly from
their graves.

There seemed, then, no limit to these pious beliefs. The idea
that there is merit in credulity, with the love of myth-making
and miracle-mongering, constantly made them larger. Nor did the
Protestant Reformation diminish them at first; it rather
strengthened them and fixed them more firmly in the popular mind.
They seemed destined to last forever. How they were thus
strengthened at first, under Protestantism, and how they were
finally dissolved away in the atmosphere of scientific thought,
will now be shown.[435]

[435] For Father Anselm, see his Descriptio Terrae Sanctae, in H.
Canisius, Thesaurus Monument Eccles., Basnage edition, Amsterdam,
1725, vol. iv, p. 788. For Giraudet, see his Discours du Voyage
d'Outre-Mer, Paris, 1585, p. 56a. For Radziwill and Lowenstein,
see the Reyssbuch, especially p. 198a.


The first effect of the Protestant Reformation was to popularize
the older Dead Sea legends, and to make the public mind still
more receptive for the newer ones.

Luther's great pictorial Bible, so powerful in fixing the ideas
of the German people, showed by very striking engravings all
three of these earlier myths--the destruction of the cities by
fire from heaven, the transformation of Lot's wife, and the vile
origin of the hated Moabites and Ammonites; and we find the salt
statue, especially, in this and other pictorial Bibles, during
generation after generation.

Catholic peoples also held their own in this display of faith.
About 1517 Francois Regnault published at Paris a compilation on
Palestine enriched with woodcuts: in this the old Dead Sea
legend of the "serpent Tyrus" reappears embellished, and with it
various other new versions of old stories. Five years later
Bartholomew de Salignac travels in the Holy Land, vouches for the
continued existence of the Lot's wife statue, and gives new life
to an old marvel by insisting that the sacred waters of the
Jordan are not really poured into the infernal basin of the Dead
Sea, but that they are miraculously absorbed by the earth.

These ideas were not confined to the people at large; we trace
them among scholars.

In 1581, Bunting, a North German professor and theologian,
published his Itinerary of Holy Scripture, and in this the Dead
Sea and Lot legends continue to increase. He tells us that the
water of the sea "changes three times every day"; that it "spits
forth fire" that it throws up "on high" great foul masses which
"burn like pitch" and "swim about like huge oxen"; that the
statue of Lot's wife is still there, and that it shines like

In 1590, Christian Adrichom, a Dutch theologian, published his
famous work on sacred geography. He does not insist upon the
Dead Sea legends generally, but declares that the statue of Lot's
wife is still in existence, and on his map he gives a picture of
her standing at Usdum.

Nor was it altogether safe to dissent from such beliefs. Just
as, under the papal sway, men of science were severely punished
for wrong views of the physical geography of the earth in
general, so, when Calvin decided to burn Servetus, he included in
his indictment for heresy a charge that Servetus, in his edition
of Ptolemy, had made unorthodox statements regarding the physical
geography of Palestine.[436]

[436] For biblical engravings showing Lot's wife transformed into
a salt statue, etc., see Luther's Bible, 1534, p. xi; also the
pictorial Electoral Bible; also Merian's Icones Biblicae of 1625;
also the frontpiece of the Luther Bible published at Nuremberg in
1708; also Scheuchzer's Kupfer-Bibel, Augsburg, 1731, Tab. lxxx.
For the account of the Dead Sea serpent "Tyrus," etc., see La
Grande Voyage de Hierusalem, Paris (1517?), p. xxi. For De
Salignac's assertion regarding the salt pillar and suggestion
regarding the absorption of the Jordan before reaching the Dead
Sea, see his Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae, Magdeburg, 1593, SS
34 and 35. For Bunting, see his Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae,
Magdeburg, 1589, pp. 78, 79. For Andrichom's picture of the salt
statue, see map, p. 38, and text, p. 205, of his Theatrum Terrae
Sanctae, 1613. For Calvin and Servetus, see Willis, Servetus and
Calvin, pp. 96, 307; also the Servetus edition of Ptolemy.

Protestants and Catholics vied with each other in the making of
new myths. Thus, in his Most Devout Journey, published in
1608, Jean Zvallart, Mayor of Ath in Hainault, confesses himself
troubled by conflicting stories about the salt statue, but
declares himself sound in the faith that "some vestige of it
still remains," and makes up for his bit of freethinking by
adding a new mythical horror to the region--"crocodiles," which,
with the serpents and the "foul odour of the sea," prevented his
visit to the salt mountains.

In 1615 Father Jean Boucher publishes the first of many editions
of his Sacred Bouquet of the Holy Land. He depicts the horrors
of the Dead Sea in a number of striking antitheses, and among
these is the statement that it is made of mud rather than of
water, that it soils whatever is put into it, and so corrupts the
land about it that not a blade of grass grows in all that region.

In the same spirit, thirteen years later, the Protestant
Christopher Heidmann publishes his Palaestina, in which he
speaks of a fluid resembling blood oozing from the rocks about
the Dead Sea, and cites authorities to prove that the statue of
Lot's wife still exists and gives signs of life.

Yet, as we near the end of the sixteenth century, some evidences
of a healthful and fruitful scepticism begin to appear.

The old stream of travellers, commentators, and preachers,
accepting tradition and repeating what they have been told, flows
on; but here and there we are refreshed by the sight of a man
who really begins to think and look for himself.

First among these is the French naturalist Pierre Belon. As
regards the ordinary wonders, he had the simple faith of his
time. Among a multitude of similar things, he believed that he
saw the stones on which the disciples were sleeping during the
prayer of Christ; the stone on which the Lord sat when he raised
Lazarus from the dead; the Lord's footprints on the stone from
which he ascended into heaven; and, most curious of all, "the
stone which the builders rejected." Yet he makes some advance on
his predecessors, since he shows in one passage that he had
thought out the process by which the simpler myths of Palestine
were made. For, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, he sees a
field covered with small pebbles, and of these he says: "The
common people tell you that a man was once sowing peas there,
when Our Lady passed that way and asked him what he was doing;
the man answered "I am sowing pebbles" and straightway all the
peas were changed into these little stones."

His ascribing belief in this explanatory transformation myth to
the "common people" marks the faint dawn of a new epoch.

Typical also of this new class is the German botanist Leonhard
Rauwolf. He travels through Palestine in 1575, and, though
devout and at times credulous, notes comparatively few of the old
wonders, while he makes thoughtful and careful mention of things
in nature that he really saw; he declines to use the eyes of the
monks, and steadily uses his own to good purpose.

As we go on in the seventeenth century, this current of new
thought is yet more evident; a habit of observing more carefully
and of comparing observations had set in; the great voyages of
discovery by Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, and others were
producing their effect; and this effect was increased by the
inductive philosophy of Bacon, the reasonings of Descartes, and
the suggestions of Montaigne.

So evident was this current that, as far back as the early days
of the century, a great theologian, Quaresmio of Lodi, had made
up his mind to stop it forever. In 1616, therefore, he began
his ponderous work entitled The Historical, Theological, and
Moral Explanation of the Holy Land. He laboured upon it for nine
years, gave nine years more to perfecting it, and then put it
into the hands of the great publishing house of Plantin at
Antwerp: they were four years in printing and correcting it, and
when it at last appeared it seemed certain to establish the
theological view of the Holy Land for all time. While taking
abundant care of other myths which he believed sanctified by Holy
Scripture, Quaresmio devoted himself at great length to the Dead
Sea, but above all to the salt statue; and he divides his
chapter on it into three parts, each headed by a question:
First, "HOW was Lot's wife changed into a statue of salt?"
secondly, "WHERE was she thus transformed?" and, thirdly, "DOES
THAT STATUE STILL EXIST?" Through each of these divisions he
fights to the end all who are inclined to swerve in the slightest
degree from the orthodox opinion. He utterly refuses to
compromise with any modern theorists. To all such he says, "The
narration of Moses is historical and is to be received in its
natural sense, and no right-thinking man will deny this." To
those who favoured the figurative interpretation he says, "With
such reasonings any passage of Scripture can be denied."

As to the spot where the miracle occurred, he discusses four
places, but settles upon the point where the picture of the
statue is given in Adrichom's map. As to the continued
existence of the statue, he plays with the opposing view as a cat
fondles a mouse; and then shows that the most revered ancient
authorities, venerable men still living, and the Bedouins, all
agree that it is still in being. Throughout the whole chapter
his thoroughness in scriptural knowledge and his profundity in
logic are only excelled by his scorn for those theologians who
were willing to yield anything to rationalism.

So powerful was this argument that it seemed to carry everything
before it, not merely throughout the Roman obedience, but among
the most eminent theologians of Protestantism.

As regards the Roman Church, we may take as a type the missionary
priest Eugene Roger, who, shortly after the appearance of
Quaresmio's book, published his own travels in Palestine. He
was an observant man, and his work counts among those of real
value; but the spirit of Quaresmio had taken possession of him
fully. His work is prefaced with a map showing the points of most
importance in scriptural history, and among these he identifies
the place where Samson slew the thousand Philistines with the
jawbone of an ass, and where he hid the gates of Gaza; the
cavern which Adam and Eve inhabited after their expulsion from
paradise; the spot where Balaam's ass spoke; the tree on which
Absalom was hanged; the place where Jacob wrestled with the
angel; the steep place where the swine possessed of devils
plunged into the sea; the spot where the prophet Elijah was taken
up in a chariot of fire; and, of course, the position of the salt
statue which was once Lot's wife. He not only indicates places

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