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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Nov 26 10:15:43 EST 2008

Dear Yigal Levin:
1.  You wrote:  “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.”
Abraham does not view a destroyed Sodom from Hebron!  No way.  Abraham goes 
back to where he had stood before YHWH, that is, to Beth-el, where Abraham had 
stood before YHWH in chapter 13 of Genesis, immediately after Lot chose to 
journey east to the Jordan River.  From a mountaintop just east of Beth-el, you 
of all people are very well aware of what can be seen:  (i) the Jordan River to 
the east and northeast;  (ii) Mt. Hermon to the far northeast;  and (iii) 
nothing southeast at all, as the high hill country of the city of Hebron cuts off 
all view to the south and southeast.
In chapter 13 of Genesis, Lot and Abraham cannot literally see Sodom/Beth 
Shan.  But Lot and Abraham had passed right by Sodom/Beth Shan when they came 
into Canaan from the far northeast (Harran).  They knew that Sodom/Beth Shan was 
(i) south of Mt. Hermon and (ii) located on the Jordan River.  What Lot and 
Abraham can see in chapter 13 are Mt. Hermon and the Jordan River, which 
naturally reminds them of the wealthy city of Sodom/Beth Shan and the incredible M$QH 
referenced at Genesis 13: 10 -- the well-watered fertile fields of grain of 
the Jezreel Valley.
Abraham, Lot and everyone else in Canaan knew about the 5 wealthy cities in 
the fertile Jezreel Valley.  If Lot wants to live the soft city life, naturally 
the thing to do is to sell Lot’s flock in due course and take early 
retirement in Sodom/Beth Shan, which is exactly what Lot does.
In chapter 19 of Genesis, Sodom/Beth Shan has literally gone up in smoke.  
>From a mountaintop just east of Beth-el, one could just make out, in the far 
distance, that terrible conflagration.  And if there was a north wind, that smoke 
would be blown south down the Jordan River Valley toward Beth-el.  Now all 
the divine promises are quickly coming true!  If YHWH has destroyed Sodom/Beth 
Shan as promised, certainly old Sarah will bear Isaac in less than 12 months 
time as promised.  And with Lot now being relegated to a cave in the hill 
country of the Transjordan (Lot having left Zoar/Afula the Small [item #54 on the 
Thutmosis III list] in the Jezreel Valley), all the divine promises of land for 
Abraham’s favored descendants are coming true as well.  Even before the smoke 
has fully dissipated, Abraham  i-m-m-e-d-i-a-t-e-l-y  takes off north, going 
past a destroyed Sodom/Beth Shan (and not wasting time looking for Lot) to 
KRR/GRR/Garar/Gariree/GLLyL/Galilee.  With Lot no longer having any claim to the 
greater Jordan River Valley, Abraham immediately perfects his claim to all 
Canaan by crossing the devastated Jezreel Valley and commencing to sojourn in the 
fine land of northern Galilee, between Qadesh of Upper Galilee on the east, 
and Ssur (deliberately and disparagingly misspelled as “Sur”) (the fabulously 
wealthy island city-state called “Tyre” in English) on the west, after passing 
through Adami-the-Negev (that is, “the Negev”) just west of the Sea of 
Galilee on his way to Qadesh of Upper Galilee.  All four places at Genesis 20: 1 
are documented in the Thutmosis III list and/or the Amarna Letters.  Meanwhile, 
as you well know, in the secular history of the ancient world (i) no 
inscription ever refers to the desert south of Canaan as “the Negev”, (ii) there is no 
“Qadesh” in the Negev or Sinai Desert, (iii), there is no “Sur” in the 
Sinai Desert, and (iv) there is no “Garar” in the Negev Desert.  Why stay with 
the scholarly view, which has  n-o-t-h-i-n-g  to support it in inscriptions from 
the ancient world?  Why not look instead at the ancient inscriptions that 
document such Late Bronze Age places as the real “Qadesh”, that is Qadesh of 
Upper Galilee, and the real “Garar”, that is KRR/GRR/GLyL/Galilee?
You are absolutely right that nothing can be seen from either the city of 
Hebron or the Aijalon Valley.  In particular, neither the Dead Sea, nor the 
southeast coast of the Dead Sea for heaven’s sake, can be seen from either the city 
of Hebron or the Aijalon Valley.  So in order to see the smoke rising from 
the destruction of one of the five cities of the Plain, that is the five cities 
in the Jezreel Valley, Abraham must return to Beth-el, where Abraham had 
previously stood before YHWH in chapter 13, and where now in chapter 19 Abraham can 
just make out in the far distance the smoke rising from a destroyed 
Sodom/Beth Shan.  And since the Aijalon Valley is only 17½ miles west of Beth-el, 
Abraham can get to Beth-el prior to mid-morning, to see the full effect of the 
smoke from a recently destroyed Sodom being blown south down the Jordan River 
Valley toward Beth-el.
Note that all geographical matters in the Patriarchal narratives make perfect 
2.  You wrote:  “If I may try my own hand at popular etymologies, how about 
"Sodom" - "the Valley of Siddim", which according to Gen. 14:3 was the old name 
for the Dead Sea?”
Certainly you agree that “Siddim” means “fields”, don’t you?  There were no 
fields at the Dead Sea!  There was some lush vegetation at a handful of oases 
southeast of the Dead Sea, as you have mentioned.  But there were never any 
significant number of fields at the Dead Sea.  The “Valley of Fields” can 
logically refer to only one place in all of Canaan:  the Jezreel Valley, the 
famous “valley” that famously features all those lovely “fields” of grain.
The reference at Genesis 14: 3 to the “salt sea” is to the other salt sea 
that borders Canaan:  the Mediterranean Sea.  Based on the Thutmosis III 
campaign from 100 years earlier, we know exactly where the big battle for Canaan 
should take place:  at Megiddo/Gomorrah, of course, in the Jezreel Valley, just 
east of the Mediterranean Sea.  No invaders would waste their precious time 
going to the southeast coast of the Dead Sea!  There’s no there there.  No, the 
great prize for an invasion of Canaan was the fertile fields of the Jezreel 
Valley, and the logical place for a huge battle for Canaan was definitely at 
Megiddo/Gomorrah in the Valley of Fields, the Jezreel Valley, near the 
Mediterranean salt sea.  The invaders would take Sodom/Beth Shan first, and then the final 
battle for Canaan would be fought at Gomorrah/Megiddo, with both places being 
in the coveted, valuable Jezreel Valley.
3.  You are intimately familiar with the geography of Canaan.  Don’t you 
think the same holds true for the author of the Patriarchal narratives?  If you 
were making up a story about the pre-history of the Jews, whether the story was 
fictional or non-fictional, you would not use a fictional geography of Canaan. 
 Neither did the author of the Patriarchal narratives.  The  l-o-c-a-l  
geography of Canaan in the Patriarchal narratives cannot be fictional, even if, for 
argument’s sake, we tentatively looked at the scholarly view that the 
Patriarchal narratives are fiction composed by multiple pre-exilic or post-exilic 
authors (not my view!).  Even on that scholarly view, the  l-o-c-a-l  geography 
of Canaan cannot be fictional.  Otherwise, the Hebrews and Jews would never 
have accepted the story.
So why not give up the scholarly gambit of embracing a totally fictional 
local geography of Canaan in the Patriarchal narratives?  Consider what Lot and 
Abraham could actually see from a mountaintop just east of Beth-el.  Consider 
where the five rich cities, and the Valley of Fields, actually were in Canaan.  
And consider the ancient inscriptions that document Late Bronze Age places in 
Canaan like Qadesh of Upper Galilee and KRR/GRR/GLyL/Galilee.  If I could get 
you to give up the scholarly fantasy of a totally fictional local geography of 
Canaan for the Patriarchal narratives, then who knows, maybe soon enough you 
and I might agree on most everything.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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