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Did Sodom and Gomorrah Really Exist?

David Graves & Jane Graves

Click and drag photo to resize. Script from The Java Script Source

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin


Gen 24 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah
-from the LORD out of the heavens.

Sodom & Gomorrah


Introduction

The names ' Sodom and Gomorrah' have long been associated with God's judgment of sin. The word 'sodomy' is still found in the English language as a legal term for unnatural sexual acts. To many, these names are only stories or myths from out of the past.

Sodom and Gomorrah, however, were a part of a larger agricultural confederation of cities which were known as the cities of the plain.

Genesis 13:12,13 The five Cities of the Plain included Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, Admah and Zeboim.

Genesis 19:22 It appears that the cities of the plain have been found. Archaeological evidence points to five ruined cities which support evidence of the Biblical cities of the plain.

Location

The search for the cities of the plain begins with some scholars saying they were non-existent. ( 1918 - W. F. Albright; 1948 - Martin Noth and finally Noldeke).

Noldeke's rejection was based upon the idea that no route east of the Jordan River existed, as was described in the Biblical account.

Evidence to support ancient Eastern travel in Abraham's day was discovered in a clay tablet from Babylonia, and also from a group of tablets found near the edge of present day Syria, at the site of the ancient city of Mari.

On the Babylonian tablet a contract was found with the stipulation that a wagon was rented on condition that it was not driven to the Mediterranean coast.

Later, the actual route was found by Nelson Glueck.

A very recent discovery made at the ancient site of Ebla has revealed the historical existence of the Cities of the Plain. University of Rome excavators, Giovanni Pettinato and Paolo Matthiae have translated tablets taken from the ruins and report that on one of the tablets a trade list is recorded which includes the Cities of the Plain.

This is the first record of these cities mentioned outside of the Bible. The interesting fact is that the names of the Cities of the plain are spelled the same as they are in Scripture.

Early Attempts

In 1924 W. F. Albright, led an expedition in order to locate the Cities of the Plain. After an investigation of the area with little success, Albright concluded that the Cities of the Plain were swallowed up by the Dead Sea as it swelled with water and they were covered forever.

This theory was further substantiated by Ralph E. Baney's discovery in 1960 of a small tree in the growth position beneath the southern basin of the Dead Sea. This showed that the continuous filling of the Dead Sea had taken land which was once exposed, supporting W. F. Albright's theory.

Albright did, however, find the ruins of a great fortress, Bab edh-Dhra built of stone overlooking the deep ravine of Wadi Kerak.

Taking into consideration the lack of occupational debris and seven fallen limestone monoliths found a short distance east of Bab edh-Dhra.

Albright concluded that this was a place of pilgrimage where annual feasts were celebrated. He concluded that Bab edh-Dhra was directly related to the Cities of the Plain because it was unoccupied about the time the Cities of the Plain were destroyed 2000 B.C. or a little earlier.

New Discoveries

Between 1965 and 1967 Bab edh-Dhra was excavated under the direction of Paul Lapp. Much work was done at a large cemetery south of the city. It was more than five-eighths of a mile in length and at least half that wide.

Dead Sea Salt Columns
.....Dead Sea Salt Columns
If the work which was done is typical, the area may contain a minimum of 20,000 shaft tombs estimating the dead at over half a million and the number of potsherds at two million!

Unfortunately, Paul Lapp died unexpectedly in 1970 and the task of further research fell to R. Thomas Schaub and Walter E. Rast. They set out to answer some unanswered questions about Bab edh-Dhra.

In late May, 1973, they set out to examine some similarities between pottery from Bab edh-Dhra and pottery found at Safi and Feifa.

In first examining the Feifa site they discovered burial ground which could compete with Bab edh-Dhra in size and usage. Then they found the remains of a city wall and a tower. Early Bronze Age 3000-2000 B.C. pottery was also discovered which placed this ruin in the same time period as Bab edh-Dhra. Feifa was discovered on the north side of the Wadi Feifa.

While exploring the Wadi south of Bab edh-Dhra, Schaub and Rast came upon another early bronze fortification. Numeira was also located on a level top of a plain just south of the spring, Wadi Numeira.

There was a pattern forming. Each of the early bronze sites was discovered built on an piece of ground overlooking a Wadi (ravine), enclosed by a stone wall with a tower at one end, and situated near a spring.

Now knowing what to look for, Schaub and Rast combed the area between Lisan in the north to the Southern tip of the Ghor between Numeira and Feifa. They found Safi located on a piece of limestone overlooking the Wadi Hesa where they found early bronze pottery.

They again found a cemetery which could compete with Bab edh-Dhra and Feifa in size and kind. The last early bronze site to be discovered was Khanazir, the southern most city located on the northern side of the Wadi Khanazir. This site has all of the common characteristics of the other four sites with the exception of the cemetery.

Identifying the Sites

In an attempt to identify these five early bronze age fortifications as the five Cities of the Plain, many different disciplines were used, including archaeology, geology, and seed studies.

In Genesis 13:10 the description of the area of land Lot chose is given, ' And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

The 'Plain of Jordan' which was chosen by Lot was the southern Ghor. It was this area which was 'well watered'. The Hebrew words are Kullahh Mashgeh which literally being translated means to be completely and totally irrigated'.

Paleoethnobotany, which is the study of plants used or gathered by an ancient culture in order to determine their agricultural system and diet, was used by David McCreery at Bab edh-Dhra.

From this study he was able to reconstruct their diet which consisted of wheat, barley, dates, wild plums, peaches, grapes, figs, pistachio nuts, almonds, olives, pine nuts, lentils, chick peas, pumpkin and watermelon.

Because of the size of the flax seeds found, it is very likely that irrigation was used. The grapes of Sodom and Gomorrah are referred to in Deuteronomy 32:32 and the sin of Sodom mentioned in Ezekiel 16:49 was that they were over-fed.

Our Lord describes the condition of Sodom as 'they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;' Luke 17:28. It is very possible that Bab edh-Dhra is one of the Cities of the Plain.

The source of water for the irrigation system would come from the eastern hills. It was at the point where these springs entered into the Ghor that all five cities were located. These cities would overlook and control the irrigation flow.

The phrase, Cities of the Plain, in Genesis 13:12 and 19:29 is in what is known in Hebrew as the 'construct state'. This means that the word 'cities' has a very close association with word 'plain' but does not mean the cities were on the plain or in the plain.

The strategic position of the cities overlooking the Ghor would act as a natural defense. Also, the cities would not have been built upon the plain because the land was too useful and precious.

It would also be extremely hot to live at 1200 feet below sea level where the temperature would rise as high as 130 F. It would be cooler on the higher level where the cities were uncovered.

Reconstruction of Destruction

The account of the destruction of all the cities of the plain except Zoar is given in Genesis 19:23-25. By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 'Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; {25} And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.'

From the research of geologist Frederick G. Clapp, who visited the area in 1929 and 1934, it was discovered that there are fault lines along the east and west sides of the Dead Sea.

The cities of the plain lie at the edge of the Ghor right along the eastern fault line. Also, earthquakes are common to the area. In Clapp's research, asphalt and petroleum accompanied by natural gas were found in the area.

From Genesis 14:10, it is evident that the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits. This tar is naturally occurring asphalt. Genesis 11:3; Exodus 2:3

It is a well-known fact that the southern end of the Dead Sea is a location for these tar pits. With the assistance of the imagination, the destruction of the Cities of the Plain can be recreated.

Bryant Wood speculates that, 'these combustible materials could have been forced from the earth by subterranean pressure brought about by an earthquake resulting from the shifting of the bounding faults. If these combustibles were ignited by lightning or some other agency as they came spewing forth from the ground, it would indeed result in a holocaust such as described in Genesis 19.'

From the 1973 report by Rast and Schaub there is evidence of widespread burning in the case of three of the cities.

At Bab edh-Dhra, handfulls of ashy soil and charcoal could be removed from the surface of the ruins. At Numeira, a pit was dug which cut through a seven foot thick layer of dark ash and at Feifa, much the same evidence of destruction by fire could be found Genesis 19:28.

The site at Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed at the end of the early bronze III age 2600-2300 B.C. The other two cities were also destroyed around this period. Are these five sites the five cities of the plain described in the Biblical record?

Matching the Cities

Since the evidence is overwhelming to support these cities as the Biblical Cities of the Plain which city is which? Traditionally the name of Zoar has remained since Bible times as the site on the Wadi Hesa, therefore, the site discovered here is fairly certain to be Zoar.

An important principle for the location of the cities is that they are always mentioned in pairs in Scripture. Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, Deuteronomy 29:23; Hosea 11:8.

Since Bab edh-Dhra was the largest and most prominent site of the five, and Sodom was the most well-known, probably because it was the largest, Bab edh-Dhra was probably Sodom. The other cities would follow Numeira=Gomorrah Safi=Zoar Feifa=Admah Khanazir =Zeboiim These are only possible locations from the present information.

.....Significance of Discoveries

The significance of the discoveries made along the eastern ridge of the Dead Sea is manifold. First, there is now another Early Bronze Age culture which was completely unknown before. A stable culture which may have flourished for 1,000 years and may have had extensive trade with Ebla.

Theories about early Palestinian history will need to be changed. Secondly, if the destruction of these cities can be dated, we will have the first historical date for Abraham. This new information may help fill in the chronological structure of history prior to Solomon.

Conclusion

Throughout Bible history Sodom and Gomorrah have stood out as important examples of God's punishment on sin. Jesus even used these cities to reveal His coming in Luke 17:28-30. Luke 17:28-30

'Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.'

As these newly discovered ruins authenticate and illuminate the Holy Scriptures, they may also be a warning to our own society as it goes about its business, all the while rejecting and disobeying God.

Copyright 1995 David Graves & Jane Graves, Electronic Christian Media

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