From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
According to the Torah, the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah were allied with the cities of Admah, Zeboim and Bela. These five cities, also known as the "cities of the plain", were situated on the Jordan River plain in the southern region of the land of Canaan. The plain, which corresponds to the area just north of the modern-day Dead Sea, was compared to the garden of Eden[Gen.13:10] as being a land well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock.
Divine judgment by God was then passed upon Sodom and Gomorrah and two neighboring cities, which were completely consumed by fire and brimstone. Neighboring Zoar (Bela) was the only city to be spared. In Abrahamic religions, Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of divine retribution.[Jude 1:7] Sodom and Gomorrah have been used as metaphors for vice and homosexuality viewed as a deviation. The story has therefore given rise to words in several languages, including the English word sodomy, used in sodomy laws to describe a sexual "crime against nature" consisting of anal or oral sex, either homosexual or heterosexual, or sexual activity between a person and a non-human animal (bestiality). Some Islamic societies incorporate punishments associated with Sodom and Gomorrah into sharia law.
The historicity of Sodom and Gomorrah is still in dispute by archaeologists, as little archaeological evidence has ever been found in the regions where they were supposedly situated.
The name Sodom is derived from Hebrew: סְדוֹם, Modern Sədom Tiberian Səḏôm, and Greek Σόδομα Sódoma. The name Gomorrah is derived from Hebrew: עֲמוֹרָה, Modern ʿAmora Tiberian Ġəmôrāh/ʿĂmôrāh, and Greek Γόμοῤῥα / Gómorrha. The exact original meanings of the names are uncertain. The name Sodom could be a word from an early Semitic language ultimately related to the Arabic sadama, meaning "fasten", "fortify", "strengthen", and Gomorrah could be based on the root gh m r, which means "be deep", "copious (water)".
The historicity of Sodom and Gomorrah is still in dispute by archaeologists, as little archaeological evidence has ever been found in the regions where they were supposedly situated. There are some other stories and historical names which bear a resemblance to the Biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and some possible natural explanations for the events described have been proposed, but no widely accepted or strongly verified sites for the cities have been found.
Strabo states that locals living near Moasada (as opposed to Masada) say that "there were once thirteen inhabited cities in that region of which Sodom was the metropolis". Strabo identifies a limestone and salt hill at the south western tip of the Dead Sea, and Kharbet Usdum ruins nearby as the site of biblical Sodom.
Archibald Sayce translated an Akkadian poem describing cities that were destroyed in a rain of fire, written from the view of a person who escaped the destruction; the names of the cities are not given. However, Sayce later mentions that the story more closely resembles the doom of Sennacherib's host.
In 1976 Giovanni Pettinato claimed that a cuneiform tablet that had been found in the newly discovered library at Ebla contained the names of all five of the cities of the plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela), listed in the same order as in Genesis. The names si-da-mu [TM.76.G.524] and ì-ma-ar [TM.75.G.1570 and TM.75.G.2233] were identified as representing Sodom and Gomorrah, which gained some acceptance at the time. However, Alfonso Archi states that, judging from the surrounding city names in the cuneiform list, si-da-mu lies in northern Syria and not near the Dead Sea, and ì-ma-ar is a variant of ì-mar, known to represent Emar, an ancient city located near Ebla. William Shea points out in 1983 that on the 'Eblaite Geographical Atlas' [TM.75.G.2231], ad-mu-ut and sa-dam are good readings by Pettinato and correspond to Admah and Sodom, and they are contained in a list of cities that traces a route along the shores of, or quite possibly within the Dead Sea, whose position may have since shifted along its fault. Today, the scientific consensus is reported as being that "Ebla has no bearing on ... Sodom and Gomorra."
If the cities actually existed, they might have been destroyed as the result of a natural disaster. Geologists believe that no volcanic activity occurred within 4,000 years. Others claim that the Dead Sea was devastated by an earthquake between 2100 and 1900 BC, which could have unleashed showers of steaming tar. It is possible that the towns were destroyed by an earthquake in the region, especially if the towns lay along a major fault, the Jordan Rift Valley. However, there is a lack of contemporary accounts of seismic activity within the necessary timeframe to corroborate this theory.
Possible candidates for Sodom or Gomorrah are the sites discovered or visited by Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub in 1973, including Bab edh-Dhra, which was originally excavated in 1965 by archaeologist Paul Lapp, only to have his work continued by Rast and Schaub, following his death due to accidental drowning, in the waters off Cyprus in 1970. Other possibilities also include Numeira, al-Safi, Feifa and Khanazir, which were also visited by Schaub and Rast. All sites were located near the Dead Sea, with evidence of burning and traces of sulfur. However, according to Schaub, who dug at Bab edh-Dhra, Numeira was destroyed (2600 BC) at a different time period from Bab edh-Dhra (2350–2067 BC). Archaeological remains excavated from Bab edh-Dhra are currently displayed in Karak Archaeological Museum (Karak Castle), Amman Citadel Museum, and the British Museum.
Another possible candidate for Sodom is the Tell el Hammeh dig site which began in 2006 under the direction of Steven Collins. Tell el Hammeh is located in the southern Jordan river valley approximately 14 kilometers Northeast of the Dead Sea, and seemingly fits the Biblical descriptions of the lands of Sodom. The ongoing dig is a result of joint cooperation between Trinity Southwest University and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The site is 36 hectares, while the footprint size of general settlement extends beyond this—well over 40 hectares. This size puts Tall el-Hammam as one of the largest Middle Bronze Age sites that has been discovered in Jordan. Analysis of the findings indicates that the site was occupied from the Chalcolithic period on up to the Iron Age (however there may likely be period gaps as well (i.e., Late Bronze Period is missing), along with evidences of glazed artifacts—such as pottery and rocks, and destruction). The researchers claim to have discovered an ash layer containing human bone fragments, which they believe indicates a cataclysmic and sudden end to the civilization in this area. Recently, desert glass had been found among the glazed pottery shards. Desert glass requires extremely high temperatures to fuse sand into glass. These temperatures are not found from oil fires, gas fires, or siege fires. It is also evident that the area was not occupied for several centuries afterward. In addition there is evidence of Hellenistic, Eastern Roman, and Byzantine occupation on the site. Professor Eugene H. Merrill believes that the identification of Tall el-Hammeh with Sodom would require an unacceptable restructuring of the biblical chronology.
The Book of Genesis is the primary source that mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Major and minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible have also referred to Sodom and Gomorrah to parallel their prophetic events. The New Testament also contains passages of parallels to the destruction and surrounding events that pertained to these cities and those who were involved. Later deuterocanonical texts attempt to glean additional insights about these cities of the Jordan Plain.
In Genesis Chapter 14, Sodom and Gomorrah's political situation is described during the time biblical Lot had encamped in Sodom's territory. Genesis 13:13 indicates that at that time, "the men of Sodom [were] wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly." Sodom was ruled by king Bera while Gomorrah was ruled by king Birsha. Their kingship, however, was not sovereign, because all of the river Jordan plain was under Elamite rule for twelve years. The kingdom of Elam was ruled by king Chedorlaomer.[Genesis 14:1-4]
In the thirteenth year of subjection to Elam, the five kings of the river Jordan plain aligned together to rebel against Elamite rule.[v.4] These kings included those of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as their neighbors: king Shinab of Admah, king Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the unnamed king of Bela (later called Zoar).[v.2]
In response, Elam's king Chedorlaomer, gathered additional forces from Shinar, Ellasar and Goyim to suppress this rebellion from the cities of the plain.[v.1,2] They waged war in the Vale of Siddim[v.3,8] in the fourteenth year. The battle was brutal with heavy losses in the cities of the plain, with their resultant defeat.[v.10] Sodom and Gomorrah were spoiled of their goods, and captives were taken, including Lot.[v.11,12]
The tide of war turned when Lot's uncle Abram gathered an elite force that slaughtered king Chedorlaomer's forces in Hobah, north of Damascus.[v.14-17] The success of his mission freed the cities of the plain from under Elam's rule.[v.18-20]
In Genesis 18 three men, thought by most commentators to have been angels appearing as men, came to Abram (Abraham) in the plains of Mamre. After the angels received the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, his wife, the LORD revealed to Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because their cry was great, "and because their sin is very grievous."[Gen 18:20]
In response, Abraham inquired of the LORD if he would spare the city if 50 righteous people were found in it, to which the LORD agreed he would not destroy it for the sake of the righteous yet dwelling therein. Abraham then inquired of God for mercy at lower numbers (first 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally at 10), with the LORD agreeing each time.[Gen 18:22-33] Two angels were sent to Sodom to investigate and were met by Abraham's nephew Lot, who convinced the angels to lodge with him, and they ate with Lot.
Genesis 19:4-5 (KJV) described what followed, which confirmed its end:
4 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:
5 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. (NRSV: know them, NIV: can have sex with them, NJB: can have intercourse with them).
Lot refused to give his guests to the inhabitants of Sodom and, instead, offered them his two virgin daughters "which have not known man" and to "do ye to them as [is] good in your eyes".[Gen 19:8] However, they refused this offer, complained about this alien, namely Lot, giving orders, and then came near to break down the door. Lot's angelic guests rescued him and struck the men with blindness and they informed Lot of their mission to destroy the city.[Genesis 19:9-13]
Then (not having found even 10 righteous people in the city), they commanded Lot to gather his family and leave. As they made their escape, one angel commanded Lot to "look not behind thee" (singular "thee").[Genesis 19:17] However, as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with brimstone and fire from the LORD, Lot's wife looked back at the city, and she became a pillar of salt.[Genesis 19:23-26]
Rictor Norton views classical Jewish texts as stressing the cruelty and lack of hospitality of the inhabitants of Sodom to the "stranger". The people of Sodom were seen as guilty of many other significant sins. Rabbinic writings affirm that the Sodomites also committed economic crimes, blasphemy and bloodshed. One of the worst was to give money or even gold ingots to beggars, after inscribing their names on them, and then subsequently refusing to sell them food. The unfortunate stranger would end up starving and after his death, the people who gave him the money would reclaim it.
A rabbinic tradition, described in the Mishnah, postulates that the sin of Sodom was related to property: Sodomites believed that "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" (Abot), which is interpreted as a lack of compassion. Another rabbinic tradition is that these two wealthy cities treated visitors in a sadistic fashion. One major crime done to strangers was almost identical to that of Procrustes in Greek mythology. This would be the story of the "bed" that guests to Sodom were forced to sleep in: if they were too short they were stretched to fit it, and if they were too tall, they were cut up (indeed, in Hebrew and Yiddish, the corresponding term for a Procrustean bed is a "Sodom bed").
In another incident, Eliezer, Abraham's servant, went to visit Lot in Sodom and got in a dispute with a Sodomite over a beggar, and was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The Sodomite demanded Eliezer pay him for the service of bloodletting, and a Sodomite judge sided with the Sodomite. Eliezer then struck the judge in the forehead with a stone and asked the judge to pay the Sodomite.
The Talmud and the Sefer haYashar (midrash) also recount two incidents of a young girl (one involved Lot's daughter Paltith) who gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city. When the townspeople discovered their acts of kindness, they burned Paltith and smeared the other girl's body with honey and hung her from the city wall until she was eaten by bees. (Sanhedrin 109a.) It is this gruesome event, and her scream in particular, the Talmud concludes, that are alluded to in the verse that heralds the city's destruction: "So said, 'Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see...'"[Gen 18:20-21]
A modern orthodox position is one that holds, "The paradigmatic instance of such aberrant behavior is found in the demand of the men of Sodom to 'know' the men visiting Lot, the nephew of Abraham, thus lending their name to the practice of 'sodomy'."
The scholar and activist Jay Michaelson proposes a reading of the story of Sodom that emphasizes the violation of hospitality as well as the violence of the Sodomites. "Homosexual rape is the way in which they violate hospitality—not the essence of their transgression. Reading the story of Sodom as being about homosexuality is like reading the story of an ax murderer as being about an ax." Michaelson places the story of Sodom in context with other Genesis stories regarding Abraham's hospitality to strangers, and argues that when other texts in the Hebrew Bible mention Sodom, they do so without commentary on homosexuality. The verses cited by Michaelson include Jeremiah 23:14,[Jeremiah 23:14] where the sins of Jerusalem are compared to Sodom and are listed as adultery, lying, and strengthening the hands of evildoers; Amos 4:1-11 (oppressing the poor and crushing the needy);[Amos 4:1-11] and Ezekiel 16:49-50,[Ezekiel 16:49-50] which defines the sins of Sodom as "pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and did toevah before me, and I took them away as I saw fit." Michaelson uses toevah in place of abomination to emphasize the original Hebrew, which he explains as being more correctly translated as "taboo".
Several theories have been advanced in Christian thought concerning the sin of Sodom. One area of dispute is whether the mob was demanding the homosexual rape of Lot’s guests. A second area of dispute is whether the act of homosexuality or the act of inhospitality and violence toward foreigners is the more significant ethical downfall of Sodom.
The first contention between the two positions primarily focuses upon the meaning of the Hebrew verb ידע (yada), translated as know in the King James Version:
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. —Gen 19:5
However,the word "know" in the King James Version has been used as referring to sexual relationship. The translators only used the word "know" to maintain the purity of the Scriptures. One example can be found in Genesis 4:1 between Adam and Eve:
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.—Gen 4:1
Some Hebrew scholars believe that yada, unlike the English word know, requires the existence of a "personal and intimate relationship". For this reason, many of the most popular of the 20th century translations, including the New International Version, the New King James Version, and the New Living Translation, translate yada as "have sex with" or "know ... carnally" in Gen 19:5 
Those who favor the non-sexual interpretation argue against a denotation of sexual behavior in this context, noting that while the Hebrew word for know appears over 900 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, only approximately 1% (13-14 times) of those references is it clearly used as a euphemism for realizing sexual intimacy. Instead, those who hold to this interpretation usually see the demand to know as demanding the right to interrogate the strangers.
Countering this is the observation that one of the examples of know meaning to know sexually occurs when Lot responds to the Gen 19:5 request, only three verses later in the same narrative:
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.... —Genesis 19:8
The following is a major text in regard to these conflicting opinions:
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, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. —Jude 1:7
This reference to "going after strange flesh" is understood in different ways to include something akin to bestiality, having illicit sex with strangers, having sex with angels, but most often God's destruction of the populations of the four cities is interpreted to mean homosexual (same-sex) relations.
Many who interpret the stories in a non-sexual context contend that as the word for "strange" is akin to "another", "other", "altered" or even "next", the meaning is unclear, and if the condemnation of Sodom was the result of sexual activities perceived to be perverse, then it is likely that it was because women sought to commit fornication with "other than human" angels, perhaps referring to Genesis 6 or the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Countering this, it is pointed out that Genesis 6 refers to angels seeking women, not men seeking angels, and that both Sodom and Gomorrah were engaged in the sin Jude describes before the angelic visitation, and that, regardless, it is doubtful that the Sodomites knew they were angels. In addition, it is argued the word used in the King James Version of the Bible for "strange", can mean unlawful or corrupted (Rm. 7:3; Gal. 1:6), and that the apocryphal Second Book of Enoch (different from the one Jude quotes from) condemns "sodomitic" sex (Enoch 10:3; 34:1), thus indicating that homosexual relations was the prevalent physical sin of Sodom.
Now this was the sin of 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. —Ezekiel 16:49-50
Here the nonsexual view focuses on the inhospitality aspect, while the other notes the description detestable or abomination, the Hebrew word for which often denotes moral sins, including those of a sexual nature.
In the Gospel of Matthew (and corresponding verse) when Jesus warns of a worse judgment for some cities than Sodom, inhospitality is perceived by some as the sin, while others see it fundamentally being impenitence:
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 10:14-15
The nonsexual view focuses on the cultural importance of hospitality, which this biblical story shares with other ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, where hospitality was of singular importance and strangers were under the protection of the gods.
Within the Christian Churches that agree on the possible sexual interpretation of know (yada) in this context, there is still a difference of opinion on whether homosexuality is important. The Anglican Communion, on its website, presents the argument that the story is "not even vaguely about homosexual love or relationships", but instead "about dominance and rape, by definition an act of violence, not of sex or love." This argument that the violence and threat of violence to foreign visitors is the true ethical downfall of Sodom (and not homosexuality), also observes the similarity between the Sodom and Gomorrah and the Battle of Gibeah Bible stories. In both stories, an inhospitable mob demands the homosexual rape of a foreigner or foreigners. As the mob instead settles for the rape and murder of the foreigner’s female concubine in the Battle of Gibeah story, the homosexual aspect is generally seen as inconsequential, and the ethical downfall is understood to be the violence and threat of violence to foreigners by the mob. This Exodus 22:21-24 lesson is viewed as a more historically accurate way to interpret the Sodom and Gomorrah story.
The Quran contains seven references to "the people of Lut", the biblical Lot, but meaning the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (references 7:80–84, 11:77–83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165–175, 27:56–59, and 29:27–33), and their destruction by Allah is associated explicitly with their sexual practices:
The 'people of Lot' transgressed consciously against the bounds of God. Their avarice led to inhospitality and robbery, which in turn led to the humiliation of strangers by mistreatment and rape. It was their abominable sin of homosexual sex which was seen as symptomatic of their attitudes, and upon Lot's exhorting them to abandon their transgression against God, they ridiculed him, and threatened him with dire consequences; Lot only prayed to God to be saved from doing as they did. Then Gabriel met Lot and said that he must leave the city quickly, as God had given this command to Lot for saving his life. In the Quran it was written that Lot's wife stayed behind as she had transgressed. She met her fate in the disaster, and that only Lot and his family were saved during the destruction of their city, with the understanding that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are identified in Genesis, but "the location remains unnamed in the Qur'an"
In the Quran, surah (chapter) 26 Ash-Shu`arā' (The Poets) –
So, We saved him and his family, all. Except an old woman among those who remained behind.
Commentary: This was his wife, who was a bad old woman. She stayed behind and was destroyed with whoever else was left. This is similar to what Allah says about them in Surat Al-A`raf and Surah Hud, and in Surat Al-Hijr, where Allah commanded him to take his family at night, except for his wife, and not to turn around when they heard the Sayhah as it came upon his people. So they patiently obeyed the command of Allah and persevered, and Allah sent upon the people a punishment which struck them all, and rained upon them stones of baked clay, piled up.
Moses referred to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Deuteronomy 29:22-23:
"Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. 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 Zeboyim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger." - NIV
See also: Deuteronomy 32:32-33
Jeremiah 23:14, Jeremiah 49:17-18, Jeremiah 50:39-40 and Lamentations 4:6 associate Sodom and Gomorrah with adultery and lies, prophesies the fate of Edom, south of the Dead Sea, prophesies the fate of Babylon and uses Sodom as a comparison.
In Ezekiel 16:48-50 God compares Jerusalem to Sodom, saying "Sodom never did what you and your daughters have done." He explains that the sin of Sodom was that "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."
In Amos 4:1-11 God tells the Israelites he had warned them and treated them like Sodom and Gomorrah, still they did not repent.
In Zephaniah 2:9 the prophet tells Moab and Ammon, southeast and northeast of the Dead Sea, that they will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah.
"And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor'rah than for that town."
"And you, Caper'na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you."
"Likewise as it was in the days of Lot—they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed."
In 2Peter 2:4-10 Peter uses the time of Sodom and Lot in his description of the time of the second coming of Jesus.
Jude 1:7 records that both Sodom and Gomorrah were "giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
Wisdom 10:6 refers to Five Cities, including Sodom, or Pentapolis: "Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities."
Sodom was one of a group of five towns, the Pentapolis (Wisdom 10:6): Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Bela—also called Zoar.[Gen 19:22] The Pentapolis region is also collectively referred to as "the cities of the plain".[13:12]
The site of the present Dead Sea Works, a large operation for the extraction of Dead Sea minerals, is called "Sdom" (סדום) according to its traditional Arab name, Khirbet as-sudūm. Nearby is unique Mount Sodom (הר סדום in Hebrew) consisting mainly of salt. In the Plain of Sdom (מישור סדום) to the south there are a few springs and two small agricultural villages.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Sodom and Gomorrah.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sodom.|