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Are there any historical accounts, biblical or otherwise, that shed light on what types of people lived in Sodom and Gomorrah? I'm especially curious about any extra-biblical accounts of these two places.

Such accounts might shed some light on whether God's treatment of these two cities was justified.

  • This is pretty broad and open ended... – curiousdannii Oct 26 '14 at 23:13
  • Even if there were historical accounts would it mean that they were correct? Do we not know God enough to know that His actions were justified? – Beestocks Feb 19 '15 at 20:42
  • A good place to start your research might be here: aish.com/ci/sam/48931527.html. Also check out the resource cited by Michael Roth, below. These cites are obviously not extra-biblical sources of information about the cities in question, but they do lend credence to the validity of the story as it is found in Genesis. Don – rhetorician Aug 24 '15 at 22:54
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Historical information

This question seeks historical information about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their people. The Bible tells us nothing of historical value, beyond the plan to destroy the cities and the execution of that plan, which therefore places emphasis on any extra-biblical information available. It is not necessary for extra-biblical sources to confirm the biblical account of their destruction, although there ought to be mention of the two cities in the records of other civilisations. The Bible says that Sodom and Gomorrah stood out among all cities in the Near East because the people were so evil as to be beyond redemption, which at least ought to have elicited stories of disreputable cities that travellers should avoid. Unfortunately, every attempt to find extra-biblical references to the two cities, or even to interpret the same cities as being known by other names, has come to a dead end.

An argument from silence, reasonable in this instance, is that there is no extra-biblical record of the cities being destroyed in this way. Such an awe-inspiring event would surely have been recorded by other people, but with no record of it, there are now grounds for accepting that the destruction did not occur as portrayed in the Bible. Historically, the biblical account might have been a folk-memory of a natural disaster, perhaps similar to the volcano that destroyed Pompeii but on a far smaller scale.

Justification of God's actions

The question also requires in part that we judge God by human standards. In doing so, we have to see God's actions as ethical or, at least, fair, no matter how harsh. In answering the question, we can not say that God is beyond question, nor that he created us and is therefore entitled to deal with us as he wishes. If his justice is exhaustive and perfect, then the evidence will demonstrate this to be the case.

God's actions can be broken down into two parts: destroying the cities; and turning Lot's wife into a pillar of salt because she looked back. Fairness or otherwise in dealing with Lot's wife will shed light on the justification for God's treatment of these two cities.

Destruction of the cities

In Genesis 18:32, the Lord said that he would not destroy Sodom if as few as ten righteous persons could be found there. As a starting point, that seems a very reasonable promise. Notice that God does not say he knows how many righteous persons could be found there, so we need a story to establish just how thoroughly evil Sodom was.

The messengers went to Sodom and lodged with Lot and his wife and two daughters. The men of the entire town came and demanded to homosexually rape the two men (Genesis 19:5), proving how evil the place was. Notice that we simply assume that not ten men in the entire town stood back and refused to take part; notice also that all the women and children of the town have to be regarded as equally guilty as the men, or we must assume that women and children have no rights apart from their menfolk - otherwise God must at least spare them. Without proof that none of the town's men refused to take part in the attempted rape, and without proof that the women of the town were complicit, then God has not kept his word.

Genesis 19:24 says that Gomorrah was also destroyed in the same event. Was Gomorrah equally as evil as Sodom? From what we are told, we simply do not know. Justification has not been established by the biblical account.

Lot's wife

Lot and his wife were told to flee the city of Sodom in case they were consumed and not to look back as they went (Genesis 19:17). There was no warning that any of the family would be punished in some way if they so much as looked back, and in any case it would have been unjust if they were threatened with reprisals for looking back. In Genesis 19:26:

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

If this is what happened to Lot's wife, it was entirely unjustified. We can not really say that it is either fair or just to destroy a wife and mother because God told her not to look back.

  • Zoar cannot be located?? – curiousdannii Feb 19 '15 at 7:28
  • @curiousdannii WEl, I may be wrong & if so will alter this, which is merely incidental. Your ref says: "Prior to the major archaeological excavations in the 1980s and 1990s that took place in Zoara, scholars proposed that several sites in the area of Khirbet Sheikh 'Isa and al-Naq' offered further evidence of Zoara's location and history." There are more tantalising suggestion of what might have been the same town. Do you think the case of identification of Zoar is made? – Dick Harfield Feb 19 '15 at 7:44
  • Your answer just sounds so definitive. No one knows exactly where the Troy of the Iliad was, but there's little doubt it existed. The Biblical story may be mythical, but people have been mentioning Zoar for millennia. – curiousdannii Feb 19 '15 at 8:55
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    @curiousdannii Perhaps Occam's Razor should have told me not to make a statement that was entirely incidental to my answer. Zoar might well have been an actual town, whether or not in the locality suggested: anyway I have now removed it. Thanks for making the point. – Dick Harfield Feb 19 '15 at 19:54
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Here are some of the most relevant Biblical accounts I have found:

[Genesis 13:13 NKJV] 13 But the men of Sodom [were] exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.

[Genesis 18:20-26 NKJV] 20 And the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, 21 "I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know." 22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 And Abraham came near and said, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 "Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare [it] for the fifty righteous that were in it? 25 "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26 So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes."

Abraham negotiates it down to 10 people, and even still, if there were 10 righteous people in the city, God would not destroy it. The next portion illustrates how great their sin is:

[Gen 19:1-18 NKJV] 1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw [them], he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. 2 And he said, "Here now, my lords, please turn in to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." And they said, "No, but we will spend the night in the open square." 3 But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them [carnally]." 6 So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, 7 and said, "Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! 8 "See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof." 9 And they said, "Stand back!" Then they said, "This one came in to stay [here], and he keeps acting as a judge; now we will deal worse with you than with them." So they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near to break down the door. 10 But the men reached out their hands and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck the men who [were] at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary [trying] to find the door. 12 Then the men said to Lot, "Have you anyone else here? Son-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city--take [them] out of this place! 13 "For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

In the previous passage, the men of Sodom tried to rape the angels, who were also male. Lot was trying to protect them. They tried to break into Lot's house so they could rape them, and tried to harm Lot too. Even when the angels struck the men with blindness, they kept trying to break in! Their sin was indeed very bad.

I don't know of any extra-biblical sources, hopefully someone else can post these.

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    Wasn't the OP asking for extra-biblical sources? – David Stratton Oct 26 '14 at 17:49
  • It appears biblical, and extra-biblical (although I don't know of any extra biblical references) – Jonathan Oct 26 '14 at 17:55
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Josephus said this of Sodom in "The Jewish War"

"The length of this lake [Dead Sea] is sixty-seven miles measured from Zoar in Arabia the width seventeen. Next to it lies the land of Sodom, once rich in crops and in the wealth of its cities, but now dust and ashes. They say that owing to the impiety of its inhabitants it was burned up by lightning; indeed there are still marks of fire from heaven and outlines of five cities to be seen, and ashes still form part of the growing fruits, which have the appearance of edible fruit, but when plucked with the hand dissolve to smoke and ashes. The extent to this story about Sodom and Geomorrah are confirmed by our eyes."

Jude 1:7

As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighboring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication, and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

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I recently came across some research on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah put out by the Associates for Biblical Research that states the cities where found and also refers to ancient mention of Sodom from trade records that date back to about 2200 b.c. There is also reference to the city of Zoar and a temple or shrine built in front of a cave believed to be the one that Lot and his daughters lived in I found it to be an interesting read and I hope it helps to answer any questions you have.

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