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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Nov 25 19:24:23 EST 2008


Dear Jim,

As usual, I disagree with what you write. In this case, just a few points;

1. I do agree that Gesenius' etymologies are not to be trusted.

2. Since Abraham looks over the cities of the plain, including Sodom, from 
Hebron, they obviously could not have been in the Jezreel Valley. This is 
even true if the Patriarchs' Hebron was in the Ayalon Valley, as you 
(wrongly) claim.

3. If I may try my own hand at poular etymologies, how about "Sodom" - "the 
Valley of Siddim", which according to Gen. 14:3 was the old name for the 
Dead Sea?


Yigal
----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 5:14 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] What Does "Sodom" Mean?


>
> What Does “Sodom” Mean?
>
> Rather than being fictional, I see the names of the five “cities of the 
> Plain”
> /KKR/valley at Genesis 14: 2 as being puns on the historical names of five
> Late Bronze Age cities in the Jezreel Valley.  Let’s examine here the most
> controversial name:  “Sodom”.
>
> “Sodom” is samekh-dalet-mem/SDM.  Gesenius says that “Sodom” means 
> “burning”
> or “conflagration”, but offers no real support for that view.  Strong’s
> states that “Sodom” comes from “an unused root” meaning “to scorch” or 
> “burnt”
> , but once again offers no real support for such view.  Certainly no
> historical city name would mean “scorched”!
>
> “Sodom” is better analyzed as being a pun on three words, two of which
> reference historical Beth Shan, and the third of which means “scorched”,
> foreshadowing Sodom’s fiery fate depicted in chapter 19 of Genesis.
>
> We start our linguistic analysis of “Sodom” by noting that, although 
> “Sodom”
> itself is spelled with a samekh, there is no root or derivative of “Sodom”
> spelled with a samekh.  That’s a key clue to what is actually going on 
> here.  “
> Sodom”, spelled with a samekh, reflects a series of puns on words that 
> begin
> with a sin, rather than a samekh.  A sin and a samekh have similar sounds.
> (It is not clear how the samekh was pronounced in the Late Bronze Age.  In 
> Late
> Biblical Hebrew, samekh had become virtually indistinguishable from sin. 
> Some
> say that a sin is a softer S than a samekh, but it is hard to distinguish
> such sounds.  Even more importantly, we do not know exactly how these 
> S-type
> sounds were pronounced by the early Hebrews.  The point is that the sounds 
> of
> samekh and sin are certainly close enough to make a close pun.)
>
> If we look for words similar to “Sodom” that begin with a sin or shin
> (rather than with a samekh), we immediately find three such words.
>
> First there is “shakam” or “sokom”/shin/sin-kaf-mem/$KM or &KM.  (In
> unpointed text, we don’t know most of the vowel sounds, and we cannot 
> distinguish
> sin from shin, so this could be “sokom”, which sounds a lot like “Sodom”.)
> This word, which references “rising in the early morning”, is used 
> throughout
> the Bible, including in the Patriarchal narratives at Genesis 19: 2 when 
> the
> angels come to Sodom, and at Genesis 19: 27 when Abraham goes to see Sodom’s
> destruction.  The first large city in Canaan proper over which the sun was 
>> rising in the early morning” was Beth Shan, located on the eastern edge of 
> Canaan.
> Based on item #110 on the mid-15th century BCE Thutmosis III list, the 
> first
> attested name of Beth Shan in $JR.  This could easily mean $XR, the word 
> for “
> dawn, early morning”, so that “Beth Shan” means “house of dawn” or “House
> of the Rising Sun”.  Notably, $XR appears at Genesis 19: 15, immediately 
> before
> Sodom is destroyed.  ($XR also appears at Genesis  32: 24, 26.)  $KM has a
> closely related meaning to $XR, and those two words in the Patriarchal
> narratives also have a somewhat similar sound.  $KM or &KM in turn may 
> have also
> sounded a lot like “Sodom”, with only the middle sound being significantly
> different.  In hearing about Sodom’s destruction in chapter 19 of Genesis, 
> one cannot
> avoid the word $KM at Genesis 19: 2, or $XR at Genesis 19: 15, or $KM 
> again at
> Genesis 19: 27.  The author is practically forcing us to see this key set 
> of
> puns on the name “Sodom”, so that we will know that “Sodom”/SDM is a
> Patriarchal nickname for historical Beth Shan/$JR.  Sodom/Beth Shan is 
> portrayed as
> being destroyed as the sun rises over Canaan (Genesis 19: 23), and “Beth 
> Shan”
> means “House of the Rising Sun”.
>
> Second is “sadap”/sin-dalet-peh/&DP.  (As noted above, in unpointed text 
> we
> don’t know most of the vowel sounds, so this could be “sodop”, and we 
> cannot
> distinguish sin from shin.)  The only place that the word “sadap”/&DP is 
> used
> in the Bible is in the Patriarchal narratives, at Genesis 41: 6, 23, 27.
> Gesenius says it means “to blast, to scorch”.
>
> The third word redolent of “Sodom” is “sidim”/sin-dalet-yod-mem/&DYM (or “
> sodim”), which means “fields”.  The “Valley of Fields”, or the “Valley of
> Siddim”, is where the princeling ruler of Sodom is defeated in chapter 14 
> of
> Genesis.  The only valley of grain-producing “fields”/sidim in Canaan was 
> the
> Jezreel Valley.  The Valley of “Fields”/Sidim is the Jezreel Valley. 
> “Sodom”,
> which sounds so much like sidim/“fields”, is the “fields”/sidim city in 
> the
> Jezreel Valley, namely Beth Shan.
>
> The word sidim/&DYM is used three times in the Patriarchal narratives, at
> Genesis 14: 3, 8, 10, in very close proximity to describing Sodom.  The 
> word “
> field” in the singular is a common word in the Bible.  The word “fields” 
> in the
> plural is used 59 times in the Bible outside of the Patriarchal 
> narratives.
> But not a single time outside of Genesis is “fields” spelled &DYM.  (At 
> Exodus
> 8: 9, for example, we have the word “fields”, but it is spelled
> sin-dalet-tav/&DT, not &DYM.)  It would seem that &DYM in the proper name 
> “Valley of Fields
> ” is an archaic plural of “field”, indicating the great antiquity of the
> Patriarchal narratives.  (Archaic forms in proper names in the text of the
> Patriarchal narratives could not be changed, whereas the grammar of most 
> common
> words in the entire Bible, including the Patriarchal narratives, was 
> updated from
> time to time over the centuries.  As to grammar, the true antiquity of the
> Patriarchal narratives is generally limited to proper names.)
>
> If we use the English letter O for each implied vowel sound for the three
> above words, we see that “Sodom” and “sokom” and “sodop” and “sodim” all 
> are
> close enough in sound to be deliberate puns.  If we switch to the English
> letter I for the implied vowel sound in the second syllable of each such 
> word, we
> would get “Sodim” vs. “sokim” vs. “sodip” vs. “sodim”.  The first and
> fourth words are then the same, and the second and third words vary by 
> only one
> letter.  The point is simply that these four words are close enough in 
> sound to
> be deliberate, close puns that are being made by the early Hebrew author 
> of
> the Patriarchal narratives.  Note that &DYM is used in describing Sodom in
> chapter 14 of Genesis, and both $KM/&KM and $XR are used when Abraham 
> views the
> destruction of Sodom in chapter 19 of Genesis.  That’s no mere 
> “coincidence”.
> No way.  That’s the author trying to make sure that we see his clever 
> puns, so
> that we will understand what the Patriarchal nickname “Sodom” means. 
> Though
> Gesenius, Strong’s and other scholars see only “scorched”, the more 
> important
> two puns here on the name “Sodom”/SDM in chapters 14 and 19 of Genesis are
> &DYM/“fields” (chapter 14 of Genesis), and $KM/&KM/ “rising in early 
> morning”
> (chapter 19 of Genesis).  Recognizing those two puns is critical to
> understanding that by use of the Patriarchal nickname “Sodom”, the author 
> is
> specifically referencing historical Beth Shan, either by describing its 
> most obvious
> attribute (“fields”), or by making a close pun on the historical meaning 
> of the
> city name “Beth Shan”/$JR/$XR (“rising in early morning”).
>
> If “Beth Shan” originally meant “house of $XR”, then the city name “Sodom”
> , which is redolent of &KM or $KM, is in turn redolent of $XR, the 
> historical
> Late Bronze Age name of Beth Shan.  But “Sodom” in the Patriarchal 
> narratives
> is also a deliberate pun on “scorched” and “fields” -- SDM vs. &DP vs.
> &DYM.  As such, “Sodom” is an apt Patriarchal nickname, being a 
> three-level pun
> on “rising in early morning” and “scorched” and “fields”.  “Rising in 
> early
> morning” is redolent of the historical Late Bronze Age name of Beth Shan, 
> and
> references Beth Shan’s locale on the eastern edge of Canaan, with the sun
> rising in early morning on Beth Shan before any other major city in 
> Canaan.  “
> Fields” reflects the cardinal fact that Beth Shan housed Egypt’s only 
> inland
> Canaan garrison, which was there to guard the fertile fields of the 
> Jezreel
> Valley.  And “scorched” obviously refers to Sodom’s fiery, dire fate 
> depicted in
> chapter 19 of Genesis (where the common words $XR and $KM are used).
>
> In a subsequent post, we can discuss why Genesis portrays Sodom/Beth Shan 
> as
> being burnt to the ground and never reinhabited, despite the fact that 
> such a
> thing never happened in secular history to Beth Shan.  (It did happen,
> historically, to Qatna just north of Canaan, which is the historical model 
> for Sodom’
> s fiery destruction.  The early Hebrew author is warning in chapters 14 
> and 19
> of Genesis that unless everyone now unites against the new threat posed by
> the dreaded Hittites, Qatna’s fiery demise last year may foreshadow a 
> similar
> disastrous conflagration next year in the heart of Canaan, at what would 
> be any
> serious invader’s most logical target -- the key stronghold of Beth Shan.)
>
> If we can understand the historical etymology of “Beth Shan”, we can
> understand what “Sodom” means.  We then see that “Sodom”, rather than 
> being
> fictional as scholars would have it, is instead an apt Patriarchal 
> nickname that is
> closely based on the historical name of the historical Late Bronze Age 
> city of
> Beth Shan.
>
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois
>
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