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Don’t look back: From the wife of Lot to Orpheus and Eurydice

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Chapter Summary

One of the most striking scenes of the Sodom and Gomorrah episode in the Old Testament is the metamorphosis of the wife of Lot into a pillar of salt. Yet the scene occupies only one verse in the whole of Genesis' account. It is not referred to elsewhere in the Old Testament and is mentioned only once in the New Testament. Moreover, there is no other parallel in the Bible for the prohibition on looking back. The prohibition is quite widespread in Greco-Roman antiquity with its most famous example being, of course, the case of Orpheus and Eurydice. This chapter divides the Greco-Roman material into five sections: contact with the underworld and chthonic powers; magic; purifications; going abroad and creations, even though the boundaries between these categories are sometimes a bit fuzzy. It concludes with looking at the moving story of Orpheus and Eurydice before returning to Lot's wife.

Keywords: chthonic powers; Genesis; Greco-Roman material; looking back; Lot's wife; Old Testament; Orpheus and Eurydice; pillar of salt; Sodom and Gomorrah

10.1163/ej.9789004164734.i-426.39
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