[b-hebrew] What Does "Sodom" Mean?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Nov 25 14:54:12 EST 2008

Dora Smith:  
You wrote:  “[N]othing is more politically charged than the story of Sodom 
and Gomorrah.  …I repeat, [it is] not possible to have a discussion of Sodom and 
Gomorrah that is free of political motives and implications.  Now.  What 
specifically are you arguing that sodom means?  My guess is that if you think the 
word has a meaning, then the meaning argues against a literal interpretation 
of the story, and that is precisely what has induced K. Randolph to blow up.”
I have a semi-literal interpretation of the story.  In the secular history of 
the Late Bronze Age, Qatna, just north of Canaan, was burned to the ground 
and never re-inhabited, after being part of a 5-party league that unsuccessfully 
opposed 4 attacking rulers, including a grand Hittite king, in the historical 
“four rulers against the five” that is referenced at Genesis 14: 9.  Sodom 
matches all of those historical criteria.
The point the early Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives is making, 
however, is that unless everyone unites now to oppose the dreaded Hittites, who 
had just now conquered all of Syria, then Beth Shan, in the heart of Canaan, 
might well become the next target on the Hittites’ hit list.  “Sodom” in the 
Patriarchal narratives primarily represents historical Beth Shan, in the 
northwest corner of the Jordan River Valley, which is also the eastern part of the 
Jezreel Valley.
The name “Sodom” primarily references Beth Shan.  SDM is close in sound to 
$KM, which in turn recalls $XR, which is the oldest attestation of the name “
Beth Shan” at item #110 on the mid-15th century BCE Thutmosis III list.  $KM and 
$XR reflect the fact that Beth Shan was the easternmost city in Canaan 
proper, and hence was the “city of dawn”.  SDM is even closer in sound to &DYM, 
meaning “fields”, with the finest “fields” of grain in all of Canaan famously 
being located in the wondrous Jezreel Valley.
I see the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as being closely based on the 
well-documented secular history of the Late Bronze Age.  I do not accept the scholarly 
view that Sodom and Gomorrah are fictional.
One important reason why the author of the Patriarchal narratives did not 
simply use the name “Beth Shan”, but instead used the name “Sodom”, is because 
Sodom is doing double duty in Genesis.  On the one hand, Sodom represents Beth 
Shan, and the very real threat to the heartland of Canaan posed by the newly 
resurgent Hittites in the mid-14th century BCE.  But Sodom also is modeled on 
historical Qatna, which was one of a league of 5 rulers who lost to 4 
attacking rulers, and ended up being burnt to the ground and never re-inhabited.
If you’re interested, we could discuss what the true sin of Sodom was.  It 
has nothing to do with homosexuality, sex, or lack of hospitality.  No, it has 
everything to do with the early Hebrews’ fear that Canaan might soon be overrun 
by the dreaded Hittites.  In that sense, Sodom’s unforgivable sin was “
political”.  The early Hebrew author was understandably terrified that the cities 
of the Jezreel Valley might get “an offer they could not refuse” from the 
mighty, conquering Hittites, and that those 5 rich cities might react the way 
Amurru and Ugarit historically did, when those two Amorite states iniquitously 
sold out northernmost greater Canaan to the dreaded Hittites, in the historical “
iniquity of the Amorites” referenced at Genesis 15: 16.
I do not view any of this as being fictional.  It is deadly serious.  The 
continued existence of the early Hebrews was at stake here.  Indeed, one key 
component of the religious faith of early Judaism may well be eternal thanks to 
YHWH for the semi-miraculous fact that, against the odds, the mighty, 
expansionist-minded, seemingly all-powerful Hittites never did invade Canaan.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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