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KRONOS Vol IX, No. 1
JUPITER - GOD OF ABRAHAM (PART IV)
Copyright (c) 1983 by Dwardu Cardona
20. The Thunderbolt
In a separate paper(264) I have indicated that there is nothing in ancient records, myths, or legends, that implicates Mars or Venus as the agent of destruction in the Sodomitic catastrophe. Neither is there anything that substantiates Alfred de Grazia's contention that the agent was Mercury.(265) We are therefore left with Immanuel Velikovsky's belief that it was Jupiter.(266) The records, however, are just as silent about Jupiter as they are about Mars, Venus, and Mercury. In fact there is nothing in the various sources concerning the destruction of the Cities of the Plain that explicitly points to a planetary cause for the catastrophe. Velikovsky's contention would not even merit serious consideration were it not for the fact that legend persists in linking Abram's early life with certain irregularities of the planet Jupiter.
Velikovsky was of the opinion that the thunderbolt which was said to have destroyed the Cities came from Jupiter. Concerning this incident, Tacitus wrote:
Thunderbolts are awesome phenomena. Ancient man, like his modern counterpart, would have had many an experience with thunderstorms. He would have witnessed lightning striking trees, perhaps causing forest fires, and other mishaps. It would not have been unusual, as it is not now, to have thunderbolts demolish buildings. - But entire cities?
One can understand why the North American Indians of the eastern woodlands deified thunder and anthropomorphized the phenomenon as Heng, the big vigorous youngster of the thunderbolt.(268) But in the mythologies of other races we also see the thunderbolt wielded as a weapon by the planetary gods. Were the ancients trying to tell us that thunderbolts did in fact emanate from the planets?
The answer is that they were and they discussed the subject not only in mythological terms, but in scientific ones as well. It seems that planetary discharges, in the form of cosmic thunderbolts, were a phenomena with which the very ancient were well acquainted. Pliny, for instance, wrote:
That a similar belief was shared by the Babylonians, Pliny also recorded:
Pliny, who lived circa 23-79 A.D., was merely reporting what the ancients of the land had repeated through the ages. This ancient belief, however, seems to have misled him and his contemporaries into thinking that all thunderbolts were ascribed to the planets. Thus, not having himself ever witnessed a planetary thunderbolt, he offered a scientific explanation - based on the limited knowledge of his time - with which he sought to reconcile ancient belief with the thunderbolts he was familiar with. This attempted reconciliation has recently led Bob Forrest to criticize Velikovsky, who used a slightly different translation,(271) for having presented Pliny's words as a statement of fact.(272) Pliny himself made it quite clear, for instance, that he did not subscribe to the Babylonian "doctrine" concerning earthquakes. His own stated belief that earthquakes are caused by the wind,(273) fallacious as it is, merely shows that he favored a more down-to-earth explanation. Slightly earlier, Lucretius (98-55 B.C.) had also derided the idea that thunderbolts were the product of the planetary gods(274) - but this was again because, like his contemporaries, he misunderstood the ancients' claim as alluding to all thunderbolts. Lucretius, for instance, wrote:
As far as the thunderbolts he was familiar with were concerned, Lucretius was correct. But Ovid, who lived in the interim between Lucretius and Pliny, differentiated between atmospheric and planetary thunderbolts precisely by describing the latter as having fallen out of the blue:
Lucretius' disclaimer and Pliny's reconciliation do not detract from the fact that the general opinion among the ancients was that thunderbolts were capable of being discharged by the three superior, "upper", or outer planets: Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
As the 17th/18th century Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico, said of the thunderbolts of Jove, "an idea so universal and persistent must refer to an intense experience suffered in the past".(278)
Planetary thunderbolts have now entered the pages of astronomy. The continuing exploration of planets at close quarters has tended to give some credence to this ancient belief. Voyager 2 has discovered "a bewilderingly complex pattern of magnetic fields and electrostatic forces around Saturn, and even evidence of lightning discharges across [its] rings".(279) These lightning discharges, or thunderbolts, emanate from Saturn's B-ring with energy pulses that range from 100 to 1000 megawatts.(280) So, similarly, on Jupiter:
But what of interplanetary discharges? What of a thunderbolt reaching all the way from one planet to another - from Mars, Saturn, or Jupiter, all the way to Earth? Obviously, interplanetary distances are too vast to be bridged by such bolts of lightning. Yet science itself now accepts the possibility nay, even the probability that such discharges can leap across the gap that separates celestial bodies where these occur in close proximity.
According to Pliny, a thunderbolt once fell from the planet Mars on the Tuscan town of Bolsena which was thus entirely burned up.(283) Seneca claimed that a bolt from Jupiter felled a "threefold mass of mountains".(284) On the Acropolis of Athens there was a sacred spot where a thunderbolt from Zeus, who was Jupiter, was believed to have split the rocky outcrop.(285) Half way across the world, on the other side of the Atlantic, we find a similar belief among the Yuki Indians: "With lightning [Taiko-mol, who was Saturn(286) ] split the mountains, and streams issued forth."(287)
Atmospheric thunderbolts neither split mountains nor burn up entire towns. If thunderbolts were seen to accomplish such devastation, they must have been of a nature much more powerful than the bolts which are seen to fall from present skies. If it was really a thunderbolt that destroyed the Cities of the Plain, it must therefore have been of the same nature as the one that destroyed Bolsena. But even if we were to grant that the thunderbolt was discharged by a planet, can we ascertain that the planet was Jupiter?
In two earlier papers I warned against the blind acceptance of a thunder-wielding deity as necessarily portraying a Jovian god.(288) Just because a deity is presented as wielding the thunderbolt, it does not necessarily imply a Jovian identification. As Pliny stated, planetary thunderbolts were generally believed to be discharged by the three outer planets. He did, however, emphasize the fact that they were "principally" deemed to be the product of the one "which is situated in the middle" - that is Jupiter. Among the thundering planets, in other words, Jupiter seems to have been the prime wielder. The thunderbolt was, in fact, the Jovian god's favorite weapon .
Ovid referred to "Jove the thunderer".(289) Horace wrote of "Jupiter's great hand dispensing thunder".(290) Homer described how Zeus "held fast in his hands the thunderbolt''.(291) The Rig Veda lauds Indra/Jupiter(292) as the king who "holds, firmly grasped, the thunder"(293) and "whose right hand wields the bolt".(294) Of Brihaspati/Jupiter(295) it was said that "with lightning [he] strikes down the foeman".(296) Marduk, the Assyro-Babylonian Jupiter, set the thunderbolt in front of him.(297)
If thunderbolts from Jupiter can reach Io, they could easily have reached the Earth had it been, at one time, even if only transitorily, in close proximity to the giant planet.
21. The Brimstone
The Biblical narrative does not attribute the destruction of the Cities of the Plain to a thunderbolt. The catastrophe, as described in Genesis, is said to have been caused by a rain of fire and brimstone,which is sulfur.(Footnote: * But cf. the article by Myers on brimstone that follows. What is curious is that the ancients, as Velikovsky pointed out,(298) also connected sulfur, or the smell of it, with thunderbolts. Pliny, for instance, wrote:
So, also, Lucretius:
These statements might be discounted by the scoffer as a fiction because, as far as is known, lightning and/or thunder are not accompanied by a sulfurous odor. We have seen, however, how both Pliny and Lucretius mistook ancient belief concerning planetary thunderbolts as applying to atmospheric ones. Might it therefore not be that these statements concerning sulfurous thunderbolts stem from the same confusion? Homer, for example, wrote:
These Homeric descriptions need not have been eye-witness accounts. Homer could have dramatized his epics by drawing on a tradition that was already ancient in his time. It seems obvious, however, that this sulfurous odor was characterized by him as not being the result of mere earthly thunderbolts but rather of those which were cast by Zeus, who was Jupiter. Thus, again, we seem to find ourselves in the Jovian planet's embrace.
Velikovsky was of the opinion that oxygen can be transmuted into sulfur by the passage through the air of an electrical discharge.(304) Frederic B. Jueneman has meanwhile pointed out that atmospheric discharges are not powerful enough to effect nuclear transformations of this nature. He did not, on the other hand, rule out the possibility that interplanetary discharges might succeed where earthly ones fail. Even so, he was forced to add the stipulation that unless a lightning discharge were to strike a site containing a trace amount of vaporizable sulfur compounds, no sulfurous odor would result.(305)
The writer of Deuteronomy wrote that "the whole land [of Siddim] thereof is brimstone".(306) To this day, the Dead Sea area is spotted with sulfur deposits.(307) An electrical discharge, atmospheric or interplanetary, could have set some of these deposits on fire. As Dorothy B. Vitaliano pointed out, the penetrating odor of burning sulfur would have been long remembered.(308)
It is curious, however, that before the catastrophe the land was described as having been "well watered everywhere . . . even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt".(309) This fits neither Deuteronomy's land of brimstone nor the present area of the Dead Sea. In fact, no mention of brimstone is to be found in Biblical sources prior to the Sodomitic catastrophe. If the sulfur deposits had always been indigenous to the Dead Sea area, it seems they would have to have been underground and out of sight prior to the destruction. If this is correct, the electrical discharge which might have struck the plain would first have had to open up channels in the earth before contact with these deposits could have been made. Such power is not contained in atmospheric thunderbolts but, according to what Pliny said of the Babylonians, interplanetary ones were believed to be capable of accomplishing just that. In modern times, Ralph E. Juergens was of the same opinion.(310)
Contact with vaporizable sulfur compounds could also have been achieved by a thunderbolt that first passed through a sulfurous atmosphere. The Earth's atmosphere is not sulfurous so we are bound to ask: Is sulfur to be found in planetary atmospheres?
As far back as 1945, Velikovsky had already suspected the presence of sulfur on both Jupiter and Venus.(311) Ten years later, Walter S. Adams, once the director of both the Mount Palomar and Mount Wilson observatories, was still claiming the impossibility of this element being present on either of these two planets.(312) Detractors might well claim that Velikovsky based his prognosis on a false premise, but data from the Soviet spacecrafts Venera 13 and 14 now indicate that the clouds of Venus are composed mostly of sulfur.(313)
Like Jupiter, Venus is not neutral when it comes to electrical activity. Both the Venera and Pioneer orbiters were at first thought to have detected as many as 25 lightning discharges per second taking place up to 32 km above the Venerian surface.(314) These lightning discharges, however, are not of the same magnitude as those which take place on Jupiter. More recent studies have not only lowered the frequency of such discharges (and how fast we seem to be repudiating the discoveries of only yesterday) but have also disclosed that most of the Venerian lightning occurs over volcanic regions and thus thought to be due to volcanic activity.(315)
Jovian sulfur has also been detected - and so Velikovsky has been vindicated on both counts. Ionized sulfur is now known to circle Jupiter in a plasma cloud.(316)
Genesis is not concerned simply with the odor of sulfur. According to the account, an actual rain of brimstone fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. The sulfur deposits of the Dead Sea area are hardly enough to account for Deuteronomy's land of brimstone. The writer of this book might have been familiar with a land that was literally covered with sulfur. If sulfur actually fell from heaven, it would have remained on the surface for generations. Burning sulfur still leaves an ash deposit. The rains of the following ages would have finally dissolved and/ or washed away the residue. But did sulfur really fall from heaven?
There is another question that can be asked: Could sulfur have been transported from Jupiter to Earth at close quarters? Jueneman is of the opinion that this is more than possible:
Jueneman warned that Jovian sulfur compounds are not believed to be appreciable but he also clarified that "what would be considered miniscule in the atmosphere of Jupiter would be an inundation in the atmosphere of Earth if even a minute quantity of these constituents crossed the interplanetary void to our world".(318)
While sulfur compounds might be thought to be rare on Jupiter, they are believed to exist in quantum sufficit on Io, the nearest Galilean satellite to that planet. Surface deposits of sulfur on Io were actually postulated by Fanale et al. in 1974 (319) What has been learned about Io since then has led Bradford A. Smith to liken Io's surface to a painted desert of foul-smelling sulfur and sulfur-dioxide.(320) Experts like Smith, Harold Masursky, and Laurence Soderblom vie against each other with competing models concerning the actual mode of Io's sulfurous ejections but all agree in attributing the deposit to volcanic outpourings from Io's interior.(321)
In a league of his own, the Cornell astronomer, Thomas Gold, believes that Io's volcanism, spewing material as much as 174 miles above ground level,(323) is triggered electrically.(324)
But this, too, is a mechanism originally proposed by Velikovsky who, twenty-five years earlier, had written:
The impact of Jupiter's thunderbolts on Io would actually add to the thermal imbalance of localized spots on the satellite if not actually contribute to the production of sulfur. As Jueneman pointed out, "if the Earth itself was once such a satellite [of Jupiter], we could expect equally dramatic events".(327)
Earth need not necessarily have been a satellite of Jupiter for it to have reacted, even if in a somewhat tamer manner, like Io. Jupiter need only have passed near to our world. In either case, Earth would have been forced to plow through the same "enormous magnetosphere" which constantly influences Io. Jupiter's proximity to Earth would also have brought Io close by - perhaps even closer. Interplanetary thunderbolts from Jupiter would have scored direct hits on both Earth and Io. Io's volcanism would have been matched by Earth's. Earth's volcanoes would not have ejected much sulfurous compounds but Io's would have exploded with such outpourings. Under such conditions, these voluminous outbursts would have shot their sulfurous fumes in excess of the present height of 174 miles above Io's ground level. To that would have been added the Earth's own attraction. If not directly from Jupiter, the rain of brimstone which was said to have engulfed Sodom and the other cities could very well have come from Io.
22. The Meteontes
Recently, even the astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier, in one of their more profound insights, conceded that the ancient belief concerning thunderbolts merits serious consideration. Of Lucretius' old criticism they wrote that "that is no reason for it now to mislead us" and that "the prevailing wisdom that [thunderbolts] were astronomical and linked with the god was probably correct".(328)
Because Clube and Napier wished to promote their own particular theory of cosmic catastrophism, they were here guilty of a slight misdemeanor. What they presented as "the then prevailing climate of opinion" was actually theirs, not the ancients'. As we have seen by quoting the actual literature, this ancient belief was not one that linked stars, comets, and thunderbolts but, rather, thunderbolts and planets. It is, in fact, something of a pity that the writers in question, who were bold enough among scientists to take ancient sources at face value, did not also accept this. Instead, they contended that what the ancients called planets were actually misidentified comets,(330) a hypothesis they will be hard-pressed to prove. According to them, even these ancient thunderbolts were a mistaken phenomena. They would have us believe that "Lucretius' thunderbolts do not always have the character of lightning''.(331)
In one of his descriptions, Lucretius mentioned that, sometimes, a thunderbolt is seen to lose "on the way some large bodies which cannot like the rest get through the air" and compared this effect to a leaden ball missile which drops molten particles in its trajectory.(332) This led Clube and Napier to claim that the description fits a "meteorite fall" more than it does lightning.(333)
Perhaps. But Lucretius could also have been describing beaded, or pearl, lightning. These are flashes which appear to break up into beads when the main bolt is followed by a series of luminous "pearls" along its ionized path.
As already stated, Lucretius, like Pliny and Seneca, was describing the thunderbolts he was familiar with - those in the Mediterranean region. That Clube and Napier are not very familiar with thunderstorms is indicated when they take Seneca to task on one of his more correct observations:
And may I ask if meteorite falls were common enough in Seneca's time to make "the regularity obvious"?
While it is true that thunderstorms are not, by any means, common during this season in this area, they are not so rare that they would go unnoticed by a native of the region. What is of greater significance is that when they do occur, they belittle winter storms by comparison. Because of the Mediterranean's relatively small area, it is more easily warmed by solar radiation. Water vapor, carried by convection currents, easily reaches the condensation levels to form cumulus clouds frequent in summer skies. Thunderstorms develop due to the lapse rate of temperature in the air above. In temperate zones, this type of storm is most common in summer. Those who, like this writer, have experienced these electric disturbances can attest to the vehemence with which thunderbolts are known to fall in quick succession for periods of up to half an hour without stop. Just prior to the storm, the overcast often turns a pale sulfurous green and the peals which folIow are of such frightening outbursts that they often drive courageous men to prayer.
The belief that meteoric falls were often confused with thunderbolts was much earlier expressed by G. A. Wainwright:
Lumps of iron and stones falling from the sky have been described and recorded by the educated and uneducated ancients, by the nonscientific citizenry of more recent times, and by primitive peoples throughout the ages.(336) Yet it was the modern men of science who, until April 26, 1803, refused to believe that stones, or iron for that matter, could fall from the sky.(337) Even then, there were die-hards: As late as 1902, a member of the famous Selborne Society was still arguing that iron does not fall from the sky but, being present on the ground in the first place, attracts lightning to it which, when seen, is mistakenly believed to have brought the iron down with it.(338) Who, then, was guilty of the greater ignorance?
It is however true that, among primitive and non-educated peoples, meteorites were sometimes referred to as "thunderbolts", more often as "thunderstones", "storm stones", "thunder axes", "sky axes", "thunder teeth", and "lightning stones".(339) It should be kept in mind, on the other hand, that the Romans, as well as the Greeks, with whom we have been partly concerned, were anything but primitive while Pliny, Seneca, and Lucretius were anything but uneducated.
Even so, the belief in planetary thunderbolts stems from very ancient times - from a time much earlier than Pliny, Seneca, and Lucretius. It will have to be granted that those on whom these writers were drawing could understandably have confused meteoric falls with thunderbolts. In its flaming and thundering trajectory, a meteor can be easily visualized as a thunderbolt out of the blue. That being the case, could not some ancient thunderbolts, especially those which were said to have fallen from the planets, really have been bolides - just as Clube, Napier, and Wainwright supposed? Could not the thunderbolts mentioned by Josephus and Tacitus, as well as the lightning described by Philo, have been a meteorite or meteoric shower? In other words, could not the Biblical Cities of the Plain have been levelled by a meteorite, as per Isaac Asimov,(340) rather than by an interplanetary discharge, as per Velikovsky? We must also keep in mind that, in the Qoran, the Sodomitic destruction is attributed to a rain of ''brick-stones''(341) and/or "a stone-charged whirlwind".(342)
It might be argued that a single meteorite powerful enough to destroy cities should have left an impact crater. None has so far been discovered in the vicinity of the Pentapolis. Meteoric fragments, on the other hand, could have descended in a relatively gentler shower that would have left no long-lasting scars. Arriving in incandescence, they could still have smashed through walls and caused conflagrations, thus accounting for the fire which was said to have rained down on the cities. If such bolides did fall, some of them should still be around, strewn about the area.
The discovery of such meteoric fragments might enable us to trace their origin. Recently, meteorites found in the Antarctic have been identified as having originated on the Moon through comparison with some of the lunar samples retrieved by the Apollo astronauts.(343)*
A meteorite, or meteoric shower, from Jupiter is not likely especially if the planet lacks a solid core. Even if it does, or did, possess a core, fragments could not be easily dislodged from it. Other meteorites, asteroids, or comets that would tend to impact on such a core would be burned up in Jupiter's deep atmosphere long before they could reach it. Fragments torn from such a core would never achieve escape velocity through Jupiter's dense canopy against its powerful attraction. Fragments from Jupiter's satellites would be more likely. Just as sulfur could have reached Earth from Io, so could meteorites and these would, more than probably, have been sulfur laden .
Although we have, as yet, no samples from any of Jupiter's moons with which to compare any meteorites found on Earth, a comparative study of sorts could still be conducted. We have, so far, no samples from Mars either; but at least one other fragment retrieved from Antarctica has been tentatively confirmed as having originated on that planet by comparing the ratio of gases trapped in the rock to those believed to be present in the Martian atmosphere.(344)**
Despite the above, and given Earth's proximity to Jupiter, an electrical discharge would still be more in keeping with what is now known of the giant planet. Fulgurites might therefore be present in the vicinity of Bab edh-Dhra' and its environs. Fulgurites are glassy tubular formations produced by the fusion of sand in places which have been struck by lightning.
Rock fulgurites, although rarer, can also form when lightning strikes stones. Rock fulgurites appear as a glassy coating. These could also exist around the Sodom area. If discovered on the stones of the ruins themselves, they might be mistaken for vitrification caused by the fire which is known to have burned the cities. It would therefore be well to keep in mind that the temperature required for the formation of fulgurites has been calculated at 1,800 deg. C.(345)
The discovery of fulgurites in the Sodom area would not, however, be as significant as the discovery of meteoric fragments. Fulgurites are formed by ordinary lightning so that their existence would not necessarily prove an extraterrestrial cause. But neither would their absence prove that the cities were not hit by thunderbolts. The geological composition of the area might not lend itself to the formation of fulgurites and, in any case, fulgurites are not always produced by lightning; An absence of meteoric fragments would be more decisive. A systematic search for fulgurites and/or meteorites in the region may not, therefore, turn out to be a futile quest.
. . . to be continued.
264. D. Cardona, "The Archangels," KRONOS VIII:2 (Winter 1983), pp. 21-34.