Josephus was a 1st-century Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem not long after the crucifixion of Christ and wrote towards the end of the first century. His primary work seems to have been The Antiquities of the Jews, which is a history of the Jewish people written for the Gentiles of the time that follows the Old Testament as we know it. Some interesting things jumped out to me as I read through this. Two of them are related to Noah’s Ark and Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt.
In The Antiquities of the Jews Book 1 Chapter 3, he includes the account of the flood. As he comes to the end of this account, with the rain ceasing, and Noah sending out the raven, and Noah and his family and the living creatures leaving the ark, Josephus says this (emphasis mine):
However, the Armenians call this place (Apobaterion) The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.
The Antiquities of the Jews 1.3.5 (92b)
To paraphrase in my own wording, Josephus, in the 1st-century, says that Noah’s Ark is “over yonder over there. People make pilgrimages to see it.” Or to quote him, “its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.” People knew where Noah’s Ark was in the 1st-century. But then he continues, quoting other historians of the 1st-century that also wrote about the ark:
Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean; for when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: – “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian, also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascas, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them, where he speaks thus: – “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses, the legislator of the Jews wrote.”
The Antiquities of the Jews 1.3.6
In this paragraph, Josephus references several other historians: Berosus the Chaldean and Mnaseas, who both wrote in the 3rd century BC, Hieronymus the Egyptian (date unknown), and Nicolaus of Damascus, who appears to have written towards the end of the 1st century BC and the beginning of the 1st century AD. And Josephus also adds “and a great many more”. He’s essentially giving citations to support the claim from other historians.
Towards the end of the same chapter, on the age of Noah, he writes this:
Now I have witnesses to what I have said, all those that have written Antiquities, both among the Greeks and barbarians; for even Manetho, who wrote the Egyptian History, and Berosus, who collected the Chaldean Monuments, and Mochus and Hestiaus, and besides these, Hieronymus the Egyptian, and those who composed the Phoenician History, agree to what I here say: Hesiod also, and Hecataeus, Hellanicus, and Acusilaus; and besides these, Ephorus and Nicolaus relate that the ancients lived a thousand years; but as to these matters let everyone look upon them as he thinks fit.
The Antiquities of the Jews 18.104.22.168-108
Here, Josephus gives 11 sources by name and generally refers to more. All the while ending with “but as to these matters let everyone look upon them as he thinks fit.” I.E. Take it for what you will.
Josephus also writes something interesting about Lot’s wife. As it is told in Genesis 19, right before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 angels came to Lot to bring him and his family out. Lot was told to flee and not to look back, but while fleeing, his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). In regards to this, Josephus records this (emphasis mine):
But Lot’s wife continually turning back to view the city as she went from it, and being too nicely inquisitive what would become of it, although God had forbidden her so to do, was changed into a pillar of salt; for I have seen it, and it remains to this day.
Antiquities of the Jews 22.214.171.124b
In Josephus: The Complete Works translated by William Whiston, A.M., there is a comment added in the footnotes to this that says this:
This pillar of salt, was, we see here, standing in the days of Josephus, and he had seen it. That it was standing then, is also attested by Clement of Rome, contemporary with Josephus; as also that it was so in the next century, is attested by Irenaeus with the addition of an hypothesis, how it came to last so long, with all its members entire.
Clement of Rome, who died at the end of the 1st century, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (which is his only surviving genuine letter), says this:
For Lot’s wife, who went forth with him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of salt unto this day.
First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 11
While Irenaeus, who died at the beginning of the 3rd century, in his 4th book of Against Heresies, says this:
An example is found in the case of Lot, who led forth his daughters from Sodom, and these then conceived by their own father; and who left behind him within the confines [of the land] his wife, [who remains] a pillar of salt unto this day.
Against Heresies, Book 4, 31.1
So here we have 3 sources around the same time that claim that the pillar of salt that was Lot’s wife still remained in their day.
One of the criteria that historians use for something to be historically reliable is the criteria of multiple attestation. Each of these are very fascinating, otherwise, I wouldn’t have written this blog on them. But I also think that in the case of these 3 things (Noah’s Ark, Noah’s Age, and the pillar of salt that was Lot’s wife), each of them is multiply attested, giving credence to the historical reliability of them.