Discovering the City of Sodom

Start with the text. He opened his Bible to Genesis 10–19 as if it were a letter describing an event he’d missed and would want to know about.

 Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City

Howard Books / Simon & Schuster

From Backstory Dr. C’s Dilemma

Start with the text, he told his students. Always start with the text. In this case, he held in his hands the only ancient text in existence that described Sodom, the single source that claimed to be witness of its events.

He wanted to look at everything with new eyes. He thought about the Hoffmans and Robert and Eugene and Beth, and even his bus driver, Abu. Each one believed something different about cities whose locations no one could prove.

Start with the text. He opened his Bible to Genesis 10–19 as if it were a letter describing an event he’d missed and would want to know about.

The first time he read it, he shook his head.

The second time he read it, he closed his Bible and sat for a long while thinking.

The third time he read it, he studied the key words in it, again looking at the familiar passage as if for the first time.

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He read in Hebrew of a great city of Sodom located on a “breaddisk” in the well-watered Jordan Valley. The original language spoke of a fertile breadbasket, a circular setting.

A place that was as lush as Egypt’s ever-green Nile Valley, and as prolific and luxuriant as the very Garden of Eden.

He found himself pacing with anxiety. He prided himself on the accuracy of his tours and his research. For six seasons he had been a field supervisor at the Khirbet el-Maqatir excavation, the biblical site of Ai, and had made reasonably sure that before he put his reputation and endorsement behind that discovery, it had to match up with where the Bible said it was.

But what he was reading now in Genesis, alone in his hotel room, was shocking to him. He felt dread, the dread of learning you’ve been wrong about something.

The Bible described a Sodom located in a place completely unlike the two windswept ruins near the southern shore of a salt-laden and sterile body of water that some archaeologists had been calling Sodom and its satellite-town, Gomorrah.

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