Flying past Sodom

June 25 2008

On March 17 I flew from Kuwait City to Sharm El Sheikh. The plane was tiny, only a few passengers, but it had the usual inflight map screens showing location, time remaining etc.

In an earlier post I had written:

“The problem with […] inflight map software is that you can’t have a long topographical reverie, alternating between the window of the plane and the screen, and test yourself by it, because the screen keeps changing. Mine went through eight or nine different views, most of which told me nothing of interest. So the spell kept being broken. At the moment I needed the detailed screen it was no longer there. It doesn’t allow you to select different screens.

“The displayed information is crude, random and inaccurate. The company which supplies this primitive software could do a serious deal with Google Earth and Google Maps.”

Apparently some airlines do now allow you to track your journey on Google Maps.

Towards the end of the flight to Sharm El Sheikh, the map showed the town of Sodom prominently some way to the north.

It didn’t show much else. For a moment, I thought I was imagining it, but there the word stayed.

Perhaps the map-maker was having some fun. Sodom is not a modern city. It was a town in the most ancient phase of Palestine, possibly on the plain of the Jordan River, possibly south of the Dead Sea, which, together with Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Bela (also called Zoar), was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The cities have also been called the Pentapolis, and the Cities of the Plain.

The Jordan flows north to south. It starts north of Galilee, on the slopes of Mount Hermon in Lebanon, and forms the entire western border of the occupied Golan Heights. It enters and exits the Sea Galilee and flows down to the Dead Sea. The west bank after Galilee is first Israel and then the occupied West Bank. Most of the Dead Sea (not the southern tip) is aligned with the occupied territories. The east bank is Jordan.

In Genesis 18, God informs Abraham that he plans to destroy Sodom because of its wickedness. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy it, 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.

As Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone, Lot’s wife looked back longingly at them, and she was transformed into a pillar of salt. In Ezekiel 16:48-50 God accuses Jerusalem of being worse than Sodom.

The flight map was probably referring – strangely – to an industrial operation called the Dead Sea Works, which operates in the southern basin of the Sea in Israel: a series of evaporation ponds producing potash. The site is called Sdom (סדום in Hebrew). Nearby is Mount Sdom (הר סדום), Jabal Usdum in Arabic, which consists mainly of salt. In the Plain of Sdom (מישור סדום) to the south there are a few springs and two small agricultural villages.

The picture above shows the destruction of Sodom in the hands of the illustrator, for whom no obvious images of vice came to mind, of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Who are the other figures?

A bank of the Jordan near the Baptism Complex

3 Responses to “Flying past Sodom”

  1. bingley Says:

    >>The picture above shows the destruction of Sodom in the hands of the illustrator, for whom no obvious images of vice came to mind, of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Who are the other figures?<<

    If I understand the question aright, the other figures must be Lot’s daughters. See Genesis 18:15-16, 30-38

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Of course. I am not clear whether Sodom was south of the Dead Sea or on the plain of the Jordan River, and whether the Plain of Sdom includes the latter.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Bingley added aptly by email:

    “I think the traditional location was along the NE quadrant of the Dead Sea shoreline, but I forget where I got that from. To be honest I think there are too many agendas floating around in Biblical Archaeology for any statements about the time before the Babylonian exile to be trusted. One camp takes the Bible as literally true and looks to archaeology to back that up, another refuses to accept anything in the Bible unless it can be backed up by other written sources, and a third just ignores the Bible altogether. There is little if any hope of the interested amateur making any sense of it all.”


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