Thursday, November 05, 2009

Clericus on the destruction of Sodom by lightning bolt

In an earlier post, I mentioned Shadal's suggestion, taken from Clericus, that Sodom was destroyed by lightning bolt igniting deposits of highly flammable material. I managed to find an English translation of Clericus on this matter. In order to better understand Shadal, it is a good idea to see precisely what his sources said. And so here it is. (I fixed up the text a bit.) There is what to say about it, but perhaps in a follow-up-post.

[ V ] And therefore the Divine Justice offended at these horrid Enormities, resolved utterly to destroy some Cities situated in the farthest part of the Plain of Jordan, which Moses relates to have been done in the following manner ,The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah Brimstone and Fire from the Lord out of Heaven, and he overthrew those Cities and all the Plain, and all the Inhabitants of the Cities and that which grew upon the ground, Gen. 19. 24, 25. We have already shown, that this whole Tract of Land was full of Bitumen, which as it will easily take fire, was soon kindled by the Lightning ; and the Flame was not only to be seen upon the Superficies of the Earth, which frequently happens in such places, without the Destruction of the Inhabitants, but so pierced into the Subterranean Veins of Brimstone and Bitumen, that that matter being destroyed, the whole Earth sunk down, and afforded a Receptacle to the Waters flowing thither. All which Particulars we will now endeavour to handle more copiously, and to illustrate by other Examples.

First, Though Moses only mentions two Cities which God destroy'd by Lightning, namely Sodom and Gomorrah, yet there were two more deftroy'd at the same time, Adma and Zeboim which lay near the two above-mentioned Cities, as appears from Chapter 14. 2. Nay, Moses himself affirms as much, Deut. 19. 13. where taking occasion to describe the Punishments with which God would visit the wicked Israelites, he tells them, that Strangers as they travelled that way should gaze upon their Lands, burnt up with Brimstone and Salt, in which there should be no sowing, nor should any thing grow, nor any Herb appear, as in the Destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Adma, which the Lord overthrew in his Anger and Wrath. See likewise Hosea II. 8. Now the reason why these two last Cities were omitted, seems to be, because perhaps the Kings of these places were tributary to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Strabo indeed in his sixteenth Book does not mention that only four Cities were subverted by this Subterranean Fire, but thirteen ,- but perhaps he might be deceived in this matter, as well as he was in believing that the Lacus Serbonus was the fame with the Asphaltites. Perhaps to, nine other smaller Towns, which depended upon these four, were destroyed at the same time. 'Tis certain, that Ezekiel does not only make mention of Sodom but its Daughters,Chap. 16. that is, the Cities that were situate in the fame Province; As I live, faith the Lord God to Jerusalem, thy Sister Sodom, and the Daughters thereof, (that is to say, the Cities which it had built around it, or else sent Colonies into) have not done as thou and thy Daughters have done. It may not improbably be supposed, that Strata, a Man of great Diligence, and infinite Reading, might have an account of the number of these Cities from some Writer of the Phoenician History.

Secondly, God is said to have rained down Fire and Brimstone from the Lord, which is a Periphrasis for Lightning, as in Psalm 9. ver. 6. He will rain Whirlwinds upon the Wicked, Fire and Brimstone ; and Ezekiel 38. 22. I will punish him with Pestilence and Blood : a mighty Shower, Stones of Hail, FIRE and BRIMSTONE, Will I rain down upon him. Now Thunder is therefore called Fire and Brimstone, which is as much as to say, Brimstone set on fire, and lighted. So in the third of Genesis, v. 16. we find Pain and Conception, that is Pain which follows Conception. He that is desirous to see more Examples of this nature, let him consult H. Grotius upon John 3. 5. But the reason why Thunder is thus described, no one certainly can be ignorant of, that has either smelt those places that have been struck by Thunder, or has read what Learned Men have writ upon this occasion. I will only give my self the trouble to set down two or three Testimonies. Thunder and Lightning likewise, says Pliny, lib. 35, c. 15. have the Smell of Brimstone, and the very Light or Flame of them is sulphureous. And Seneca in the fecond Book of his Natural Questions, ch. 21. tells us, that all things that are struck

by Lightning, have a sulphureous Smell. And indeed, our Natural Philosophers have plainly demonstrated , that the Thunderbolt is nothing else but a sulphureous Exhalation. For this Persius, in his second satire, calls it Sulphus Sacrum,
Ignovisse putas, quia cum tonet, ocyus ilex,
Sulphur discutitur Sacro, quam tu'q; domusq;

On the other hand, because the Thunderbolt is of a Sulphureous nature, the Greeks seem to have called Brimslone in their Language,
theion ; that is, Divine, by a proper name [GREEK TEXT], because it comes from God.

Now God is not barely said to have rained down Brimslone and Fire, but Brimslone and Fire from the Lord, where the Addition of 'from the Lord' which at first sight may appear to be superfluous, does more particularly describe the Thunder-bolt, which by the Hebrews and other Nations is frequently called the Fire of God, and Fire fromGod. Thus in
the fecond Book of Kings, c. i. v. 12,. THE FIRE OF GOD came down from Heaven, and devoured him. See likewise Job i. v. 1 6. Isaiah uses the same Expression, c. 66. v. 16. He shall be punished with the FIRE OF THE LORD. After this manner the Latin Poets fpeaks, herein intimating the Grecians ; Met. l. 15.

Jamq; opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira, nec Ignes, Nec poterit ferrum, nec edax abolere -vetustas

Statins, in the firft Book of his Thebias;

Ilicet Igne Jovis, lapsisq citatior astris,
Tristibus exiluit ripis.

Because Men have no power over these kinds of Meteors, and 'tis impossible for them by any contrivance to ascend up to the Clouds, therefore God is supposed to dwell there, and to cast his Darts from thence: although he is equally present in all places, and does not send his Thunderbolts for any peculiar reason.

Thirdly, Though Moses does not inform us after what manner the Thunderbolts subverted these unhappy Cities, and the adjoining Territory, yet once he makes mention of them, we cannot comprehend how it happen'd any otherwise, than that the Thunderbolts falling in great plenty upon some Pits of Bitumen, the Veins of that combustible Matter took fire immediately, and as the Fire penetrated into the lowermoft bowels of this bituminous Soil, these wicked Cities were subverted by a Tremor, and sinking down of the ground. We will not here enlarge how easily Naphtha, which is a fort of Liquid Bitumen, is set on fire. The Reader may at his leisure confult what Strabo, I. 16. Plutarch in the Life of Alexander, and Pliny, l. 2. c. 105-. have laid upon this Subject. Perhaps in some part of this delicious Plain which was overthrown, there was only the thick Bitumen, but

even the very Vapour of that Matter, which exhales from Grounds impregnated with it, is easily set on fire. In Lycia the Hephaestian Mountains if you do but touch them with a lighted Torch, immediately take fire, so that the very Stones in the Rivers, and the Sands in the Water burn, if you take a Stick out of these Waters, and draw Furrows upon the ground with it, according to the common report, a track of Fire follows it. These are Pliny's words, l 2 c 106. There is a small Hill in the Province belonging to Grenoble, from whence a Smoke of a Bituminous Smell is perpetually seen to proceed : Now this Smoke by a lighted Flambeau, or Chaff, is soon set on fire, which we our selves knew to be true by Ocular Experience.

In that lamentable Earthquake, which in the Month of January 1693. shook all Sicily after so prodigious and miserable a manner, some Authors of very good credit have assured us, that Thunderbolts fell in several places of the Island, And this Observation is not unknown to the Ancients; for Seneca, Quaest. Nat. l 2 c. 30. says, Aetna has sometimes burnt exceedingly, and thrown up a wonderful quantity of burning Sand, the day obfcur'd by the Smoke and Ashes, so that the People were terrified at so unexpected a Scene of Darkness. At these times, as the common Tradition goes, there is a great deal of Thunder and Lightning.

And therefore the Bitumen which is fo plentifully found in the Soil of Sodom, might be set on fire by a Thunderbolt; and since it flows, or is dug not from the Superficies of the Earth, but from Veins of a mighty depth, when once it had taken fire the Flame must of necessity run along all those Veins, and at last shake and subvert the ground. The same thing frequently happens to tht Fields about Aetna and Vesuvius for the very same reason. Innumerable Authors have written of the Soil of Sicily, but Juftin shall serve for all, who in the beginning of the fourth Book thus describes it. The Earth is naturally thin and friable, and by reason of the several Caverns and Pipes, so penetrable, that the greatest part of it is exposed to the violence of the Winds. Nay, the Genius of the Soil is proper for generating and nourishing of Fire, because it is said to be crusted within with Sulphur and Bitumen, which is the reason, that when the Wind struggles with the Fire under ground, it frequently belches out sometimes Flames, sometimes Vapours, and sometimes Smoke, and that in several places. Cornelius Severus prosecutes this Argument at large in his Poem, intituled, Aetna. The same Observations have been made of the Grounds that lye about the Vefuvius in the Kingdom of Naples, and several Towns have frequently been there overthrown by Earthquakes. Pliny the Younger in the 16th Epiftle, l. 6. where he relates the Death of his Learned Uncle, who was suffocated as he approached too near the fire of that Mountain. The Houses,says he, with frequent and prodigious Tremblings

nodded, and as if they had been removed from their Foundation, seemed to move this way and that way. And Seneca in the sixth Book of his Natural Questions, ch. i. has the following Passage. We are told that Pompeii, a famous City of Campania, was subverted by an Earthquake. —This

Concussion happen'd on the Nones {=our fifth} of February, under the Consulate of Regulus and Virginius, and occasioned incredible losses in Campania; which though it was never free from these Motions, yet it seldom suffer'd by them.

That which Seneca tells us happen'd to the City of Pompeii, do we say was the very fame Calamity which visited these Cities in the Plain of Jordan. Nor was this the first time that this Valley was shaken, as the Territory about Pompeii was not subverted the very first time it shook, as the Jewish Authors affirm, from whom St. Jerom has borrowed what follows in his Hebrew Traditions. 'It is frequently asked, says he, why Lot, after he had first prefer'd Segor to his flight up the Mountain, that he desired it might escape because he design'd to live there, should so soon alter his Mind, and depart from Segor to the Mountain? We answer, that the Conjecture of the Hebrews concerning Segor is agreeable to the Truth, viz. that it was frequently overthrown by Earthquakes, and was first called Bale,and afterwads Salissa ; and therefore Lot was afraid, and said to himfe/f, If while the other Cities were standing, this was often subverted, how can it now expect to escape in the common ruine? But to lay aside these uncertain Traditions, we will rather observe in the words of the Roman Philosopher, that God punished the Sodomites and their Neighbours, by a Calamity of a large extent, which has not only destroy'd single Houses, or Families, or Cities, but whole Nations, which sometimes buries all in Ruines, and sometimes in a deep Gulf, leaving no Remainders behind it. By which it may appear, that that which is not now, was formerly, but triumphs over the most magnificent Cities, and is not so merciful as to leave any footsteps of their ancient Glory.

Strabo in his first, and Pliny in his second Book, will furnish us with several Examples of this nature , some few of which, nearly sefembling the Destruction of these Cities situate in the Plain of Jordan, we have here selected. The former Author tells us out of Posidonius, p. 40. that in Phoenicia a certain City, situate above Sidon, was absorpt by an Earthquake. Out of Demetrius Scepsius, that several Earthquakes have happen'd in Asia Minor, by which whole Towns were devoured, and the Mountain Sipylus overthrown under the Reign of Tantalas, and Marishes turned into standing Lakes. And this happen'd at the Destruction of the Vale of Sodom, where the Lacus Asphaltites was occasion'd by the Water which there overflowed. Nor indeed cou'd it otherwise happen, the Soil easily giving way in marshy places. As the same Author tells us, p 37. Great as well as small things may be swallowed up, since Chasms in the Earth, and the burying of Towns and it happened at Bara, Bezona, and several other places, are said to be caused by Earthquakes. Pliny in his second Book, ch. 88. testifies, that the Mountain Epopos, a Fire on the sudden breaking out of it, was levelled to the Ground, and a Town buried in the Deep. For the Arch, that supported the Ground, breaking in, and the Matter underneath being wholly consumed, the Soil above must of necessity sink, and be swallowed up in these Caverns, if they are of a larger extent. For this reason 'twas suppos'd in Seneca's time that the Mountain Aetna consumed, and sunk by degrees, because the Sailors cou'd have discern'd it farther off in former times. See his 79th Epistle.

V. After this Territory adjoining to Jordan had thus sunk in, it must unavoidably fall out, (as we said before) that the Waters running to this place in so great an abundance must make a Lake of that place, which was marshy before; as Moses informs us,Gen. 14. 3. when he relates that the Forces of the Inhabitants near Jordan met /n the Valley of Siddim, which is now, says he, the Salt Sea ; by which name, as we shall hereafter observe, the Lacus Asphaltites was called. And that this was not the only place, where a Lake was occasioned by an Earthquake, we find from the above-mentioned Passage in Strabo. Nay, Pliny testifies that in one of the Pythecusae not only a Town was awallowed up in

the Deep, (as we have already observed) but that by another Concussion of the Earth a Pool broke out. In the beginning of 169 3. all Sicily was miserably shaken; and not only several Towns overturned, but the City Augusta, which was built by the Emperor Frederic in the Year 1229. was wholly swallowed up by the Sea.

If to these Waters perpetually running into it, we add the Bitumen which at once broke out of the Earth, and mingled with the Water, we shall have a full Description of the Lacus Asphaltites. We have evidently shown, that all that Country abounded with Bitumen before; and perhaps what Strabo affirms to have happen'd at Eubaea fell out here, which did not cease to feel Shakings in one part or another, that the Earth open'd in the Field of Lelantus, and vomited forth a Flood of fiery Mud.

After this manner the Lacus Asphaltites seems to be made, and nothing can be objected against it, unless it be that Abraham did not perceive the Earthquake, which we say happen'd in this place. For Moses tells us, Gen. 19.17. that he knew nothing of the matter, till he got up in the Morning, and went to the Mountains; from whence he saw the Smoke arise from the Earth, as from a Furnace. But besides that, Mofes no where denies that Abraham was senfible of this Earthquake ; it might very well be, that the Trembling was very inconsiderable, or none at all in the Neighbourhood. Often small Trafts of Ground are disturbed, as Seneca has observed, Quaest. Nat. 1.6. c.25. even this Earthquake which has filed the City with so many dreadful Stones, did not exceed the limits of Campania. Why should I mention that when Chalcis trembled,Thebes stood unmolested; that when Aegium was every moment expecting to be buried in ruines, the City Patrea, which stands so near it felt nothing of that Motion ? That prodigious Concussion which overwhelm'd two Cities, Buris and Helice, stopt on this side of Aegium ? 'Tis therefore a plain case, that the Motion only goes fo far, and no farther, as the Caverns and vacant spaces in the Earth, give it leave. According to the Depth or Breadth of the Caverns which fell in, the Motion must be heard farther or nearer. Now these Caverns seem neither to have been very far from the Superficies of the Earth, nor broader than the Valley which sunk in, since four Cities, with the Territories belonging to them, were so soon swallowed up, and yet the Calamity spread no farther.

The Memory of this strange Event was not only preserv'd among the Hebrews, who afterward inhabited the neighbouring Country, but was propogated among the Heathens. Strata indeed, l. 16. erroneously confounds this Lake with Sirbonis, but in the other part of his relation deserves to be heard. It is a vast Lake, the Compass of which some Persons estimate to be a thousand Furlongs, the Length of it above two hundred, (Josephus de Bell. Jud l. 4. c.26. tells us it is 580 Furlongs in Length, and 150 in Breadth;) the Water of it is extreamly deep and heavy upon which account divers are of no use there; for whoever goes into it as high as his Navil is immediately lifted up. It is full of Bitumen, which at uncertain Seasons boils up from the bottom, with Bubbels like hot Water, and then the Superficies of the Lake swells, and resembes the rising of a Hill. It emits vast quantities of smoaky Ashes, that deceive the Eye-sight; it immediately rusts silver and Brass, and in short, every thing that looks bright and polished, except Gold alone. When their utensils grow rusty,the Inhabitants know that an Eruption of Bitumen will soon happen, for which reason they go in flat-bottom'd Boats made of Reeds to gather it.

Bitumen is a sort of Earth,which being melted by the Heat spreads mightily,but with a little cold Water is soon condensed again into a solid Body, and therefore needs Incision. — Several other Signs convince us that in the Soil of this Country there is adual Fire, for they shew us rough Rocks burnt up near. Mosais, and Caverns Wrought out in several places, the Earth full of Ashies, drops of Pitch distilling from the Rocks, the Rivers hot, and casting forth an unsavory Smell, and their Houfes Frequently thrown down ; so that what the Natives of the place relate, may very well be credited, viz. that thirteen Cities were formerly inhabited in this Tract of Ground, the Metropolis of which, Sodom has still the compass of sixty Furlongs visibly remaining, that by Earthquakes, together With violent Eruptions of Fire, and hot bituminous

sulphurious Water, a great Lake was made, that the Stones took fire, that some of the Cities were swallowed up, and others abandoned by the Inhabitants that cou'd make their escapes. Erastothenes, on the other hand, was of opinion, that the Country was overwhelm'd by store of subterranean Pools. We will now introduce Tacitus to confirm what has been delivered by Strabo, who tells us in the fifth Book of his Hiftory, ch. 6. A Lake of a mighty compass, refembling a Sea, but of a more odious tast and for the noisomness of the Smells that proceed from it, often fatal to the Inhabitants: It is neither agitated by the, Wind, nor does it harbour any Fish, or Fowl accustomed to the Water. At certain seasons of the year it throws up Bitumen, the use of gathering which Experience has taught, as it has done other Arts. Hot far from thence are Fields, which they report to have been extreamly fruitful in former times.and inhabited by large and populous Cities, but afterwards were fet on fre by Thunder bolts, the Footsteps of which Calamity are still remaining ; but that the Earth, which seems to be parched and burnt up, has wholly lost its fertility. For every, thing, whether it grows Spontaniously, or is planted ly Man, whether herb or Flower, or arrived to full Maturity, if compressed, moulders away immediately into Ashes. Therefore as I readily grant, that some famous Cities were here destroy'd by Lightning in times past, so I suppose, that the Earth is infected by Steams from the Lake, and the circum-ambient Air corrupted, which putrifies the Fruits of the Earth. This Lake likewise, has been described by Diodorut Siculus, l. 19. by Pliny, l 5. c. 16. and by Solinus, c. 36. whom the Reader, if he thinks fit, may consult when he pleases. We will not here examine the particulars they relate, altho' we make no question, but that abundance of false Reports have been utter'd upon this Subject. We will only enquire into the Reasons of the several Names it goes by, with all convenient brevity.

Every one knows wherefore it received the name of Asphaltites, since it fo plentifully abounds in Alphaltus, or Bitumen; and the reason, why it is frequently called the Salt Sea in Scripture, is, because the Hebrews call all Lakes, Seas ; and because two other Lakes, viz. that of Semechon and Genesareth receive the River Jordan, in his passage above, both which are fresh Water, therefore this third, to be distinguished from them, was called the Salt Sea. Other wise the. Mediterranean Sea is like wise salt; altho' 'tis certain, there is some difference in the saltness. In succeeding times, it was called the Dead Sea, not becaufe the Water of it is immoveable, as Justin pretends, /. 36. 3. but becaufe, as Josepbus informs us, it is aganon, that is, it has no Fish in it. The above mentioned Writers, that give a Description of this Lake, confirm the opinion of Josephus, to whom we will add two Eye-witnesses: First, Pausanias, who in his fifth Book expressly tells us, he saw the River Jordan, which runs thro' the Lake of Tiberias, fall into another Lake, called the Dead Sea., by whom it is consumed; and afterwards adds, This Lake is void of Fish, who turn back to their accustomed Waters, as from a manifest Danger. The Second is, St. Jerome, who upon the 47th Chapter of Ezekiel: If Jordan, says he, swelled by the Rains, carries any fishes into it, they immediately die, and float upon the surface of the fat Water.

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