Two cities, legendary for their incorrigible wickedness (Gen. 13.13) and for their ultimate annihilation by God in a cataclysm of “brimstone and fire” (Gen. 19.24–25). In the story of Abraham's war against the kings of the east (Gen. 14), Sodom and Gomorrah are numbered among the “five cities” in the “Valley of Siddim,” along with Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. Abraham's nephew Lot sojourned for a time in Sodom but fled at divine instigation before the city's final devastation (Gen. 19.15–22). Passages mentioning Sodom and Gomorrah generally agree in locating them along the southern shore of the Dead Sea, but so far no archaeological evidence for their existence has been found there. Suppositions that their remains may yet be discovered beneath the shallow waters of the southern Dead Sea are unlikely ever to be proved. Early Bronze Age (third millennium BCE) settlements and cemeteries at Bab edh‐Dhra and Numeira on the southeastern edge of the Dead Sea do, however, provide evidence for very early pre‐Israelite occupation in the region. The presence of these ruins, abandoned long before the advent of the Israelites in Canaan, may have given rise much later to local legends that their destruction resulted from divine wrath. At a subsequent stage these legends may have become attached to stories of the wanderings of Abraham and Lot in Canaan.

Whatever the origin of these legends, Sodom and Gomorrah become powerful symbols of human wickedness and divine retribution. Sodom and Gomorrah together (or more frequently, Sodom alone) are held up as archetypes of sinfulness, justly deserving and finally receiving God's punishment. This theme is prominent in prophetic writings (Isa. 1.9; Jer. 23.14; Ezek. 16.44–58; Amos 4.11) and in the New Testament (Matt. 10.15; Luke 10.12; Rom. 9.29; 2 Pet. 2.6; Rev. 11.8).

Joseph A. Greene