The Biblical Account (Genesis 19:1-29)
Sodom and Gomorrah have come to be two of the most infamous cities in the history of the world.
The divine judgment of the cities of the Plain follows an encounter in Scripture between God and Abraham, in which God appears to Abraham as a man, accompanied by two other men.
At the end of their encounter, God tells Abraham His plans for the impending destruction of all "the cities of the plain", as well as all of the people which lived there.
Abraham intervened on behalf of the cities; no doubt due to the fact his nephew, and other extended family, lived in and around the region.
Abraham negotiated with God, and bargained Him from ultimate destruction, to where if God could find 10 righteous people in Sodom, God would not destroy the city.
In effect, Abraham had saved the life of Lot, and Lot's family. Initially, Lot chose not to settle in one of the wealthy cities, but rather in the plain region, searching out the lush pastureland in the surrounding fields.
However, as time progressed, he became more and more tied to the city of Sodom. Sodom was the principal of the five cities of the plain. Lot is seen sitting "in the gate of Sodom", as the angels of the Lord approach the city.
"And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground." Gen. 19:1
Some have taken this phrase to mean that Lot had acquired a position of influence within the city. Perhaps he had become a business leader of sorts, or an official within city government.
Others have said it simply means what it says, that Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city, as perhaps he enjoyed that particular place. It is interesting to note that in Bab edh-Dhra, one of the possible locations for Sodom, which will be discussed shortly, two towers have been unearthed in excavations.
THIS JOHN MARTIN PAINTING DEPICTS LOT & FAMILY FLEEING SODOM AS IT PERISHES UNDER GOD'S WRATH. THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN WERE NEVER SEEN AGAIN.
Click on a link to view that section of this page.
One tower was excavated at the west of town, the other at the northeast. The Northeastern gate was the primary of the two. It consisted of two flanking towers, and massive stone and timber foundations. Many claim this is Lot's gate found in Genesis 19:1. Lot knew the degeneracy and wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, and when he saw the two strangers approach the city gates, he feared for their lives if left up to their own devices. Lot, thus, urged them to spend the night with him.
At first, the two men refused his offer, however, Scripture relates that Lot; "pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him".
Lot took the two men home and prepared a meal for them. This is the first mention of "unleavened bread", which is the meal Lot prepared for his guests.
Unleavened bread was very significant in later Scripture. In Exodus, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is God's reminder to the people of His deliverance of them from Egypt. This meal would remind Lot of his deliverance from Sodom.
The Sin of Sodom & Gomorrah
The following scene depicts the depth of wickedness found in Sodom and Gomorrah.
"But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not act so wickedly. Behold, now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they unto the shadow of my roof. And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door down."
God hints to Abraham as to the extent of Sodom and Gomorrah's sinfulness in Gen. 18:20.
"Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous."
Yet, Scripture is silent as to the exact nature of the sin committed in Sodom and Gomorrah.
This is the only example in Scripture of a firsthand account which details specific sin in Sodom. Consequently, the nature and degree of the sinfulness in Sodom and Gomorrah has been a much debated topic.
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The Mishnah explains Sodom and Gomorrah's sin was related to property. According to rabbinic tradition, the Sodomites perceived what was theirs as theirs, and what was yours, is yours.
A life led by this principal tends to care less and less about his neighbor. This attitude leads one towards a lack of compassion, and an extreme sense of selfishness.
Visitors to Sodom and Gomorrah were indeed treated with a lack of compassion, and oftentimes, treated outright sadistically.
One tradition speaks of a bed which visitors to Sodom and Gomorrah were forced to sleep in. If the occupant of the bed was too short, the individual was stretched to fit it. If they were too tall, then the individual was cut up in order to fit.
Rabbinic tradition tells of an incident in which the sadistic nature of Sodom and Gomorrah manifests itself in the way the townspeople treat two young girls.
According to this tradition, the story involved Lot's daughter, a young girl by the name of Paltith, and another young girl.
A poor man was said to have entered the city, at which point he was given bread to eat by the two girls.
Upon hearing of their kindness towards the old man, the townspeople burned Paltith alive. They smeared the other girl's body with honey, hung her from the city wall, and left her hanging there until bees had eaten her to death.
Some traditions hold that it was the "cry" of the young girl hung from the walls which reached God.
This was the "cry" He spoke to Abraham of, and ultimately led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities. Behavior like this would most certainly qualify as grievous.
Another incident involves Eliezar, Abraham's servant, and depicts the pervasive corruption found within the cities of the plain.
Eliezar is said to have gone to visit Lot in Sodom. Upon entering the city, Eliezar got into a dispute with a Sodomite over a beggar.
The Sodomite hit Eliezar in the head with a stone, which caused Eliezar to bleed. The Sodomite then charged Eliezar for the service of bloodletting.
The judge sided with the Sodomite, forcing Eliezar to pay.
Eliezar is said to have then picked up a stone, struck the judge on the
forehead, and asked the judge to pay the Sodomite.
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Throughout history, Sodom and Gomorrah have been used as metaphors for rape, homosexuality, sexual immorality, and sexual deviance.
The English word, "Sodomy", is derived from "Sodom", and means non-vaginal intercourse, as well as bestiality.
The Catholic Church pounced on this passage, as well as other New Testament passages, to support the Church's claim that acts of homosexuality are to be considered "acts of grave depravity".
Proponents of this theory point to the apparent demand by the men of Sodom for Lot's strangers to come out of the house, so they can forcibly have homosexual intercourse with them.
In other words, the men of Sodom want to rape the men in Lot's house.
However, there are scholars who claim that this passage is not referring to rape, or any acts of sexual immorality at all.
The sin of Sodom, according to these people, is their inhospitable attitude towards strangers.
The crux of this division rests in the interpretation of the word, "Know".
"Bring them out unto us, that we may know them. -- Genesis 19:5
The Hebrew word for "Know" appears over 900 times in the Bible.
Proponents of a non-sexual view hold that, of the 900 appearances, only 1 percent of the time is it used with sexual connotations. They argue that in this passage, the men of Sodom wanted to interrogate the men in Lot's house, not rape them.
However, one of those few sexual connotations occurs three verses later, when Lot offers up his two daughters in exchange for the two men.
"Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known man..."
Proponents of a sexual-nature of sin, point to the context which "Know" is used within the passage as evidence of sexual immorality.
If this passage remains vague still, there is a passage in the book of Jude which specifically names the sins of the Sodomites.
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example..."
This would seem to fit the nature of the passage in Genesis. The men sought after "strange flesh", as the visitors in Lot's house were indeed strangers.
The context of the passage would also seem to suggest that the Sodomites sought to fornicate with Lot's guests. Though this passage does not outright state Sodom's damning sin, it would seem to suggest, according to many scholars, homosexual rape.
The book of Enoch condemns "sodomitic sex". Scholars argue this passage in Enoch is another example of a specific sexual condemnation.
These passages taken together appear to suggest Sodom and Gomorrah's damning sin was primarily that of a sexual nature.
However, sexual immorality was only one of many vices which gripped Sodomite society.
There are close to twenty references throughout Scripture, outside of Genesis, to Sodom and Gomorrah. God used the fate of these cities to demonstrate the consequences of wickedness.
These references shed some light on the nature of Sodom and Gomorrah's sin.
Isaiah had this to say about the sins of Sodom.
"..they parade their sin like Sodom..." (Is. 3:9)
Apparently, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had no fear of God. They did not revere His commands, nor walk in His statutes.
They were caught up in their own riches and wealth, and became proud and arrogant. They sinned openly, flaunting their sin before God and man. They had lost all sense of accountability.
Jeremiah compared the sins of Jerusalem in his day to those of Sodom and Gomorrah in Jeremiah 23:14.
"And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah."
Jeremiah accused Jerusalem of adultery, lying, continual and willful sin, and ultimately, pride before God. All of these he likens to the sin of the Sodomites.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus Christ condemns specific towns which reject His disciples to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Matthew 10:14 "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."
Matthew 11:23 "And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
These passages from Jesus would seem to indicate that hospitality was seen as a quality of righteousness in the ancient world.
Any city that proved inhospitable, was condemned to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities of the plain indeed treated visitors with cruelty, brutality, and viciousness.
Ezekiel 16:49-50 is a unique passage in that God Himself talks of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
This passage confirms the above allegations concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities of the plain were "overfed", indicating a wealth and abundance of food and resources.
They were "unconcerned", as Isaiah and Jeremiah both pointed to their arrogance, and "haughty and did detestable things", demonstrated in their treatment of the young girls and their treatment of God's angels.
They also refused to help the needy and the poor, an indication of the selfishness of the people.
If it would not have been for the intercession of the angels, Lot would have been counted amongst the Sodomites victims.
"But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut the door."
By this time, it is still unclear if Lot knew his visitors were not normal visitors. He makes no indication in Scripture. However, their identity quickly becomes crystal clear.
As he was arguing with the unruly mob gathered at his front door, the angels were standing nearby, undoubtedly focused and ready.
The mob pressed upon Lot, apparently at the point of breaking into his house forcibly, and taking the men by any means necessary. Not only were the Sodomites lustful, but bloodthirsty as well.
At the last minute, however, the two angels pull Lot to safety, shutting the door behind him.
Scripture then indicates the angels struck the Sodomites with blindness, as the bloodthirsty mob "wearied themselves to find the door".
There is one other instance, in II Kings, where a mob is divinely struck with blindness.
In this passage, the King of Aram sends men to find and capture the prophet Elisha. As the "horses, and chariots, and a strong force", close in on Elisha, he prays that God may "Strike these people with blindness".
In the next verse, however, he is seen talking to the mob, and even leads them down the wrong road, as they are unaware Elisha is the one leading them.
Apparently this blindness more closely resembled a type of confusion. In both instances, the same word translated as "blindness" is used.
Just as the Arameans could not detect Elisha standing right in front of them, so the men of Sodom were unable to locate the door to Lot's house, which one moment before they had been beating upon.
Once safely inside, the angles ask Lot if he has anymore family nearby. If so, he best go get them immediately, as morning would bring swift destruction upon the region, and certain death for the inhabitants.
If Lot was still uncertain as to the identity of his two visitors, verse 13 erased all doubt. The angels pronounced God's judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
They tell Lot that God has sent them to destroy it, and they will do so tomorrow morning. Lot and his family are to be spared, but must be prepared to leave quickly and immediately.
It is interesting to note that Abraham had bargained God down to 10 righteous souls. In verse 14, Lot goes and speaks with his daughters and their husbands, his sons-in-law.
"....Up, get you out of this place: For the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one who mocked unto his sons-in-law."
Lot's family simply laughed at him. He had lost all credibility with them, perhaps indicative of a compromised lifestyle. Lot's sons are noticeably absent from Scripture.
One can only assume as to the reasons, yet, this is important because perhaps Abraham was counting them in with the ten righteous souls he had bargained with God.
Only four righteous souls were found in Sodom. Those souls were Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. Consequently, the following morning Sodom was to be destroyed.
Scripture says when the sun arose, the angels "hastened Lot". A sense of urgency is implied, as destruction is imminent, and Lot must get his family out of town without delay.
Lot, however, is said to have "lingered", and Scripture indicates the angels literally "laid hold upon his hand".
Not only did the angels take Lot by the hand, but also the hands of his wife and daughters as well. Evidently, Lot and his family were not moving fast enough for the angels liking.
Lot had chosen this land himself. He had made this his home, and found it hard to break from the past. Lot attempted to lingered behind, perhaps for last minute recollections.
As God's messengers escort Lot and his family out of town, they leave last minute instructions to not look back, nor dwell anywhere in the nearby plain, but to flee at once to the mountains.
Lot, in an audacious move, urges the angels to let him and his family flee to Zoar, a little town of no significance nearby.
They submit to his request, and Scripture makes note in verse 23; "The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar."
"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."
Thus, Lot and his family take flight with the angles. Unfortunately, Lot's wife turned to look back, against the explicit instructions of the angels.
As a result of her disobedience, she is turned into a pillar of salt.
Throughout the ages, people have searched for Lot's wife. The Dead Sea area is littered with salt formations, as the Dead Sea itself possesses a very high salt content.
Today, guides will point to this or that salt formation, and claim it is the wife of Lot. In reality, however, these sites are unreliable, and in all probability, simply one of the many other salt formations in the area.
Scripture details the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the cities of the plain, as being total and permanent destruction.
The scale of the devastation was such that Abraham is said to have arose the next morning in Mamre, perhaps up to 50 miles to the northwest from the general area Sodom is thought to have existed, and saw the plumes of smoke rising up from the plain.
"(Abraham) .....beheld, and lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace."
People from miles around must have been in shock and awe, and surely in fear, as they witnessed the descent of fire and brimstone from the heavens.
If Scripture records Abraham witnessed the smoke, then surely people living in Beer-sheba, a similar distance to the west, and other nearby and surrounding villages must have witnessed the destruction as well.
The first mention of Sodom and Gomorrah takes place in Genesis 13. In this passage, Abraham and Lot are trying to decide how best to divide their flocks.
Abraham, as mentioned earlier, allows Lot to take first pick. At the time, Abraham and Lot were dwelling "between Bethel and Ai, where he (Abraham) had first built an altar" (Gen. 13:3-4).
Lot takes advantage of first pick, and chooses the best looking land available.
"Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.
Scripture indicates the region was very prosperous. It is compared to the "garden of the Lord", and the "land of Egypt".
Flavius Josephus , a first century Jewish historian, wrote concerning the economic status of Sodom and Gomorrah in his book, Jewish Antiquities. He described the Sodomites as being "proud, on account of their riches and great wealth".
The plain was very well watered, consequently, the region was plush, with plenty of pastureland and very rich soil for growing crops.
The area was so prosperous, it attracted the attention of the "Northeastern Kings", who invaded the area, forcing the local Kings to pay tribute, and carrying off a number of captives, Lot included.
This is at odds with the current state of the Dead Sea region. The region as it is today, is barren.
The Dead Sea rests over 1,300 feet below Sea level, as it is the lowest point on land in the planet. The Dead Sea has no outlet for water to flow.
As a result, it is over 8 times saltier than the ocean, having a 33.7% salinity reading. It is over 1,200 feet deep, and supports no aquatic life, hence its name.
Rainfall in the region is less than 4 inches per year, with the northern half receiving an inch or so more than the southern half.
The average temperature in the summer is between 90 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures soaring over 105 consistently.
The area is a barren wilderness, consisting of very little rain, and very high temperatures.
However, paleobotany investigations revealed evidence that the region once supported a wide variety of crops.
Barley, wheat, grapes, figs, lintels, flax, chickpeas, peas, broad beans, dates, and olives were all grown extensively throughout the region.
Indeed, these people were "overfed" on the abundance of crops produced by the fertile soil.
Another clue is given to the region's wealth in Genesis 14:10.
"And the vale of Siddim was full of slime pits..."
The "vale of Siddim" refers to the valley of broad plains, or, the plains of the Dead Sea. The "slime pits" mentioned are deposits of bitumen, which existed naturally in the region.
Bitumen was a resource used extensively in the ancient world. Bitumen deposits would have added a tremendous amount of wealth to the region.
It would be comparable to the oil deposits found throughout the modern day Middle East, and the wealth these deposits bring to those countries.
Bitumen is a black, oily, gelatinous, and highly flammable material. It is also known as tar, or asphalt, and had many uses in the ancient world.
It has been shown to have been in use by Neanderthals as an adhesive to fix handles onto their tools. Some scholars claim bitumen has been in use for some 40,000 years. It is closely related to petroleum, oil, and sulfur.
In Mesopotamia , and throughout the ancient Near East, bitumen was used extensively as mortar in the construction of palaces, temples, ziggurats, and houses.
The mortar was made by mixing bitumen with chopped straw, sand, and clay. It has been associated with the construction of the Tower of Babel.
Ziggurats in Ur also have shown bitumen used in their construction. The Darius Palace in Susa was constructed using bitumen.
Bitumen was also used as a waterproofing agent, and is still used today to waterproof terraces and roofs.
It was used in the construction of the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon as a waterproofing agent.
Legends surrounding Sargon the Great attest to his floating down the Euphrates as an infant in a bitumen coated reed basket.
This brings to mind an infant Moses, floating down the Nile River in a reed basket.
In fact, ancient Egyptians used the substance in the mummification process, and also as a medicinal remedy, particularly as a disinfectant.
They also used it as an insecticide of sorts.
Bitumen was also used to waterproof containers, wooden posts, palace grounds, bathrooms, etc. Large lumps of bitumen have been discovered in Oman, used to caulk reed and wooden boats.
Bitumen was also used in the making of jewelry, domestic items such as dice and balls, sculptures, and as a coating for roads.
In addition, bitumen was an adhesive, used to repair tool handles, sickles, jars, and as an aesthetic decoration on walls in palaces, houses, temples, and in courtyards.
The versatility of bitumen made it a highly sought after resource, and any region where it was found naturally, would logically profit from its presence.
It is quite logical to assume that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah possessed beautiful artistic buildings and temples, built in part using the abundant supply of bitumen found nearby.
The excess of this prized resource certainly provided a strategic reason for Chederlaomer's conquest of the area.
By conquering Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain, Chederlaomer had a rich supply of bitumen, free of charge, to tap into and use for his own purposes.
Scripture indicates that Sodom, and the cities of the plain, were located near the Dead Sea.
Archaeologists have combed the area, and a few sites have been proposed as the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Each site produced credible evidence which points to the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet, none have been agreed upon unanimously.
When searching for Sodom and Gomorrah, one must start with the text which provides the most details concerning the geography of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain.
The Bible provides us with the most clues as to their location. The following verses are the ones in the Bible dealing with the geography of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Genesis 10:19 "and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha."
Genesis 13:11 "So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan and set out toward the east."
Genesis 14:2-3 "That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shem-eber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea."
Genesis 19:28 "He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from all the land, like smoke from a furnace."
Genesis 19:20, 24 "Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it - it is very small isn't it? Then my life will be spared...By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land."
Deuteronomy 19:23 "The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur - nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim..."
Deuteronomy 34:3 "the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar."
Therefore, based on Scripture, one can draw the following conclusions as to the location of the cities of the plain.
The most obvious geographical landmark mentioned is in Genesis 14. The "vale of Siddim", as stated above, refers to the broad plains of the Dead Sea.
The term "salt sea" was a common name given to the Dead Sea for its high salt content. Thus, the cities are definitely located somewhere within close proximity to the Dead Sea.
In Gen. 10:19 the cities are said to form the easternmost border of Canaan, and stretch as far as Lasha.
The phrasing of this passage may indicate that the cities of the plain lined the western shores of the Dead Sea from north to south, thus forming a distinct border.
Lasha has been identified with Zareth-shahar. Zareth-shahar has been identified with the ruins of Zara. Zara was excavated about three miles south of Callirhoe.
This city was known in antiquity for its therapeutic waters and natural springs. Josephus makes mention of Herod bathing there.
If this is the location of ancient Lasha, then it is located on the eastern banks of the Dead Sea, near the mouth of the Wadi Zerka.
With this in mind, the phrase, "as far as Lasha", would seem to imply that Sodom and Gomorrah were located on the western side of the Dead Sea, and the border of Canaan stretched across the Dead Sea, "as far as Lasha".
This area also fits the description of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities, being located in the plain of Jordan.
Another guide marker, according to Genesis 13:11, is that the cities of the plain were located east of where Lot and Abraham were residing.
At the time the two parted company, they were residing between Bethel and Ai. East of this location would place Sodom and Gomorrah, or at least some cities of the plain, near the northern end of the Dead Sea.
Abraham eventually moved to Hebron. Hebron is less than 20 miles west of the Dead Sea.
It is interesting to note that Hebron is located almost exactly in the middle of Jericho and Zoar, in the central part of the Dead Sea.
Hebron's location may inadvertently help in identifying the most likely site for the city of Sodom.
Genesis 14 describes the war waged on Sodom and Gomorrah by the Northeastern Kings.
The Northeastern Kings annihilate the Sodomite alliance, and Lot is swept up with the rest of the inhabitants.
Abraham was told by "one who had escaped" that Lot had been taken captive. Scripture relates Abraham was in Mamre at the time.
Mamre is centrally located in reference to the Dead Sea. If the battle had taken place north of the southern region, the flight of local inhabitants would have naturally carried them west, and into Mamre.
However, if the battle took place in the southern region, the most logical escape would appear to be westward into the Negev.
After its destruction, the Northeastern army moved northward, up the western side of the Dead Sea. For an individual to flee to Mamre would have been to flee in front of the rapidly advancing army.
It would seem that if one is fleeing from an advancing army, one would flee away from the advance, not in front of the advance. Thus, the battle may have taken place southwest of the Dead Sea.
Deuteronomy, written much later than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, placed the cities amidst salt and sulfur deposits.
Excavated ruins throughout the Dead Sea region have produced balls of brimstone. Salt incrustations dot the landscape of the southern Dead Sea region.
Deuteronomy also gives the location of Zoar. In the passage from chapter 34, God is showing Abraham the land He has promised him.
The Negev is the southernmost limits of the land of Canaan. The previous verses touched on all the land North, East, and West which was promised to Abraham.
Verse 3 is dealing with the southern limits, thus Jericho is the northernmost point given concerning the southern region of the Negev.
Jericho is just north of the Dead Sea. An assumption can be made based on the geography of the Negev.
The passage; "the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar", suggests that Zoar was located on the southern end of the Dead Sea.
Thus the land of the Negev which was promised to Abraham, stretched from Jericho, north of the Dead Sea, to Zoar, located south of the Dead Sea.
Zoar is the town Lot asked to flee to instead of the mountains. It was, according to Lot, located nearby.
The chronology of Lot's escape placed him leaving Sodom early in the morning. Scripture then indicates that the; "sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar".
The time line of Lot's journey is not given, and cannot be substantiated with concrete evidence.
Scripture does indicate Sodom was less than a days journey from Zoar, probably no more than half a days journey.
God destroyed Sodom as soon as Lot entered Zoar. Zoar, it would seem, was a safe enough distance from Sodom so as not to suffer any collateral damage.
However, it seems quite probable that Lot was able to witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from Zoar.
Archaeology has positively identified Zoar south of the Dead Sea. However, this does not confirm that Sodom was also located south of the Dead Sea.
Archaeology has also produced sites from all sides of the Dead Sea which have been proposed as the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Old Testament.
These locations are less than a days journey from Zoar as well, and possess unique and fascinating evidence which may support its claim.
For a long time many scholars proposed the location for Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain, as being located in the plain directly south of the Dead Sea.
Over time, these cities were covered by water as the water level rose. In modern times, the waters have retreated, allowing archaeologists to excavate the area.
No ruins have been found in this area to support this theory. On the other hand, in 1973, evidence of occupied cities on the southeast side of the Dead Sea began to appear.
Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira ( Numeria )
Southeast of the Dead Sea, near the Wadi Kerak, some scholars and archaeologists have identified two cities as the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Both sites seem to have been destroyed by a colossal catastrophe, leaving behind evidence of fire debris three feet thick.
The principal of the two sites, identified as Sodom, is Bab edh-Dhra. The site identified as Gomorrah is called Numeira, or in some texts, Numeria.
Bab edh-Dhra is the largest of the two sites. The city wall was twenty-three feet thick, and enclosed between nine and ten acres.
Two gates have been unearthed in Bab edh-Dhra. One is located on the western side of the city. The other gate was located in the northeast part of the city.
This gate consisted of two flanking towers. These towers had enormous stone and timber foundations, and some have identified this as Lot's gate.
One proponent of Bab edh-Dhra is the website, www.accuracyingenesis.com They claim the estimated population of Sodom at the time of destruction was between 600-1200 people.
A large cemetery has been excavated at Bab edh-Dhra. Pottery was found in the cemetery which suggested that residents of Numeira also buried their dead here.
Evidence indicates Numeira was in existence for a short period of time, perhaps only 100 years.
As to the economy of the region, tests have shown the area produced a wide variety of crops.
The area was extremely fertile; producing barley, wheat, grapes, dates, olives, and other such crops.
Rich bitumen deposits have been found throughout the entire region south of the Dead Sea. Bitumen, as discussed earlier, was an extremely versatile and profitable resource.
The most telling evidence of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira as Sodom and Gomorrah relate to the methods these cities were destroyed.
Bryant Wood wrote an article which appeared on www.christiananswers.net, which told of geologist Frederick Clapp's theory concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It is interesting to note Clapp formed his theory before sites were found claiming to be Sodom and Gomorrah.
Clapp hypothesized Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed as a result of an earthquake. The pressure an earthquake generates, according to Clapp, could have forced the deposits of bitumen to the earth's surface.
Bitumen contains a high percentage of sulfur. As these deposits spurted upwards into the atmosphere, a spark created by a surface fire would have ignited the bitumen.
This would have created a blistering rain of brimstone and fire falling from above.
Though the passage in Genesis does not indicate an earthquake, a passage from Deuteronomy may suggest such an event.
In Deuteronomy 29:23, Moses is addressing the Israelite people on the dangers of serving other Gods. He uses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of the consequences of such a life.
If they pursue other Gods, their land will become like Sodom and Gomorrah, "which the Lord Overthrew in fierce anger".
This term, "overthrew", has caught the eye of proponents of the earthquake theory. They suggest the Hebrew term for this word may imply an earthquake. Whether or not this is true, other evidence has been produced to support this theory as well.
Indeed, after Clapp published his theory, it was found that a major fault line runs east of the Dead Sea, through the Jordan Rift valley.
Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira are located precisely on this fault line.
In Bab edh-Dhra Geologists discovered changes of elevation along this fault line, some up to 164 feet.
These changes in elevation would have caused the Wadi Numeira to change its direction of flow. This is believed to be the root cause of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Remarkable discoveries were made in the cemetery as well regarding the destruction of the two sites. Structures were found in the cemetery which contained remains of the dead.
Residents of Bab edh-Dhra buried their dead in mud brick houses called Charnel Houses. Five of these houses were excavated, and shown to have burnt down at the same time the city was destroyed.
That in itself raises no eyebrows. However, upon careful excavation of the largest of these Charnel Houses, evidence was found that the fire started on the roof of the structure.
Once the roof ignited, the fire spread to the interior when the roof caved in. This did raise some eyebrows, as it mirrors the passage found in Genesis 19:24.
In this passage, God is said to have; "rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the Lord out of the heavens".
Sulfur, as has been stated, is found within bitumen. This fiery mass from above would have undoubtedly started the fires associated with the Charnel Houses.
This fire, as it came from above, would have obviously ignited the roof first, which would have quickly spread to the interior.
All across the site of Bab edh-Dhra archaeologists found layers of ash. The city walls tumbled down in a manner that has been suggested was caused by an earthquake.
Other evidence of this type of destruction can be found in Scripture itself.
In Genesis 19:28, Abraham watches the aftermath of the destruction. The description of what he sees is remarkably characteristic of a petroleum based fire.
"He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace."
Petroleum-based fires produce incredibly dense smoke. This conjures up images of Kuwaiti oil fields on fire during the Gulf War.
Those fires produced dense smoke indeed, as pictures confirm, which could be seen from miles around.
Bryant Wood made an interesting observation concerning the description of the smoke rising. He stated smoke rising as if from a furnace would seem to suggest a "forced draft".
A forced draft would be a natural consequence of a fire produced from subterranean deposits being forced upwards, rapidly and with intense pressure, into the earth's atmosphere.
The Biblical writer of this passage described a petroleum fire with amazing accuracy, and indeed, archaeological evidence from this site supports just such a fire.
Jonathan Gray has located another interesting site south of the Dead Sea as a possible candidate for Sodom and Gomorrah.
His theory places the Biblical Sodom adjacent to Mt. Sodom, located at the south end of the Dead Sea.
It is interesting that nearby is an ongoing enterprise to extract minerals from the Dead Sea. This operation is run by the Dead Sea Works, and they have termed their site "Sdom".
Gray points to geographical formations in this area which resemble man made formations, indicating cities once existed in this region.
His team analyzed satellite images of the area, and searched for geometrical shapes such as squares or rectangles which may suggest the site of cities.
They located five such areas, and visited each location.
Within the rocks and hills of the region, city walls were clearly identifiable. The buildings and houses appear to have been very large structures.
They also found mounds which looked as if at one point had been ziggurats, or ancient temples.
Large shapes were found outside of the cities which were identical to each other in shape and appearance. These shapes are too coincidental to be geographical formations, and closely resemble the shape of the Great Sphinx in Egypt.
Upon examination of one of the cities, they found the city was completely turned to ash, and the area was littered with sulfur balls, or, as the King James translates, brimstone.
On two separate occasions, members of the team entered the city ruins after a rainfall.
The ground was littered with what appeared to be glass balls glistening in the light. Tests revealed these balls were composed of 95-98% pressed powdered sulfur.
Magnesium was also discovered in the balls, in trace amounts. These two elements combine to burn at extremely high temperatures.
It has been estimated the sulfur balls temperature was around 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat would have accumulated as it rained down from "the Lord out of heaven".
The glassy appearance was formed by tiny crystals. These crystals were formed when the sulfur was burning, and was in a liquid state.
Eventually, it burned out, and left behind a hardened shell. Some of these shells produced unburned sulfur balls inside of them. This is the only place on earth which has produced balls composed of 95-98% sulfur.
The effect of these golf ball sized balls of brimstone, reaching temperatures of 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, raining down from above in sheets of fire, would have been cataclysmic in nature.
Everything would have been completely destroyed. No shelter was safe, as evidenced by burning roofs. This explains the buildings of ash found on the site.
Very few could have escaped the destruction. This would explain the angels sense of urgency with Lot.
Coins were also found from the area. Tests on these gold coins showed the coins had been turned into gold salts. The heat from the falling brimstone, and resulting fire, burned the gold in the coins turning them into golden ash.
Some critics point out that geo-thermal activity can also produce balls of this effect.
However, no geo-thermal activity has been shown around this area, and brimstone produced from such activity only contains 40% sulfur.
Volcanic experts have stated that this is the only place in the world where deposits such as these have been found, and no other substance exists with such high levels of sulfur.
For decades the common belief was that Sodom and Gomorrah were located in the southern region of the Dead Sea.
However, as excavations continued throughout the region, archaeologists and scholars alike have unearthed problems with the southern location.
As a result, excavations were launched at the northern end of the Dead Sea in search of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
Excavations centered in the area known as the Jordan Disc. The Jordan Disc is comprised of a 25 km diameter circle of the Jordan Valley directly north of the Dead Sea.
The eastern side of the disc contains fourteen archaeological sites, some dating from the Middle Bronze Age. Sodom and Gomorrah were said to have existed in the Middle Bronze Age.
Tall el-Hammam is located 14 km northeast of the Dead Sea, in the Jordan River valley.
Because of the political situation in Jordan, excavation in the area north of the Dead Sea, in the Jordan Disc, had been extremely sensitive and difficult to obtain permission.
Just recently has the atmosphere opened up to the possibility of extensive excavation in the region.
Trinity Southwest University, under the leadership of Steve Collins, dean of the school of archaeology and biblical history, began excavation at Tall el-Hammam in 2007.
Their work was done in conjunction with the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The work from Tall el-Hammam, though far from finished, has produced incredible results.
Collins was skeptical of the locations of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira. He argued that based on Genesis 13, Scripture makes it clear that Sodom was the largest Bronze Age settlement located north of the Dead Sea, and east of the Jordan River.
Additionally, Collins argued Bab edh-Dhra was dated in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Archaeological evidence from the sites of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira shows the sites suffered destruction in 2350 B.C.E.
This is problematic, as the Abraham narrative has traditionally been placed centuries later, anywhere from 2000 - 1800 B.C.E.
The date and location of the two southern sites led Collins to seek Sodom and Gomorrah elsewhere.
Tall el-Hamman has shown an extensive period of occupation. Evidence of civilization dates back to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Occupation has also been proven from the Early Bronze Age (3150-2350), the Intermediate Bronze Age (2350-2000), the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550), the Iron Age II (1200-1000), and the Iron Age III (1000-323).
Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic influences all contributed to the development of Tall el-Hammam.
The southern Jordan Valley was an extremely profitable area in antiquity.
Many important trade routes and roads traversed the area, intersecting the Jordan Disc in a north to south fashion, as well as an east to west fashion.
The main road connecting the International Coastal Highway on the Mediterannean Coast, to the King's Highway, east of Tall el-Hammam, ran through the southern Jordan Valley.
Arable, fertile, land supported many cities of substantial size. The area possesses an ample water supply from the Jordan River, numerous springs throughout the area, and multiple Wadi's, whose flow varies from season to season.
This water supply has been consistent since antiquity. The area was extremely profitable with its rich agricultural output, coupled with its location along vital trade and transportation links.
Tall el-Hammam was very strategically located, and possessed an expansive view of the Jordan Valley below.
This commanding view more than likely enabled the city to exert a certain amount of influence on cargo traveling east of the Jordan River, along the eastern banks of the Dead Sea, and from Jericho to the Transjordan Highlands.
This amount of power would surely have led to a very rich and profitable city, thus supporting at least one Biblical characteristic of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Excavations produced a 4 meter thick city wall encircling the lower and upper talls. This wall dated back to the Early Bronze Age (3150-2350).
During the Intermediate and Middle Bronze Ages the same wall showed signs of renovation.
The Middle Bronze Age also saw the addition of mud brick and packed earthen ramparts to its fortifications. These structures rose 20-30 meters in height above the surrounding landscape.
Ruins from the Iron I and II Age are also present at the site. These ruins consist of colossal buildings, similar to those found near Mt. Sodom south of the Dead Sea.
These massive structures consisted of walls 1-2 meters thick. A 3 meter thick wall surrounds the city from this age. Tall el-Hammam has been the crown jewel of excavation in the Jordan Disc.
Archaeologists and scholars alike believe this city was once a very influential city in Canaan.
The obvious wealth and importance of the city, evident by its large ruins, coupled with the location of Tall el-Hammam and the time frame of its occupation, has led many to point to this city as the site of the Biblical Sodom.
Concrete evidence has yet to be found to substantiate this theory, however, another fascinating bit of evidence was discovered at the nearby site at Tall Nimrin.
Tall Nimrin is located nearby to Tall el-Hammam. Further excavations need to be carried on at Tall Nimrin, however, archaeologists have uncovered some interesting facts concerning this site.
Tall Nimrin appeared to be a flourishing city in the Middle Bronze Age, much like Tall el-Hammam. However, excavations have produced evidence of a sudden and massive destruction.
This destruction was then followed by a 500 year lull in occupation.
Interestingly enough, Tall el-Hammam also shows a significant period in which it remained unoccupied.
The combination of these facts have led many to term Tall el-Hammam, the largest of the sites, as Sodom. Others have associated Tall Nimrin with Admah.
Neither of these theories posses enough evidence as of yet to validate. Nonetheless, both sites have produced enough evidence to compel archaeologists and Biblical scholars to intensify their search.
The Eastern Border
An interesting theory places Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the Plain running from North to South, along the western banks of the Dead Sea.
Genesis 10:19 has been used to theorize that the cities formed the eastern border of Canaan.
Based on this interpretation, it is impossible for the cities to be grouped together south of the Dead Sea.
Thus, searches were conducted along the western side of the Dead Sea.
Arkdiscovery.com claims to have located Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain along this north-south axis, west of the Dead Sea.
Ancient buildings and structures were found with round balls embedded in them. Analysis of the balls showed a 95-98% sulfuric content.
These balls are identical to the ones found southeast, southwest, and northeast of the Dead Sea!
Not only were balls of brimstone found, the cities contained buildings and structures that were completely composed of ash. Limestone was used in the construction of these ancient cities.
The ash in these cities is composed of Calcium Sulfate and Calcium Carbonate. These substances are produced when limestone burns with sulfur.
This type of ash has been found at excavated sites throughout the Dead Sea region.
The extreme heat produced incredibly high burning temperatures, which formed a multi-shaded layer of ash. This ash appears white in color.
Using satellite images, the cities of the plain were located by their white appearance. Remarkably, the cities form a north to south border along the western shores of the Dead Sea, and are clearly identifiable by a white color.
Zeboiim has been identified as the northernmost city, with Admah due south of it. Both of these cities are located north of the Dead Sea.
Gomorrah has been identified at the base of Masada. Sodom and Zoar are located on the southwestern side of the Dead Sea, respectively.
Opposite from Gomorrah, across the Dead Sea in Jordan, a large cemetery was discovered. This cemetery contained 1,000,000 graves.
Ash and brimstone were also discovered on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.
Amongst the ruins, formations such as ziggurats, sphinxes, windows, and arched doorways were identified.
The site identified as Sodom corresponds to the site Jonathan Gray identified near Mt. Sodom; nearby is the present day Governmental operation run by the Dead Sea Works Corporation.
hough the remains of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain, have not been positively identified with absolute certainty, archaeologists and scholars alike have not given up the search.
Some claim Sodom and Gomorrah have been forever lost. However, based on Scripture and ancient sources, many believe Sodom and Gomorrah may have been found, or, are waiting to be found with further excavations.
Archaeological excavations have certainly unearthed great cities dating from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah.
More than 15 sites have been excavated on all sides of the Dead Sea, and have shown it was once a prosperous and flourishing area, once again fitting in with the Biblical narrative.
Brimstone balls found at multiple sites, north, south, east, and west, of the Dead Sea point to a region wide event. Ashen burned structures and houses have been unearthed as well.
These methods of destruction also correspond to the method of destruction attributed to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament.
Josephus claimed in the first century that the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah were visible in his day.
The water levels of the Dead Sea have receded in modern times to the level it was during the time Josephus wrote. Many take this as evidence the cities can be seen today.
Genesis 19:24 claims God used the cities of the plain as an "example". The Hebrew word translated as "example", means an exhibit for warning.
Some scholars have used this phrase as evidence Sodom and Gomorrah are still visible today, as a warning to all who pass by.
Though no site can be validated with absolute certainty, the evidence gleamed from all of the sites taken as a whole is tantalizing.
Sodom and Gomorrah, perhaps one of the Bible's greatest mysteries, may no longer be a mystery at all.
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Where do you think the mysterious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are located? Or do you believe the stories are purely myth and fiction? Share your thoughts and comments on Sodom and Gomorrah!
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