AskDefine | Define gomorrah

Dictionary Definition

Gomorrah n : (Old Testament) an ancient city near the Dead Sea that (along with Sodom) was destroyed by God for the vice and depravity of its inhabitants [syn: Gomorrha]

Extensive Definition

According to Genesis, Sodom (, Greek Σόδομα) and Gomorrah (, Greek Γόμορρα) were two cities destroyed by God.
For the sins of their inhabitants Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim were destroyed by "brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (). In Christianity, their names have become synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God's wrath ().
Sodom and Gomorrah have been used as metaphors for sinfulness and sexual deviation. The story has therefore given rise to words in several languages, including English: the word "sodomy", meaning acts stigmatized as "unnatural vice".

The Biblical text

Sodom was one of a group of five towns, the Pentapolis (): Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela -- also called Zoar (). The Pentapolis region is also collectively referred to as "the Cities of the Plain" () since they were all sited on the plain of the Jordan River, in an area that constituted the southern limit of the lands of the Canaanites (). Lot, a nephew of Abram (Abraham) chose to live in Sodom, because of the proximity of good grazing for his flocks ().
In , God informs Abraham that he plans to destroy the city of Sodom because of its wickedness. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, then 45, then 30, then 20, or even ten righteous people. The Lord's two angels only found one righteous person living in Sodom, Abraham's nephew Lot. Consequently, God destroyed the city.
In the Tanach version, Genesis19:4-5, the final episode in the story of Sodom is described as the angels visit Lot to warn him to flee: When they had not yet retired, and the people of the city, the people of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, the entire populace from every end [of the city]. And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, and let us have relations with them."
Lot refused to give the visiting angels to the inhabitants of Sodom. He offered them his two daughters instead, but the people refused. The men were struck with blindness, allowing Lot and his family, who were then instructed to leave the city, to escape. As they made their escape the angels commanded that Lot and his family not look back under any circumstance. However as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone by God, Lot's wife looked back longingly at the city, and she was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt.
In God accuses Jerusalem of being worse than Sodom. He explains that the sin of Sodom was that "She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me."

Jewish views

Classical Jewish texts do not stress the homosexual aspect of the attitude of the inhabitants of Sodom as much as their cruelty and lack of hospitality to the "stranger." (See Jewish Encyclopedia on the importance of hospitality.) The people of Sodom were seen as guilty of many other significant sins. Rabbinic writings affirm that the Sodomites also committed economic crimes, blasphemy and bloodshed. One of the worst was to give money or even gold ingots to beggars, but to inscribe their names on them, and then subsequently refuse to sell them food. The unfortunate stranger would end up starving and after his death, the people who gave him the money would reclaim it.
A rabbinic tradition, described in the Mishnah, postulates that the sin of Sodom was related to property: Sodomites believed that "what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" (Abot), which is interpreted as a lack of compassion. Another rabbinic tradition is that these two wealthy cities treated visitors in a sadistic fashion. One major crime done to strangers was almost identical to that of Procrustes in Greek mythology. This would be the story of the "bed" that guests to Sodom were forced to sleep in: if they were too short they were stretched to fit it, and if they were too tall, they were cut up.
In another incident, Eliezer, Abraham's servant, went to visit Lot in Sodom and got in a dispute with a Sodomite over a beggar, and was hit in the forehead with a stone, making him bleed. The Sodomite demanded Eliezer pay him for the service of bloodletting, and a Sodomite judge sided with the Sodomite. Eliezer then struck the judge in the forehead with a stone and asked the judge to pay the Sodomite.
The Talmud and the book of Jasher also recount two incidents of a young girl (one involved Lot's daughter Paltith) who gave some bread to a poor man who had entered the city. When the townspeople discovered their acts of kindness, they burned Paltith and smeared the other girl's body with honey and hung her from the city wall until she was eaten by bees. (Sanhedrin 109a) It is this gruesome event, and her scream in particular, the Talmud concludes, that are alluded to in the verse that heralds the city’s destruction: "So Hashem said, 'Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has been very grave, I will descend and see...'" ().

The view of Josephus

Flavius Josephus, a Romano-Jewish historian, wrote something along the lines of:
Now, about this time the Sodomites, overwhelmingly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and avoided any contact with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance, and not only to uproot their city, but to blast their land so completely that it should yield neither plant nor fruit whatsoever from that time forward.Jewish Antiquities 1:194-195
And the angels came to the city of the Sodomites...when the Sodomites beheld the young men, who were outstanding in beauty of appearance and who had been received into Lots’s house, they set about to do violence and outrage to their youthful beauty....Therefore, God, indignant at their bold acts, struck them with blindness, so that they were unable to find the entrance into the house, and condemned the Sodomites to destruction of the whole population.Jewish Antiquities 1:199-202
He says how beautiful it was before everything was burned up, and how rich the towns were in the area. Josephus described what had happened:
Now this country is then so sadly burnt up, that nobody cares to come to it... It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire; and the shadows of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits, which fruits have a colour as if they were fit to be eaten: but if you pluck them with your hands, they will dissolve into smoke and ashesThe Wars of the Jews, book 4, chapter 8.

Christian view

There are two prevailing views of the sin of Sodom in Christian thought. One is that the destruction of Sodom was due to inhospitality, as illustrated by the gifts of God to Abraham for his gracious action, contrasted with consequences of the behavior of the city's inhabitants. First we see hospitality and the way we should act, then inhospitality in that the people of Sodom seek to mistreat the newcomers. The second view is that the cities were destroyed for homosexuality.
Christian scholars and clerics often have good faith disagreements about the meaning of specific texts, with the writings on Sodom and Gomorrah being no different. The latter view, while being the most common in modern times, is actually the least historical. The word, "sodomy" which first appeared in the 17th century KJV was then used simply to mean wickedness. Modern scholars in favor of the "homosexuality" theory point to two major parts of the Bible;
First, they argue that "to know" is a Biblical euphemism for sexual behavior. Thus, And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where [are] the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.Genesis 19:5, is interpreted as a militant solicitation for homosexual sex.
Second, they argue that homosexuality is the "strange flesh" mentioned in the following passage, Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.Jude 1:7
The other view is derived from the classical Jewish perspective, already mentioned, and other portions of the Bible. This view sees the sin of Sodom as being about general malice, xenophobia and inhospitality, and that if "to know" is intended to be a euphemism for sex, it is clearly a case of gang rape.
Thus, "going after strange flesh" may refer to sex with strangers, sex outside of wedlock, or possibly something akin to bestiality
Now this was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.Ezekiel 16:49-50
This idea is paralleled in the Gospels when Jesus compares an inhospitable reception to Sodom:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.Matthew 10:14-15
This view of the Biblical story reflects that of other ancient civilizations, such as Greece and Rome, where hospitality was of singular importance and strangers were under the protection of the gods. Also in these civilizations, men were held in a much higher regard than women, in Greece women being often seen as little more than property Therefore, to demand not only a guest but a male guest be violated against his will would be seen as more of a crime than to allow women to be used to save the guest.

Islamic view

In Islamic tradition, the nephew of Abraham or Ibrahim is known as Lut (Arabic: لوط ) and was a prophet.
The major difference between the story of Lut in the Qur'an and the story of Lot in the Bible is that the Biblical version includes stories of Lot's incestuous relationship with his daughters, which are denied in Islam.


The historical existence of Sodom and Gomorrah is still in dispute by archaeologists. The Bible indicates they were located near the Dead Sea (, , ).
Strabo states that locals living near Moasada (as opposed to Masada) say that "there were once thirteen inhabited cities in that region of which Sodom was the metropolis". Strabo a limestone and salt hill at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea, and Kharbet Usdum ruins nearby as the site of biblical Sodom..
Archibald Sayce translated an Akkadian poem describing cities that were destroyed in a rain of fire, written from the view of a person who escaped the destruction, however the names of the cities are not given.. However, Sayce later mentions that the story more closely resembles the doom of Sennacherib's host.
The name “Sodom” is probably related to the Arabic sadama meaning 'fasten,' 'fortify,' 'strengthen' and Gomorrah is based on the root gh m r which means 'be deep,' 'copious (water)'.
In 1976 Giovanni Pettinato claimed that a cuneiform tablet that had been found in the newly discovered library at Ebla contained the names of all five of the Cities of the Plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela), listed in the same order as in Genesis. Although not all of the names have been verified, the names si-da-mu [TM.76.G.524] and ì-ma-ar [TM.75.G.1570 and TM.75.G.2233] are almost universally accepted as representing Sodom and Gomorrah. However, Alfonso Archi states that, judging from the surrounding city names in the cuneiform list, si-da-mu lies in northern Syria and not near the Dead Sea, and ì-ma-ar is a variant of ì-mar, known to represent Emar, an ancient city located near Ebla. William Shea points out in 1983 that on the 'Eblaite Geographical Atlas' [TM.75.G.2231], ad-mu-ut and sa-dam are good readings by Pettinato and correspond to Admah and Sodom, and they are contained in a list of cities that traces a route along the shores of, or quite possibly within the Dead Sea, whose position may have since shifted along its fault.
The cities may have been destroyed as the result of a natural cataclysm. Geologists have confirmed that no volcanic activity occurred within the last 4000 years, but it is possible that the towns were destroyed by an earthquake in the region, especially if the towns lie along a major fault, the Jordan Rift Valley, the northernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley of the Red Sea and East Africa.
Possible candidates for Sodom or Gomorrah are the sites discovered or visited by Walter E. Rast and R. Thomas Schaub in 1973, including Bab edh-Dhra, which was originally excavated in 1965 by archaeologist Paul Lapp, only to have his work continued by Rast and Schuab following his death by accidental drowning in the waters off of Cyprus in 1970. Other possibilities also include Numeira, es-Safi, Feifeh and Khanazir, which were also visited by Schuab and Rast. All sites were located near the Dead Sea, with evidence of burning and traces of sulfur on many of the stones and a sudden stop of inhabitation towards the end of the Early Bronze Age. Archaeological remains excavated from Bab edh-Dhra are currently displayed in Karak Archaeological Museum (Karak Castle)and Amman Citadel Museum.

Modern Sodom

The site of the present Dead Sea Works, a large operation for the extraction of Dead Sea minerals, is called "Sdom" (סדום) according to its traditional Arab name, Khirbet Usdum (see above Historicity). Nearby is unique Mount Sdom (הר סדום), or Jabal Usdum in Arabic, consisting mainly of salt. In the Plain of Sdom (מישור סדום) to the south there are a few springs and two small agricultural villages.

See also


  • Ark Discovery International Brimstone(unique, pure sulphur)and white ashen formations, gypsum, cremated bone near the Dead Sea.
  • Wyatt Archaeological Research Ashen city-shaped remains in the vicinity of Masada, that stretch for miles, with deposits of sulphur in 'ball' shapes (i.e. brimstone), a type of sulphur found nowhere else on planet earth. Ron Wyatt's account of his supposed re-discovery of this ancient city.
  • Harvard University The 1975–1981 Excavations At The Town Site Of Bab edh-Dhra
  • University of Melbourne "Bab edh-Dhra is located on the South-East edge of the Dead Sea in Jordan, not far from Numeira (identified with Gomorroh)."
  • University of Notre Dame Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain. "One of the most important transitions in human history involved the establishment of the world's first cities approximately 5,000 years ago in the ancient Middle East. In the eastern Mediterranean region (Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), people built the first walled cities during a period archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age (EBA, c.35002000 BC). In the EBA on the southeastern Dead Sea Plain (Map 1), people began burying their dead in extensive cemeteries, creating a landscape of the dead. Interestingly, they soon built two walled towns next to the cemeteries that they had used for a few centuries. In these settlements, called Bab edh-Dhra' (pronounced "bob-ed-draw") and Numeira (pronounced "new-mere-a"), people established the way of life that we read about in the Bible. In fact, for the writers of the Bible, the desolate nature of this stretch of shore along the Dead Sea and the visible ruins of Bab edh-Dhra' and Numeira may have helped them to identify this area with the stories of the ill-fated sites of Sodom and Gomorrah."
  • Atlantic Baptist University Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance This site has an extensive coverage of both the liberal and conservative Christian views of the story of Sodom and Gomorra.
  • Sodom and Gomorrah at the Catholic Encyclopedia
  • "Commentary on Genesis 19" by Robert Jameison, D.D. 1871
  • "Commentary on Genesis 19" by Theodore Beza
gomorrah in Breton: Sodoma
gomorrah in Bulgarian: Содом и Гомор
gomorrah in Catalan: Sodoma i Gomorra
gomorrah in Danish: Sodoma og Gomorra
gomorrah in German: Sodom und Gomorrha
gomorrah in Modern Greek (1453-): Γόμορα
gomorrah in Spanish: Sodoma
gomorrah in Esperanto: Sodomo kaj Gomoro
gomorrah in French: Sodome
gomorrah in Korean: 소돔
gomorrah in Italian: Sodoma
gomorrah in Hebrew: מהפכת סדום ועמורה
gomorrah in Latin: Sodoma (urbs)
gomorrah in Lithuanian: Sodoma ir Gomora
gomorrah in Dutch: Sodom en Gomorra
gomorrah in Japanese: ソドムとゴモラ
gomorrah in Norwegian: Sodoma og Gomorra
gomorrah in Polish: Sodoma i Gomora
gomorrah in Portuguese: Sodoma e Gomorra
gomorrah in Romanian: Sodoma şi Gomora
gomorrah in Russian: Содом и Гоморра
gomorrah in Slovak: Sodoma a Gomora
gomorrah in Finnish: Sodoma ja Gomorra
gomorrah in Swedish: Sodom och Gomorra
gomorrah in Tamil: சொதோம் கொமோரா
gomorrah in Turkish: Sodom ve Gomora
gomorrah in Yiddish: סדום
gomorrah in Chinese: 索多瑪與蛾摩拉
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