She was my sister before she was Lot’s wife – Irit, my older sister, who was special to the goddess, although that was a fact only known to the women of Soddom. For it was the men who ruled our town, our lives, our destiny, burrowing into the soils along the edges of the town, along the shores of the salty Dead Sea, bringing up the dark thick substance that held together our walls and our dead. “Mumiya” it was called. You call it “asphalt.” Sometimes a man would fall into a firey pit and drown in it. He would become mummified – forever preserved in a column of stone.
Irit was a good wife, and Lot was one of the better husbands, although that is not saying much, given the place that the new god of men designated for women. That is why many of us kept to the old ways in secret, gathering over our shared cauldrons of stew, rich with the yieldings of the fertile lands we also shared beyond the smokey shoreline. We would give our thanks to the Mother of All, ask for her blessings and prophecies, look to her priestess for guidance.
And that is how Irit came to be caught in the fires finally sparked by the greed of some of our men. She had a vision, Irit did – a vision of the earth quaking and burning, a vision of a darkness billowing out from the underworld. And she told her husband, who was one of the better husbands, who respected the wisdom of women and their ways, and often took his wife’s counsel. But when Lot tried to warn his fellow townsmen to watch for signs, they would not listen, for it was not their god who spoke, and they coveted their riches.
And so when the earth began to tremble and red fires erupted along the shoreline, when the land began to melt and fold in on itself and stony shards shot up into the air, Lot and and his wife, Irit, gathered their family and began to flee north to the olive groves — until Irit heard the screams of a townswoman whose husband held her down on the ground so that she could not run. And so Lot’s wife turned to help her friend.
“No!” I cried to my sister. “No!” cried Lot to his wife.
“No!” cried Lot’s wife as a great dark wave erupted from the earth, engulfing her and leaving her hardened form to withstand the next rain of sulphur-spewn stones.
And that’s when her head broke off and rolled toward me down the slope, landing with her face looking into mine and still calling “No!”
I carried her hardened image with me through all of our long journeys north to the land of Hatti, where I finally settled with a band of women who called themselves “ha-mazan.”
We kept the mummified head of Lot’s wife, Irit, on the altar where we sought the guidance of the Great Mother, whom we all knew by different names – Ishtar, Astarte, Innana, Lilitu — to remind us of Irit’s last word.
I don’t know what happened to Lot and his children. But I do know that what everyone thinks happened in Soddom is not the story I know about Lot’s wife.
[writer’s note: details about Bronze Age towns along the Dead Sea gotten from here.]