The story of the destruction of Sodom is certainly a very grandiose claim from Genesis, and frankly, it should be possible to prove whether or not it actually happened given the amount of architectural ruins found in the area. So, did Sodom and Gomorrah actually exist? Were they really destroyed by fire and brimstone as the Bible suggests? Let’s take a look at what history has shown regarding this particular story from Genesis.
The Cities of the Plain
In order to best understand whether or not there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is true, we first need to identify what cities were a part of the destruction and where they may reasonably be located.
Abram lived in the land of Canaan, but Lot settled in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent toward Sodom.Genesis 13:12
In the Genesis 13:12 we are given a term that describes the region in which Lot decided to dwell, the cities of the plain. We know for certain that Lot lived in Sodom, but there were other cities located nearby which were also destroyed. We know that it was not simply Sodom and Gomorrah that were destroyed, but potentially more of the cities of the plain as well, from the following verse.
So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham, and He brought Lot out of the catastrophe that destroyed the cities where he had lived.Genesis 19:29
So what were the cities of the plain? We find them listed out in Genesis 14:2 as the following:
- Bela (Zoar)
It is important to note that we know one of these cities would not have been destroyed as it is where Lot fled with his daughters.
“Look, there is a town nearby where I can flee, and it is a small place. Please let me flee there—is it not a small place? Then my life will be saved.”
“Very well,” he answered, “I will grant this request as well, and will not demolish the town you indicate. Hurry! Run there quickly, for I cannot do anything until you reach it.” That is why the town was called Zoar.Genesis 19:20-22
Based on this, we can assume the possibility that Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim were destroyed and begin looking for relevant evidence based on that. The first thing that we will really need to tackle is the potential location of these cities. There are a few clues given in the text from Genesis.
In those days Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
The latter five came as allies to the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).Genesis 14:1-3
In this verse we see all five cities of the plain listed as allies to the Valley of Siddim, suggesting they are in the region of the modern Dead Sea. The term cities of the plain, is translated a few different ways, as cities of the plain or the valley. However, when we examine the word being translated, kikkar, we see that it comes from a root meaning a circle or around. Keeping this in mind, and looking at the verse above, we could reasonably draw the conclusion that we are looking for cities which would be within the region of the Dead Sea, around the modern Jordan Valley, which may have been military allies and likely positioned along an old trade route.
The first piece of evidence for the destruction of the cities of the plains would be the Ebla tablets. The Ebla tablets are pieces of clay containing Sumerian and cuneiform writing from as early as 2500 BC. The tablets and fragments were recovered from an excavation in Ebla Syria in the 1970s and have since been the source of much controversy. One reason for this controversy is the difficulty of translating the language found on the tablets. Regardless, it appears to be generally accepted that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah appear on the tablets, giving us one indicator that these cities existed around 2500-2200 BC when the tablets may have been written.
Various excavations have revealed the ruins of multiple cities that were once flourishing and, for some reason, appear to have ceased hosting human activity for several centuries. Bab edh-Dhra, Tall El-Hammam, and Numeira are all cities that have been discovered in the area where the cities of the plain likely once stood.
Bab edh-Dhra was a fortified city located in Jordan at the southern end of the Dead Sea. It was surrounded by 7 meter thick walls and had an interior of about 9-10 acres. Although the site has suffered extensive erosional damage, it appears to have had a population of roughly 600-1200 people, and even though some might say that this is to small to have been Sodom, there is also evidence that people were living outside of the walls. I would suggest that when looking at these sorts of things, we do not initially try to make the connection to a certain set of ruins being Sodom as there were three other cities that Bab edh-Dhra could have been. Additionally, the west gate of Bab edh-Dhra appears to have been damaged and subsequently a new gate was built on the north wall. This may be consistent with Genesis 14 account of the war of the kings as well.
Numeira was younger city, occupied for less that 100 years before incurring a large amount of destruction, located near the southern Dead Sea. This site is better preserver than Bab edh-Dhra as it has apparently not incurred as much damage from erosion. The east side of the city appears to have suffered heavy burn damage of a domestic area, upon which a guard tower, or something of the kind, had been stood up. A think layer of burnt debris was uncovered across many portions of the city as the area was excavated. The area under the topsoil contained a mixture of ash and collapsed, burned, wooden beams, likely building support beams, roughly 15 inches deep. Additionally, remains were found in the asses under some of the rubble.
This archeological site is on the northern side of the Dead Sea, but is located in the lower Jordan Valley meaning that although it may not be in the location that has traditionally been thought to be where Sodom was located, it is still a viable option. Something unique about this archeological site is that there are several indicators that it suffered destruction by means of something with very high temperatures. Pottery shards have been uncovered that had been melted into glass on certain sides. This can only be caused by extremely high temperatures. The shards had only a very shallow portion that had been melted, indicating that it was only exposed to heat for a very short period of time. Both of these indicators are consistent with the biblical narrative involving fire and brimstone from the sky. Another indicator is something called “melt rock”, which is an amalgamation of multiple layers of rock that have been melted together by intense heat. Study of this rock indicated that it may have been exposed to temperatures as high as 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. One final indicator is in the soil itself. There were extremely high levels of salt in the layers of soil that are thought to have been exposed at the time of the destruction. This elevated salt level is presumed to be a result of the destruction, if the biblical account is accurate it would imply that the Dead Sea was actually the source of the salt deposits, which rendered the land unable to support agriculture for centuries afterward. Considering that all three of the archeological sites mentioned have shown signs that they were abandoned for hundreds of years following their destruction, this seems like quite a coincidence.
Have We Found Sodom?
While we cannot say with great certainty that any of these particular archeological sites are specifically Sodom or Gomorrah, I would say that there is a great deal of evidence to support the claim that these sites may be one of the cities of the plain. I would not venture so far as to claim that any particular site would qualify as a specific city, but the archeological evidence is quite remarkable and aligns with the biblical narrative in many ways. The mere fact that people were able to read the Bible, start digging in the general locations provided through from it, and find massive archeological sites with even a shred of evidence to support the biblical narrative is simply astounding. Let alone the fact that there is now a seriously considered theory of an air burst meteor event in that specific region, during the timeframe that biblical scholars place the events in Genesis. This event could explain a great number of things regarding the melted pottery, layers of ash, as well as the fire and brimstone descriptions given in the Bible.
Regardless, the evidence will never be enough to convince dedicated skeptics. One could look at any number of biblical stories, find evidence supporting the idea that they were real life occurrences, and make one of two distinct claims. One could say that evidence of a particular event further corroborates the Bible, or one could make the unsolicited claim that the biblical narrative is an exaggerated account of historical events. There will likely never be empirically conclusive evidence in either direction, and so, faith makes all the difference in the world.
Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.Hebrews 11:1