Cities of the Valley

Har Sedom, located near the southern end of the Dead Sea and the cities that once surrounded it.

CITIES OF THE VALLEY (עָרֵ֣י הַכִּכָּ֔ר, LXX τας πόλεις τη̂ς περιοίκου). This phrase occurs in Genesis 13:12 and 19:29 and is tr. in KJV as “cities of the plain.”

Genesis 13:10 records that prior to the destruction of these cities, the area where they were located was of unusual fertility, meriting comparison with the Garden of Eden, and the delta of the Nile River in Egypt. Some have held that this could be true only of the irrigated land about Jericho, but more recent exploration around the S end of the Dead Sea has convinced many that, in ancient times, verdant crops could have been produced along the southeastern side of the Dead Sea. To a limited extent, this is true today, but there is evidence that the shallow embayment S of the Lisan, a tongue-like peninsula which projects from the E shore, was not an ancient feature of the Dead Sea.

Adequate water pours into this southern area from four streams: the Seil ’Esal, the Seil en-Numeirah, the Seil el-Qurahi, and the Seil el-Feifeh. Assuming that at one time these streams flowed across the area now covered by salt water, each would adequately supply enough fresh water to support a settlement by means of irrigation.

Genesis 19 tells of the sudden destruction of four of the five cities. It seems that Zoar, to which Lot and his daughters temporarily fled, was spared because, presumably, it was located in the Wadi es-Safi and thus somewhat protected from the holocaust.

All the natural ingredients which, according to Genesis 19, were involved in the cataclysm are present in the southern part of the Dead Sea. Bitumen still oozes from the floor of the sea and floats on its surface. Since 1953 Israel has been pumping both oil and gas from wells drilled nearby. Earthquakes, which could release and ignite volumes of gas in this greatest of earth’s faults, are common. There is still a small mountain of salt, called Jebel Usdum, at the SW corner of the Dead Sea. Earthquakes could also lower the valley floor enough to allow water from the upper part of the Dead Sea to overflow into the area where the cities were situated, so that presently their ruins would be under water.

A nearby site, Bab edh-Dhra’, has yielded pottery dating from 2300 to 1900 b.c. Apparently it was the religious high place of the cities of the valley. The fact that it fell into disuse early in the 19th cent. also points to the time when these cities ceased to have a population.


W. F. Albright, “The Archaeological Results of an Expedition to Moab and the Dead Sea,” BASOR, 14, April (1924), 2-12; M. G. Kyle, “The Story of Ancient Sodom in the Light of Modern Science,” BS, LXXXI, July (1924), 264-270; &--;— “Results of the Archaeological Survey of the Ghor in Search for the Cities of the Plain.” BS, LXXXI, July (1924), 276-291; &--;—— Explorations at Sodom; The Religious Tract Society (1928); F. G. Clapp, “The Site of Sodom and Gomorrah,” AJA (1936), 323-344.