Sodom and Gomorrah

Concepts

Sometime between 3,000 BCE and 10,000 BCE a civilization of people flourished along the Dead Sea plains. However, because of their great sins and unforgivably evil nature, the Lord himself destroyed both cities in a hail of fire and brimstone. The display was so fearful that it was referenced throughout history to tell of the great doom that would be in store for anyone who dared to commit such grievous sins against God or his followers – be they human or angel in nature. To this day, their names still hold the weight of their sins. They are Sodom and Gomorrah.

What is the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is closely connected to the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. They had settled in an area near the Dead Sea, with Lot and his followers choosing to make their stead in Dead Sea plains. At first, this was good and well. In time, however, many issues arose.

Sodom and Gomorrah painting

Sodom and Gomorrah painting

The Battle of Siddim

It appears that the first issues of the plains cities can be traced back to discord among the ruling powers. Each of the Plains cities had their own king. These kings were not seen as official rulers, however, because the entirety of the Jordan plain was ruled by the kingdom of Elam and had been for 12 years. The king of Elam was King Chedorlaomer.

After the 13th year of the rule had begun, the 5 kings of the plains cities decided to band together and wage war against the kingdom of Elam. This resulted in a heavy loss of life among all of the plains cities, who were ultimately defeated. The cities were spoiled of all their goods and captives were taken as slaves – including Lot.

However, their defeat was turned to victory when Abraham decided to get involved on behalf of his nephew. Abraham’s forces were able to slaughter King Chedorlaomer’s army and free the plains cities from Elam’s rule.

Unfortunately, the story would not end happily for the cities of the plains. Four of the five cities would be destroyed with fire and brimstone sent directly from the Lord – the most notable of which are Sodom and Gomorrah. It is speculated that the terrible wickedness that the people of these cities descended into after being freed from the rule of Elam was the cause for their terrible fate. Due to issues with locating the site of Sodom and Gomorrah in modern day, however, many questions still remain.

The People Of Sodom and Gomorrah Were Known to Be Terrible

Although the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is best known because of its documentation in the Torah, Bible, and Quran, there are accounts outside of these sources that tell of the great wickedness that resided inside the cities.

People who lived in these plains areas were known to be especially cruel to travelers and beggars. They enjoyed making these people suffer greatly. There are many accounts in which the people of Sodom and Gomorrah have been recorded raping, murdering, and torturing innocent people.

Some accounts tell of a particularly cruel practice that was employed to torture beggars to death. It was said that the evil people of Sodom and Gomorrah were known to take gold pieces (and other coins of high value) and write their names on the currency before giving it to a beggar. The beggar who took the coin and attempted to buy food in their markets, however, would be met with a cruel surprise – no one in the city would sell them food. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah would continue to give the beggar copious amounts of money that should have sustained them for many months, but with no one willing to sell them food they eventually starved to death. At this point in time, the citizens of these cities went through the pockets of the recently deceased and reclaimed their money. The cycle would then begin again with a new victim.

With so many terrible deeds that can be traced back to the city, it is no surprise that they were not allowed to thrive. In fact, only one of the five plains cities is said to have been spared from the great storm of fire and brimstone, and is thought to have survived into modern day as Zoar. However, the cause of the destruction of the cities remains largely theoretical.

The Lord Sends Angels to Evaluate Sodom and Gomorrah

The tale of the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah begins with the Lord sending three angels to go to the Earth and speak with Abraham and his wife Sarah. The angels disguise themselves as travelers and go to Abraham’s city. Once there, they are persuaded by Abraham and Sarah to stay in their home as guests. Although Abraham and Sarah do not realize it, they have passed the test and will be spared from the following destruction.

Abraham and Sarah

Abraham and Sarah

Later on in the evening, the travelers reveal themselves as angels and tell Abraham of the destruction that is to befall Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is terrified for his nephew, Lot, and pleads with God to change his mind and spare the two cities if even 50 good and righteous men can be found in the combined population of the cities. God agrees and the city is searched, but only evil men are found.

Abraham continues to plead with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if 40 righteous men could be found. God shows that he is merciful yet again by agreeing, but Abraham fails to find the numbers yet again. He continues to plead with the Lord to spare the city if he can find a certain number of faithful followers, decreasing his number by 10 each time, until he is left pleading for the souls of 10 good men. When he cannot find even 10 good men in a city numbering thousands, God is resolved to continue with his plan to smite the cities. Before he does this however, he will give Abraham’s nephew a chance.

Lot is Tested

Two of the Lord’s angels traveled to Sodom to investigate and meet with Lot. When Lot meets the angels, he is merciful and insists that they must stay in his home as guests. He is very generous to his guests despite them being strangers. After finishing their meal however, Lot’s house was surrounded by many of the evil men of the city.

It is suggested that men of all ages surrounded the house and demanded that Lot send his two strange guests outside so that ‘they may know them.’ Many people interpret this to mean that the men of Sodom wished to have sex with the travelers, though there are some who propose that the townspeople simply want to interrogate the two strangers. This alternative is often discredited by the following verse, however, in which Lot offers to let the men rape his two virgin daughters if they will spare the strangers.

The men surrounding the house do not want Lot’s virgin daughters and become angry when the strangers are not handed over to them. They attempt to rush forward and break down Lot’s door. This attempt is foiled, however, when the strangers reveal themselves to be angels and emit a blinding light that takes away the vision of the evil men until the next day. They then reveal themselves to Lot and his family. They tell him of the destruction that is coming to Sodom and Gomorrah and order them to take their things and run to safety – but not to look back when God rained down fire and brimstone upon the cities.

Lot and his family run towards safety and hold onto each other to ensure that none of them look back, but the wife cannot resist the temptation (some versions claim it is because she is guilty of sin). She looks back at the cities as they are being destroyed and is turned into a pillar of salt as a result of her disobedience. The rest of Lot’s family is spared and lives to tell the tale of the terrible demise of the cities.

What Was the Great Sin That Caused Sodom and Gomorrah to be Destroyed?

Although there are many interpretations of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, experts who study the literature are still uncertain as to what the greatest sin of the cities was. There are those who think that the sins of the people in these stories was carnal in nature, while other scholars would argue that the root of the problem was due to the inhospitality that was directed at travelers and the needy. Each side makes a reasonable case, though there isn’t enough concrete evidence from either side to provide proof.

The Sin Was Homosexuality

It’s no secret that the major religions don’t have any tolerance for homosexual relationships, which leads many scholars and believers to think that the sin that caused God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah had to do with their homosexual tendencies. This is largely evidenced by the non-biblical references that make it clear that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah would rape anyone – or anything – purely for the power that came with this misdeed.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

The inspiration for this accusation also comes from the Bible, which shows that when the angels disguised themselves as travelers in order to visit Lot and investigate the city of Sodom, the house they stayed in was surrounded by the men of the city. These men then demanded that Lot hand over the two strangers to them, so that they may ‘know them.’

While some like to argue that this could have been in reference to an interrogation and/or torture that was planned for the travelers, many dismiss this because of Lot’s response. The next verse shows that Lot offers up his two virgin daughters to the men, ‘who have not been known by any man.’ This specific response is thought to show that the men of Sodom did intend to have carnal relations with the two travelers.

In fact, it is this belief that inspired the names for the sodomy laws. The sodomy laws concern unlawful sexual intercourse which includes anal and oral sex (thought to be homosexual), as well as bestiality. These laws were named after the city of Sodom for their terrible crimes and presumed homosexual habits.

The Sin Was Carnal, But Not Homosexual

There are also those who are of the opinion that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sexual sins, but that the sin was not having homosexual relations. They point to the passages and allude that the crime in the men demanding that the strangers be turned over to them was not because they were men who desired to have sex with other men. Instead, they believe the crime was that they were a group of men who wanted to force themselves on men. The argument behind this is that it is unholy for more than two people to engage in a sexual act (especially an orgy) because this is not what God desired. Additionally, the men would have been forced into the orgy, making it even more reprehensible.

There are also some who believe that the crime was that the men of Sodom were desiring to have sexual relations with God’s angels. Those who believe this theory often point to the fact that one of the reasons for ‘The Great Flood’ was because ‘the sons of God’ had laid down with the women of earth. They liken this to bestiality because it was the crossbreeding of two different species that were not meant to procreate. However, many issues with this theory lie in the fact that the men surrounding Lot’s house did not know that the travelers were angels. Additionally, many scholars argue that this is likely not the case because the crimes these men were guilty of had already occurred before the angels had arrived in Sodom. This makes it unlikely that human-angel intercourse was the cause of God’s anger, unless there were other angels who made appearances in the city.

The Sin Was Inhospitality

New interpretations of the text, however, lead some to believe that the crime would have been the terrible way in which innocent travelers and the needy were treated by the people of the plains cities. It is known that they were unnecessarily cruel towards strangers and would go as far as to rape, murder, and torture people to death for no reason.

Scholars who follow this belief often claim that the men who gathered around Lot’s house intended to interrogate and torture the strangers. Because of this, their crime was inhospitality towards the Lord’s angels. However, many scholars who follow this belief are quick to point out that this does not mean that the homosexuality or desired orgy was not a sin – merely that it was a symptom of a bigger underlying transgression.

Scholars who ascribe to this theory are also known to refer to New Testament scriptures that show that Jesus considered the cold nature of the cities to be reprehensible. In fact, Mathew 10:14-15 declares:

“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
judgement for the land of Sodom and
Gomor’rah than for that town.”

This clearly shows that one of the biggest sins that can be committed by man is to refuse to treat God’s messengers with kindness. Taking the behavior of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah into account, it is very plausible that this is indeed what is meant by the passage.

The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Various Religions

Although many who are familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah have heard the tale from the Christian perspective, the story can also be found in other religions. These religions typically have texts that helps to shed more light on the evils that were associated with Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as alternative variations as to the events that were to come.

Christianity

Christianity tells the most popularized version of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many who have heard the Christian version of the tale only see the crime of homosexual intercourse as the main reason for their demise, but there are other passages that tell of other sins such as inhospitality.

Islam

People of Lut

People of Lut

The Quran is known to contain 12 different references to the ‘people of Lut (Lot).’ This is known to be a reference to the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Quran tells that the destruction of the city was purely because of their homosexual associations. In their version, Lut prays to Allah to be saved from doing as the people around him did. In response, Allah sent the angel Gabriel to save Lut and his family. All of Lut’s family was saved, except for his wife – who was made to stay behind because of her terrible sins.

Judaism

Jewish texts prove to have the most information regarding the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as their crimes. The books of the Torah imply that the greatest sin of all is the cruelty and inhospitality of the people who lived in the plains – though they were certainly guilty of many other sins.

Writings found by Rabbis of old confirm that the people of Sodom were guilty of economic crimes that cheated people of money, blasphemy against the almighty God, and nonsensical bloodshed of many innocents (mainly beggars and travelers). The majority of these cruel attacks were targeted against strangers and those who could not provide for themselves.

The Torah also reveals that other crimes committed by the people of Sodom included adultery, pride, gluttony, strengthening the hands of evildoers, homosexual intercourse, lying, and laziness. For all of these reasons – and more – the city was wiped from the face of the earth.

Where are Sodom and Gomorrah in Modern Day?

Archeologists (especially biblical archeologists) have been fascinated with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for centuries. They have, for many years, attempted to find the cause of the destruction of the plains cities, though they often cite a natural event that was caused by the will of God for being the actual cause for demise.

There are several theories as to where the cities could be in modern day. More progressive theorists suggest that the site of Tall el-Hammam (an area in Jordan) could be the site in question. However, this theory is often pushed aside by more traditional biblical archeologists because it is northeast of the Dead Sea – not in the area that was described in the Bible. In fact, Tall el-Hammam proving to be the site of Sodom and Gomorrah would be extremely problematic – it would indicate that the Bible was not accurate and could not be taken as literally as we have thought.

Instead, the cities of Baddh-Dhra and Numeira are suggested as possible candidates, being the only known cities in the Dead Sea plains to have flourished during the necessary time period. These cities are also an ideal match because they were both destroyed by a huge fire that covered both cities in at least three feet of debris! This aligns perfectly with the descriptions of the events that are documented in the Torah, Quran, and Bible, leaving many to wonder – what happened?

Flaming Debris

There are two competing theories that seek to explain what could have destroyed these sites. The first is that a massive earthquake could have released a substance called bitumen (a substance similar to petroleum) could have been the cause of the catastrophe. Bitumen is highly flammable, leading many archaeologists to wonder if the release of bitumen into the atmosphere could have resulted in the substance somehow catching fire and destroying the cities below as it fell to the ground. Because this earthquake would have likely affected the entire plains area, it makes sense that almost all of the cities that were thriving in the area were destroyed so suddenly and without warning.

Asteroid

However, another theory suggests that an asteroid may have been the cause of the destruction. Ancient Sumerian astronomers recorded an asteroid that hit the city of Kofels (located in Austria) in the year 3000 BCE. Because of this, many people theorize that an asteroid from the same time period could have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

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