Sodom and Gomorrah

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Sodom and Gomorrah afire by Jacob de Wet II, 1680

Sodom and Gomorrah (/ˈsɒdəm ...ɡəˈmɒrə/)[1] were two cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis[2] and throughout the Hebrew Bible,[3] the New Testament, and in the deuterocanonical books, as well as in the Quran and the Hadith.[4]


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" (a phrase taken from Genesis in the King James Version), were situated on the Jordan River plain in the southern region of the land of Canaan. The plain was compared to the garden of Eden[Gen.13:10] as being well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock. Divine judgment was passed upon them and four of them were 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.[5][6][Jude 1:7] The Bible mentions that the cities were destroyed for their sins, haughtiness, egoism, and attempted rape.

Sodom and Gomorrah have been used historically and in modern discourse as metaphors for homosexuality, and are the origin of the English words sodomite, a pejorative term for male homosexuals, and sodomy, which is used in a legal context under the label "crimes against nature" to describe anal or oral sex (particularly homosexual) and bestiality.[7][8][9] This is based upon exegesis of the Biblical text interpreting divine judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah as punishment for the sin of homosexual sex. A number of contemporary scholars dispute this interpretation.[10][11][12] Some Islamic societies incorporate punishments associated with Sodom and Gomorrah into sharia.[13]


The etymology of both names is uncertain, and scholars disagree about them.[14]

They are known in Hebrew as סְדֹם‎ (Səḏōm) and עֲמֹרָה‎ (‘Ămōrāh). In the Septuagint, these became Σόδομα (Sódoma) and Γόμορρᾰ (Gómorrha; the Hebrew ghayn was absorbed by ayin sometime after the Septuagint was transcribed, it is still pronounced as a voiced uvular fricative in Mizrahi, which is rendered in Greek by a gamma, a voiced velar stop).[15][16]

According to Bob Macdonald, the Hebrew term for Gomorrah was based on the Semitic root ʿ-m-r, which means "be deep", "copious (water)".[17]

Book of Genesis

The Book of Genesis is the primary source that mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Battle of Siddim

The Battle of Siddim is described in Genesis 14:1–17. Lot is encamped within the borders of Sodom at a time when "the men of Sodom [are] wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly". Sodom and Gomorrah are ruled by Bera and Birsha, respectively, although their kingship is not sovereign because the Jordan plain has been under the rule of Chedorlaomer the Elamite for twelve years.

In the thirteenth year of their subjugation, the five kings of the Jordan plain—Bera, Birsha, Shinab of Admah, Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the unnamed king of Bela (later called Zoar)—ally to rebel against Elam. The following year, Chedorlaomer gathers forces from Shinar, Ellasar and Goyim to suppress the rebellion in the Vale of Siddim. The cities of the plain take heavy losses and are defeated. Sodom and Gomorrah are despoiled and captives are taken, among them Lot.

The tide turns when Lot's uncle, Abraham, gathers an elite force that slaughters the hosts of Chedorlaomer in Hobah, north of Damascus, freeing the cities of the plain from the grip of Elam.

Judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed in the background of Lucas van Leyden's 1520 painting Lot and his Daughters

The story of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is told in Genesis 18–19. Three men come to Abraham in the plains of Mamre. After the angels received the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, the Lord reveals to Abraham that he would confirm what he had heard against Sodom and Gomorrah, "and because their sin is very grievous."

The two angels proceed to Sodom, and Abraham inquires if the Lord will spare the city should fifty righteous people be found within it, to which the Lord agrees. Abraham then pleads for mercy at successively lower numbers—first forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten—with the Lord agreeing each time.[18]

The angels are met by Abraham's nephew Lot, who convinces them to lodge with him, and he serves them a meal.

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Sodom and Gomorrah from the Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel, 1493. Lot's wife, already transformed into a salt pillar, is in the center.

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". They refused this offer, complained about this alien, namely Lot, judging them, 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, then 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"). As Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed with brimstone and fire from the Lord, Lot's wife looked back at the city, and she became a pillar of salt.[19][20][21][22]

Other Biblical references

The Hebrew Bible contains several other references to Sodom and Gomorrah. 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 and their residents. Additionally, the sins which triggered the destruction are reminiscent of the Book of Judges' account of The Levite's Concubine.[23]

Hebrew Bible

"Sodom and Gomorrah" becomes a byword for destruction and desolation. Moses referred to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Deuteronomy 29:22–23:

So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the Lord hath laid upon it; And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath.—KJV

See also: Deuteronomy 32:32–33

Isaiah 1:9–10, Isaiah 3:9 and Isaiah 13:19–22 addresses people as from Sodom and Gomorrah, associates Sodom with shameless sinning and tells Babylon that it will end like those two cities.

Jeremiah 23:14, Jeremiah 49:17–18, Jeremiah 50:39–40 and Lamentations 4:6 associate Sodom and Gomorrah with adultery and lies, prophesy the fate of Edom (south of the Dead Sea), predict the fate of Babylon and use Sodom as a comparison.

In Ezekiel 16:48–50, God compares Jerusalem to Sodom, saying "Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters." He explains that the sin of Sodom was that "thy sister, Sodom, pride, fulness 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 committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good."[24]

In Amos 4:1–11, God tells the Israelites that although he treated them like Sodom and Gomorrah, they still did not repent.

In Zephaniah 2:9, Zephaniah tells Moab and Ammon, southeast and northeast of the Dead Sea, that they will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah.

New Testament

In Matthew 10:1–15, cf. Luke 10:1–12, Jesus declares certain cities more damnable than Sodom and Gomorrah, due to their lack of response to Jesus' disciples:

"And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement, than for that city."(KJV)

In Matthew 11:20–24, Jesus prophesies the fate of some cities where he did some of his works (KJV):

"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to Hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement, than for thee"

In Luke 17:28–30, Jesus compares his Second Coming to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (KJV):

"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 will it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed."

In Romans 9:29, Paul the Apostle quotes Isaiah 1:9 (KJV): "Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma [Sodom] and been made like unto Gomorrah."

In 2 Peter 2:4–10, Saint Peter says that just as God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and saved Lot, he will deliver godly people from temptations and punish the wicked on Judgement Day.

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".

Revelation 11:7–8 makes an allegorical use of Sodom when it describes the places where the two witnesses will descend during the Apocalypse.


Wisdom 10:6–8 refers to the Five Cities:

Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for mankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed.

Wisdom 19:17 says that the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites were "struck with blindness, like the men of Sodom who came to the door of that righteous man Lot. They found themselves in total darkness, as each one groped around to find his own door."

Sirach 16:8 says "[God] did not spare the neighbors of Lot, whom he loathed on account of their insolence."

In 3 Maccabees 2:5, the high priest Simon says that God "consumed with fire and sulphur the men of Sodom who acted arrogantly, who were notorious for their vices; and you made them an example to those who should come afterward".

2 Esdras 2:8–9 says "Woe to you, Assyria, who conceal the unrighteous in your midst! O wicked nation, remember what I did to Sodom and Gomor′rah, whose land lies in lumps of pitch and heaps of ashes. So will I do to those who have not listened to me, says the Lord Almighty."

2 Esdras 5:1–13 describes signs of the end times, one of which is that "the sea of Sodom shall cast up fish".

In 2 Esdras 7:106, Ezra says that Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom.

Chapter 12 of 1 Meqabyan, a book considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, references "Gemorra an Sedom".


Painting from William Francis Lynch's book The Narrative of the United States Expedition of the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, published in 1849

There are other stories and historical names which bear a resemblance to the biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah. 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.


The stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and their destruction, whether historical or not, were clearly understood to have been set near the Dead Sea, among the so-called "cities of the plain" mentioned in Genesis 13:12. There have been various proposals and attempts to locate the Canaanite pentapolis situated around the Dead Sea. Many locations have been proposed for the infamous cities, ranging from north-east to south-west of the Dead Sea. No archaeological site or ruin has, or thus far, can be, reliably determined as Sodom or Gomorrah.

The ancient Greek historiographer 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".[25] Strabo identifies a limestone and salt hill at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea, and Kharbet Usdum (Hebrew: הר סדום‎, Har Sedom or Arabic: جبل السدوم‎, Jabal(u) 'ssudūm) ruins nearby as the site of biblical Sodom.[26] 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.[27] Sayce later mentions that the story more closely resembles the doom of Sennacherib's host.[28]

The Jewish historian Josephus identifies the Dead Sea in geographic proximity to the ancient biblical city of Sodom. He refers to the lake by its Greek name, Asphaltites.[29]

Southern theory

In 1973, Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub discovered or visited a number of possible sites of the cities, including Bab edh-Dhra, which was originally excavated in 1965 by archaeologist Paul Lapp, and later finished by Rast and Schaub following his death. Other possibilities include Numeira, al-Safi, Feifa (or Fifa, Feifah), and Khirbet al-Khanazir, which were also visited by Schaub and Rast. However, in 1993 Nancy Lapp, from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, reported that Feifa had no Bronze Age occupation and merely an Early Bronze Age (EB) cemetery with Iron Age walls. She reports: "In the final season of the present series of excavations of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain (1990–1991), the walled site of Feifa was investigated and the EB cemetery that stretched to its east was excavated. The most recent surveys suggested that the visible structures of the walled site belonged to the Iron Age or Roman period."[30] At Khirbet al-Khanazir, the walls which Rast and Schaub identified in 1973 as houses were in reality rectangular charnel burial houses marking EB IV shaft tombs and not occupational structures.[31][32][33] According to Schaub, who dug at Bab edh-Dhra, Numeira was destroyed in 2600 BCE at a different time period from Bab edh-Dhra (2350–2067 BCE).[34]

Northern theory

Tall el-Hammam overlooking the Jordan Valley 2007

Another candidate for Sodom is the Tall el-Hammam dig site which began in 2006 under the direction of Steven Collins. Tall el-Hammam is located in the southern Jordan river valley approximately 14 kilometres (9 mi) northeast of the Dead Sea, and according to Collins fits the biblical descriptions of the lands of Sodom.[35][36] The ongoing dig is a result of joint cooperation between Trinity Southwest University and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.[37]

Professor Eugene H. Merrill believes that the identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom would require an unacceptable restructuring of the biblical chronology.[38][39][40]

Natural disaster

It has been theorized that if the story does have a historical basis, the cities may have been destroyed by a natural disaster. One such idea is that the Dead Sea was devastated by an earthquake between 2100 and 1900 BCE. This might have unleashed showers of steaming tar.[41] It is possible that the towns were destroyed by an earthquake, especially if they lay along a major fault such as the Jordan Rift Valley; however, there are no known contemporary accounts of seismic activity that corroborate this theory.[42]

Other hypotheses

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.[43] 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.[44] Today, the scholarly consensus is that "Ebla has no bearing on ... Sodom and Gomorra."[45]

Modern Sodom

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 (خربت السدوم). Nearby is Mount Sodom (הר סדום in Hebrew and جبل السدوم in Arabic) which consists mainly of salt. In the Plain of Sdom (מישור סדום) to the south there are a few springs and two small agricultural villages, Neot HaKikar and Ein Tamar.[citation needed]

Second World War

"Operation Gomorrah" was the name given to the Bombing of Hamburg in July 1943,[46] in which 42,600 civilians were killed, and where use of incendiaries caused a vortex and whirling updraft of super-heated air which created a 460 metre high tornado of fire.


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  2. Schwartz, Howard; Loebel-Fried, Caren; Ginsburg, Elliot K. (2007). Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism. Oxford University Press. p. 465. ISBN 978-0-19-535870-4.
  3. Metzger, Bruce Manning; Coogan, Michael D (2004). The Oxford Guide To People And Places Of The Bible. Oxford University Press. p. 294. ISBN 978-0-19-517610-0.
  4. Jackson, Roy (2014). What is Islamic Philosophy?. p. 119.
  5. Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin (2010). Religions of the World, Second Edition: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practises.
  6. Qur'an (S15) Al-Hijr:72–73
  7. Shirelle Phelps (2001). World of Criminal Justice: N-Z. Gale Group. p. 686. ISBN 0787650730. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  8. Scheb, John & John Scheb II (2013). Criminal Law and Procedure. Cengage Learning. p. 185. ISBN 978-1285546131.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. David Newton (2009). Gay and Lesbian Rights: A Reference Handbook, Second Edition. ABC-CLIO. p. 85. ISBN 978-1598843071. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  10. Jordan, Mark (1999). The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press. pp. 89–95.
  11. Staff (September 20, 2018). "Sodom and Gomorrah: A Story about Sin and Judgment". Zondervan. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  12. McClain, Lisa (April 10, 2019). "A thousand years ago, the Catholic Church paid little attention to homosexuality". The Conversation. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  13. Kolig, Erich (2012). Conservative Islam: A Cultural Anthropology. p. 160.
  14. Botterweck, G. Johannes; Ringgren, Helmer; Fabry, Heinz-Josef, eds. (2000). Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume 10. Wm Eeerdmans. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-8028-2334-2.
  15. Prashker, David. "TheBibleNet: Amorah (Gomorrah)".
  16. Goldingay, John (4 September 2018). The First Testament: A New Translation. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 9780830887965 – via Google Books.
  17. B. Macdonald (2000). "East of the Jordan": Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures (PDF). American Schools of Oriental Research. p. 52. ISBN 0-89757-031-6.
  18. This is compared with the Sorites paradox in Geocomputation, Stan Openshaw, Robert J. Abrahart, 2000, p. 167.
  19. Fields, Weston W. (1997). Sodom and Gomorrah: History and Motif in Biblical Narrative. A&C Black. ISBN 9780567062611. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  20. Loader, J. A. (1990). A Tale of Two Cities: Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament, Early Jewish and Early Christian Traditions. Peeters Publishers. ISBN 9789024253333. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  21. STRAUSS, Gerhard Friedrich Abraham; SLEE, Jane Mary (1837). On Restitution; Lot and his Wife; The Rich Man; Christian Composure; [sermons] by ... F. S. ... translated from the German, by Miss Slee. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  22. R. W (1607). Lot's Wife. A sermon at Paule's Crosse [on Luke xvii. 32. By R. W., i.e. R. Wilkinson.]. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  23. Michael Carden (1999). "Compulsory Heterosexuality in Biblical Narratives and their Interpretations: Reading Homophobia and Rape in Sodom and Gibeah". Journal for the Academic Study of Religion. 12 (1): 48. discussion of Genesis 19 (and its parallel, Judges 19) is still couched in such terms as 'homosexual rape' and 'homosexuality'. {...}There is a parallel story to Genesis 19 in the Hebrew bible, that of the outrage at Gibeah found in Judges 19-21 which Phyllis Trible (1984) has rightly described as a text of terror for women.{...}Stone acknowledges the relationship of Judges 19 and Genesis 19, describing them as each being one of the few "clear references to homosexuality in the Hebrew Bible" (Stone, 1995:98).{...}In Judges 19, the process is similar but with some interesting differences.
  24. J. W. Rogerson, An Introduction to the Bible, Routledge, UK, 2014, p. 142
  25. Strabo. Geography. Book XVI, Chapter 2:44.
  26. de Saulcy, Ferdinand (1853). Voyage autour de la mer Morte et dans les terres bibliques. Paris: Gide et J. Baudry.
  27. Sayce, A. H. 'The Overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Accadian Account)' Records of the Past XI 115.
  28. Archibald Sayce (1887). The Hibbert Lectures, 1887: Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion. p. 309.
  29. Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book I. Chapter 9; retrieved October 25, 2015.
  30. Bert de Vries, "Archaeology in Jordan", ed. Pierre Bikai, American Journal of Archaeology 97, no. 3 (1993): 482.
  31. Bert de Vries, ed., "Archaeology in Jordan", American Journal of Archaeology 95, no. 2 (1991): 253–280. 262.
  32. Burton MacDonald, "EB IV Tombs at Khirbet Khanazir: Types, Construction, and Relation to Other EB IV Tombs in Syria-Palestine", Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 5 (1995): 129–134
  33. R. Thomas Schaub, "Southeast Dead Sea Plain", in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, ed. Eric M. Meyers, vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 62.
  34. Cline, Eric H. From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible (Tampa, Florida: National Geographic, 2007), 60.
  35. Collins, Steven & Latayne C. Scott. Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. ISBN 978-1451684308
  36. Becca Stanek (2015). "Archaeologists discover possible ruins of ancient Sodom in the Holy Land". Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  37. "".
  38. Merrill, Eugene H. "Texts, Talls, and Old Testament Chronology: Tall Hammam as a Case Study". Artifax 27, no. 4 (2012): 20–21.
  39. Bolen, Todd (2013-02-27). "Arguments Against Locating Sodom at Tall el-Hammam". Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  40. Contra Collins, Steven. "Tall el-Hammam Is Still Sodom: Critical Data-Sets Cast Serious Doubt on E. H. Merrill's Chronological Analysis" (PDF) Archived 2013-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, Biblical Research Bulletin 13, no. 1 (2013): 1–31.
  41. Isbouts, Jean-Pierre (2007). The Biblical World: An Illustrated Atlas. National Geographic Books. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-4262-0138-7.
  42. J. Penrose Harland (September 1943). "Sodom and Gomorrah: The Destruction of the Cities of the Plain". Biblical Archaeologist. 6 (3).
  43. Hershel Shanks (September–October 1980). "BAR Interviews Giovanni Pettinato". Biblical Archaeology Review. 6 (5).
  44. Alfonso Archi (November–December 1981). "Are 'The Cities of the Plain' Mentioned in the Ebla Tablets?". Biblical Archaeology Review. 7 (6).
  45. Chavalas, Mark W., and K. Lawson Younger, Jr. (eds.) Mesopotamia and the Bible: Comparative Explorations. 2003, p. 41
  46. "The carpet-bombing of Hamburg killed 40,000 people. It also did good - The Spectator". 9 May 2015.

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