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Sodom (Modern Sedom) and Gomorrah

SODOM (modern Sedom) AND GOMORRAH

SODOM (modern Sedom ) AND GOMORRAH (Heb. וַעֲמֹרָה סְדֹם), two cities in the "plain" of the Jordan, usually mentioned together and sometimes with Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, which is identified with Zoar. The first biblical reference to them is in the account of the boundaries of Canaan (Gen. 10:19). They were situated in the well-watered Jordan Valley, east of Beth-El (13:10–11). Lot, Abraham's nephew, chose to dwell in Sodom; he was captured in the campaign of the four kings led by Amraphel of Shinear against the five kings of the plain (ch. 14), in which the forces of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated and their people and chattels taken as booty, until eventually rescued by Abraham. The story of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is related in Genesis 18–19: God decided to destroy them because of the grievous sins of their inhabitants. In spite of Abraham's pleas not to punish the just with the wicked, the judgment was executed, as not even ten just men could be found there. The visit of the two angels to Lot and the inhospitable behavior of the people of Sodom occurred on the occasion of the destruction. Finally, Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, and the city, together with three of the others in the plain, only Zoar being saved, was destroyed by a rain of brimstones and fire until "the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace." In later books of the Bible, the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is cited as an example of God's wrath and as a warning of future destruction (Deut. 29:22; Isa. 13:19; Amos 4:11). Jerusalem is compared to them (Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:49ff.) as are Edom (Jer. 49:18), Babylon (Jer. 50:40), and Moab (Zeph. 2:9). In all these cases, their names indicate the extent of the destruction to come as punishment for a people's sins.

The geographical and historical problems connected with the fate of these two cities are related to the tectonic nature of the Dead Sea. The creation of the Jordan rift certainly antedates Abraham, but local upheavals are by no means excluded. Sodom and Gomorrah are usually assumed to be beneath the southern part of the Dead Sea, south of the lisān, the peninsula jutting into the sea, which is shallow and more recent than the rest of the depression. Local tradition, as represented in the Arabic name of the salt mountain, Jebel al-Sudūm or mountain of Sodom, favors the southern site. Some scholars, however, have looked for the two cities at the northern end of the Dead Sea or near Bāb al-Dhrāʿ, east of the lisān. No clear archaeological evidence has yet been produced in favor of either theory, although the location of Zoar indicates that ancient tradition placed the five cities at the southern end of the Dead Sea.

[Michael Avi-Yonah]

In the Aggadah

Sodom was the incarnation of wickedness, but wickedness of a special type. It was an evil-mindedness and hard-heartedness which consisted of the inhabitants basing their actions on the strict letter of the law. For instance, when a stranger passed through their territory, he was besieged and robbed of whatever he possessed. However, each Sodomite was careful to take only a trifle, so that when the victim remonstrated with the thieves each would claim that he had taken a mere pittance (less than a perutah) which was not worth discussion. After a while, they decided entirely to discourage wayfarers whom they felt were only coming to deplete their wealth, which God had lavished upon them to the extent that even their wheat contained gold dust (Job 28:6; Sanh. 109a). If a lost soul did occasionally wander into Sodom, they fulfilled the dictates of hospitality by giving lodging to the stranger. They had standard-sized beds on which travelers slept. If the stranger was too long for the bed, they shortened him by lopping off his feet – if too short, they stretched him out (a parallel to the Procrustean bed of Greek mythology). If a poor man happened to come there, every resident gave him charity, bricks of gold and silver, upon which he had written his name, but no bread was given to him. When he died of starvation, each came and took his gold and silver back.

There were four judges in Sodom who meted out justice in a unique fashion. Their names were Shakrai ("liar"), Shakurai ("awful liar"), Zayyafi ("forger"), and Mazle Dina ("perverter of justice"). If a man assaulted his neighbor, the judges required the victim to pay the assailant a medical fee for the "bleeding" he received. The judges also ruled that a man had to pay eight zuzim for crossing through the waters of a river although the fee was only four zuzim when he crossed by ferry. On another occasion they ruled in favor of a Sodomite who stole a carpet from a traveler, and insisted that the stranger had only dreamed that he possessed it. In addition, the outsider was charged three pieces of silver for having his dream interpreted. If a man assaulted his neighbor's wife and caused her to miscarry, the judges ruled that the woman had to be given to the assailant so she would become pregnant from him to compensate for the lost child (Sanh. 109a–b; Sefer ha-Yashar, Va-Yera). Charity was forbidden on penalty of death, since it was felt that its practice encouraged the proliferation of beggars. Paltit, the daughter of Lot, secretly sustained a wandering beggar. The Sodomites could not understand why the beggar did not perish and they suspected that he was being given food in secret. Three men concealed themselves near the beggar and Paltit was caught in the act of giving him sustenance. She was put to death by being burned upon a pyre. The doom of Sodom was sealed when a young maiden was caught giving bread, which she had hidden in her pitcher, to a poor man. Once her crime became known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall and the bees came and consumed her. The cries of the unfortunate girl finally made God resolve to destroy these sinners (Sanh. 109b; Sefer ha-Yashar; Va-Yera; Gen. R. 49:6). God destroyed the city at dawn of the 16th day of Nisan when both the moon and sun were in the heavens, since there were both moon and sun worshipers in Sodom (Gen. R. 50:12).

This attitude of firmly sticking to the letter of the law is reflected in the halakhah of Middat Sedom, "acting in the manner of Sodom," (Ket. 103a; bb 12b) about a man who refuses to confer a benefit which costs him nothing (bb 12b). The meaning of the sin of Sodom perpetuated in the English language by applying the word sodomy to homosexuality, though based on the Bible (Gen. 19:5–8), is not overstressed in the Midrash.

[Aaron Rothkoff]

Modern Times

In the 20th century the name Sedom was given to the site at the northwestern corner of the Dead Sea and at the foot of the huge salt plug of Mount Sodom (see *Land of Israel, Physiography), where the auxiliary installations of the Palestine Potash Company were set up in 1937. Lying 1,295 ft. (395 m.) below sea level, Sedom has the world's lowest-situated industrial plant. The Palestine Potash Co. was established in 1929, and its Kallia plant, at the northern end of the Dead Sea, began production of potash and bromides in 1932. The opening of the Sedom branch works was necessitated by the lack of room for evaporation pans at Kallia. The carnallite extracted at Sedom was ferried over the Dead Sea north to Kallia, where, during World War ii, potash production reached an approximate 100,000 tons annually, thus supplying about half of Great Britain's requirements at the time. The relatively small quantities of bromide also constituted an important contribution to the Allied war effort. The 1947 un partition plan provided for the inclusion of Sedom and the Dead Sea shore from there north to En-Gedi in the proposed Jewish state. During the Israel War of Independence, the Sedom Works, accessible only by boat, were completely cut off for many months. Reinforced by the workers and settlers from Kallia and *Bet ha-Aravah, who had to evacuate those two places in May 1948 and could only be transferred to Sedom, the core of laborers held out under severe hunger and thirst until contact with the rest of Israel was renewed in "Operation Lot" (December, 1948). The Kallia works remained in Jordanian hands and were completely razed by the Arab Legion; thus the renewal of production at Sedom had to be deferred until 1954, after the Beersheba-Sedom road was built. In the intervening years, existing machinery had become useless through corrosion, and a new plant had to be built. In 1955, the Bromide Company was founded, and it set up its factory near the Sedom Potash Works. Soon after, both enterprises were integrated into the Dead Sea Works. In the initial years, however, output at both plants did not progress satisfactorily, because only part of the evaporation pans had remained accessible (the rest were included in Jordanian territory) and the labor force was unstable. It was therefore decided to replace the system of having laborers live at the spot in temporary quarters and then take home leave for seven to ten days by having a labor force composed only of inhabitants of *Dimonah (and later also *Arad), who could go home every evening. Only in 1957/58 was the previous potash output of 100,000 tons again attained, 151,000 tons were produced in 1962/63 and 188,000 tons in 1963/64. Two steps led to a considerable expansion: the turning of most of the Israel half of the southern Dead Sea basin, an area of 50 sq. mi. (130 sq. km.), into evaporation pans through the construction of a huge containing dike and 25 mi. (40 km.) of other dikes; and the construction in 1964 of a second potash plant which used the hot leaching instead of the cold flotation method (for technical details see *Israel, State of: Economic Affairs, Mineral Resources). In 1964/65, potash output reached 320,000 tons and in 1970 approached 1,000,000 tons after a third plant with a 400,000 tons annual capacity was begun in 1969. From 1970, potash production and exports regained their profitability after a price slump on the world market was overcome. In 2001, potash production stood at 1.77 million tons. Bromine output rose from 5,120 tons in 1964/65 to 206,000 tons in 2001. Another plant at Sedom produces table salt of high purity and industrial salts. The simultaneous progressive mechanization and introduction of electronic devices made feasible the reduction of the labor force.

[Shlomo Hasson]

In the Arts

The interconnected biblical accounts of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and the wicked "Cities of the Plain" have inspired a number of writers and artists, but relatively few composers. One of the rare medieval treatments in literature is the English mystery play, Histories of Lot and Abraham (in Ms). Thereafter interest waned until the late 16th century with the publication of an anonymous English ballad, Of the Horrible and Woeful Destruction of Sodome and Gomorra (London, 1570). This was followed by Conflagratio Sodomae (1607), a five-act neo-Latin tragedy by Andreas Saurius, who also published a German version of the drama (Strasbourg, 1607); and G. Lesley's English verse play, Fire and Brimstone; or the Destruction of Sodom (London, 1675). Some of the most significant treatments of the theme have been written by 20th-century authors. Perhaps the most brilliant – and certainly the most disturbing – dramatic interpretation of the subject was Jean Giraudoux's Sodome et Gomorrhe (1943), first staged in 1946. Here the French playwright broadened the sweep of the original account and reduced the biblical quorum of ten righteous persons needed to preserve the cities from their overthrow to a single couple, whose inability to maintain normal sexual harmony results in the final catastrophe. Other 20th-century treatments include Robert Brendel's German tale, Die grosse Hure (1920); Maria Ley-Piscator's novel, Lot's Wife (1954); and Nikos Kazantzakis' Greek drama, Sodhoma kye Ghomorra (1956), which attempts to establish a parallel between the biblical past and the menacing present.

In art, the chief episodes treated are Lot's flight from Sodom and his incestuous relationship with his daughters. The flight from Sodom (Gen. 19:16ff., 29) is a favorite choice of artists, the burning city (Gen. 19:24ff.) often being shown in the background, although (unlike the Flood) it seldom formed a subject in itself. The transformation of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26) was sometimes also incorporated in the flight. The pillar occasionally appears as a column with the head of Lot's wife as a capital. In some medieval representations, a goat is shown licking the salt at the base of the pillar, because Lot's wife represents the man who, having been delivered from sin, returns, and "the man who returns to sin is hardened like a rock and is licked by infernal wild beasts" (Speculum Humanae Salvationis). The subject is found in the sixth-century Vienna Genesis and in the 12th-century mosaics at Monreale. It figures in medieval carvings, stained glass, and manuscripts, including the 13th-century St. Louis Psalter (Bibliothèque Nationale) and Sarajevo *Haggadah, where the burning of Sodom and the transformation of Lot's wife appear as separate episodes. In the Renaissance, the subject appears in a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Campo Santo, Pisa; in the Raphael Loggia in the Vatican; and in a painting by Paolo Veronese in the Louvre. There is also a painting of the subject (Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington) attributed to Duerer. The subject was later treated in paintings by Rubens (Louvre) and Guido Reni (National Gallery, London). *Rembrandt made a pen-and-ink drawing of Lot's departure. The salacious theme of the elderly, drunken Lot making love to his daughters (Gen. 19:30–38) appealed especially to German, Dutch, and Flemish artists of the Renaissance, and to Italian artists of the 17th century. In many pictures, the elder daughter is shown sitting on his knees, while the younger plies him with wine. The subject appears in the Vienna Genesis and in a few other medieval sources; and in paintings by Lucas Cranach (Pinakothek, Munich), Albrecht Altdorfer and Quentin Massys in the Vienna Museum, and Lucas van Leyden (Louvre). The last artist also made a copper engraving of the subject. Other treatments include that by Rubens in the Louvre, a pen-and-ink sketch by Rembrandt, paintings by David Teniers (Pinakothek, Munich), Simon Vouet (Strasbourg Museum) and by Italian artists of the period, including Guercino-Goya and Gustave Courbet who also painted the subject.

In Music

Only slight interest in the subject has been displayed in this field. Beethoven's teacher, Simon Sechter, wrote a two-part oratorio, Sodoms Untergang (1840), which was apparently never performed. Other settings are few and forgotten. For Giraudoux' drama, Sodome et Gomorrhe (1943), the incidental music was written by Arthur Honegger.

[Bathja Bayer]

bibliography:

F.M. Abel, Une Croisière autour de la Mer Morte (1911), 78ff.; E. Powe, in: Biblica, 11 (1930), 23ff. (Eng); R. Koeppel, ibid. 13 (1932), 6ff. (Ger.); Clapp, in: American Journal of Archaeology, 40 (1936), 335ff.; M.J. Lagrange, in: rb, 41 (1932), 489ff. (Fr.); J.P. Harland, in: ba, 5 (1942), 17ff.; 6 (1943), 41ff.; P. Lapp, in: rb, 73 (1966), 556ff. (Fr.); em, s.v. (incl. bibl.). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index.

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