Were Sodom and Gomorrah Cities on the Edge of the Dead Sea?

For some people today the words Sodom and Gomorrah (to historians ancient Dead Sea cities) have become a metaphor for sin and wickedness.

The Old Testament book of Genesis is full of references to the two ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and for the student of Biblical history it’s not hard to understand why the names, have in some quarters, become synonymous with the aforementioned sin and wickedness.

Biblical History

Genesis 19:24 says, “Suddenly the Lord rained burning sulphur on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed them and the whole valley, along with all the people there and everything that grew on the land. But Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.”

Early Bronze Age Middle East

Setting aside this Biblical narrative and the subsequent interpretation of events this short article considers some of the scientific research that seeks to prove that Sodom and Gomorrah could have existed in the Early Bronze Age Middle East.

Are Sodom and Gomorrah Located on the Dead Sea Shores?

In a BBC article (11/5/2009) Jessica Cecil examined the work surrounding the geological research into the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah, two of (possibly five) Early Bronze Age cities situated on the Dead Sea.

Motivated by retired geologist Graham Harris, Jonathan Tubb of the British Museum began the research, with Professor Lynne Frostick a geologist from Hull (UK) University. Starting with the premise that it was unlikely that any sizeable population could survive in what is today an arid an inhospitable environment they examined the Early Bronze Age period (1800 BCE-2350 BCE) a time in history noted for its wetter climate.

Evidence From Tell es-Sa’idyeh

Archaeological work at Tell es-Sa’idyeh a site to the north of the Dead Sea produced confirmation, in the shape of an Early Bronze Age olive oil factory, that sophisticated life had existed during that period. It was encouraging supporting evidence for Frostick and Tubb.

Bearing in mind that the Biblical story tells of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah they turned next to American forensic anthropologist Professor Mike Finnegan who had previously examined three male skeletons found at Numeira near the Dead Sea.

Finnegan concluded that all three men had injuries consistent with an earthquake bringing down a stone building on top of them. Carbon dating of the remains of nearby wooden beams put their date at 2350 BCE, the Early Bronze Age.

Further work done by Israeli geologist Shmuel Marco demonstrated, because of local fault lines, that an earthquake of at least six on the Richter Scale was possible. However would an earthquake of such a magnitude completely destroy (as described in the Biblical narrative) a city? Probably not was the answer.

If Sodom and Gomorrah did exist then what happened to the remains? Professor Frostick describes a phenomenon called liquefaction, a process where an earthquake forces underground water to the surface and the solid ground turns to quicksand. For any buildings built on a slope liquefaction would mean they would be swept away. Frostick’s theory means that any buildings on the edge of the Dead Sea would disappear completely.

The detailed work also reveals highly plausible reasons, backed by solid scientific evidence, as to why a city might have been built so close to the edge of the Dead Sea.

In the end there was no proof the Sodom and Gomorrah did exist but there was enough hard evidence to show that they could well have existed and been destroyed in a cataclysmic Early Bronze Age event.

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