Sodom & Gomorrah:
Archaeological evidence that God punishes Sin
By Nate Wilson
For Dr. Milton Fisher, Archaeology Professor, Sangre de Cristo Seminary


I decided on this topic for two reasons, one, that I had seen a presentation by Ron Wyatt on Sodom & Gomorrah and, aware of the controversy over him, wanted to do some investigation myself. The second reason I chose this topic was as a personal reminder to myself of the wrath of God against sin--I wanted this story to become more real to me so that I would not take God's mercy for granted. I will follow this study by first examining the Biblical record, then giving an overview of the archaeological record, and ending with a comparative critique of the positions.


The Biblical Record
The first step is to establish what the Bible says about Sodom and Gomorrah. We get the story of the original cities in the book of Genesis, then, throughout the rest of the Bible, these cities are referred back to no less than twenty times as an example of how God punishes sin. At the end of the Bible (II Peter 2:6, Jude 7), Sodom and Gomorrah is the epitome of God's wrath against sin.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? The Jude passage mentioned earlier cites "fornication" and "going after strange flesh." The Genesis passages (ch. 18 & 19) mention the citizens wanting to molest visitors, then turning on Lot who was keeping the visitors safe. Jeremiah also seems to mention sexual sin (23:14) along with lying and "strengthen[ing] the hands of evil doers." The most detailed list of Sodom's sin is found in Ezekiel 16:49 (if indeed it is not speaking figuratively of another city); "pride" and "prosperous ease" head the list, followed by the converse of Jeremiah's complaint, they "do not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy," and finally, stating that they were "haughty" and "committed abomination before God." The magnitude of Sodom's sin is also mentioned throughout the Bible as "great and grievous" (Gen.18:20), so pervasive that Abraham doubted that there were even 20 righteous people in it (Gen. 18:32), and that they acted without shame, openly displaying their sin, not hiding it (Isa.3:9).

For the greatness of Sodom and Gomorrah's sin, God determined to punish them by wiping them out. He states His intentions on a visit to Abraham, then sends two angels to accomplish the destructive act (Gen. 18-19).

In the Biblical record we find a number of facts about the actual cities of Sodom and Gomorrah:


The Archaeological Record
First some observations from archaeology which coincide with the Biblical account:

I have found at least five theories as to the location of the cities:


There may have never been a town called Sodom or Gomorrah. This position is summed up by a quote from Archaeology Contributing Editor Neil Asher Silberman: "The real challenge for biblical archaeologists today is not to search for long-lost cities, but to understand why the ancient Israelites formulated these powerful myths." (Slayman) The assumption is that the Bible is a collection of myths, not speaking of real events in history, therefore it is pointless to find actual sites which never existed to begin with.

Reasons cited in its favor:



Sodom and Gomorrah and their accompanying cities are now flooded under the Southern end of the Dead Sea. This is the generally-accepted position, found in most books. (Free 63, Wilson p. 5,66, NIV Study Bible, Kitchen p.47, Pfeiffer p.543, Unger p.1205, Library of Congress, Hammond Map)

Reasons cited in its favor:



Sodom and Gomorrah, along with their accompanying cities of the plain were actually located above the valley of the Dead Sea in five elevated spots, each corresponding to a river/wadi. Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub have found five such cities dating back to the Middle Bronze Age, and claim that these are the five cities of the Plain--Bab-edh-Dhra being Sodom, and Numeira being Gomorrah (Shanks p.28).

Reasons cited in its favor:


Large cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located down in the valley now covered by the Dead Sea, but when God destroyed the cities, survivors ran up to higher ground and built smaller "mirror" cities where they buried all the people who were killed by God's wrath. This theory includes a significant readjustment to chronology, putting the Exodus around 2300 BC and putting 1,800 years between the destruction of the original Sodom and Gomorrah and the end dates of the mirror towns of Sodom and Gomorrah built by the survivors (Sanders I & II).

Points in favor:



Sodom and Gomorrah are located along the Northwest side of the Dead Sea. According to Unger (p.1205), this used to be a position held by scholars, although now, it would probably be considered the least scholarly opinion today. Undaunted, Ron Wyatt believes that he has spotted the ashen ruins of cities against the mountains while driving through the wilderness of Judea. The evidence he offers is as follows: (All the following has its sole source from the Wyatt article.)


A Comparative Critique
Although the orthodox Biblical scholar and even the serious archaeologist might dismiss the Mythology theory, it is nevertheless significant. This theory contains a theological position that God does not punish sin and that the Bible is not true. Such theologians may accept sodomy as normative human behavior, as evidenced by some denominations accepting homosexuals into the clergy and performing same-sex weddings. When I did research on the Internet for this paper, I found that several individuals had advertisements for pornographic websites which were titled "Sodom & Gomorrah," indicating that they wished to follow in the ways of those cities with no expectation of reprisal from a righteous God. I have to utterly reject this position because of my faith as a Bible-believing Christian. I have a personal relationship with God and I know Him to be righteous and just in punishing unrighteousness. To this knowledge of God can be added the fact of the tremendous scientific evidence in favor of the historical and cultural accuracy of the Bible. There is no reason why a morality story would include so many details like Lot's door, points of the compass, names of locations, and even the names of neighboring kings; such details point to an actual historical account, not a myth. Account after account in the Bible checks out to the last detail when archaeological and historical evidence is brought to bear upon them. The fact that the famous archaeologist, William Albright, was thoroughly schooled in Welhausen's higher criticism and yet reversed his position to have a strong appreciation for the historical accuracy of the whole Bible, is all the more reassuring" (Fisher).

The claim that the cities are under a Rising Dead Sea assumes that the Dead sea is rising. It certainly has risen in the past, but Dr. Cliff Wilson admits in his book that now "the level of water in the Dead Sea is lowering" (Wilson p.5). A second problem has arisen more recently in that as the waters have lowered, researchers have searched the seabed and found nothing (Shanks P.28)! It's possible that they haven't searched thoroughly enough, but the fact remains that nothing has been found. This theory also assumes that the cities of the Plain were located in the valley of the sea, but, as I read the Biblical account, the valley of the sea was chosen as a battleground, but was not necessarily where the cities were located. Further, Dr. Rast, who has been working on digs in the area says that many Early Bronze cities have been excavated, and they all were located on high areas, not in valleys (Shanks p.33). Additionally, this location has some geographical problems with the Bible account. According to the Bible, the valley was full of tar pits--not like the Garden of God which would be attractive to a shepherd, and even if it was a green valley floor, it wouldn't have been clearly visible from Mamre. Finally, locations for the cities of Admah and Zeboiim are not offered, but in this scenario, Lot would have had to run PAST Gomorrah for 10-20 miles to Zoar, but the Bible account seems to indicate that Zoar was not so far away.

Similarly, there are problems with the theory that the 5 cities have been found up at the higher sites. For one thing, they weren't all turned to ash, as II Pet. states, for bones and foodstuffs have been found preserved in these sites. For another, they are located above the plain, not "on" the Plain, as the Bible states. The comparatively small size of these cities excavated could also be a problem. Also in this scenario, Lot would have had to run PAST Gomorrah for 10-20 miles to Zoar. Additionally, Sanders claims that he interviewed the primary excavators of these sites, Rast and Schaub, who claimed that a lot of their material was misrepresented by Shanks in his article about the Rim Cities being Sodom and Gomorrah. (This was the only source article for this position which I was able to find, so I wish I had more current information!)

The theory of the mirror cities seems to me to be totally out of the question because the Bible speaks of the total destruction of the inhabitants of the city. The concept of a bunch of survivors dragging dead bodies up the hills and carrying on a civilization for hundreds of years after that just does not match the Biblical record.

Ron Wyatt has his problems, too. First is a personal character issue: On other finds, he claims to have lost a lot of key evidences of his discoveries, and the artifacts he does have weren't sent to reputable museums. In addition, the sheer number and magnitude of the discoveries he has claimed to make in a relatively short time stretches the limits of believability: In addition to Sodom and Gomorrah, Wyatt claims to have found the REAL Mount Sinai, Pharaoh's chariot wheels in the Red Sea, Noah's Ark, Abraham & Sarah's burial cave, the REAL location of Jesus' crucifixion, the Ark of the Covenant, etc. Wyatt has taken a lot of heat especially for his "discovery" of what he believes is Noah's ark in a valley in Turkey and not backing down when evidence to the contrary has been brought up to him. Geologists have proven that Wyatt's "Ark" a natural phenomenon, and archaeologists have found no evidence to support his claim (Price). According to another source, none of the people interviewed on Wyatt's own video about Noah's ark (including Bill Crouse, president of Christian Information Ministries, Andrew Snelling of Creation Magazine, and Lorence Gene Collins of CA State University, Northridge) believe his theory to be true. Many consider him to be a fraud (Tentmaker). Because of these character issues we are obliged to be cautious in accepting his material on Sodom and Gomorrah. Some people familiar with the area believe he is just imagining shapes of cities in the mountains - one has to wonder why no one else has noticed them in such a prominent place before (Price). Wyatt's critique that the cities excavated near the Dead Sea are too small doesn't take into account the city-state model which could support a large population outside the walled city. And, what do we do with the obvious fact that there was a large civilization on the East side of the Dead Sea during Abraham and Lot's time, as evidenced by the excavations of Kyle & Albright, Rast & Schaub? I also cannot accept Wyatt's premise that Zoar was destroyed along with the rest of the cities; his location for Zoar is also a bit off from all the historical evidence of where Zoar actually is.

Making a decision in this controversy is very difficult, not only because we are dealing with an event hidden in the mist of great antiquity, but also because I am not experienced in archaeology or in Palestinian geography. To be honest, I lean toward Ron Wyatt's theory of the cities being on the Western side because that is what I understand the Bible to be saying when I read it. However, I do not believe that Wyatt has enough documented evidence for his position. At the same time, I do not want to discredit the fine archaeologists' work on the Bab-edh-Dhra digs--I'd place the Rim City theory as the second best explanation, followed by the Dead Sea Submersion theory as the third. It is my opinion that we don't have enough evidence for a conclusive decision. The most significant thing, however, is that there is enough evidence today that world generally recognizes the historicity of the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah (Wilson p.7, Sanders II). It is an inescapable fact of archaeology that there was some sort of fiery catastrophe in that area of the world. This leads us to the spiritual truth of the Bible that God will punish sin, and Jude tells us that this foreshadows an even greater event of destruction to come at the end of the world. God showed His judgement upon sin on a small scale with the cities of the Plain four thousand years ago, and this is well-attested by archaeological science. Are we prepared for the large-scale fiery judgement against sin which God will bring upon the entire world when He comes in the last day? Are we safely within a covenant relationship with God as Abraham was, who was not touched by God's retribution in his day?



Boyd, Robert T. Tombs, Tells, and Treasure: A Pictorial guide to Archaeology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1969.

Fisher, Dr. Milton. Notes from Lectures and discussions at Sangre de Cristo Seminary, 1998.

Free, Joseph P. Archaeology and biblical History. Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1950.

Hammond's Atlas of the Bible Lands, Harry Thomas Frank, editor. Maplewood, NJ: Hammond Incorporated, 1977, 1984.

Kitchen, K.A. Ancient Orient and the Old Testament. Downers Grove: IVP, 1966.

Library of Congress Web Exhibits, "The Dead Sea." <> 6/27/98

NIV Study Bible. "Archaeological Supplement: Sodom and Gomorrah."

Pfeiffer, Charles F. The Biblical World. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966.

Price, Randall. Personal correspondence with Mr. Pinkoski <> 6/27/98

Sanders, Michael S. "Sodom and Gomorrah - Part II" <> 6/27/98

Sanders, Michael S. "Sodom and Gomorrah" <> 6/27/98

Shanks, Hershel. "Have Sodom and Gomorrah been found?" Biblical Archaeology Review Sept/Oct. 1980 (Vol. 6, No. 5)

Slayman, Andrew L. "Sodom and Gomorrah Update" Archaeological Institute of America <> 6/27/98

Tentmaker. "Wyatt Archaeological Research Fraud Documentation" <> 6/27/98

The Bible, American Standard Version. Albany OR: SAGE software, 1996.

Unger, Merril F. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, R.K. Harrison, editor. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957, 1988.

Wilson, Cliff. That Incredible Book the Bible. Australia: 1993.

Wisemann, D.J. Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology. London: Tyndale Press, 1958.

Wood, Bryant "Evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah" <> 6/27/98

Wyatt, Mary Nell "Sodom & Gomorrah" <> 6/27/98

APPENDIX: Responses to Nate's Article

On Fri, 7 Aug 1998 10:10:12 -0700 (Mike Sanders) writes:

Dear Mr. Wilson:

I have just had a chance to briefly review the piece you did quoting my theory of the "Mirror Cities".

I would kindly refer you to the latest satellite imagery which we have posted on the site showing 5 separate anomalies under the Dead Sea.

I would only say that you either misquoted or misunderstood the survival theory. You must know that a considerable proportion of a cities "inhabitants" in ancient times did NOT live in the city itself, but in the surrounding areas as herdsmen, farmers etc. I accept the Biblical account that ALL the INHABITANTS of the cities were destroyed, that still leaves their relatives who were out of the cities at the time of the great catastrophe.

You do have to account for the vast numbers of bodies found in the charnel houses of the three cemeteries BEFORE Bab edh Dhara, Numeira etc. were built.



> (Private e-mail)



Comments from Dr. Milton Fisher, Nate's class professor:

"Thorough research/bibliography, and thoughtful judgements."

In favor of the Rim Cities, the Bible doesn't actually say the cities were "on" the plain, but "of" the plain/valley/circle. "...these settlements at the headwaters (springs) would CONTROL irrigation of the fertile plain."

Concerning Lot running toward Gomorrah and past it for 20 miles: "Under the circumstances, why NOT? A few years ago, some of our diggers did hike from Kh. Nisya to Jericho (18 mi.) in one day, along rough wadi terrain."


A SIXTH theory has recently come to my attention. It places Sodom and Gomorrah NORTH of the Dead Sea. It has much to recommend it. See for details.

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