LANDS AND PLACES

Sodom and Gomorrah—Genesis 18

Sodom and Gomorrah have remained in the collective imagination as symbols of sexual deviancy—“sodomy”—and divine punishment (Isa. 1:9, 10; 2 Pet. 2:6). According to biblical texts, both cities were located on the plains of Jordan (Gen. 13: 10, 19:25). The area was so fertile that the Bible compared it to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 13:10). The cities’ inhabitants lived in debauchery (Gen. 13:13, 18:20, 21; 19:4-9; Ezek. 16:49, 50). The trade of bitumen, used for embalming and protecting the hulls of boats, among other purposes, may have contributed to their wealth (Gen. 14:10; Exod. 2:3). But because of their wickedness, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “eternal fire” (Gen. 19:24-25; Deut. 29:23; Jude 7).

Both ancient writers and modern scholars have suggested that the cities existed on the south side of the Dead Sea (Flavius ​​Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 4.451), but that is not in accordance with biblical texts. Genesis 13:10 offers a geographical detail. Lot, who is in Bethel, looks up and sees the fertile “plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah).” About 30 km separate Bethel from the plain of Jordan at the mouth of the northern part of the Dead Sea. Yet Lot could not see Sodom. However, the text only indicates that he saw a rural area. The south side of the Dead Sea is about 100 km away from Bethel but is the more likely site of Sodom and Gomorrah. Strabo, in the first century BC, said he saw evidence of fire and earthquake around Masada, considered to be signs of their destruction (Strabo, Geographica, 16.2). Tacitus’s description of the place in the first century AD is similar to that of the Bible. However, he did not see ruins of any destroyed cities but only heard about them (Tacitus, Histories, 5.6-7; cf. Deut. 29:23, 32:32).

Archaeology has not found any traces of these cities so far. Some remains of pottery and layers of ashes might pertain to them, but archaeologists have not conducted any systematic study that might confirm a dating of the region.

Originally located in what was considered a rich and fertile region, the cities have disappeared, the area is now one of the most deserted places in the world. The names of Sodom and Gomorrah surface all through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as warning symbols of divine judgment and destruction (Luke 17:28-30; Rev. 11:8).