Sodom And Gomorrah Revisited -- By: David M. Howard, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:4 (Dec 1984)
Article: Sodom And Gomorrah Revisited
Author: David M. Howard, Jr.


Sodom And Gomorrah Revisited

David M. Howard, Jr.*

The so-called cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah in particular, are among the best known of the Biblical cities but, unlike places such as Jerusalem or Bethlehem, their fame is notorious. Sodom has lent its name to a form of behavior condemned in Scripture and as such has been the subject of a vast literature. It has also stood as a symbol of wickedness in general and of divine judgment.1 This fame has come neither on the basis of geographical, military, political or cultural importance, nor of chronological longevity, nor of archaeological significance. Rather, it is based on a few passages in Genesis—whose historical value has often been questioned—that chronicle events from a specific time.

Aside from the literary or moral use of the stories, one of their more interesting facets is the stage on which they unfolded. Perhaps because of their notoriety, perhaps because of the way in which they have resisted discovery, perhaps because of the bearing they have on the patriarchal narratives, and perhaps even because of the strangeness of the Dead Sea area, in which they were once located, the site of these cities of the plain (or the pentapolis, to use the term of Wis 10:6) has been a focus of interest for centuries. In the last hundred years, with the advent of geological and archaeological exploration, interest in the problem has been kindled afresh.

In spite of increasingly sophisticated activity, however, the fact remains that the locations of these cities are today still unidentified. This is not for lack of site proposals (there have been many) but for lack of hard, unambiguous evidence. The purpose here is to review and evaluate the evidence anew for the location of these cities and to point to a probability. The primary emphasis is geographic: Where was the pentapolis? The stimulus for this research has been the interest generated recently in a new site proposal by Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub on the basis of survey and excavation southeast of the Dead Sea.2

A bias consciously adopted here is that written records (Biblical or otherwise) speak more clearly than unwritten ones. They provide a starting point and must be given priority. Moreover, since the Bible is the primary source for the location of the cities it will figure most prominently here. Thus this essay will review all the Biblical references to these cities that shed light on their location. The conclusion here is that the Biblical data point to their location somewhere in the southern environs of the Dead Sea. The evidence from tradition will be surveyed

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