ZOAR (zō'êr, Heb. tsō‘ar, little). An ancient Canaanite city now probably under the waters of the bay at the SE part of the Dead Sea. Formerly called “Bela” (Gen.14.2), it was saved from immediate destruction with Sodom and Gomorrah in answer to the prayer of Lot, “It is very small, isn’t it?” (Gen.19.20-Gen.19.22). When Moses stood on Mount Pisgah to view the Promised Land, Zoar was at the southern limit of his view (Deut.34.3). In the “Doom of Moab” (Isa.15.1-Isa.15.9) the fleeing Moabites were to go to Zoar (Isa.15.5). We read of its later doom in Jer.48.34. During the Middle Ages it was an important point between Elath and Jerusalem.
There are, however, serious objections to this view. The Bible locates Zoar specifically at an extremity of the “Plain...the valley of Jericho” in the recital of the dimension of the Promised Land (Deut 34:3). This most naturally would be on the eastern edge of the Jordan Valley near the N end of the Dead Sea, the opposite end from the “traditional” site esp. considering that Mt. Nebo (or Pisgah) from which Moses espied the place is directly overlooking a plain which has Jericho in plain view at its western edge. Further, it is difficult to understand the purpose of the expedition to invade cities so remote, and inaccessible as the S end of the Dead Sea, by armies from Mesopotamia (Gen 14). How would Moses have seen the area at the S end of the Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo in Moab opposite Jericho (Deut 34:1, cf. v. 3), for it is cut off from view by heights intervening? The geographical notations in connection with Lot’s choice of a city of the “Plain of Jordan” (Gen 13:10-12 cf. 3, 4) seem clearly to indicate the valley of Jordan opposite Bethel and Ai, fifty or sixty m. N of the S end of the Dead Sea. Against the scholarship and traditions regarding the location of Zoar and the rest of the “Pentapolis” this writer holds that the sense of the Biblical texts is contrary.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Robinson would locate it on the northeast corner of el-Lisan on the borders of the river Kerak, but this was done entirely on theoretical grounds which would be met as well in the place just indicated, and which is generally fixed upon by the writers who regard the Vale of Siddim as at the south end of the Dead Sea. Conder, who vigorously maintains that the Vale of Siddim is at the north end of the Dead Sea, looks favorably upon theory of W.H. Birch that the place is represented by the present Tell Shaghur, a white rocky mound at the foot of the Moab Mountains, a mile East of Beth-haram (Tell er-Rameh), 7 miles Northeast of the mouth of the Jordan, a locality remarkable for its stone monuments and well-supplied springs, but he acknowledges that the name is more like the Christian Segor than the original Zoar.
George Frederick Wright