by Ciprian IVAS
Sodom and Gomorrah. The combination of the names of these two cities reached phrase in all languages. Their fame has become legendary among all nations of the earth. This expression has come to symbolize the extreme sin and the ultimate divine punishment in almost all the modern cultures. The mark of this phrase in the consciousness of people is so strong that questions concerning the origins of it occur very rare. The image is preferable terrifying enough. But not for scholars of the Bible or history. Much less for theologians. What were actually Sodom and Gomorrah? What is the historical and biblical that existed?
Archaeological discoveries have made today a source of authority like Encyclopedia Britannica to give the definite location of the two cities on the southeast end of the Dead Sea, covered by shallow waters of the seas in the area. We have also a good approximation of temporal localization, around 1900 BC.
We also know with certainty that the area was significantly different from the current image. It was a fertile network of rivers that flow into the Dead Sea allowing intensive agriculture that put the base of the abundance of city dwellers in the area. There is an extensive network of irrigation channels and all the plain of Jordan was like the land of Egypt watered by the Nile. Jordan River, which flows from Mount Hermon and flows into the Dead Sea was longer than 80 km from the actual length of about 250: “And Lot lifting up his eyes beheld all the plain of Jordan where, before the Lord break Sodom and Gomorrah all unto Zoar was wetted by water, as the land of Egypt. ” (Fac. 13, 10). Large flocks of sheep showed prosperity of local residents. We have about it a biblical record that tells us the nephew of the first patriarch Abraham, Lot came here with flocks. The most fertile portion of the current region of the Holy Land was the Valley of Siddim, Dead Sea valley, an area where flourished a group of five cities. Apart from the two already mentioned there were another three, called Admah, Zeboim and Zoar. These five cities were allied cities and historians and archaeologists designate this group by name Pentapolis. It is believed that the ancestors of the inhabitants of these cities were proto-Semites coming from Arabian Peninsula, where fertile oases could not face the demographic growth.
The first arrived in the area were the Amorites, who apparently built the walled city. Then came the canaanites, called Phoenicians by the Greeks. Both nations appear abundantly in the Hebrew Scripture in relationship to people who found them here coming from Egypt. Canaanite civilization became known especially after the sensational archaeological finds from the Mediterranean coast, especially the city-state of Ugarit. Canaanite religion was a cruel one considering Christian moral standards. Requires human sacrifices, the first born male being killed.
The laws of hospitality to canaanites are actually the point where it all started, laws contrary to divine rules that drew divine punishment on them. The text of the Pentateuch reveals a collective forced violation of the foreigners: “… all the people of all ages, from young to old” imperative asked guests to get out of the house because the citizens of Sodom wanted “to know” them (Gen. 19, 4-5) .
It is difficult to give an explanation for this behavior. Especially in the light of Christian standards but not only, the standards of contemporary society also considering such an attitude unacceptable and absurd. It seems that before the advent of the patriarch Abraham and Lot, human society was governed by laws that belonged to a different value system. We, people of our times, can only make assumptions about the reasons, like the fear of foreigners that could generate such a code of conduct. This fear of foreigners was commonn to almost all ancient peoples. There were people who were killing everyone went their borders, as Herodotus tells us about the “tauris” on the banks of the Black Sea. In Latin there is also the saying “hospes hostis”, “visitor is enemy” which apparently is very old, from early history of Rome.
About the inhabitants of Sodom, there are other legends, especially hebrew. It is said that every stranger passing by Sodom and was stealed something by every inhabitant but an amount so small that no one could be blamed. There is also the gold ingot legend, foreigners receiving this golden gift when arrived in Sodom but instead did not receive any food. In order not to starve had to pay food with the gold brick. All these details show us Sodom as a very rich and powerful city with people who intentionally were inhospitable to strangers tempted to sit in their city. Also very tempting wealth of Sodom generated wars that the great powers of the time in the region have started against Sodom. It is about Sumer, Elam, and Gutta. All these great powers are at considerable distances from Sodom, over 1000 km, indicating that potential trophy after a victory was worth such an effort.
Then we come to the end of the Pentapolis and final question of great interest: God punished Sodom and three allied cities (not Zoar), but how to actually manifest this punishment? Was earthquake, volcanic eruption, have been rain hail? This question has preoccupied people since antiquity. The first hypothesis was tried by Greek philosopher Eratosthenes in the III-rd century BC who promoted the idea of an earthquake accompanied by volcanic eruption. This hypothesis has joined two centuries later Strabo, the great geographer of antiquity. Also was considered the hypothesis of a landslide but clear specification Bible on a “fire and brimstone” (Gen. 19, 24) removed it quickly. Eratosthenes and Strabo hypothesis is the most accurate, especially since Abraham saw “rising from the smoldering earth, as the smoke of a furnace” (Gen. 19, 28). Of course modern theories include many other explanations such as a meteorite, a nuclear explosion or impact of a spaceship.
The difficulty of the archaeological research to answer has multiple causes, the most important of them being very high salinity waters of the Dead Sea. Today the most widely accepted explanation remains the now 23 centuries Eratosthenes, especially since Jordan with Dead Sea are above one of the most famous tectonic faults, tectonic fault Ghor, asphalt floating on the sea surface harvested and used since ancient times comes from oil shale beneath the seabed, which are always accompanied by shale gas bags, causing explosions in case of earthquakes. Earthquakes, explosions of the gas bags and a massive volcanic eruption (attested by sulfur on the sea coast) are mtost likely the basic explanation of the four cities disappearance and of the appearance of the Dead Sea.
* painting by John Martin, Sodoma and Gomorrah, 1852.