"Why did God turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt?"

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Genesis 19:24-26 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

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This seems like a rather harsh punishment for simply looking back on Sodom, which was formerly her home.  Did she really deserve to die for this? Why did god choose a pillar of salt? Why not a tree, or a rock, or simply just kill her?

Christian Answers:

  • "The Scriptures don’t say whether her death was a punishment for valuing her old life so much that she hesitated in obeying, or if it was a simple consequence of her reluctance to leave her life quickly. Either she identified too much with the city—and joined it—or she neglected to fully obey God’s warning, and she died." "The Bible isn’t clear whether Lot’s wife was covered in the salt that rained down with the brimstone or if her remains were dusted with a coating of salt later." (Got Questions?: Why was Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt?)
  • "If there is no “scientific” explanation of this miracle, then we can reasonably ask why God chose to do this to Lot’s wife. I believe that there is a fairly small number of examples in which God did something just once and had it recorded in scripture to teach us who read the Bible a very important lesson. The flood in the time of Noah is an example of this. Also, what happened to Ananias and Saphyra in Acts is a one-off example of God doing something out of the ordinary in order ot [sic] make a point for us." "The message of what happened with Lot’s wife is this: When we leave our life of sin, we should never look back." (Evidence for Christianity: How do you explain Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt? What is the logic or scientific explanation?)
  • The verse may be a mistranslation of the Hebrew word "malach" which means vanish. "Melach" is the Hebrew word for salt (similar because salt vanishes in water), but the Hebrew language did not use vowels at the time and so the context of the verse could have been lost. With other uses of "malach" throughout the bible it seems more reasonable to assume that "salt" is a mistranslation here. (Lot's Wife: L. Steven Cheairs, Ph.D)

Jewish Answers:

  • "The Midrash explains, 'She sinned with salt, and she was punished with salt.'" (Chabad.org: Why Did Lot's Wife Turn into Salt?)
  • '"Lot's wife looked back [from behind him], and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt." In Genesis Rabbah R. Isaac said: "She sinned through salt. On the night that the angels visited Lot, Lot said to his wife, 'Give these guests a bit of salt.' But she replied, '[Besides entertaining guests], is it your wish to introduce into Sodom another vile custom [that of seasoning their food]?' What did she do? She went around among all her neighbors, saying to each one, 'Give me salt. We have guests,' intending thereby to have the townspeople become aware of the presence of guests in her home [and penalize Lot for it]. Hence, she herself became a pillar of salt."' (Reform Judaism: A Pillar of Salt: A Text Study)

Secular Answers:

  • "The story about Lot's wife, also, bears marks of popular origin, and is regarded by critics and travelers as a folk-legend intended to explain some pillar of crystallized rock-salt resembling the female human form. Owing to its composition, such a pillar would soon dissolve. One in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea was identified by Josephus ("Ant." i. 11, § 4) as that of Lot's wife; and another (or the same) had that name at the time of Clement of Rome (I Cor. xi. 2)." (Public Domain Jewish Encyclopedia: Lot)
  • "Although this is God's fourth killing event, it is the first of God's 2,552,452 countable victims. It's interesting that God's first countable victim is unnamed." (Dwindling In Unbelief: Remember Lot's Wife Video)

Referenced Verses:
Genesis 19:24, Genesis 19:25, Genesis 19:26