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KRONOS Vol VIII, No. 1
JUPITER - GOD OF ABRAHAM (PART III)
Copyright (C) 1982 by Dwardu Cardona
12. The Cataclysm
According to Jewish legend, the destruction of the cities of the plain did not come without warning. For quite a few years prior to the calamity, the land had been shaken by earthquakes.
A few days before - or possibly even the very morning of - the catastrophe, (162) the day turned "exceedingly hot", for god, it is said, "had bored a hole in hell, so that its heat might reach as far as the earth".(163) On the sixteenth day of Nisan, precisely at dawn, the worst came to pass.(164) A sudden tremor overturned the cities while "the rain that was streaming down upon [them] was changed into brimstone". (165)
In Genesis it is stated:
"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
The Book of Jubilees adds very little to the account:
"And in this month the Lord executed His judgements on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the region of the Jordan, and He burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day."(167)
The version given by Flavius Josephus is even shorter but it introduces a new element:
According to Philo, "lightnings poured out of heaven".(169) Tacitus also reported that the cities were "struck by lightning and consumed".(170)
13. The Aftermath
Lot, Abraham's kinsman, was still in Sodom at the time of the destruction or just prior to it. Not wishing to desert the land he had adopted, he moved into Bela/Zoar (also called Segor) the only city in the plain which, although "encompassed with the fire", (171) was not itself consumed.(172) Lot's wife, as is well known, succumbed to the catastrophe even though the exact nature of her fate - to be discussed later - remains a matter of some mystery.
According to Josephus, Lot and his two daughters remained in Zoar where "he lived a miserable life, on account of his having no company, and his want of provisions".(173) Genesis, on the other hand, states that Lot and his daughters did not remain long in Zoar but left to reside in a cave in the mountains.(174) The same account seems to indicate - and Josephus substantiates it - that Lot's daughters believed themselves and their father to be the only survivors of the catastrophe.(175)
Zoar itself continued to exist until much later times. In his invective against Moab, Jeremiah was still mentioning Zoar as if it existed in his day.(176) Chances are that, although the city survived, its inhabitants fled and dispersed. This would account for Lot's lack of "company" during his period of shelter within the city. Once the danger was over - although this could have been years later - the city could have been reinhabited. Jewish legend has it that the city was destroyed by a different agent in a much later time.(177)
That the destruction under present discussion affected more than just the cities of the plain is indicated by the reports, already cited, which claim that "all the plain" was destroyed, that the entire country was "laid waste", and "all the region of the Jordan". The fact that Lot's family believed themselves to be the only survivors also indicates that the devastation was anything but local. This explains why Lot's daughters thought it necessary to commit incest with their father, as this appeared to them to be the only way in which they could perpetuate their race.
Hebron, where Abraham was then residing, was in the same general area. Having seen the smoke rise from the burning cities in the distance, (178) he too fled. Like Lot, he sought the relative safety of the mountains.
"And in this month Abraham moved from Hebron, and departed and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur in the mountains of Gerar."(179)
All traffic came to a standstill in the region, (180) while the smoke from the cities continued to rise for many days after the event.(181)
14. The Sources
Did the catastrophe really occur?
Edward Robertson once stated:
As Isaac Asimov pointed out:
This argument had been earlier raised by Sarna:
What Sarna meant is that while, in Genesis, the account singles out Sodom and Gomorrah as the victims of the catastrophe, other sources favored or included one or more of the other cities. Josephus, for instance, mentioned only Sodom, while Jubilees includes Zeboim along with both Sodom and Gomorrah. Deuteronomy adds Admah to Zeboim(185) while Hoseah mentions only these last two.(186) Tacitus, on the other hand, did not mention the cities by name at all. He merely reported that, according to tradition, the plain was once the "site of great cities".(187) So also in Moslem sources where the cities, referred to as the Mu 'tafikah, (188) or the "Ruined Cities"(189) - with their inhabitants known simply as the people or compatriots of Lot(190) - remain unnamed.
As Sarna also pointed out, the nature of the catastrophe is not identical in all sources. As we have already seen, while some accounts specify a rain of fire and brimstone, others blame the destruction on a thunderbolt. Deuteronomy not only speaks of the soil of the area being devastated by sulfur (which is the same as brimstone) but also by salt.(191) The Qoran again differs by blaming the destruction on a "stone-charged whirlwind"(192) and/or a rain of "brickstones".(193)
What all this indicates is that the fragments of the story as we now have them are not slavish copies of one single original but relics of extinct but independent narratives.
15. The Desolation
That four independent cities out of five in an adjoining area should suffer the same calamity not only indicates a common source for the destruction but also points to a cataclysm of far-reaching consequences. Such a catastrophe should have affected not only the cities but the entire face of the surrounding region. This is precisely what we find.
Genesis records that, previous to the destruction, the valley of the Jordan was a fertile land. When, earlier, Lot separated from Abram with his people, he chose to reside in the city of Sodom for that very reason.
Following the catastrophe, Sodom and Gomorrah became the very symbol of devastation. In his farewell speech, generations later, Moses admonished his people to heed the Covenant lest god were to turn the land they were about to inhabit into a desolation with "all its soil devastated by sulphur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah".(195) Zephaniah, who even later prophesied against Moab and Ammon, used similar words:
This ruin could not always have existed for such a land would hardly have seduced Lot and his people to choose it for their domicile. Nor would populous cities have been built in such a desolation. "Certainly the shores of the Dead Sea are bleakly in fertile now, " wrote Asimov, "but conceivably that might have been the result of the very catastrophe described . ."(197)
Recent environmental surveys have revealed that the land around the southern end of the Dead Sea was more fertile in the third millennium B.C. It seems there was enough fresh water in the region to support a sizeable agricultural civilization.(198) The present desolation is not, therefore, the result of millions of years of slow erosion and climatic change - and it is quite possible that neither is the origin of the Dead Sea itself.(199)
16. Bab edh-Dhra'
What of the pentapolis itself? Where did these five infamous cities disappear to? Recently, J. L. Gardner summarized the belief of two thousand years in the following words:
In 1973, Dorothy B. Vitaliano could still write:
"The ruins of these cities have never been found. According to J. P. Harland, the evidence from the Bible and from later Greek and Latin writers indicates that they must have been located in a fertile area around the southern end of the Dead Sea. Since the level of the Dead Sea has risen in past centuries, the area, the biblical Vale of Siddim, is now submerged . . ."(201)
Two years earlier, Asimov had also intimated that, following the catastrophe - or in conjunction with it(202) - the cities were inundated.(203) But he also stated that
Let us now shift our attention to 1924 when a large fortified site was discovered at Bab edh-Dhra', 550 feet above the eastern shore at the south end of the Dead Sea facing the Lisan Peninsula in East Jordan. Although this discovery is usually credited to W. F. Albright - who was heading a survey of the Jordan Valley when the site came to light - the actual honor belongs to Alexis Mallon.(205) This site was in that region somewhere within which the Cities of the Plain had always, as we have seen, been suspected to have existed. But, despite published descriptions of potsherds picked up at the surface, the site remained archaeologically unexplored for forty more years.
In 1965, Paul W. Lapp and Siegfried Mittmann followed a trail of contraband pottery which led from Jerusalem to the discovery of a vast burial ground at the same Bab edh-Dhra'. According to their estimate, the cemetery contained something like twenty thousand tombs.(206) Some of these tombs were opened, their contents examined, and their artifacts removed and studied. But, despite the fact that such a vast ossuary bespoke a populous past somewhere in the area, ten more years were to pass before any actual excavation and stratigraphical exploration was to be conducted.
The fortified area that Mallon and Albright had first discovered was, meanwhile, believed to have been an open-air sanctuary. In 1966, a year following the discovery of the Bab edh-Dhra' cemetery, Sarna could still write that
"Strangely enough, there is no sign of any permanent settlement in the entire region.
Albright had long speculated that the shallow southern end of the Dead Sea had once been dry land and that the Cities of the Plain had been located there.(208) Lapp, having discovered the Bab edh-Dhra' cemetery, should have been wiser but he, too, favored the "submerged" hypothesis.(209)
It turned out not to be so. Actually, Genesis does inform us that the Vale of Siddim, in time, became the Salt (or Dead) Sea, (210) but it is not there, or anywhere, stated that the Cities of the Plain were likewise inundated. Some had argued that the submergence had occurred later - perhaps even after the time of Josephus. But when, during the summer of 1979, a large portion of the Dead Sea's southern extremity exposed itself due to water drainage further north, an examination of the uncovered sea bottom revealed no signs of habitation. The conclusion was reached that
But a city did come to light - at the very spot where all the indications had dictated it should be discovered - at the very site of Bab edh-Dhra' itself.
17. The Cities
Had the archaeologists who had previously scratched around this region kept in mind that most Early Bronze towns are known to have been built on high areas, the controversial cities would not have been sought on the plain below. The site first discovered by Mallon and Albright, 550 feet above the Dead Sea, should at once have been suspected of harboring such a city. The honor now belongs to Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub.
The discovered city was surrounded by a wall with a large tower. The habitations consisted mostly of mud-brick structures. A temple and an altar have also been identified.(213)
While surveying the area around Bab edh-Dhra', in 1973, Rast and Schaub discovered another ruined city, seven miles south, at Numeira. The remains of a tower, similar to that of Bab edh-Dhra', as well as domestic installations and signs of local industry, including winemaking, have been identified. A large batch of grapes, complete with skins, was also unearthed.(216) Next to the town is a vast cemetery, again similar to the one at Bab edh-Dhra', which stretches "almost a mile in either direction".(217)
Numeira is "a mere two-acre site" which is believed to have been inhabited for "a brief 100 year period".(218)
And there was more. Continuing their systematic survey of the region, Rast and Schaub were not long in discovering three other sites - at Safi, Feifa, and Khanazir - all strung south of Numeira and of each other.
Like Numeira and Bab edh-Dhra', Safi is also surrounded by a vast cemetery.(221) Like Numeira and Bab edh-Dhra', Feifa was also destroyed by fire.
As Hershel Shanks, the editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, so aptly put it:
What is of high interest is the fact that the town of Safi is indicated on a mosaic map which was found in the ruins of a Byzantine church at Medeba (or Madaba), some thirty miles north of Bab edh-Dhra'. Believed to have been constructed in "about A.D. 560", and labelled in Greek, (224) this map identifies Safi as Zoar(225) - the only city of the Biblical pentapolis which, although "encompassed with fire", was said to have escaped immediate destruction. Discovered in 1884, and still touted as "the earliest-known cartographic representation of the Holy Land", (226) the map has been famous since the time of its recovery. With such a decisive pointer to show the way, one wonders why it took another 90 years for the city to be unearthed.
In 1980, Rast and Schaub stated:
We would like to note in passing that this identification met with at least one dissenter. Without mentioning any names, Shanks did well to inform his readers that "one prominent scholar" threatened to withdraw his support of a grant if Rast and Schaub were to insist in identifying the sites as the Biblical pentapolis.(228)
I, for one, do not regard the identification of these cities that tentative. They correspond to the correct number and the proper location; their fiery destruction tallies with the Biblical record; and the identification of Safe as Zoar seems to have been retained at least until Byzantine times. By 1981, the identifications were just about taken for granted:
18 The Millennium
Twenty years after Mallon and Albright had discovered the site of Bab edh-Dhra', the latter published a short paper on some of the potsherds he had collected from the area. In it he concluded:
Writing twenty-three years later, Lapp was of the opinion that
As to the cemetery itself, Lapp's conclusion was:
It is now believed that the earliest burials at Bab edh-Dhra' date to around 3200 B.C., "even before the town was built". It is held that the first permanent settlement in the area was established "in about 3100 B.C.". Bab edh-Dhra' seems to have been destroyed "about 2300 B.C.", Numeira at about 2350 B.C.(234) Thus a discordant note seems to creep between the archaeological discoveries and the currently accepted date of the Patriarchal Age. As Gardner put it:
For long, scholars had widely disagreed as to which time-slot the Patriarchal Age should be allotted to. Albright, together with Nelson Glueck, had placed this age in Middle Bronze I, between the 21st and 19th centuries B.C. This date was later lowered by others to Middle Bronze II, between the 19th and 16th centuries B.C.(236)
Similar views have been expressed by others:
It seems odd that when the cities were believed to have been lost, the historicity of the Biblical narrative was upheld, while now that the cities have been found, the story in Genesis is suggested to have been a grafted fabrication.
The debate in question is actually outside the scope of the present paper but it should be noted that the idea of a third millennium B.C. placement for the life of Abraham is slowly gaining acceptance.(239) In any case, "Muslim scholars have long held that Abraham's epic journey occurred about 2300 B.C.".(240) This would tally well with our acceptance that Abraham's migration into Canaan was part of the greater movement of peoples, namely Amorites, who drove into the country "shortly before the year 2000 B.C.".(241) Rast and Schaub have themselves suggested that the first settlers at Bab edh-Dhra' were descendants of a pastoral and nomadic horde.(242)
Although, personally, I would not want to commit myself to an exactitude, I must admit that a third millennium Early Bronze date for Abraham seems to fit the facts best.
19. The Agent
What caused the destruction of these cities?
As we noted at the very beginning of this series, Velikovsky was of the opinion that an interplanetary discharge from the planet Jupiter - in close conjunction with Earth - hit somewhere in the plain and caused the conflagration.(243) Others have also attributed the destruction to planetary interaction. James E. Strickling, while stressing Jupiter's activity during this period, left the issue undecided in that he did not reach a definite conclusion as to whether the discharge originated from Jupiter, or the much smaller Venus.(244) Martin Sieff believed the destruction was caused by Venus.(245) Brendan O'Gheoghan followed Sieff.(246) Patten, et al. blamed it all on Mars.(247) Alfred de Grazia has even implied that Mercury was the cause.(248) But before we decide which of these various hypotheses is the most probable, I would like to ask: Is cosmic intervention even implied?
While some aspects of the Biblical narrative have for long been doubted, the actual destruction of the cities seems always to have been vouched for. Thus, long before the recovery of the cities, Robertson could feel safe in stating that "a scientific explanation of the catastrophe is not excluded".(249) Even Vitaliano, at a time when no physical evidence was yet at hand, had no qualms in assuring her readers that
In 1936, Frederick G. Clapp proposed an explanation that is not entirely without merit.(251) It is well known that bitumen seeps from under the water of the Dead Sea. The region abounds in bituminous rock. Oil seepages also abound. Noxious gases were often reported by ancient travellers. The lightning that Philo described could easily have set fire to these seepages.
As Vitaliano pointed out:
Asimov has stated that "the description of the catastrophe could match that of a volcanic eruption, combined with an earthquake".(253) Geologic evidence, however, has ruled out the possibility of a volcanic eruption in the area(254) - at least during the time period with which we are involved(255) - although not, apparently, that of an earthquake. Sarna, for instance, has drawn attention to the word translated as "annihilated" or "overthrew" as it appears in the Genesis (19:25) account and stated that, in Hebrew, this word "suggests the effects of an earthquake". (256)
This, also, tallies with both ancient legend and modern discovery. We have already seen that, according to Jewish lore, the land had quaked and trembled for fifty-two years prior to the destruction. And at Bab edh-Dhra', the inhabitants seem to have taken precautions against such tremors.
A combination of earthquake, lightning, and bituminous fires has therefore been suggested. It is, of course, well known that the Jordan Valley is part of the Great Rift system that stretches from Syria to East Africa. Sarna has stated that
So also Vitaliano:
Could this not be explanation enough? Need one introduce planetary confrontations and discharges to explain the catastrophe?
Normally one need not but, if we are to believe the ancient sources, which have proven correct on so many other points, "fire and brimstone" rained from above; they did not spring from below. The "fire", it is true, could very well have been a reference to the lightning. As Vitaliano stated, "it would need only to have been seen in the sky at the time of the catastrophe to create the impression that the destruction came from the heavens".(260) But why do the accounts introduce a rain of brimstone, or sulfur, out of heaven?
Vitaliano answers this question also:
"Ancient writers also mentioned foul odors emanating from the Dead Sea waters, and an 'invisible soot' that would tarnish metals - presumably sulfur gases . . .
In view of everything else, we would accept this explanation were it not for the odd fact that the ancients associated the smell of sulfur - or brimstone - with certain thunderbolts which they insistently stated to have originated from the planets.(262)
This description of a destruction from the sky has even led Asimov, one of Velikovsky's and cosmic catastrophism's staunchest critics, to suggest that the cities might "conceivably" have been hit by "a large meteorite".(263) A meteorite, or meteoric shower, would compare well with the cause of the destruction as described in the Qoran where the visitation from heaven is called "a stone-charged whirlwind". Even the description of a rain of "brick-stones" might conceal such a half-forgotten and/or misunderstood meteorological phenomenon.
With this in mind, it behooves us to examine the various cosmic hypotheses outlined above.
. . . to be continued.
REFERENCES161. L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 5728/1968), Vol. I, p. 253.
162. Legend records that this took place on the third day following Abraham's circumcision which, some sources affirm, occurred on the 10th day of Tishri (Ibid., p. 240). "In older sources [however], the thirteenth or fifteenth of Nisan is the day on which Abraham's circumcision took place" (Ibid ., Vol. V, p. 233).
163. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 240.
164. Ibid., p. 256.
165. Ibid., p. 255.
166. Genesis 19:24-25.
167. Jubilees 16:5-11.
168. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (also known as The Jewish Antiquities), I, 11, 4.
169. Philo, Moses, II, 53 ff.
170. P. Cornelius Tacitus, The Histories, V, 7.
171. Flavius Josephus, loc. cit.
172. Genesis 19:15-23. (NOTE: For Zoar or Bela as Segor, see Douay version).
173. Flavius Josephus, loc. cit.
174. Genesis 19:29-30.
175. Ibid., 19:31; Flavius Josephus, loc. cit.
176. Jeremiah 48:33-34.
177. L. Ginzberg, op. cit., Vol. V, p. 242.
178. Genesis 19:27-28.
179. Jubilees, loc. cit.
180. L. Ginzberg, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 269.
181. Ibid., p. 260.
182. E. Robertson, "Sodom and Gomorrah," Encyclopaedia Britannica (1959 edition), Vol . 20, p. 923.
183. I. Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (N.Y., 1971), Vol. I, p. 83.
184. N. M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (N.Y., 1976), p. 143.
185. Deuteronomy 29:22
186. Hoseah II:8
187. Tacitus, loc. cit
188. The Qoran, sura 53.
189. Ibid., sura 69.
190. Ibid., suras 54 and 50.
191. Deuteronomy, loc. cit.
192. The Qoran, sura 54.
193. Ibid., suras 11 and 15
194. Genesis 13:10.
195. Deuteronomy, loc. cit.
196. Zephaniah 2:9.
197. I. Asimov, op. cit, p. 82.
198. J. L. Gardner (ed.), Atlas of the Bible (N.Y ., 1981), p. 60.
199. I. Velikovsky, "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, " KRONOS VI:4 (Summer 1981), pp. 4046.
200. J. L. Gardner, loc. cit.
201. D. B. Vitaliano, Legends of the Earth (Bloomington, 1973), p. 89; J. P. Harland, "Sodom and Gomorrah," The Biblical Archeologist Reader (Chicago, 1961), pp. 41-75.
202. On this point, Asimov's intent (see next reference) is not quite clear.
203. I. Asimov, op. cit., p. 83.
205. H. Shanks, "Have Sodom and Gomorrah Been Found?" Biblical Archaeology Review VI:5 (Sept./Oct. 1980), p. 28.
206. P. W. Lapp, "The Cemetery at Bab edh-Dhra', Jordan," Archaeological Discoveries in the Holy Land (N.Y., 1967), p. 40.
207. N. M. Sarna, op. cit., p. 141.
208. H. Shanks, op. cit., pp. 29-33.
210. Genesis 14:3.
211. H. Shanks, op. cit, p. 33.
214. Ibid. (emphasis added).
215. Ibid. (emphasis added)
216. Ibid., p. 29.
217. Ibid., p. 36.
218. Ibid., p. 29.
219. Ibid. (emphasis added).
220. Ibid. (emphasis added).
221. Ibid., p. 36.
222. Ibid. (emphasis added).
223. Ibid., p. 29 (emphasis added).
224. J. L. Gardner, op. cit., p. 30.
225. Ibid.; H. Shanks, op. cit, p. 36.
226. J. L. Gardner, loc. cit.
227. W. E. Rast and R. T. Schaub, "Are These Sites Sodom and Gomorrah?" Newsletter of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 8 (June 1980).
228. H. Shanks, "On the New Site Identifications for Sodom and Gomorrah," Biblical Archaeology Review VII: 1 (Jan./Feb. 1981), p. 18.
230. J. L. Gardner, op. cit., p. 60.
231. W. F. Albright, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 95 (1944), pp. 3-11.
232. P. W. Lapp, op. cit., p. 36.
233. Ibid., p. 40.
234. H. Shanks (see reference 205), pp. 29, 33.
235. J. L. Gardner, loc. cit. (emphasis added).
236. Z. Herzog, "Beer-Sheba of the Patriarchs," Biblical Archaeology Review VI:6 (Nov./Dec. 1980), pp. 13-14.
237. Ibid., p. 14 (emphasis added). NOTE: The two books cited are: J. van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven, 1975); T. L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (N.Y., 1974).
238. J. L. Gardner, loc. cit. (emphasis added).
239. H. Shanks, op. cit., p. 36.
240. H. la Fay, "Ebla: Splendor of an Unknown Empire," National Geographic (Dec. 1978), p. 736.
241. D. Cardona, "Jupiter - God of Abraham, " Part 1, KRONOS VII:1 (Fall 1981), p. 75 (emphasis this time).
242. H. Shanks, op. cit., p. 33.
243. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 47.
244. J. E. Strickling, "Sodom and Gomorrah," SIS Workshop 2:4 (April 1980), p. 5.
245. M. Sieff, "Two Faces of Venus," SISR I:4 (Spring 1977), p. 22.
246. B. O'Gheoghan, "War Stars," SISR IV:1 (Autumn 1979), p. 7.
247. D. W. Patten, et al., The Long Day of Joshua and Six Other Catastrophes (Seattle, 1973), pp. 251-257.
248. A. de Grazia, Chaos and Creation (Bombay, 1981), p. 211.
249. E. Robertson, loc. cit.
250. D. B. Vitaliano, op. cit., pp. 88-89 (emphasis added).
251. F. G. Clapp, "Geology and Bitumens of the Dead Sea Area, Palestine and Trans-jordan " Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Vol. 20 (1936), pp. 881-909.
252. D. B. Vitaliano, op. cit., p. 90.
253. I. Asimov, op. cit., p. 82.
254. N. M. Sarna, op. cit., p. 142; D. B. Vitaliano, loc. cit. 255. The ground of the Dead Sea rift is actually covered with coagulated lava. But the eruptions which forced this lava up from fissures has been dated to the second interglacial period (M. Blanckenhorn as cited by I. Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 42.).
256. N. M. Sarna, loc. cit.
257. H. Shanks, loc. cit.
258. N. M. Sarna, loc. cit.
259. D.B.Vitaliano, op. cit., p. 91.
261. Ibid., p. 90.
262. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 51, where other sources are cited.
263. I. Asimov, loc. cit