Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/March 1890/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: Comparative Mythology II
VII. COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL. D., L. H. D.,
EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
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 Bünting, 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 salt.
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 had been 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.
So, too, 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 odor 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 "Palæstina," 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 skepticism begin to appear.
The old stream of travelers, 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 Bélon. As regards the ordinary wonders, he has 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, f 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, Yasco 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 labored 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 our sacred books, Quaresmio devoted himself at great length to the Dead Sea, but above all to the salt statue, and 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 against 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 favored 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 jaw-bone 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 on land, but places in the sea; thus he shows where Jonah was swallowed by the whale, and "where St. Peter caught one hundred and fifty-three fishes."
As to the Dead Sea miracles generally, he does not dwell on them at great length; he evidently felt that Quaresmio had exhausted the subject, but he shows largely the fruits of Quaresmio's teaching in other matters. He sees, describes, and reasons with great theological acuteness upon the basilisk. The animal is about a foot and a half long, shaped like a crocodile, and kills people with its glance. The one which he saw was dead, fortunately for him, for in the time of Pope Leo IV, as he tells us, one appeared at Rome and killed many people by merely looking at them, but the Pope destroyed it with his prayers and the sign of the cross. He says that Providence has wisely and mercifully protected man by requiring the monster to cry aloud two or three times whenever he leaves his cavern, and the divine wisdom has also made it necessary that the monster should look his victim in the eye, and at a certain distance, in order that his glance may penetrate the victim's eye, and so pass at once to his heart. He also gives reason for supposing that the same divine mercy has provided that the crowing of a cock will kill a basilisk.
But even in this good and credulous missionary we see the influence of Bacon and the dawn of experimental science; for, having been told many stories regarding the salamander, he secured one, placed it alive upon the coals, and reports to us that the legends regarding its power to live in the fire are untrue. He also tried experiments with the chameleon, and found that the stories told regarding it were to be received with much allowance; but, while he uses his mind in these things after the modern method, he locks up his judgment when he discusses the letter of Scripture. A curious example of this we find in his reference to the famous text, in the thirty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel, which led the mediæval map-makers to place Jerusalem at the center of the earth. Coupling with this a text from Isaiah, he, by a theological argument, satisfies himself that the exact center of the earth is a certain spot marked on the pavement of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: by a similar process of theological reasoning he also proves that the place where the Holy Cross stood was the identical spot first occupied by the tree which bore the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
So, too, we find the thoughts and words of Quaresmio echoing afar through the German universities, in public disquisitions, dissertations, and sermons. The great Bible commentators, both Catholic and Protestant, generally agreed in accepting them.
But, strong as this theological theory was, we find that, as time went on, it required to be braced somewhat, and in 1692 Wedelius, Professor of Medicine at Jena, chose as the subject of his inaugural address "The Physiology of the Destruction of Sodom and of the Statue of Salt."
It is a masterly example of "sanctified science." At great length he dwells on the characteristics of sulphur, salt, and thunderbolts; mixes up scriptural texts, theology, and chemistry after a most bewildering fashion; and finally comes to the conclusion that a thunderbolt, flung by the Almighty, calcined the body of Lot's wife, and at the same time vitrified its particles into a glassy mass looking like salt.
By such demonstrations as these of Quaresmio and Wedelius the theological view of the myth seemed fastened upon the world forever.
Not only was this view demonstrated, so far as theologico-scientific reasoning could demonstrate anything, but it was clearly shown, by a continuous chain of testimony from the earliest ages, that the salt statue at Usdum had been recognized as the body of Lot's wife by Jews, Mohammedans, and the universal Christian Church, "always, everywhere, and by all."
Under the influence of teachings like these—and of the winter rains—new wonders began to appear at the salt pillar. In 1661 the Franciscan monk Zwinner published his travels in Palestine, and gave not only all the old myths regarding the salt statue, but a new one, in some respects more striking than any of the old—for he had heard that a dog, also transformed into salt, was standing by the side of Lot's wife.
Even the more solid Benedictine scholars were carried away, and we find in the "Sacred History" by Prof. Metzger, of the Order of St. Benedict, published in 1700, a renewal of the declaration that the salt statue must be a "perpetual memorial."
But it was soon evident that the scientific current was still working beneath this ponderous mass of theological authority. A typical evidence of this we find in 1666 in the travels of Doubdan, a canon of St. Denis. As to the Dead Sea, he says that he saw no smoke, no clouds, and no "black, sticky water"; as to the statue of Lot's wife, he says, "The moderns do not believe so easily that she has lasted so long"; then, as if alarmed at his own boldness, he concedes that the sea may be black and sticky in the middle; and from Lot's wife he escapes under cover of some pious generalities. Four years later another French ecclesiastic, Jacques Goujon, referring in his published travels to the legend of the salt pillar, says: "People may believe these stories as much as they choose; I did not see it, nor did I go there." So, too, in 1697, Morison, a dignitary of the French church, having traveled in Palestine, confesses that, as to the story of the pillar of salt, he has difficulty in believing it.
The same current is observed working still more strongly in the travels of the Rev. Henry Maundrell, an English chaplain at Aleppo, who traveled through Palestine during the same year. He pours contempt over the legends of the Dead Sea in general: as to the story that birds could not fly over it, he says that he saw them flying there; as to the utter absence of life in the sea, he saw small shells in it; he sees no traces of any buried cities; and, as to the stories regarding the statue of Lot's wife and the proposal to visit it, he says, "Nor could we give faith enough to these reports to induce us to go on such an errand."
The influence of the Baconian philosophy on his mind is very clear; for, in expressing hi? disbelief in the Dead Sea apples, with their contents of ashes, he says that he saw none, and he cites Lord Bacon in support of skepticism on this and similar points.
But the strongest effect of this growing skepticism is seen near the end of that century, when the eminent Dutch commentator Clericus published his commentary on the Pentateuch and his "Dissertation on the Statue of Salt."
At great length he brings all his shrewdness and learning to bear against the whole legend of the actual transformation of Lot's wife and the existence of the salt pillar, and ends by saying that "the whole story is due to the vanity of some and the credulity of more."
In the beginning of the eighteenth century we find new tributaries to this rivulet of scientific thought. In 1701 Father Félix Beaugrand dismisses the Dead Sea legends and the salt statue very curtly and dryly—expressing not his belief in it, but a conventional wish to believe.
In 1709 a scholar appeared in another part of Europe and of different faith, who did far more than any of his predecessors to envelop the Dead Sea legends in an atmosphere of truth—Adrian Reland, professor at the University of Utrecht. His work on Palestine is a monument of patient scholarship, having as its nucleus a love of truth as truth: there is no irreverence in him, but he quietly brushes away a great mass of myths and legends: as to the statue of Lot's wife, he does not deign to treat it at length, but incidentally applies the comparative method to it with killing effect, for he shows that the story of its miraculous renewal is but one among many of its kind.
Yet to superficial observers the old current of myth and marvel seemed to flow into the eighteenth century as strong as ever, and of this we may take two typical evidences. The first of these is the "Pious Pilgrimage" of Vincent Briemle. His journey was made about 1710; and his work, brought out under the auspices of a high papal functionary some years later, in a heavy quarto, gave new life to the stories of the hellish character of the Dead Sea, and especially to the miraculous renewal of the salt statue.
In 1720 came a still more striking effort to maintain the old belief on the Protestant side, for, in that year the eminent theologian Masius published his great treatise on "The Conversion of Lot's Wife into a Statue of Salt."
He evidently intended that this work should be the last word on this subject among Protestants, as Quaresmio had imagined that his work would be the last among Catholics. He develops his subject after the high scholastic and theologic manner. Calling attention first to the divine command in the New Testament, "Remember Lot's wife," he argues through a long series of chapters. In the ninth of these he discusses "the impelling cause" of her looking back, and introduces us to the question, formerly so often discussed by theologians, whether the soul of Lot's wife was finally saved. Here we are glad to learn that the big, warm heart of Luther lifted him above the common herd of theologians, and led him to declare that she was "a faithful and saintly woman," and that she certainly was not eternally damned. In justice to the Roman Church also it should be said that several of her most eminent commentators took a similar view, and insisted that the sin of Lot's wife was venial, and therefore, at the worst, could only subject her to the fires of purgatory.
The eleventh chapter discusses at length the question liow she was converted into salt, and, mentioning many theological opinions, dwells especially upon the view of Rivetus—that a thunderholt, made up apparently of fire, sulphur, and salt, wrought her transformation at the same time that it blasted the land; and he bases this opinion upon the twenty-ninth chapter of Deuteronomy and the one hundred and seventh Psalm.
Later, there is presented a sacred scientific theory that "saline particles entered into her until her whole body was infected"; and with this Masius connects another piece of sanctified science, to the effect that "stagnant bile" may have rendered the surface of her body "entirely shining, bitter, dry, and deformed."
Finally, in the fourth division of the second section, he comes to the great question whether the salt pillar is still in existence. On this he is full and fair. On one hand he allows that Luther thought that it was involved in the general destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he cites various travelers who had failed to find it; but, on the other hand, he gives a long chain of evidence to show that it continued to exist: very wisely he reminds the reader that the positive testimony of those who have seen it must outweigh the negative testimony of those who have not, and finally decides that the salt statue is still in being.
No doubt a work like this produced a considerable effect in Protestant countries; indeed, this effect seems evident as far off as England, for, in 1720, we find in Dean Prideaux's "Old and New Testament connected" a map on which the statue of salt is carefully indicated. So, too, in Holland, in the "Sacred Geography," published at Utrecht in 1758, by the theologian Bachiène, we find him, while showing many signs of rationalism, evidently inclined to the old views as to the existence of the salt pillar; but just here comes a curious evidence of the real direction of the current of thought through the century, for, nine years later, in the German translation of Bachiène's work we find copious notes by the translator in a far more rationalistic spirit; indeed, we see the dawn of the inevitable day of compromise, for we now have, instead of the old argument that the divine power by one miraculous act changed Lot's wife into a salt pillar, the suggestion that she was caught in a shower of sulphur and saltpeter, covered by it, and that the result was a lump, which, in a general way, is called in our sacred books "a pillar of salt."
But, from the middle of the eighteenth century, the new current sets through Palestine with ever-increasing strength. Very interesting is it to compare the great scriptural commentaries of the middle of this century with those published a century earlier.
Of the earlier ones we may take Matthew Poole's "Synopsis" as a type: as authorized by royal decree in 1667 it contains very substantial arguments for the pious belief in the statue. Of the later ones we may take the edition of the noted commentary of the Jesuit Tirinus seventy years later; while he feels bound to present the authorities, he evidently endeavors to get rid of the subject as speedily as possible under cover of conventionalities; of the spirit of Quaresmio he shows no trace.
About 1760 came a striking evidence of the strength of this new current. The Abate Mariti then published his book upon the Holy Land; and, of this book by an Italian ecclesiastic, the most eminent of German bibliographers in this field says that it first broke a path for critical study of the Holy Land.
Mariti is entirely skeptical as to the sinking of the valley of Siddim and the overwhelming of the cities. He speaks kindly of a Capuchin Father who saw everywhere at the Dead Sea traces of the divine malediction, while he himself could not see them, and says, "It is because a Capuchin carries everywhere the five senses of faith, while I only carry those of nature." He speaks of "the lies of Josephus," and makes merry over "the rude and shapeless block" which the guide assured him was the statue of Lot's wife, explaining the want of human form in the salt pillar by telling him that this complete metamorphosis was part of her punishment.
About twenty years later another remarkable man broaches the subject in what was then known as the "philosophic" spirit—Volney. Between the years 1783 and 1785 he made an extensive journey through the Holy Land and published a volume of travels which by acuteness of thought and vigor of style secured general attention. In these, myth and legend were thrown aside, and we have an account simply dictated by the love of truth as truth. He, too, keeps the torch of science burning by applying his geological knowledge to the regions which he traverses.
As we look back over the eighteenth century we see mingled with the new current of thought, and strengthening it, a constantly increasing stream of more strictly scientific observation and reflection.
To review it briefly, in the very first years of the century
Maraldi showed the Paris Academy of Sciences fossil fishes found in the Lebanon region; a little later, Cornelius Bruyn, in the French edition of his Eastern travels, gave well-drawn representations of fossil fishes and shells, some of them from the region of the Dead Sea. About the middle of the century Richard Pococke, Bishop of Meath, and Korte, of Altona, made more statements of the same sort; and toward the close of the century, as we have seen, Volney gave still more of these researches, with philosophical deductions from them.
The result of all this was that there gradually dawned upon thinking men the conviction that, for ages before the appearance of man on the planet, and during all the period since his appearance, natural laws have been steadily in force, and in Palestine as elsewhere; this conviction obliged men to consider other than supernatural causes for the phenomena of the Dead Sea, and myth and marvel steadily shrank in value.
But at the very threshold of the nineteenth century Chateaubriand came into the field, and he seemed to banish the scientific spirit, though what he really did was to conceal it temporarily behind the vapors of his rhetoric. The time was propitious for him. It was the period of reaction after the French Revolution, when what was called religion was again in fashion, and when even atheists supported it as a good thing for common people; of such an epoch Chateaubriand, with his superficial information, thin sentiment, and showy verbiage, was the foreordained prophet. His enemies were wont to deny that he ever saw the Holy Land; whether he did or not, he added nothing to real knowledge, but simply threw a momentary glamour over the regions he described, and especially over the Dead Sea. The legend of Lot's wife he carefully avoided, for he knew too well the danger of ridicule in France.
As long as the Napoleonic and Bourbon reigns lasted, and indeed for some time afterward, this kind of dealing with the Holy Land was fashionable, and we have a long series of men, especially of Frenchmen, who evidently received their impulse from Chateaubriand.
About 1831 De Geramb, Abbot of La Trappe, evidently a very noble and devout spirit, sees vapor above the Dead Sea, but stretches the truth a little—speaking of it as "vapor or smoke." He could not find the salt statue, and complains of the "diversity of stories regarding it." The simple physical cause of this diversity—the washing out of different statues in different years—never occurs to him, but he comforts himself with the scriptural warrant for the metamorphosis.
But to the honor of scientific men and scientific truth it should he said that even under Napoleon and the Bourbons there were men who continued to explore, observe, and describe with the simple love of truth as truth, and in spite of the probability that their researches would be received during their lifetime with contempt and even hostility both in church and state.
The pioneer in this work of the nineteenth century was the German naturalist Ulrich Seetzen. He began his main investigation in 1806, and soon his learning, courage, and honesty threw a flood of new light into the Dead Sea questions.
In this light, myth and legend faded more rapidly than ever. Typical of his method is his examination of the Dead Sea fruit. He found, on reaching Palestine, that Josephus's story regarding it, which had been accepted for nearly two thousand years, was believed on all sides; more than this, he found that the original myth had so grown that a multitude of respectable people at Bethlehem and elsewhere assured him that not only apples, but pears, pomegranates, figs, lemons, and many other fruits which grow upon the shores of the Dead Sea, though beautiful to look upon, were filled with ashes. These good people declared to Seetzen that they had seen these fruits, and that, not long before, a basketful of them which had been sent to a merchant of Jaffa had turned to ashes.
Seetzen was evidently perplexed by this mass of testimony, and naturally anxious to examine these fruits. On arriving at the sea he began to look for them, and the guide soon showed him the "apples." These he found to be simply an asclepia, which had been described by Linnæus, and which is found in the East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, Jamaica, and elsewhere; the "ashes" were simply seeds. He looked next for the other fruits, and the guide soon found for him the "lemons"; these he discovered to be a species of solanum found in other parts of Palestine and elsewhere, and the seeds in these were the famous "cinders." He looked next for the pears, figs, and other accursed fruits; but, instead of finding them filled with ashes and cinders, he found them like the same fruits in other lands, and he tells us that he ate the figs with much pleasure.
So perished a myth which had been kept alive two thousand years, partly by modes of thought natural to theologians, partly by the self-interest of guides, and partly by the love of marvelmongering among travelers.
The other myths fared no better. As to the appearance of the sea, he found its waters not "black and sticky," but blue and transparent; he found no smoke rising from the abyss, but tells us that sunlight and cloud and shore were pleasantly reflected from the surface. As to Lot's wife, he found no salt pillar which had been a careless woman, but the Arabs showed him many bowlders which had once been wicked men.
His work was worthily continued by a long succession of true and reverent men, among them such travelers or geographers as Burckhardt, Irby, Mangles, Fallmerayer, and Carl von Raumer: by men like these the atmosphere of myth and legend was steadily cleared away; as a rule, they simply forgot Lot's wife altogether.
Greatest of all in this noble succession was an American theologian, Dr. Edward Robinson, professor at New York, a man of whom his country and humanity may well be proud.
Beginning about 1826, he devoted himself for thirty years to the thorough study of the geography of Palestine, and he found a worthy coadjutor in another American divine, Dr. Eli Smith. Neither of these men departed openly from the old traditions; that would have cost a heart-breaking price, the loss of all further opportunity to carry on their researches. Robinson did not even think it best to call attention to the mythical character of much on which his predecessors had insisted; he simply brought in, more and more, the dry, clear atmosphere of the love of truth for truth's sake, and, in this, myths and legends steadily disappeared.
By doing this he rendered a far greater service to real Christianity than any other theologian had ever done in this field.
Very characteristic is his dealing with the myth of Lot's wife. Though more than once at Usdum, though giving valuable information regarding the sea, shore, and mountains there, he carefully avoids all mention of the salt pillar and of the legend which arose from it. In this he set an example followed by most of the more thoughtful religious travelers since his time. Very significant is it to see the New Testament injunction, "Remember Lot's wife," so utterly forgotten. These later investigators seem never to have heard of it, and this constant forgetfulness shows the change which had taken place in the enlightened thinking of the world.
But in the year 1848 came an episode very striking in its character and effect.
At that time, the war between the United States and Mexico having closed, Lieutenant Lynch, of the United States Navy, found himself in the port of Vera Cruz, commanding an old hulk, the Supply. Looking about for something to do, it occurred to him to write to the Secretary of the Navy asking permission to explore the Dead Sea. Under ordinary circumstances the proposal would doubtless have been strangled with red tape; but fortunately the Secretary at that time was Mr. John Y. Mason, of Virginia. Mr. Mason was famous for his good nature: both at Washington and at Paris, where he was afterward minister, this predominant trait has left a multitude of amusing traditions; it was of him that Thomas Benton said, "To be supremely happy he must have his paunch full of oysters and his hands full of cards."
The Secretary granted permission, but evidently gave the matter not another thought. As a result, came an expedition the most comical and one of the most rich in results to be found in American annals. Never was anything so happy-go-lucky. Lieutenant Lynch started with his hulk, with hardly an instrument save those ordinarily found on shipboard, and with a body of men probably the most unfit for anything like scientific investigation ever sent on such an errand; fortunately, he picked up a young instructor in mathematics, Mr. Anderson, and added to his apparatus two strong iron boats.
Arriving, after a tedious voyage, on the coast of Asia Minor, he set at work. He had no adequate preparation in general history, archæology, or the physical sciences, but he had his American patriotism, energy, pluck, pride, and devotion to duty, and these qualities stood him in good stead. With great labor he got the iron boats across the country. Then the tug of war began. First of all investigators, he forced his way through the whole length of the river Jordan and from end to end of the Dead Sea. There were constant difficulties, geographical, climatic, and personal, but Lynch cut through them all. He was brave or shrewd, as there was need. Anderson proved an admirable helper, and together they made surveys of distances, altitudes, depths, and sundry simple investigations in a geological, mineralogical, and chemical way. Much was poorly done, much was left undone, but the general result was most honorable both to Lynch and Anderson, and Secretary Mason found that his easy-going patronage of the enterprise was the best act of his official life.
The results of this expedition on public opinion were most curious. Lynch was no scholar in any sense; he had traveled little, and thought less on the real questions underlying the whole investigation; as to the difference in depth of the two parts of the lake, he jumped—with a sailor's disregard of logic—to the conclusion that it somehow proved the mythical account of the overwhelming of the cities, and he indulges in reflections of a sort probably suggested by his recollections of American Sunday schools.
Especially noteworthy is his treatment of the legend of Lot's wife. He found the pillar of salt. It happened to be at that period a circular column of friable salt rock, about forty feet high; yet, while he accepts every other old myth, he declares the belief that this was once the wife of Lot "a superstition."
One little circumstance added enormously to the influence of this book, for, as a frontispiece, he inserted a picture of the salt column. It was delineated in rather a poetic manner; light streamed upon it, heavy clouds hung above it, and as a background were ranged buttresses of salt rock, furrowed and channeled out by the winter rains: this salt statue picture was spread far and wide, and in thousands of country pulpits and Sunday schools it was shown as a tribute of science to Scripture.
Nor was this influence confined to American Sunday-school children, for Lynch had innocently set a trap into which several European theologians stumbled. One of these was Dr. Lorenz Gratz, Vicar-General of Augsburg, a theological professor. In the second edition of his "Theatre of the Holy Scriptures," published in 1858, he hails Lynch's discovery of the salt pillar with joy; forgets his allusion to the old theory regarding it as a superstition; and does not stop to learn that this was one of a succession of statues washed out yearly by the rains, but accepts it as the original Lot's wife.
The French churchmen suffered most. About two years after Lynch, De Saulcy visits the Dead Sea to explore it thoroughly, evidently in the interest of sacred science—and of his own promotion. Of the modest thoroughness of Robinson there is no trace in his writings. He promptly discovered the overwhelmed cities, which no one before or since has ever found, poured contempt on other investigators, and threw over his whole work an air of piety. But, unfortunately, having a Frenchman's dread of ridicule, he attempted to give a rationalistic explanation of what he calls "the enormous needles of salt washed out by the winter rain," and their connection with the Lot's wife myth, and declared his firm belief that she, "being delayed by curiosity or terror, was crushed by a rock which rolled down from the mountain, and when Lot and his children turned about they saw at the place where she had been only the rock of salt which covered her body."
But this would not do at all, and an eminent ecclesiastic privately and publicly expostulated with De Saulcy—very naturally declaring that "it was not Lot who wrote the book of Genesis."
The result was that another edition of De Saulcy's work was published by a Church Book Society, with the offending passage omitted; but a passage was retained really far more suggestive of heterodoxy, and this was an Arab legend accounting for the origin of certain rocks near the Dead Sea curiously resembling salt formations; this in effect ran as follows:
"Abraham, the friend of God, having come here one day with his mule to buy salt, the salt-workers impudently told him that they had no salt to sell, whereupon the patriarch said: 'Your words are true; you have no salt to sell,' and instantly the salt of this whole region was transformed into stone, or rather into a salt which has lost its savor."
Nothing could be more sure than this story to throw light into the mental and moral process by which the salt pillar myth was originally created.
In the years 1864 and 1865 came an expedition on a much more imposing scale that of the Due de Luynes. His knowledge of archaeology and his wealth were freely devoted to working the mine which Lynch had opened, and, taking with him an iron vessel and several savants, he devoted himself especially to finding the cities of the Dead Sea, and to giving less vague accounts of them than those of De Saulcy. But he was disappointed, and honest enough to confess his disappointment. So vanished one of the most cherished parts of the legend.
But worse remained behind. In the orthodox duke's company was an acute geologist, Monsieur Lartet, who in due time made an elaborate report, which let a flood of light in upon the whole region.
The Abbé Richard had been rejoicing the orthodox heart of France by exhibiting some prehistoric flint implements as the knives which Joshua had made for circumcision. By a truthful statement Monsieur Lartet set all France laughing at him, and then turned to the geology of the Dead Sea basin. While he conceded that man may have seen some volcanic crisis there toward its end, and may have preserved a vivid remembrance of the vapor then rising, his whole argument showed irresistibly that all the phenomena of the region are due to natural causes, and that so far from a sudden rising of the lake above the valley within historic times, it has been for ages steadily subsiding.
Since Balaam was called by Balak to curse his enemies, and "blessed them altogether," there has never been a more unexpected tribute to truth.
Even the salt pillar at Usdum, as depicted in Lynch's book, aided to undermine the myth among thinking men, for the background of the picture showed them other pillars of salt in process of formation; and the ultimate result of all these expeditions of the century was to spread an atmosphere in which myth and legend became more and more attenuated.
To sum up the main points in this work of the nineteenth century, Seetzen, Robinson, and others had found that a human being could traverse the lake without being killed by hellish smoke; that the water gave forth no odors: that the fruits of the region were not created full of cinders to match the desolation of the Dead Sea, but were growths not uncommon in Asia Minor and elsewhere; in fact, that all the phenomena were due to natural causes.
Ritter and others had shown that all noted features of the Dead Sea and the surrounding country were to be found in various other lakes and regions, to which no supernatural cause was ascribed among enlightened men. Lynch, Van de Velde, Osborne, and others had revealed the fact that the "pillar of salt" was frequently formed anew by the rains; and Lartet and other geologists had given a final blow to the myths by making it clear from the markings on the neighboring rocks that, instead of a sudden upheaval of the sea above the valley of Siddim, there had been a gradual subsidence for ages.*
Even before all this evidence was in, a judicial decision had been pronounced upon the whole question by an authority both Christian and scientific, from which there could be no appeal. During the second quarter of the century Prof. Carl Ritter, of the University of Berlin, began giving to the world those researches which have placed him at the head of all geographers ancient or modern, and finally he brought together those relating to the geography of the Holy Land, publishing them as part of his great work on the physical geography of the earth. He was a Christian, and nothing could be more reverent than his treatment of the whole subject; but his German honesty did not permit him to conceal the truth, and he simply classed together all the stories of the Dead Sea—old and new—no matter where found, whether in the sacred books of Jews, Christians, or Mohammedans; whether in lives of saints or accounts of travelers, as "myths" and "sagas."
From this decision there has never been among intelligent men any appeal.
The adjustment of recent orthodox thought to this view presents some curious features. As typical we may take the travels of two German theologians between 1860 and 1870—John Kränzel, pastor in Munich; and Peter Schegg, lately professor in the university of that city.
The archdiocese of Munich-Freising is one of those in which the attempt to oppress modern scientific thought has been most steadily carried on. Its archbishops have constantly shown themselves assiduous in securing cardinals' hats by thwarting science and by stupefying education. The twin towers of the old cathedral of Munich have seemed to throw a killing shadow over intellectual development in that region. Naturally, then, these two clerical travelers from that diocese did not commit themselves to clearing away any of the Dead Sea myths; but it is significant that neither of them follows the example of so many of their clerical predecessors in defending the salt-pillar legend; they steadily avoid it altogether.
The more recent history of the salt pillar, since Lynch, deserves mention. It appears that the travelers immediately after him found it shaped by the storms into a spire; that a year or two later it had utterly disappeared; and about the year 1870 Prof. Palmer on visiting the place found at some distance from the main salt bed, as he says, "a tall, isolated needle of salt or salt rock, which does really bear a curious resemblance to an Arab woman with a child on her shoulders."
Three years later Smith's "Dictionary of the Bible" makes its concession to the old belief regarding Sodom and Gomorrah as slight as possible, and the myth of Lot's wife entirely disappears.
The theological effort to compromise with science now came in more strongly than ever. This effort had been made long before: as we have seen, it had begun to show itself decidedly as soon as the influence of the Baconian philosophy was felt. Clerc thought that the shock caused by the sight of fire from heaven killed Lot's wife instantly and made her body rigid as a statue. Eichhorn suggested that she fell into a stream of melted bitumen. Michaelis suggested that her relatives raised a monument of salt rock to her memory. Friedrichs suggested that she fell into the sea, and that the salt stiffened around her clothing, thus making a statue of her. Some claimed that a shower of sulphur came down upon her, and that the word which has been translated "salt" could possibly be translated "sulphur." Others hinted that the salt by its antiseptic qualities preserved her body as a mummy. De Saulcy, as we have seen, thought that a piece of salt rock fell upon her; and very recently Principal Dawson ventures the explanation that a flood of salt mud coming from a volcano incrusted her.
But theologians themselves were the first to show the inadequacy of these explanations. The more rationalistic pointed out the fact that they were contrary to the sacred text: Von Bohlen, an eminent professor at Königsberg, in his sturdy German honesty, declared that the salt pillar gave rise to the story, and compared the pillar of salt causing this transformation legend to the rock in Greek mythology which gave rise to the transformation legend of Niobe.
On the other hand, the more severely orthodox protested against such attempts to explain away the clear statements of Holy Writ. Dom Calmet, while presenting many of these explanations made as early as his time, gives us to understand that nearly all theologians adhered to the idea that Lot's wife was instantly and really changed into salt; and in our own time, as we shall presently see, have come some very vigorous protests.
Similar attempts were made to explain the other ancient legends regarding the Dead Sea. One of the most recent of these is that the cities of the plain, having been built with blocks of bituminous rock, were set on fire by lightning, a contemporary earthquake helping on the work. Still another is that accumulations of petroleum and inflammable gas escaped through a fissure, took fire, and so produced the catastrophe.
Against this sort of rationalism perhaps the most vigorous of recent protests appeared in 1876, in an edition of Monseigneur Mislin's work on "The Holy Places." In order to give weight to the book, he spread his qualities at great length on the title-page. Among other things, he was prelate of the papal household, apostolic prothonotary, a doctor of theology and of philosophy, and his work is prefaced by letters from Pope Pius IX and sundry high ecclesiastics—and from Alexandre Dumas. His hatred of Protestant missionaries in the East is phenomenal; he calls them "bagmen," ascribing all mischief and infamy to them; and his hatred is only exceeded by his credulity. He cites all the arguments in favor of the salt statue at Usdum as the identical one into which Lot's wife was changed, adds some of his own, and presents her as "a type of doubt and heresy." With the proverbial facility of theologians in translating any word of a dead language into anything that suits their purpose, he says that the word in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, which is translated "statue" or "pillar," may be translated "eternal monument"; he is especially severe on poor Monsieur De Saulcy for thinking that Lot's wife was killed by the falling of a piece of salt rock, and actually boasts that it was he who caused De Saulcy, a member of the French Institute, to suppress the obnoxious passage in a later edition.
Nor did such rationalizing efforts fare much better among Protestant theologians. In his excellent work on "The Land of Israel," Canon Tristram makes an energetic protest against scientific explanations of biblical statements.
Between 1870 and 1880 came two killing blows at the older theories, and they were dealt by two American scholars of the highest character. First of these may be mentioned Dr. Philip Schaff, a professor in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at New York; who published his travels in 1877. In a high degree he united the scientific with the religious spirit, but the trait which made him especially fit for dealing with this subject was his straightforward German honesty. He tells the simple truth regarding the pillar of salt, so far as its physical origin and characteristics are concerned, and leaves his reader to draw the natural inference as to its relation to the myth. With the fate of Dr. Robertson Smith in Scotland and Dr. Woodrow in South Carolina before him—both recently driven from their professorships for truth-telling—Dr. Schaff deserves honor for telling as much as he does.
Similar in effect, and even more bold in statement, were the "Travels" of the Rev. Henry Osborne, published in 1878. In a truly scientific spirit he calls attention to the similarity between the Dead Sea, with, the river Jordan, to sundry other lake and river systems; he points out the endless variations between writers describing the salt formations at Usdum; accounts rationally for these variations, and quotes from Dr. Anderson's report, saying, "From the soluble nature of the salt and the crumbling looseness of the marl, it might be well imagined that, while some of these needles are in process of formation, others are being washed away."
Thus came out, little by little, the truth regarding the Dead Sea myths, and especially the salt pillar at Usdum; but the final truth remained to be told, and now one of the purest men and truest divines of this century told it. Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, visiting the country and thoroughly exploring it, allowed that the physical features of the Dead Sea and its shores suggested the myths and legends, and he sums up the whole as follows: "A great mass of legends and exaggerations, partly the cause and partly the result of the old belief that the cities were buried under the Dead Sea, has been gradually removed in recent years."
So, too, about the same time, Dr. Conrad Furrer, pastor of the great church of St. Peter at Zürich, gave to the world a book of travels reverent and thoughtful, and, in this, honestly acknowledged that the needles of salt at the southern end of the Dead Sea "in primitive times gave rise to the tradition that Lot's wife was transformed into a statue of salt." Thus was the mythical character of this story at last openly confessed by leading churchmen on both continents.
Plain statements like these from such sources left the high theological position more difficult than ever, and now a new compromise was attempted. As the Siberian mother tried to save her best-beloved child from the pursuing wolves by throwing over to them her less favored children, so an effort was now made in a leading commentary to save the legends of the valley of Siddim and the miraculous destruction of the cities by throwing overboard the legend of Lot's wife.
But even this utterly failed, for there soon followed the worst blows of all. First, from Van de Velde, who made his journey in 1851 and 1852. He is a most devout man, but he confesses that the volcanic action at the Dead Sea must have been far earlier than the catastrophe mentioned in our sacred books, and that "the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with this." A few years later a very eminent dignitary of the English Church, Canon Tristram, doctor of divinity and fellow of the Royal Society, who had explored the Holy Land thoroughly, after some generalities about miracles, gave up the whole attempt to make science agree with the myths, and used these words: "It has been frequently assumed that the district of Usdum and its sister cities was the result of some tremendous geological catastrophe... . Now, careful examination by competent geologists, such as Monsieur Lartet and others, has shown that the whole district has assumed its present shape slowly and gradually through a succession of ages, and that its peculiar phenomena are similar to those of other lakes." So sank from view the whole mass of Dead Sea myths and legends, and science gained a victory both for geology and comparative mythology.
An amusing result has followed this development of opinion. As we have already seen, traveler after traveler, Catholic and Protestant, now visits the Dead Sea, and hardly one of them follows the New Testament injunction to "remember Lot's wife." Nearly every one of them seems to think it best to forget her. Of the great mass of pious legends they are shy enough, but that of Lot's wife, as a rule, they seem never to have heard of, and, if they do allude to it, they simply cover the whole subject with a haze of conventionality and sacred rhetoric.
Naturally, under this state of things, there has followed the usual attempt to throw off from Christendom the responsibility of the old belief, and in 1887 came a curious effort of this sort. In that year appeared the Rev. Dr. Cunningham Geikie's valuable work on "The Holy Land and the Bible." In it he makes the following statement as to the salt formation at Usdum: "Here and there, hardened portions of salt, withstanding the water, while all around them melts and wears off, rise up isolated pillars, one of which bears among the Arabs the name of Lot's wife."
In the light of the previous history, there is something at once pathetic and comical in this attempt to throw the myth upon the shoulders of the poor Arabs. The myth was not originated by Mohammedans; it appears, as we have seen, first among the Jews, and, I need hardly remind the reader, comes out in the Book of Wisdom and in Josephus, and has been steadily maintained by fathers, martyrs, and doctors of the Church, by at least one pope, and by innumerable bishops, priests, monks, commentators, and travelers, Catholic and Protestant, ever since. In thus throwing the responsibility of the myth upon the Arabs Dr. Geikie appears to show both the "perf ervid genius" of his countrymen and their incapacity to recognize a joke.
Nor is he more happy in his rationalistic explanations of the whole mass of myths. He supposes a terrific storm, in which the lightning kindled the combustible materials of the cities, aided perhaps by an earthquake; but this shows a disposition to break away from the exact statements of the sacred books which would have been most severely condemned by the universal Church during at least eighteen hundred years of its history. Nor would the explanations of Sir William Dawson have fared any better: it is very doubtful whether either of them could escape unscathed to-day from a synod of the Free Church of Scotland, or of any of the leading orthodox bodies in the Southern States of the American Union.
How unsatisfactory all such rationalism, must be to a truly theological mind is seen not only in the dealings with Prof. Robertson Smith in Scotland and Prof. Woodrow in South Carolina, but, most clearly, in a book published in 1886 by Monseigneur Hausman de Wandelbourg. This work appeared in two ponderous volumes and with a great flourish of trumpets. To the name of the author was attached a long list of titles: among other things, he is Prelate of the Pope's Household, a Mitred Abbot, Canon of the Holy Sepulchre, and a Doctor of Theology of the Pontifical University at Rome, and the work is introduced by approving letters from Pope Leo XIII and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Monseigneur de Wandelbourg scorns the idea that the salt column at Usdum is not the statue of Lot's wife; he points out not only the danger of yielding this evidence of miracle to rationalism, but the fact that the divinely inspired authority of the Book of Wisdom, written, at the latest, two hundred and fifty years before Christ, distinctly refers to it. He summons Josephus as a witness. He dwells on the fact that Pope St. Clement, Irenaeus, Hegesippus, and St. Cyril, "who as Bishop of Jerusalem must have known better than any other person what existed in Palestine," with St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and a multitude of others, attest as a matter of their own knowledge or of popular notoriety that the remains of Lot's wife really existed in their time in the form of a column of salt; and he points triumphantly to the fact that Lieutenant Lynch found this very column.
In the presence of such a continuous line of witnesses, some of them divinely inspired, and all of them greatly revered—a line extending through thirty-seven hundred years—he condemns most vigorously all those who do not believe that the pillar of salt now at Usdum is identical with the wife of Lot, and stigmatizes them as people who "do not wish to believe the truth of the word of God." His ignorance of many of the simplest facts bearing upon the legend is very striking, yet he does not hesitate to speak of men who know far more and have thought far more upon the subject as "grossly ignorant." The most laughable feature in his ignorance is the fact that he is utterly unaware of the annual changes in the salt statue. He is entirely ignorant of such facts as that the priest Gabriel Giraudet in the sixteenth century found the statue lying down; that the monk Zwinner found it in the seventeenth century standing, and accompanied by a dog also transformed into salt; that Prince Radziwill found no statue at all; that the pious Vincent Briemle in the eighteenth century found the monument renewing itself; that about the middle of the nineteenth century Lynch found it in the shape of a tower or column forty feet high; that within two years afterward De Saulcy found it washed into the form of a spire; that a year later Van de Velde found it utterly washed away; and that a few years later Palmer found there "a statue bearing a striking resemblance to an Arab woman with a child in her arms." Thus ended the last great demonstration thus far on the side of sacred science—the last retreating shot from the theological rear-guard.
It is but just to say that a very great share in the honor of the victory of science in this field is due to men trained as theologians. It would naturally be so, since few others have devoted themselves to direct labor in it; yet great honor is none the less due to such men as Reland, Mariti, Robinson, Smith, Schaff, Stanley, and Tristram.
They have rendered even a greater service to religion than to science, for they have made a beginning, at least, of doing away with that enforced belief in myths as history which has become a most serious danger to Christianity.
For the worst enemy of Christianity could wish nothing more than that its main leaders should prove or insist that it can not be adopted save by those who accept, as historical, statements which enlightened men throughout the world know to be mythical. The result of such a demonstration would only be more and more to make thinking people inside the church dissemblers, and thinking people outside, scoffers.
Far better is it to welcome the aid of science, in the conviction that all truth is one, and, in the light of this truth, to allow theology and science to work together in the steady evolution of religion and morality.
The revelations made by the sciences which most directly deal with the history of man all converge in the truth that during the earlier stages of this evolution moral and spiritual teachings must be inclosed in myth, legend, and parable. "The Master" felt this when he gave to the poor peasants about him—and so to the world—his simple and beautiful illustrations. In making this truth clear, science will give to religion far more than it will take away, for it will throw new life and light into all sacred literature.
The origin of the Malays is traced by Dr. B. Hagen to the highlands of west Sumatra, whence the peoples extended slowly eastward; the first movement being probably by the races that are now to be found only in the interior of the great islands. These "aborigines" of the islands crushed out a population already in possession, as remains of which the negritos may be taken. The Malays in the narrower sense occupying Sumatra, Malacca, and north Borneo, are to be regarded as the last emigration from this center, which occurred between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries a. d. Crosses and mixtures arose with the Indians and Chinese, who have been long in intercourse with the archipelago, and in less measure also with the Arabs. For this reason we must not expect to find the pure racial type, especially not in the coast population.