Reference: Plain, Cities Of The
These were five in number, namely, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (or Zoar), situated in the plain ('circle') of Jordan. Their inhabitants being guilty of great wickedness, the first four of the above-named five were overthrown by fire. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who had made his home in Sodom, was warned by the Lord to withdraw from the city before it was destroyed; and he accordingly escaped to Zoar, which, at his entreaty, was spared the fate of its neighbours (Ge 18; 19).
The situation of the five cities has been variously placed at the N. and the S. end of the Dead Sea. The Biblical statements are generally in favour of the former site, which is supported by the facts: (1) that the circle of the Jordan, which is also called the circle of the valley of Jericho (De 34:3), is appropriate only to the broad hasin of the Jordan, near its mouth; (2) that it was visible from near Bethel (Ge 13:3-10); (3) that the cities were N. of Hazazon-tamar (usually identified with En-gedi), since this place was passed by Amraphel when he marched from Kadesh against the king of Sodom and his allies (Ge 14:7-8). On the other hand, (1) it is implied in Eze 16:46 that Sodom was on the right (i.e. south) of Jerusalem, whereas if it were at the N. end of the Dead Sea it would be almost due E.; (2) Zoar, which must have been near the other cities (Ge 19:20), is placed by Josephus in Arabia (BJ IV. viii. 4), and by Eusebius at the opposite end of the Dead Sea to Jericho; (3) the name Sodom is generally identified with Jebel Usdum, a cliff of rock-salt near the S.W. corner of the Dead Sea; (4) Hazazon-tamar may be, not En-gedi, but the Tamar of Eze 47:19, which has been identified with a locality 20 m. W.S.W. of the lake, and therefore on the road between Kadesh and Sodom if the latter were at its S. end. If this view is right, the site of the cities is probably the marshy flat es-Sebkha, E. of Jebel Usdum. But the statement that the plain (or circle) of Jordan was near Jericho seems incompatible with a situation S. of the Dead Sea; and if the name Sodom survives in Jebel Usdum, that of Gomorrah seems to linger in that of Tubk Amriyeh, a place at the N.W. corner of the lake; so that, though the evidence is conflicting, the preponderant weight appears to support a N. site. (For the other view see Driver's art. 'Zoar' in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible).
The nature of the catastrophe which destroyed the cities can only be conjectured. It may perhaps be suggested that the bitumen which abounds in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea was ignited by lightning, and that this caused an extensive conflagration in which the cities perished.
G. W. Wade.