The Location of the Cities of the Plain (Wyatt, Wood, and Collins)

The location of the Cities of the Plain (heb. kikkar, loaf, talent, circuit) of Genesis (Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim) has long been of dispute.

There are three main options to go with:

1. They were spread out along the western Dead Sea coast (Ron Wyatt).

Biblical Basis: 1 Samuel 13:18, Genesis 10:1, Genesis 19:24, 25, Genesis 14:3, 7-11, Deuteronomy 29:23, Ezekiel 16:46

Archeological Evidence: Some wind and water eroded formations and sulfur balls.

Criticisms (for a rebuttal of Ron Wyatt’s claims regarding the Red Sea crossing, see AJaL, Section 5, for the Covenant Ark, go here, for Noah’s Ark, here): Structures such as Wyatt claimed are the Cities are certainly natural formations. Boiling sulfur cannot melt rock (which melts at least 500 degrees higher than the boiling point of sulfur) or stainless steel (over 900 degrees higher than the boiling point of sulfur). It can, however, easily melt tin, making for some good presentations by Wyatt and the Wyattists. The fact the so-called “rock” (in reality, aragonite) had, in the words of Mary Nell Wyatt, “the consistency of talcum powder” further shows the fact that all these formations never got to temperatures hot enough to weld rock, and CERTAINLY not to temperatures which would allow thermal ionization (4000-5000 degrees Fahrenheit). The features which look like thermal ionization are merely mixed-up lake sediments. The sulfur balls are the results of microbial activity.

The formations below Masada (roughly at 31°19’32″N, 35°22’23″E) were built up by deposits of aragonite and dust (not ash!) which were formed and made dry by the evaporation of the salty waters of Lake Lisan in the distant past (as long as 14,000 years ago) and shaped over thousands of years by flowing water from the West and the wind blowing from Lebanon to the Gulf of Aqaba (ever wonder why Jericho was so eroded?). These deposits are important for radiometric dating of the ups and downs of the Dead Sea. The so-called “streets” there are nothing more than wadis (natural stream beds flowing with rainwater). The “sphinxes” are wadi-formed structures. The Arabs’ “Mount Sodom” is nothing but a halite and gypsum formation moved to its present location by the pressure of water and sediment in the so-called “Lake Gomorrah” over 80,000 years ago. No evidence of actual human habitation, much less civilization, (stone walls, pottery, rubbish pits), has ever been found at the claimed sites by the Wyattists. Genesis 13:10-12 clearly points to the northern Dead Sea region as the location of the Cities of the Plain.

2. They were around the southeastern part of the Dead Sea (Bryant Wood, many fundamentalists).

Biblical Basis: Genesis 10:1, 14:3-11, 19:25, Deuteronomy 29:23, Ezekiel 16:46.

Archeological Evidence: The Early Bronze cities of Bab edh Dhra (31°15’15″N, 35°32’2″E) and Numeria (31° 7’53″N, 35°31’36″E) were destroyed by tectonic upheaval in the late 3rd millennium BC.

Other Arguments: Extrabiblical Byzantine texts are cited to support the location of Zoar at Safi.

Criticisms: All criticisms are summarized by Steven Collins of New Mexico here.

3. The cities were to the north of the Dead Sea (Steven Collins).

Biblical Basis: Genesis 13:10-12 unambiguously supports this and ONLY this option. The phrase “kikkar of the Jordan” can only refer to a circular district around the Jordan, which, as the phrase “cross[ing] the Jordan” and “mouth of the Jordan” confirms, refers to the Jordan River alone. The phrase “kikkar of the Jordan” is also used in 1 Kings 7:46 to refer to another half-circular district located in the area of Succoth (Tell Deir ‘Alla, 32°11’47″N, 35°37’14″E). Zoar, the kikkar’s border city, also seems to be at the place of the meeting of the Dead Sea, northern Aravah, and mountains of Reuben, since nothing south of the Arnon was part of the Promised Land (Genesis 13:10, 19:22-30, Deuteronomy 2:9, 34:3). Indeed, Jeremiah 48:34 and the Mesha stele (if really referring to the House of David) combine to give a picture of Horonaim and its ascent being in the southern Moabite Aravah and Zoar being exactly where the Dead Sea, northern Aravah, and mountains of Reuben meet.

Criticisms: Ezekiel 16:46 is the only decisive evidence against the northern option, and even it is strongly metaphoric (“older” and “younger” are also used metaphorically in the same verse). Indeed, the terms “right” and “left” need not necessarily refer to cardinal directions, especially in such a metaphor-using verse. Genesis 10:19 is referring to the eastern Canaanite border, which was not necessarily at the Jordan. Indeed, the verse could easily be referring to a beginning of the border in the southernmost geographically non-obvious area (the area of the cities of the plain) and an end of the border at Laasha (lšẖ), which was very likely Tel Dan (also called Leshem/lšm in Josh 19:47 and Laish/lyš in Judges 18:29). Also, the tells Collins has identified were occupied in the time of the writing of the Sodom destruction story, making them unlikely candidates at best.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

3 thoughts on “The Location of the Cities of the Plain (Wyatt, Wood, and Collins)”

  1. Very interesting article. Thanks for publishing the sources of info, tho, I doubt that anyone will be convinced by that photo of Noah’s Ark? I could barely tell it was land at all.

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