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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 3

Jordan, the Home of the Biblical Site of Sodom

A map of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the home of Sodom, reveals it to be a bedfellow to Israel, backing the spine of its entire western border up to the Jordan River, which gives it its name. On a map, its roads are knotted veins and arteries around its central city, Amman. Eventually the clot loosens and sparse highways meander west, or drip down to the tourist spots on the shore of the Dead Sea where dates grow with water ten times saltier than other plants can stand, and every other living thing drinks purified water or lives in soil repeatedly washed to leach out the minerals.

Then, on either side of those massive, life-numbing waters, are the places and sights that contrast with Sodom, that by the descriptive friction between them define Sodom. What the Dead Sea is, Sodom is not. What the desert is, Sodom is not. And yet they were part of both the backstory and the aftermath of what happened to Sodom, in the record of a kingdom left behind in the buildings and artifacts they used.

Every visitor should come to the Dead Sea at night the first time. Going down into the valley of deadness, every driver tap, tap, taps his brakes. A persimmon-colored moon looks like a hand cupped to the sky, asking for rain. Across the water, the lights of Israel flicker.

Water bottles cringe and collapse. Everything inclines toward and yields to the loss of altitude. In the distance, the hotels are outposts of green and fluorescence along the shore of the great silver lake.

In daylight there is more to see, but away from the water, everything is dusted in sand. The most famous ancient site in southern Jordan, indeed in all of Jordan, is Petra. Unfortunately the Bible omits notice of it and the name of its builders, the Nabateans. That rosy-pink city lay long hidden in a cleft of rock and forgotten for millennia, but now attracts everyone from movie producers to hundreds of thousands of tourists a year whose breath is taken away by its unexpected beauty. For many, Petra defines the ancient world of Jordan.

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