1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sodom and Gomorrah

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SODOM AND GOMORRAH, in biblical geography, two of five cities (the others named Admah, Zeboiim and Bela or Zoar) which were together known as the "cities of the Kikkar" (circle), somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea. They occupied a fertile region, chosen by Lot for his dwelling (Gen. xiii. 10-12). They were attacked by the four great Eastern kings and spoiled, but restored by the intervention of Abram and his men coming to the aid of Lot (Gen. xiv.). They were proverbial for wickedness, for which they were destroyed by a rain of "fire and brimstone" (Gen. xix.). The site of the cities, the historicity of the events narrated of them and the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed them, are matters of hot dispute. Modern names, more or less similar to the ancient appellations, have been noted in various parts of the Dead Sea area; but no certain identification can be based on these similarities. The most striking coincidence is Jebel Usdum, by some equated with confidence to Sodom. The names are radically identical; but the hill is merely a salt-ridge 600 ft. high and 7 m. long, and cannot possibly represent an ancient city. The most that can be said the names have lingered in the Jordan valley in a vague tradition—very likely helped by, if not entirely due to, literary accounts of the catastrophe—just as has the name of Lot himself in the Arab name of the Dead Sea. The catastrophe has been explained as a volcanic eruption, or an explosive outburst of gas and oil stored and accumulating at high pressure. The latter, to which parallels in geologically similar regions in America are not unknown, is the most probable natural explanation that can be offered.  (R. A. S. M.)