In Search of Sodom

Say the words ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ and dens of iniquity spring to mind. The Book of Genesis (Gen 19:24–25), responsible for the wicked reputation of these two terrible towns, describes the last straw – namely, when local Sodomites demanded to have sex with the angels sent by God to visit Lot. In response ‘the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire…and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground…’

Fanciful legends of a fevered biblical imagination? Not necessarily. The edge of Wadi Araba is located on a major fault line, and it’s possible that the towns were swallowed up by collapsing soil. Another possibility is that an earthquake released large amounts of underground flammable gas and bitumen (the infamous ‘slime pits’ referred to in the Old Testament), which were ignited by fire or a lightning strike.

Whatever the cause of their demise, archaeologists have long speculated about the location of the world’s most sinful cities. Many archaeologists favour the southern shore of the Dead Sea. But there’s also the Bronze Age site of Babh Adh Dhra, on the edge of Wadi Karak. This town (population roughly 1000) was destroyed in 2300 BC, but intriguingly it holds the remains of 20,000 tombs, containing an estimated half a million bodies – as such it’s odds-on favourite for Sodom. Both Babh Adh Dhra and the nearby site of Numeira, believed to be Gomorrah, are covered in a 30cm-deep layer of ash, suggesting the cities ended in a great blaze.

Natural disaster or the wrath of God? Some believe it amounts to the same thing.