Monday, 17 August 2009

Lot's wife

Glancing through Jean-Marie Déguignet's Memoirs of a Breton Peasant (written c.1900; translated Linda Asher, Seven Stories Press 2004), I discover this peculiar little version of the story Lot's wife:
According to Benjamin Jonos [a twelfth century writer], who saw Lot’s wife in the twelfth century, she was not completely dead; when animals licked her and thereby made her smaller, she turned back into her old shape and resumed her monthly periods like other women, though she probably did not enjoy that much.
I can't find anything else out about this Jonos, and am not certain he ever existed. But I find the story fascinating.

Lot's wife has had her share of interpretation over the years. For Martin Harries, she ‘becomes a figure for certain modern conceptions of spectatorship .. in particular, Lot’s wife becomes the nexus of a constellation of 20th-century fantasies and fears about the potential for spectatorial damage.’ What she 'means', in other words, is that just watching catastrophe may destroy us. [Martin Harries, Forgetting Lot’s Wife: on destructive spectatorship (Fordham Univ. Press 2007), 7-8]

This is one perspective; what she saw and the damage it caused her. Another, of course, is her dilatoriness—if the Lord tells you to leave, then don’t hang about or you’ll be punished. But the ‘Benjamin Jonos’ version suggests a completely different perspective … it turns her story, via what looks like an aetiological myth (animals at salt-licks), into a fable of the loss of and renewal of fertility: salt is the medium of barrenness; being brought back to life entails the restoration of the menstrual cycle. The emphasis, in other words, is on the ‘wifely’, not on
If we take her transgression to be dilatoriness, this in turn starts to say something about the urgency of fertility: the need not to hang around. It also turns her into a form of the wandering Jew: still alive in the 12th-century AD, for Jonos to meet, as if what they used to call 'the curse' really is a curse. Jonos also tells us her name: Edith, apparently.

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