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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.

Continued from page 2

In contrast, the blocky fields of squat little banana trees blare green. They are watched over by their owners on nearby hills; and in the case of Sodom, six brothers’ houses overlook the brilliant emerald of their cutleaf trees, each one bearing the only crop of its lifetime: not-yet-yellowed fingers all pointing up like hands grasping for the sun.

Towering above the fields, Sodom looks as natural—and upon observation, as designed and processed—as a huge anthill that has erupted from the earth, once of the earth and now in it. As with an anthill, too, almost nothing grows on its higher slopes, perhaps in tribute to the fact that its desolation speaks of upheaval and transport and other times, of a hidden history revealed, of secrets and threats and dread.

Once you are within its mighty walls, both hot and cool springs are now in the open, anchoring a spot of luxurious foliage, home to Sodom’s abundant little green frogs.

Every rock on this mud mountain was hauled up there, from the small ones to the great boulders that formed foundations for immense walls. Some haven’t seen light for four, five, six thousand years. Even the mud itself, decomposed bricks, came from somewhere else.

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Along the approach to the site from the east, in the foothills of tortured sandstone, sits a knee-high, room-sized pile of pottery sherds from seven years of archaeological excavation. But these are the discards, the pieces of pottery that weren’t important as “diagnostics.”

Around the other side of the great mound you can bend downward and make out human bone fragments, protruding like compound fractures through the skin of a balk, one of the vertically cut sections of the excavation.

These aren’t tombs. They were dwellings for the living. And the people whose remains lay blasted and scattered here were not gathered to their fathers with respect and ceremony. They died suddenly in their own private places and kitchens, as they ate and drank from the pottery vessels whose sherds now surround them.

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