The biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah can easily be mistaken for fantasy. Indeed, the story of two cities destroyed by "fire and brimstone" for the sinful behavior of their inhabitants looks far-fetched. However, archaeologists confirm the existence of these cities and their terrible death.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah takes us back to the early period of Jewish history. The ancestors of the Jews led a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Their leader during the times of Sodom and Gomorrah was the patriarch Abraham, revered as a founding father through his son Isaac by all Jews, and through the other son of Ishmael by all Arabs.
Abraham plays a prominent role in both the Old Testament and the Qur'an, where the story of his life is presented in essentially the same way. If we literally interpret the biblical chronology, the events described took place around 2200 BC.
Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees (Sumerian Ur, now Iraq), then lived in Harran. It was then that God revealed to Abraham his fate: he had to move to Canaan (now Palestine).
At the behest of God, Abraham, taking his wife and relative Lot with his family, went to Canaan. There, all together took up cattle breeding. The shepherds of Abraham and Lot were in conflict over pastures, and Abraham offered to split up: Lot and his family migrated further east (modern Jordan) to the city of Sodom.
In modern times, the area is a barren, hot wasteland, but in those days there were five thriving cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Sevoim, Adma and Sigor.
According to Genesis, it all had to change in one day. The Bible constantly mentions the "depravity" of the inhabitants of the cities, especially Sodom and Gomorrah.
The nature of this depravity, which is usually mistaken for a penchant for sexual perversion, remains unclear. But among the sins of the sodomites, one of the first places was occupied by inhospitable: they rudely treated two angels, whom Lot invited to his house as guests of honor.
The inhabitants of Sodom demanded that Lot lead them out into the street, and began to break the door, but were blinded by the angels, who announced to Lot that God had sent them to punish the city; he must immediately take his family and go to the mountains, in no case looking back.
Lot took his wife and daughters and left the city, which soon turned into smoking ruins. His wife, as you know, broke the ban, turned around to look and turned into a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters and their father took refuge in a mountain cave; they were afraid that they were the only living people in the world.
Then comes one of the colorful, but not entirely decent passages that are often found in the texts of the Old Testament. Lot's daughters got him drunk and slept with him in turns; as a result, both conceived sons. These sons became the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites - Jordanian tribes, the sworn enemies of the Israelites.
After that, we no longer hear about Lot. As for Abraham, he watched the disaster from a safe distance from southern Palestine.
No matter how you relate to this story, it is replete with colorful details. The episode about Lot and his daughters is clearly an ancient Hebrew "moral story" invented with an almost comical purpose: to explain what "wicked" in the literal and figurative sense were the enemies of the Israelites.
It is not difficult to guess the origin of the idea of transforming Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. The Dead Sea coastline is dotted with columns of crystalline salt of the most varied forms.
A human-like column could have spawned a biblical story. The area is also very rich in native sulfur, which is sometimes found in the form of small balls. This circumstance could give rise to the legend that God once brought down sulfur (fiery) rain on the earth.
Analogies with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be found in the myths of other peoples. For example, in Greek myth, Orpheus will save his wife Eurydice from Hades only on the condition that she does not look back when she leaves the Lower World; she looked back, and Orpheus lost her forever.
The story of the visit of two angels is very similar to another story from ancient myths in the retelling of Ovid, which tells how the gods Mercury and Jupiter, who took the form of mortals, came to a city in Phrygia and were unpleasantly surprised by the unfriendliness of the locals.
In retaliation for their ill-treatment, they destroyed the whole city, sparing only a couple of elderly poor people who took them into their house and fed them. And the plot about the city, destroyed to the ground for the sins of its inhabitants, was very popular.
The Bible students themselves had little to say in favor of the hypothesis of the reality of Sodom and Gomorrah. Reverend T.K. Cheyne, professor of Oriental Studies and Scripture Interpretation at Oxford University, in an article published in The Bible Encyclopedia in 1903, interpreted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a variant of the familiar myth of the catastrophic flood, where the sins of the people are punished by the Great Flood.
In 1924, the archaeological expedition of W.F. Albright found the remains of a Bronze Age settlement (approximately 3100-2300 BC) at Bab al-Dahra. But only in the 70s. archaeologists began to realize the true significance of the discovery.
Even before the excavations, it became clear that the city was destroyed by fire. Subsequently, it remained abandoned for 2 thousand years.
It is not the only Palestinian settlement to suffer this fate. In 1975, archaeologists Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub discovered Numeria, another Early Bronze Age settlement 11 km south with traces of a massive fire.
By 1980, they had presented preliminary findings: the settlements they discovered were the very five "cities on the plain" from Genesis.
What was the cause of the destruction of the five thriving cities? Are there points of contact between archeology and religion?
The Bible says that God rained fire and brimstone on the cities. Lightning strikes are often accompanied by a sulphurous smell, and some ancient authors, including Tacitus, believed that lightning was the cause of the death of cities. Josephus Flavius mentions "arrows of thunder", or simply "lightning".
As geologist Dorothy Vitaliano noted, "It is unlikely that the lightning bolt by itself could have caused a fire that killed four cities" (some have argued that Sigor survived the disaster).
But let's take one more factor into account. It has been known since ancient times that the Dead Sea region is rich in oil. Genesis mentions "tar pits" in the Siddim Valley near Sodom, and in the time of Josephus, the Dead Sea was generally called the Asphalt Lake because of the huge pieces of bitumen floating in it. Their number increased sharply after earthquakes.
Sodom and Gomorrah were actually sitting on a powder keg. In addition, they were built on a large fault in the earth's crust, one of the main zones of seismic activity on the planet. An earthquake, of course, can lead to a fire.
D. Vitaliano agrees with the assumptions of his predecessors: “A powerful earthquake occurred in the Siddim Valley about 2000 BC It was accompanied by emissions of natural combustible gases and bitumen, ignited by fires in homes.
If some rocks with a high bitumen content were used in the construction of external walls or buildings, they served as additional fuel for the fire. "
It is interesting to note that she wrote this in 1973, before the publication of the Rest and Schaub discovery. And recent studies have confirmed that earthquakes played a key role in the destruction of cities.
Two prominent specialists - D. Negev from the Geological Survey of Israel and K. Amery from the Woodshall Oceanographic Laboratory (Massachusetts) dedicated a whole book to Sodom and Gomorrah.
According to them, from a geological point of view, it is quite possible that the history of the dead cities retained echoes of the popular memory of a powerful seismic cataclysm at the end of the early Bronze Age.
The Negev and Aymery believe that the main fuel for the fire was the hydrocarbons poured out of the fractures in the soil.
Attention should be paid to the fact that the bitumen in this area is very rich in sulfur. The streams of hot salt water from the earthquake could produce a deadly mixture of combustible gases rich in sulfur and hydrogen sulfide.
So what, the secret of Sodom and Gomorrah can be considered solved? But let's wait to send the topic to the archive. It turned out that simultaneously with the earthquake in the area southeast of the Dead Sea, there were sharp climatic changes.
Lands that were once abundant and fertile are suddenly dry and hot. That is why, after the death of the cities, these places were not inhabited for so long. A severe drought lasted for about 300 years, and during this time barren wastelands formed.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that the deaths of Sodom and Gomorrah are just one small piece of a large-scale puzzle. At the same time as the dramatic deterioration of the climate, virtually all of the great urban centers of the Levant were destroyed, many by an earthquake.
Throughout Turkey, at least 300 cities were burned down and abandoned; among them was Troy. At the same time, the Greek civilization of the early Bronze Age fell into decay.
In Egypt, the era of the Old Kingdom and the great builders of the pyramids came to an end. The level of the Nile plummeted and the western Sahara recaptured vast areas that were once fertile.
Today, many facts indicate that a natural disaster in the Middle East at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. was part of a global cataclysm. Some scientists believe that the collision of the Earth with large meteorites and fragments of comets is to blame.
This caused a sharp increase in seismic activity and climate change due to the release of huge amounts of dust into the atmosphere. A larger celestial body that fell in the area of a fault in the earth's crust could lead to an earthquake and to volcanic eruptions.
This consideration brings us back to the biblical account of events. What was the nature of the "heavenly fire" that, according to Genesis, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? The "lightning" in the chronicles of Josephus Flavius is not an ordinary lightning, as it might seem at first glance.
Of the two Greek words with which he describes this event (keraunos - "lightning" and bolos - "projectile"), neither is used in the context of describing an ordinary thunderstorm. In particular, the word keraunos was used to describe the sacred, most deadly weapon of the god Zeus, which he used only on special occasions.
In the Hellenistic world, Zeus, as the god of thunder, was associated with a number of meteorite cults, and the "heavenly stones" were preserved and revered for centuries after their fall.
It may seem like a big stretch that Sodom and Gomorrah, located on the fault line of the earth's crust, and even above the deposits of combustible hydrocarbons, were also hit by a meteorite.
But if the catastrophe, according to the testimony of contemporaries, occurred during a heavy meteor shower, the causes and effects could well have changed places in the minds of people. A meteorite or comet fragment that fell elsewhere could cause seismic shocks, while smaller debris burnt up in the atmosphere lit up the night sky ...
Thus, the many times ridiculed story of Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by "heavenly fire" may be a curious example of human reaction in one small corner of the world to a catastrophe on a global scale.