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Good Words 1860
The Destroyed Cities of the Plain

Gen. xviii 16-33, xix. 15-28.

In directing attention to those features of this appalling episode that can be illustrated by the researches of modern travellers, we shall consider,—

First, The relative position of the cities. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, or Zoar, which comprised "the ancient cities of the plain," and whose awfully sudden and overwhelming destruction, (with the exception of Bela, the smallest of them, spared for the sake of Lot,) is recorded in the passage quoted above, occupied a spacious valley in the south-eastern part of Palestine—the spot which, according to ancient and very general belief, is now covered by the whole or a portion of the Dead Sea. That ancient plain, through the midst of which the Jordan poured its copious stream, possessed the prime requisite for vegetation in all Oriental countries—an abundance of sweet and refreshing water; and both from that advantage, and the natural capabilities of the soil, together with the almost tropical atmosphere of this sunken valley, it was not only rich in pasture, but displayed in the greatest luxuriance every variety of vegetable and floral produce. So extraordinary was the fertility and beauty of this plain, that the sacred historian, in alluding to it, knew no better way of describing it than by comparing it to the Garden of Eden, when fresh from the hands of the Creator, or the rich corn-fields of Egypt, the granary of the ancient world : and if we suppose that—besides the many rivulets, the Amnon, the Engedi, the Callirrhoe, and others, which still flow, as they have always done, from the eastern and western mountains, as well as from the south of Arabah—on this part of Palestine, the ancient inhabitants practised artificial irrigation, by forming little canals through their fields, or by water-machines, like the Egyptians, we can easily understand how "the plain of the Jordan, "which was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah," should have equalled the rich productiveness of the Delta, after a favourable inundation of the Nile,—the more especially if the Jordan annually overflowed the district, and the seed was sown on the yet moist ground, immediately on the water subsiding. The five towns in this plain were respectively governed by rulers, who, although honoured by the lofty title of kings, were evidently nothing more than sheiks of a numerous tribe, or as we should say, chieftains of their respective clans. Their dominions extended no further than the government of a single town; and as these towns doubtless exhibited the same features in common with all the ancient and many of the modern towns in the East, the houses would probably stand apart, with gardens and orchards interspersed between, and the ground in the outskirts would be laid out in cultivated fields, as traces of furrows are still distinctly discernible about Zoar, or would stretch out to a greater distance in extensive commons. Hence Lot, a pastoral chief, was a habitual resident in town, while his flocks and herds were scattered over the unoccupied links around. The cities were situated, as the sacred narrative informs us, in "the vale of Siddim," (fields,) which, there is good reason for believing, occupied the area which is now covered by the southern portion of the Dead Sea, and the boundary of which, on the north, is the peninsula of El Lisan: for the site of the ancient Bela, or Zoar, whose ruins are still seen, has been established, by the concurrent testimony of many competent travellers, to have been at the mouth of Wadi Kerak; so that Sodom, which was not far from Zoar—little more than an hour's distance —must have stood in the middle of the valley of Siddim, the now submerged plain, and the other cities were closely adjoining it. That this was the style of town-building in ancient Palestine is not only proved by the numerous ruins of towns which have been recently discovered, and which appear to have been only about three or four miles distant from each other, but may be gathered from the fifteenth chapter of Joshua, where mention is made in half a dozen instances of large '' towns with their villages" (Heb., daughters); and it is precisely in the same way that the sacred writers speak of Sodom and the associated cities of the plain— "Sodom and her daughters." Indeed, in alluding to their overthrow, mention is frequently made of Sodom alone as the capital or chief city of the pentapolis, evidently implying that the other towns were at no great distance, and clustered around it—a view of their relative position which, we may remark still further, is placed beyond dispute by the word "ha-ciccar," "the circle," which is used in Scripture to describe this district, and which can refer to nothing else than the arrangement of the cities in a round or circular group, suggested by the natural character of the place, and of which Sodom was the centre. The area covered by the southern portion of the Dead Sea has been found to be, at its greatest length, fifteen miles in extent; and if we add the adjoining head of the El Arabah—which seems clearly to have formed a part of "the vale of Siddim"—we shall have a level and fertile valley, sufficiently large for the site of the five cities, even allowing some of them to have been considerable towns for that time,—as well as for all the conditions of the sacred story. "In this oasis, or collection of oases," as a learned traveller happily calls it, a Phoenician colony had settled at an early period of the patriarchal age; for at the time of Lot's removal to their neighbourhood, ''the cities of the circle" of the Jordan formed a nucleus of civilised life before any city except Hebron had sprung up in central Palestine. But, unhappily, the great natural advantages of their situation were perverted, and became the occasion of the growing demoralisation of the people. The extraordinary fertility of the district led to general idleness ; the possession of bitumen pits, with which some parts of the plain abounded, originated a lucrative trade with Egypt, where bitumen was much used for the purpose of em-balment; indolence and wealth in a warm region were followed by wide-spreading indulgence in languor and voluptuousness; and these, conjoined with the Phoenician rites of Baal and Astarte—the gross licentiousness of which is unfit for description—gradually produced an unexampled dissoluteness and corruption amongst all classes of the inhabitants, that have stamped upon them a name of the deepest infamy. A holy and righteous God, justly offended at their enormous wickedness, determined to make this people, who were ''sinners before the Lord exceedingly," a perpetual warning to mankind in all time coming, especially to the ''peculiar" race who were to be located for ages in that very land; and in bringing a desolating judgment upon them, made use—as He has often done in other instances—of material agents, found amongst the characteristic properties of their country. Slime, or bitumen, is a liquid, and highly inflammable. The superficial ground on which the cities of the plain stood, covered an extensive mine of it; and it is supposed that the houses of the inhabitants were cemented by means of this bitumen—a practice which was adopted in building the tower of Babel, and which is still followed, even in the present day, in some cities of the East, as in Bagdad and others—so that, as "the Lord rained down fire from heaven," the lightning, pointed by the hand of Omnipotence, kindled the combustible mass; the conflagration would be both from above and below; the violent action of the slime-pits—the dense, pitchy colour of the smoko indicating the nature of what was burned—would pour torrents of the burning liquid all along the ground, and thus complete the work of havoc and destruction. ''The Lord overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground." In the explanation now given, a physical agent is introduced as the means or instrument of the catastrophe; but there is nothing involved in such a supposition at variance with the spirit and style of the Scriptures, which frequently represent God as employing famine, pestilence, and earthquakes, as His agents in punishing the guilty nations, and particularly tell us that "flaming fire" is His minister. The true character of the catastrophe, and its being the direct infliction of Divine vengeance to punish the enormous wickedness of the inhabitants, is established beyond all controversy both by the simple and minutely-circumstantial narrative of Moses, and by other passages of Scripture, in which this memorable dispensation is alluded to. None were exempted from it, except Lot and his family, who, for Abraham's sake, were allowed to take refuge in the little city of Zoar.

Secondly, We shall consider the situation and fate of the fugitives from the scene of the catastrophe. Lot, with his wife and two unmarried daughters, set out as fugitives from the perilous vicinity. Too long and too much did he procrastinate, lingering, it might be, from regret to lose all the property he had been for many years accumulating, and to be driven a homeless, friendless wanderer among the mountain solitudes; or, it might be, that, paralysed with terror, and the powers of reason and reflection being almost extinguished, he remained motionless, till the angel, employing a little friendly violence, forced him away, accompanying the action with these words of urgent admonition, "Escape for thy life; look not back, nor stay thou in all the plain, lest thou be consumed." All over the East, there has existed for ages a superstitious dread of looking behind. People, on leaving their house, would consider it a most unlucky and unfortunate thing to look back; and if, on going out, they happen to have forgotten or left anything behind, those at home would not think of calling them to return or to turn round to them, but will take the article themselves, or send it by a trusty messenger. This superstition is traceable, it is supposed, to the traditional influence of the angel's advice to Lot; for it is evident that it did not exist in the patriarchal age, otherwise the earnest imperative counsel of the angel would not have been needed. That all the four members of Lot's family were included in the prohibition is evident from what befell Lot's wife, although we do not read that it was expressly addressed to her. They were forbidden to look behind, or to tarry in all the plain. They were not to sit down by the way to rest their weary limbs, or, what was more to be apprehended, they were not to station themselves at any particular spot, to indulge their curiosity with a view of the conflagration; for as the impending destruction was not to be con-fined to the city, but was to extend all over the region of the plain, they could not make even the shortest halt but at the imminent peril of their lives. "But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." It seems clear that she was following her husband, as is the custom. On ordinary occasions, when walking, people in the East do not go abreast, arm in arm, as we do, but singly, as it were in Indian file, or following as they best can; and if we suppose that Lot and his family were moving along in this fashion, it is easy to imagine how she might have fallen in rear of her family, without the circumstance attracting for a little the attention of her husband or daughters. Or if she had been an unwilling companion of the journey,—had looked upon the alarm as a delusion, and regretted parting with her relatives and friends in the town,—then, perhaps, in spite of the persuasions and remonstrances of her husband, she refused to go further, and determined to return. That this was the case is undoubted. On looking at the 32d verse of the 17th chapter of Luke's Gospel, the reader will see there is the strongest probability for the assertion, that Lot's wife not only looked back, but, still further, that, regretting some articles of value she had left in Sodom, she had set out on her return to her house, and that, being enveloped on the way by the fiery stream, she was either suffocated or calcined. In either case she remained fixed on the spot, where she perished; and whether she was scorched or merely suffocated, the bituminous vapours and sulphureous particles that were discharged gave her the appearance of a pillar of salt. Unless we admit that Lot's wife had returned, or was making an effort to return to the town for some things she regretted to lose, or wished to take with her, the exhortation of our Lord is unintelligible. Its meaning and whole point depend on the supposition, that she had not only looked back behind him, but was actually retracing her steps in direct opposition to the counsels and commands of the angel. Now, if, after an absence of some time, she ventured again to approach to the theatre of the conflagration, it is easy to explain the manner in which she perished. Incinerated, or stifled, she remained motionless as a pillar of salt; her body was enveloped in a shower of the boiling nitro-sulphureous matter, which rapidly accumulated, and, hardening into a crust, made her appear like a pillar of salt; that is, an upright and isolated object—a conglomerate of irregular figure and unequal proportions, as might be inferred from the manner of its formation. No hint is given in the sacred history that it was designed to be a perpetual monument of that catastrophe. If it had been the Divine will, it could easily have been made permanent and indestructible. But from the nature of the substance, in a moist climate, or washed by the action of the wintry rains, it disappeared in the mass of waters, which has occupied, as we believe, the plain where it stood. For ages, however, a tradition prevailed in the East, that this monument of unbelief was still in existence. Josephus and many of the early fathers mention their having seen it. Traveller after traveller made inquiry at the natives, who spoke with mysterious awe of such a pillar in the south-western portion of the Bead Sea, and in close proximity to the salt mountains of Usdum (Sodom). But few or none had the courage to visit that wild and inhospitable spot, until 1848, when the American Expedition for exploring the Dead Sea came unexpectedly upon it, while cruising along the shore. "To our astonishment," says the author of the narrative, "we saw a lofty round pillar, standing apparently detached from the general mass, at the head of a deep, narrow, and abrupt chasm. We immediately landed to examine it. The beach was a soft, slimy mud, incrustated with salt, and, a short distance from the water, was covered with saline fragments and flakes of bitumen. We found the pillar to be of solid salt, capped with carbonate of lime, cylindrical in front, and pyramidal behind. The upper or rounded part was forty feet high, resting on a kind of oval pedestal from forty to sixty feet above the level of the sea. It slightly decreased in size upwards, crumbled at the top, and was one entire mass of crystallisation. A prop or buttress connected it with the mountain behind, and the whole was covered with debris of a light stone colour." The narrator adds, that the peculiar shape was doubtless owing to the action of the wintry rains. Of course, those enlightened and scientific travellers were not for a moment deceived into a belief that this was the veritable pillar of Lot's wife, and they have described in a clear, intelligible manner the natural process in which such isolated masses are formed among the mountains of rock-salt which abound in that region. Independently of science, the site of this pillar, viewed in the light of the sacred history, shews that it could not be Lot's wife. It stood on the south-west side of the Dead Sea; the fugitives were on the south east on the way to Zoar. It stood high on the brow of a hill; the poor unbe-liever perished in the valley. But ignorant and superficial observers were easily duped by the report that it was Lot's wife; and hence the old and widely prevalent tradition, which, when examined in this age of minute inquiry and scientific investigation, has vanished away into nothing.

We shall direct the reader's attention, thirdly, to Abraham's distant view of the conflagration. This is a circumstance of the utmost importance in the narrative, as attesting the true cause and origin of the visitation. Many profane historians—not only the Jewish writer Josephus, but Diodorus, Tacitus, and others, both classical and oriental—have related the fact, that a number of flourishing cities that once stood at or near the spot which is occupied by the Dead Sea, were suddenly destroyed in a fearful convulsion of nature; but they speak of it as a casualty, just as they would describe the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii by an eruption of Vesuvius, or the overthrow of Lisbon and other cities by an earthquake. But the sacred historian goes beyond the event to the moral causes that led to it, and makes us acquainted not only with the previous communication that Abraham had received of the impending infliction, but of the course which, in consequence of that premonition, the patriarch took to ascertain whether it had taken place. Ver. 27, 28—"And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord: and he looked toward Sodom, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace." Abraham was at that time encamped in the extensive and fertile vale of Hebron, and this vale lies at the foot of a long range of hills, which run from north to south, dividing the Dead Sea from the Mediterranean. Of course, with such a mountain barrier bounding his prospect eastward, he could have seen nothing from his low-lying encampment; and accordingly we are told, after spending what would be to him a night of sleepless anxiety, brooding over the awful tidings that had been imparted to him, he ascended, at an early hour in the morning, a neighbouring eminence, from which he might ascertain whether the threatened doom of the cities had been inflicted or revoked. "In the present day," says a learned traveller, "when every nook and corner, every mountain and river, every glen and pass of the Holy Land is yearly explored by bands of eager observers, what a shout of triumph would it have given to the supporters of infidelity if no hill of the character described was to be found in the neighbourhood of Hebron! Suppose that travellers had returned from the East, averring that the region of the Dead Sea is not visible from the neighbourhood of Hebron, and therefore that Abraham could never have seen any rising smoke from that position, what a shock would such a report, if confirmed, give to our confidence in the Bible ! Every one feels that such a representation, if true, would encumber the Scriptures with a serious difficulty, and that, if the sacred writers were convicted of mistakes as to matters of fact, it would create a fear that they might be fallible also as religious teachers. I therefore hasten to remark, that the geography of the sacred historian, so far from being involved in any contradiction by what is said of Abraham on the occasion referred to, is fully confirmed by the testimony of eye-witnesses. From Beni Nairn, the height which overtops the vale of Hebron, — the height to which Abraham ascended on the morning of the catastrophe, and from which he beheld that the guilty cities had perished,—the observer at the present day has an extensive view spread out before him towards the Dead Sea. It is about sixteen miles distant, and although from that eminence the whole Ghor or Jordan valley cannot be seen,— the view to the north being obstructed by the peaks of the intersecting mountain-range,—yet a spectator, standing on the high ground which Abraham occupied, can have a clear and full view to the south,—to the Dead Sea, and to the mountains of Moab, the very region where the cities of the plain were situated. Nay, several travellers have recently examined the spot with a particular reference to this part of the sacred history, and have given their concurrent testimony that a column of smoke rising from the plain would be distinctly discernible by a person on the Hebron hill now, and could have been therefore perfectly visible to Abraham, as he looked from that height toward Sodom on the memorable morning of its destruction by the angel Jehovah."

We now proceed to consider, fourthly, the alleged discovery of the ruins of the destroyed cities. A few years ago all Europe was electrified by the intelligence that a French savant, Count de Sauley, had found the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah; and from the demonstrations of intense interest which the report of this extraordinary discovery called forth in the religious prints and in general society, it is evident that a chord was struck in the hearts of Christian people, to which they were ready to respond. The public mind had already been somewhat prepared by the important researches amongst the monumental tombs of Egypt, and the no less interesting excavations at Nineveh, to expect that the course of discovery so well begun would be prosecuted further, and directed into some other fields; so that, when it was announced that fresh discoveries had been made, and that, too, on a region far surpassing in interest either Egypt or Assyria, and that the results obtained had been the actual ruins of one or more of the doomed cities of the plain, the idea of seeing the remains of inhabited places which had undergone so terrible a fate seemed to drive the minds of people out of their propriety. A London journalist, in an ecstatic state of credulity, exclaimed, " There is something strangely awful in the idea of these living monuments of Divine vengeance yet remaining after six-and-thirty centuries, with the actual marks of the instrument of their overthrow still visible upon their blasted ruins." An American geographer placed the ruins of the four cities upon his map of Palestine, in accordance with these discoveries, and expressed his own enthusiasm in the remark, that "the disinterment of Nineveh might be of more importance in its results to the historian and the antiquary, but as a matter of feeling, it was of small moment compared with the discovery of Sodom and Gomorrah." The discovery, however, when stripped of the dazzling interest of the first announcement, and examined calmly by the light of Scripture, illustrated by the researches of competent observers, has dwindled into nothing but a collection of what appears "burnt stones." Traversing the south-western shore of the Dead Sea, the French traveller came upon a heap or immense pile of large stones, which, be it remarked, had been long before seen and described by others, near the salt mountain, the Usdum, or Sodom of the Arabs; and he immediately put the question to his guide, "What is that huge heap of stones?" "An ancient castle," was the reply. "What is its name?" "The burnt stones." " Where was the town of Sodom?" "Here." "Did this ruin belong to the condemned city?" "Certainly." "Are there any other vestiges of Sodom?" "A great many there and there," continued the guide, pointing to surrounding spots. And so this information obtained from a wandering Arab, whom the French Count liberally encouraged by backsheesh to point out every object of interest, and who had thus a strong temptation to multiply his stock of traditional marvels;—this information was absolutely the whole evidence, the slender foundation on which the learned academician reared his imaginative system of ancient cities. Dr Robinson and Eli Smith, Van de Velde, and other travellers who went over the spot, some of them with De Saulcy's map in their hands, have united in pronouncing the supposed ruins a mere creation of fancy. A more recent traveller, the Rev. Mr Isaacs of Cambridge, and now an agent in the employment of the London Missionary Society, himself at first an enthusiastic convert to De Saulcy's opinions, set out in the summer of 1857 to visit the shores of the Dead Sea, and having in company with him several intelligent friends, two of whom had been long resident in Jerusalem, and were well acquainted with the localities of the neighbouring country, made a minute and extensive examination of the whole southwestern coast, embodying the result of their inquiries in an interesting little work, lately published. Their conclusions were the very reverse of what they anticipated when they set out, as will be seen from the following quotation from Mr Isaac's book:—"The ground all along the western coast was strewn with stones. Here and there the stones had been accidentally arranged in a manner that might be considered regular; but the fact of their being on the surface only was sufficient to demonstrate that it was the result of mere accident. Moreover, they are rough stones; no tool or instrument of any kind had ever been employed in giving them their present form, which is purely natural. To what cause, then, it may be asked, can such an accumulation of stones be attributed, scattered as they are along a considerable part of the coast of the Dead Sea? The answer is, that this part of the mountain-chain has been worked as salt mines. The rock-salt, of which the mountains are chiefly composed, is intermingled with rocks and stones of various sizes. In working these mines, the stones would be necessarily impelled down the mountain side, and thus the coast had become strewn with them. These stones, exactly similar in colour and appearance, are observed up to the very highest point of the excavations." Most unhesitatingly, therefore, we came to the simple and natural conclusion, that these rough stones were those which had been quarried out in working the salt-mines. Indeed, we could hardly conceive that any cause, but De Saulcy's anxiety to discover the remains of ancient Sodom, would have led him to identify these stones with ruins of any kind whatever. Again, referring to what De Saulcy calls the town-wall of Sodom, Mr Isaacs says—"The hillock certainly had a wall-like appearance on one side; but on examining it a little more closely, it had manifestly been occasioned by the mere flow of water, which, rushing by, had cut away the earth, and left this flat surface exposed. No doubt could reasonably exist on the point. In regard to the mass of stones generally, although here and there it appeared as if these had been laid in a regular arrangement—yet the fact of their being on the surface only, was sufficient to demonstrate that it was the result of mere accident. The stones are rough—for certainly no tool or instrument of any kind had ever been employed in giving them their present form, which is purely natural. Moreover, not one of these stones had the least appearance of having been subjected to the action of fire. We broke off fragments of the stone, in order that it might be made clear to others as well as to ourselves, that none of these stones had passed through the process of vitrification, nor had been in any way subject to volcanic action." So much in regard to Usdum, at the south-western extremity of the lake. Goumran, in which M. de Saulcy sees Gomorrah, is situated at the north-western side of the Dead Sea; and at that point he observed an enormous mass of stones, the foundation of which consisted of enormous blocks of unhewn stone, forming what may be called, Cyclopean walls, a yard in thickness. "I do not hesitate," says M. de Saulcy, "in referring back to the periods of Sodom and Gomorrah this strange and gigantic structure, which forms, in all probability, a part of the remains of the last-named city. Let me begin by pointing out the very strange, if merely fortuitous analogy, between this name, Goumran, and that of Gomorrah, destroyed by fire from heaven, along with Sodom and other condemned cities. My own eonviction is, without the slightest hesitation, that the ruins called by the Arabs, Kharbet-Goumran, which form a continuous mass, extending without interruption over a space of more than six thousand yards, are in reality the ruins of the scriptural Gomorrah. If this point is disputed,—a controversy for which I am fully prepared,—I beg my opponents will be so obliging as to tell me what city, unless it be one contemporary with Gomorrah, if not Gomorrah itself, can have existed on the shore of the Dead Sea at a more recent period, without its being possible to find the slightest notice of it in either the sacred or profane writings. Until they can give me better information respecting these ruins, which are unquestionably of some importance, since they cover a space of no less than about four English miles in extent, I must maintain my own opinion, and say these are the ruins of Gomorrah. go and verify them, and see if it be possible to maintain a different opinion from that which I now set forth." They have been examined: English, American, and German travellers of intelligence and learning have carefully examined these alleged ruins of Gomorrah, and have unanimously come to conclusions utterly subversive of the Frenchman's theory. Minute and careful examination convinced them that, where these stones did not lie loosely—fragments torn off from the adjoining mountains—the inclosures formed by the stone walls were built for folding cattle; in other parts, they seemed to have been the site of an Arab sepulture ; and, in a third, to have as evidently been the foundation of a small aqueduct leading from the Ayn-el-Feckhah, many of which, constructed by the Saracens, are to be found in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea. This last is literally the only relic of the work of past ages which M. de Saulcy's discoveries contain. "In concluding the narrative of my researches," says Mr Isaacs, "I affirm, in confirmation of the opinions of those who are best qualified to form just conclusions on the subject, that the discoveries of M. de Saulcy are purely fictitious. His own narrative conveys the impression that he had made up his mind to arrive at discoveries which would be new to the world. His inventive genius came to his help in accomplishing this object, and his talents and acquirements threw a mantle of truth and consistency around assertions which, to speak in not stronger terms, were the fruits of a mere hallucination." Dr Stewart, of Leghorn, who gives a similar report to that of Mr Isaacs, differing only in supposing that the mason-work, which the latter ascribed to the Saracens, might have been erected in the time of Herod, or by the Romans while besieging Masada, a little farther down,—concludes by declaring his belief that M. de Saulcy's "journal, for its marvellous discoveries, has had no rival but the travels of the celebrated Baron Munchausen."

The truth is, it does not require a personal journey to the shores of the Dead Sea in order to view this matter in the same light. For every fireside traveller, who thinks on the subject with his Bible before him, has the means of convincing himself that the alleged places could be neither Sodom nor Gomorrah ; and as it is of great importance that our opinions of sacred topography should rest on a Scriptural basis, it may be useful to state briefly the objections to the alleged discovery of these ruins.

1. The site of the places which De Saulcy has fixed for Sodom and Gomorrah, is quite at variance with the Scripture, which represents Abraham as looking from the top of Hebron hill towards both of them, as if they were situated in the same locality, and close to each other; whereas, between the localities described by the Frenchman there is a distance of fifty or sixty miles.

2. The Scripture narrative represents the two as "cities of the plain," whereas the localities fixed upon by De Saulcy are on eminences. Usdum (Sodom) lies so close to the shore, that it is impossible to pass onwards without ascending a little of the mountain side, and Goumran is eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.

3. Zoar, we know, was near to Sodom, for it was the little city Lot begged a permission to flee to; and the key to the discovery of Sodom, if its ruins at all exist, must be found in the city of Zoar. De Saulcy, aware of this, has found what he considers Zoar, in Es Zuweirah, a place at the south-western extremity of the Dead Sea, and distant from Usdum or Sodom only a mile and a quarter, for he measured it, and walked it in less than twenty minutes. It may occur to the reader, if the distance was so small that it could be gone over at an ordinary walking pace in the time specified, there was no need for Lot's making such great haste, or fleeing to escape the scene of peril. Besides, Es-Zuweirah, though the similarity of sound led De Saulcy to identify it with Zoar, could not possibly have been that ancient town, for it is known to scholars that there is no affinity whatever between the Hebrew Zoar, and the Arabic name Es-Zuweirah. Still further the Scripture narrative shews in the most explicit manner, that Zoar did not stand on the west, but on the Moabite or eastern side of the Dead Sea. De Saulcy endeavours to overcome this difficulty by extending the limits of the Moabite territory to Usdum on the south-western, and to Ayn es Eeckhah on the north-western extremity of the Dead Sea, but in this attempt at accommodating his theory to truth, he contradicts the authority of Scripture, as well as of Jerome and Ptolemy the geographers, both of whom were thoroughly acquainted with all the localities of Palestine. Irby and Mangles, Lynch, Robinson, Van de Velde, and many other most accomplished travellers, have found and identified the ruins of Zoar at the entrance of Wadi-Kerah, at the northern bay of the south-eastern peninsula of the Dead Sea. The time which Lot took to reach Zoar, (and he must have been going in trembling haste,) will enable us to calculate the distance of Zoar from Sodom. The approaching destruction of the city having been announced to him during the night, he left it at day-break, but not earlier. For when the morning rose, the angels hasted Lot, and he reached the gates of Zoar at sunrise. As the morning twilight between early dawn and sunrise is always short in that region, it is evident that Lot could have occupied little more than an hour in travelling between the two cities, so that Sodom must have been about three or four miles from Zoar.

It thus appears so highly probable as to amount to a moral certainty, that the site of those cities, (for it is needless to enter into discussion about Admah and Zeboiim,) was comprised within the space which is now covered by the basin of the lower or southern part of the Dead Sea. The ground on which they stood was, according to the express testimony of Scripture, burnt up; and on the basis of this scriptural fact, that the cities were destroyed by fire and not by water, an opinion has been started, and maintained by eminent men, from Reland down to De Saulcy, that there is no good reason for believing that the ground was submerged in the waters of the Dead Sea. The farther consideration of this view must form the subject of a subsequent article.

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