Do the placid (and therapeutic!) waters of the Dead Sea harbor a distant memory of rampant brutality and fiery retribution? Maybe. According to the Bible, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located in the area known as the Plain of Jordan, which scholars place around the southern end of the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan.
Here’s the story:
The Lord was getting lots of complaints about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gangs of men roamed the streets, violently attacking foreigners. The behavior was in flagrant opposition to the ancient (even then), deeply cherished custom of hospitality. Guests were to be honored and offered the best food and accommodation available. Anything less was a direct insult to God. Citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were not simply negligent in their obligations of hospitality, they were aggressively hostile. The Lord had had enough and was ready to smite the whole place. Abraham, on the other hand, had a hard time believing that everyone in both cities was so cruel, so he negotiated with the Lord to save the cities on behalf of the innocent people there. It was agreed that Sodom and Gomorrah would be spared if 10 worthy citizens could be found.
That evening, the Lord sent two angels, disguised as men, into Sodom. They encountered Abraham’s nephew Lot, who invited them home for food and shelter. Lot had no knowledge that he was being tested by the Lord. The strangers were enjoying a warm fire and a nice meal served by Lot’s daughters, when a vicious mob surrounded the house. The crowd demanded that Lot deliver his guests to them to be raped. Desperate to protect his guests, Lot offered his daughters instead. The mob was bent on raping the strangers and no one else, but this was not about sex. This was about brutalizing and denigrating outsiders in the worst possible way, short of murder.
At this point, the angels revealed themselves and advised Lot to get out of town with his family. The test was failed. The Lord would soon rain fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and reduce them to smoldering ash. Lot, his wife and daughters ran for the hills under strict instructions not to look back. Mrs. Lot did, however, look back, and for that she was turned into a pillar of salt, on the spot. Lot and his daughters…that’s another uncomfortable story.
Call me anachronistic, but I judge all the men in this story seriously lacking in virtue.
I just had to say it.