Sodom and Gomorrah

Chapter 2. Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13 and 14)

Let us now look into the background of the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are Cities that played an important role in the life of Abraham and Lot. 

Genesis 13:1-4: “Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 
And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, 
to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the Name of the Lord.”

When Abraham returned from Egypt, he travelled north as far the region of Bethel (Bethel means ‘the house of God’, which one Jewish tradition says was originally a reference to the Temple Mount, Mt. Moriah, in Jerusalem). He then settled on the hills between Bethel (near Jerusalem) and Ai, in the Judean Wilderness. Now Ai was the City that Joshua took immediately after Jericho. 
So Abraham pitched his tents east of Jerusalem, on the hills that descend from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. As we will see from the passage, this location gives a view to the Jordan Valley below.

 

Genesis 13:5-9: “Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

With him was Lot, his nephew. At this time, the decision was made that they should split up, because the Land simply would not accommodate all of their herds, along with the herds of the native inhabitants of the region. So, Abraham (who was the senior) graciously asked Lot what land he wanted, giving him first choice. 

Genesis 13:10: “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the Plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the Garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you go toward Zoar.”

From these hills, east of Jerusalem, where they were grazing, Lot looked down and saw the fertile Jordan Plain, which was like the Garden of Eden, all the way down from where they were looking, 

to Zoar at the Southern end of what is now the Dead Sea. Before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and devastated the whole region around them, creating the Dead Sea in the process, the whole Jordan Plain had been like a beautiful well-watered garden, even where the Dead Sea is now. 

However, the view of the Dead Sea from where Lot was is blocked by its mountains. Only the northern end of the valley could be seen, certainly not as far south as Sodom or Gomorrah. 

One author in the late 1800s checked this out for himself, saying:
"...what can there be seen is the northern end of the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley, and the river running like a blue thread through the green plain. The hills of Engedi shut out completely all view of the southern end of the sea; but as I before said, the northern end, where the Jordan runs in, and about two or three miles of the sea, can be seen. I have wandered all over the Bethel hills and tested this question." ("The Bible and Modern Discoveries" by Henry A. Harper, a Member of the Palestine Exploration Fund Society, 1891) 

Genesis 13:11: “Then Lot chose for himself all the Plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east (going down to the part of the Jordan Valley that was visible, just north of where the Dead Sea is now). And they separated from each other.” 

Lot saw the northern end of the area now occupied by the Dead Sea. When he travelled EAST, this is where he initially went. 

Genesis 13:12: “Abram dwelt in the Land of Canaan, 
and Lot dwelt in the Cities of the Plain 
and pitched his Tent even as far as Sodom.” 

Thus Lot then: "dwelled in the Cities of the Plain of Jordan." 
This is a summary of the whole area in which Lot lived. 

This "Plain of Jordan" covered a large area, since the Northern region is what must have initially caught Lot's eye. He would first have come down from the hills to Zeboim in the northern end. 
Then, it describes Lot "dwelling" in the "Cities of the Plain", and then pitching his Tent "toward Sodom", which is generally accepted to be at the Southern End of the Dead Sea. In fact there is a Salt mountain there called Mt. Sodom. In other words he headed south in the direction of Sodom. The Bible reveals there were 5 such Cities of the Plain that Lot visited in order: Zeboim, Admah, Gomorrah, Sodom (and then after Sodom’s destruction) Zoar. 

The map opposite shows the locations of these 5 Cities based on the 5 regions of ash-like remains with embedded sulphur balls that have been discovered near the Dead Sea. We will see that these lo cations also agree with all the other clues given in the Bible.

Lot stayed in all these Cities (Genesis 19:29) as he gradually travelled down towards Sodom (the largest, as it always has the first mention in any listing) where we know he finally took up residence.

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