Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah (/ / ...) were two cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis and throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and in the deuterocanonical books, as well as in the Quran and the Hadith.
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" (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 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. 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. This is based upon exegesis of the Biblical text interpreting divine judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah as punishment for the sin of homosexual sex, though some contemporary scholars dispute this interpretation. Some Islamic societies incorporate punishments associated with Sodom and Gomorrah into sharia.
The etymology of both names is uncertain, and scholars disagree about them.
They are known in Hebrew asסְדֹם (Səḏōm) andעֲמֹרָה (‘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).
According to Bob Macdonald, the Hebrew term for Gomorrah was based on the Semitic root ʿ-m-r, which means "be deep", "copious (water)".
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.
Judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah
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.
The angels are met by Abraham's nephew Lot, who convinces them to lodge with him, and he serves them a meal.
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.
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.
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, 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."
In Amos 4:1–11, God tells the Israelites that although he treated them like Sodom and Gomorrah, they still did not repent.
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 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."
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 occurred 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". 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. 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. Sayce later mentions that the story more closely resembles the doom of Sennacherib's host.
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." 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. According to Schaub, who dug at Bab edh-Dhra, Numeira was destroyed in 2600 BCE at a different time period than Bab edh-Dhra (2350–2067 BCE).
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. The ongoing dig is a result of joint cooperation between the unaccredited Trinity Southwest University and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Collins is a professor at Trinity Southwest which is an institution that states that biblical scripture is the "divinely inspired representation of reality given by God to humankind, speaking with absolute authority in all matters upon which it touches". Collins is also the Professor of Archaeology and Biblical History along with Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Veritas International University, accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools which requires all accredited schools to have a statement of faith that affirms "the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible" and "the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God's image".
Professor Eugene H. Merrill believes that the identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom would require an unacceptable restructuring of the biblical chronology.
Certain skeptics of the biblical account have theorized that, provided that the cities existed at all, they might have been destroyed by 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. 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. There is a lack of contemporary accounts of seismic activity within the necessary time frame to corroborate this theory. Phillip Sylvia, research professor at Trinity Southwest University, has been conducting scientific research into the theory that the entry of a relatively large meteorite or other cosmic "airburst" could have caused widespread destruction in the region and possibly been the basis for the biblical account.
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. Today, the scholarly consensus is that "Ebla has no bearing on ... Sodom and Gomorra."
Rabbi Basil Herring, who served as head of the Rabbinical Council of America from 2003 to 2012, writes that both the Rabbinic tradition and modern orthodox position consider the Torah to condemn homosexuality as an abomination. Moreover, that it "conveys its abhorrence of homosexuality through a variety of narrative settings", God's judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah being a "paradigmatic" instance of such condemnation.
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.
Other extrabiblical crimes committed by Sodom and Gomorrah included extortion on crossing a bridge/or swimming a river, harshly punishing victims for crimes that the perpetrator committed, forcing an assault victim to pay for the perpetrator's "bleeding" and forcing a woman to marry a man who intentionally caused her miscarriage to compensate for the lost child. Because of this, the judges of the two cities were referred to as Shakrai ("Liar"), Shakurai ("Awful Liar"), Zayyafi ("Forger") and Mazle Dina ("Perverter of Justice"). Eliezer was reported to be a victim of such legally unjust conduct, after Sarah sent him to Sodom to report on Lot's welfare. The citizens also regularly tortured foreigners who sought lodging. They did this by providing the foreigners a standard-sized beds and if they saw that the foreigners were too short for the beds, they would forcibly stretch their limbs but if the foreigners were too tall, they would cut off their legs. As a result, many people refrained from visiting Sodom and Gomorrah. Beggars who settled into the two cities for refuge were similarly mistreated. The citizens would give them marked coins (presumably used to purchase food) but were nonetheless forbidden, by proclamation, to provide these necessary services. Once the beggar died of starvation, citizens who initially gave the beggar the coins were permitted to retrieve them, provided that they could recognize it. The beggar's clothing was also provided as a reward for any citizen who could successfully overcome his opponent in a street fight.
The provision of bread and water to the poor was also a capital offense (Yalḳ., Gen. 83). Two girls, one poor and the other rich, went to a well, and the former gave the latter her jug of water, receiving in return a vessel containing bread. When this became known, both were burned alive (ib.). According to the Book of Jasher, Paltith, one of Lot's daughters, was burnt alive (in some versions, on a pyre) for giving a poor man bread. Her cries went to the heavens Another woman was similarly executed in Admah for giving a traveler, who intended to leave the town the next day, water. When the scandal was revealed, the woman was stripped naked and covered with honey. This attracted bees as the woman was slowly stung to death. Her cries then went up into the heavens, the turning point that was revealed to have provoked God to enact judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah in the first place in Genesis 18:20.
Jon D. Levenson views a rabbinic tradition described in the Mishnah as postulating that the sin of Sodom was a violation of conventional hospitality in addition to homosexual conduct, describing Sodom's lack of generosity with the saying, "What is mine is mine; what is yours is yours" (m. Avot 5.10).
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, 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); and 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".
Two areas of contention have arisen in modern Christian scholarship concerning the story of Sodom and Gomorrah:
- Whether the violent mob surrounding Lot's house were demanding to engage in sexual violence against Lot's guests.
- Whether it was homosexuality or another transgression, such as the act of inhospitable behavior towards visitors, the act of sexual assault, murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, power abuses, or prideful and mocking behavior, that was the principal reason for God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The first contention focuses primarily upon the meaning of the Hebrew verb Hebrew: ידע (yada), translated as "know" in the King James Version:
Yada is used to refer to sexual intercourse in various instances, such as in Genesis 4:1 between Adam and Eve:
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 1% (13–14 times) of those references are clearly used as a euphemism for realizing sexual intimacy. Instead, those who hold to this interpretation 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, by offering his daughters for rape, only three verses later in the same narrative:
The following is a major text in regard to these conflicting opinions:
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 condemns "sodomitic" sex (2 Enoch 10:3; 34:1), thus indicating that homosexual relations was the prevalent physical sin of Sodom.
Both the non-sexual and the homosexuality view invoke certain classical writings as well as other portions of the Bible.
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:
The nonsexual view focuses on the cultural importance of hospitality, which this biblical story shares with other ancient civilizations, such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, where hospitality was of singular importance and strangers were under the protection of the gods. James L. Kugel, Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University suggests the story encompasses the sexual and non-sexual: the Sodomites were guilty of stinginess, inhospitality and sexual license, homo- and heterosexual in contrast to the generosity of Abraham, and Lot whose behavior in protecting the visitors but offering his daughters suggests he was "scarcely better than his neighbors" according to some ancient commentators, The Bible As It Was, 1997, pp. 179–197.
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. On its website, the Anglican Communion presents the argument that the story is "not even vaguely about homosexual love or relationships", but is instead "about dominance and rape, by definition an act of violence, not of sex or love". This argument that the violence and the threat of violence towards 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 the threat of violence towards foreigners by the mob. This Exodus 22:21–24 lesson is viewed by Anglicans as a more historically accurate way to interpret the Sodom and Gomorrah story.
Scholar in history and gender studies Lisa McClain has claimed that the association between Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality emerged from the writings of 1st century Jewish philosopher Philo, and that no prior exegesis of the text suggested such a linkage.
The Quran contains twelve references to "the people of Lut", the biblical Lot, but meaning the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their destruction by God is associated explicitly with their homosexual practices. On the other hand certain contemporary western scholars assert that the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a combination of sexual assault, breaking the hospitality law and engaging in robbery.
The 'people of Lot' transgressed consciously against the bounds of God. 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 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, chapter 26 (The Poets) –
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.
Second World War
"Operation Gomorrah" was the name given to the Bombing of Hamburg in July 1943, 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.
- Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, two adjacent archeological sites said by some to be the two cities' locations
- Christianity and homosexuality
- Christianity and sexual orientation
- Homosexuality and Judaism
- Homosexuality and religion
- Homosexuality in the Hebrew Bible
- LGBT in Islam
- Levite's Concubine- similar biblical narrative
- Religion and LGBT people
- The Bible and homosexuality
- Tripura, cities likewise destroyed by divine intervention as described in Hindu mythology
- Vayeira, the Torah portion concerning Sodom and Gomorrah
- Map of the Dead Sea from a book by Christian van Adrichem, 1590, depicting Sodom and Gomorrah going on flames in the sea, called (in Latin) 'Dead Sea, Salt Lake, Sea of Asphalt', Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, The National Library of Israel