SODOM, SODOMA (sŏd'ŭm, sŏ-dō'ma, Heb. sedhōm, Gr. Sodoma). One of the so-called “Cities of the Plain,” along with Admah, Gomorrah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. The site of “the Plain” has been variously conjectured. Sir George Adam Smith pointed out that “no authentic trace” remains, but recently the suggestion has been revived that “the Plain” is the shallow southern end of the Dead Sea, and that the waters cover the remains. Underwater archaeology may or may not confirm this assertion, which appears first to have been made by Thomson in his nineteenth-century classic, The Land and the Book.
SODOM sŏd’ əm (סְדֹ֔ם; LXX Σόδομα, G5047, meaning uncertain). One of the five cities of the plain where Lot lived and which was spectacularly destroyed because of its sin.
The Biblical record.
Sodom first occurs in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. “The territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha” (v. 19). The locations of most of these places are unknown.
When strife arose between the herdsmen of Lot and those of his uncle Abraham, Abraham offered Lot the choice of the land. Standing on the spine of Pal. at Bethel, Lot looked eastward and, seeing that the Jordan valley was well watered, chose that part of the country (Gen 13:8-11).
The fourteenth ch. of Genesis then records the battle of the “four kings against five.” The record seems to indicate that the five cities of the plain, or valley, were vassals to Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam. After twelve years of such servitude they rebelled and hence invited the wrath of the suzerain (vv. 1-4). Apparently not merely these five cities but all the holdings in S Pal. were in rebellion, since the coalition from Mesopotamia subdued other peoples to the S and W of the Dead Sea before they “joined battle in the Valley of Siddim” with the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela or Zoar” (vv. 5-9). An interesting bit of information is inserted here about the terrain on which the battle took place—“Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits” (v. 10). It is not without some success, however, that the four eastern kings left. “The enemy took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions, and went their way; they also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed” (vv. 11f.). Abraham with his men chased Chedorlaomer all the way to Dan and rescued Lot. The king of Sodom wanted to reward Abraham, but the patriarch refused everything except what his men had eaten (vv. 21-24).
Sodom never occurs again in the Bible as a living city, but the memory of its sin and consequent destruction was kept alive by Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and the authors of the NT. Sodom and Gomorrah have become bywords and tokens of God’s wrath on sin (e.g., Isa 1:10; Ezek 16:46; Zeph 2:9; Matt 11:23f.; Rev 11:8, et al.).
The most probable location of the five cities of the plain, including Sodom, is beneath the waters of the S end of the Dead Sea. South of the Lisan (tongue) peninsula the waters are very shallow, with an average depth of ten ft. Until recent years the sea was growing larger because the intake exceeded the rate of evaporation. It is very likely that at one time the S part was not only dry, but occupied and fertile. The “bitumen pits” of Genesis 14 may be where the water was beginning to seep into that area.
There is a five m. long mountain range W of the S end of the Dead Sea made up largely of crystalline salt. It is called Jebel Usdum (Mt. Sodom). Many free-standing pinnacles are there and one is appropriately named “Lot’s wife.” The name of the range may antedate the destruction of the cities.
Another reason for believing that these cities now lie buried under the Sea is the presence of a religious shrine at Bab edh-Dhra. This site is five m. SE of the Lisan and is thought to have served worshipers from the valley cities. Its pottery evidence ranges from 2300 to 1900 b.c., which fits well with the date of Abraham.
The strongest argument against this location is the use of the word “plain,” or “valley” (Heb. circle) of the Jordan (Gen 13:10-12). Usually this term refers to the broad plain just N of the Dead Sea (cf. Deut 34:3). The only way the S location can be justified in the light of this word is to understand the term “valley” to refer to the whole rift in which are the Jordan and the Dead Sea.
There is a modern town called Sodom founded in 1953 on the W bank of the Dead Sea just N of Jebel Usdum.
W. F. Albright, BASOR, XIV (1924), 5-7; AASOR, VI (1924-1925), 58-62; M. G. Kyle, Explorations in Sodom (1928); J. P. Harland, “Sodom and Gomorrah” BA, V (1942), 17-32; VI (1943), 41-54.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(cedhom; Sodoma) One of the 5 CITIES OF THE PLAIN (which see), destroyed by fire from heaven in the time of Abraham and Lot (Ge 19:24). The wickedness of the city became proverbial. The sin of sodomy was an offense against nature frequently connected with idolatrous practices (see Rawlinson, History of Phoenicia). See Sodomite. The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is used as a warning to those who reject the gospel (Mt 10:15; 11:24; 2Pe 2:6; Jude 1:7). The word is used in a typical sense in Re 11:8. Sodom was probably located in plain South of the Dead Sea, now covered with water. The name is still preserved in Jebel Usdum (Mt. Sodom).
Dillmann. Genesis, 111 f; Robinson, BR, II, 187 ff; G. A. Smith, HGHL, 505 ff; Blanckenhorn, ZDPV, XIX, 1896, 53 ff; Baedeker-Socin, Palestine, 143; Buhl, GAP, 117, 271, 274.