CITIES OF THE PLAIN (cit'Tz 6v 01(2 plan).
This subject has been ably treated in the light of recent discoveries by the eminent Sir William Dawson in his Egypt and Syria, from which the following epitome is made: (1) Name. The name 'Dead Sea' is modern and unknown to Bible writers, who call it the 'Salt Sea,' the Sea of the Plain. or Ghor,"the East Sea.' etc.' No ideas of desolation are here associated with it. On the contrary, the plain at its northern end is said to have resembled the Garden of the Lord, and Engedi on its western side was celebrated for its vineyards and its beauty.
[lift how does this accord with the terrible story of the destruction of the Cities of the Plain ? (2) Topography. To understand this we must note the topography of the Ghor or depressed Jordan valley in connection with the historical notices in the book of Genesis.
It may be affirmed in the first place that Sodom and its companion cities were not, as held by later tradition, at the south end of the sea, but at its northern end. Canon Tristam has ably supported this view, as has also Dr. Merrill in his work, East of the Jordan. This northern end of the sea must at the time have occupied approxi mately its present position. This appears from the name,'Cities of the Plain,' or Ciccar—that is, the Jordan valley, or the lower end of it. It is also stated that Abraham and Lot could see this plain from the high ground between Bethel and Hai, whence only the northern end of the Dead Sea is visible Abraham could not see the cities of Mamre, but he saw their smoke ascending. The most convincing geographical note, however, is that in Genesis xiv., which describes the inva sion of Canaan by the five Eastern kings in the days of Abraham. They are said to have conic down on the east side of the Dead Sea, to have defeated the Ilivites and Amalekites on the south and then to have come up by way of Engedi (Hazezon-Tainar) on the west side of the sea, and to have fallen on the Sodomites and their allies from the southwest. Thus the Book of Genesis, from which alone we have any contem porary account of these cities, fixes their position.
(3) Manner of Destruction. The manner of
their destruction also connects them with the locality. We are told that there were 'slime pits' —that is, petroleum wells—in their vicinity. Now, regions of bitumen, like that of the Dead Sea, are liable to eruptions of the most dangerous char acter. Of these we have had examples in the oil regions of America.
Now, if we suppose that at the time referred to accumulations of inflammable gas and petro leum existed below the Plain of Siddim, the escape of these through the opening of a fissure along the old line of fault might produce the effect described—namely, a pillar of smoke ris ing up to heaven, burning bitumen and sulphur raining on the doomed cities and fire spreading over the ground. The attendant phenomenon of the evolution of saline waters, implied in the destruction of Lot's wife would be a natural accompaniment, as water is always discharged in such eruptions ; and in this case it would be a brine thick with mud and fitted to encrust and cover any object reached by it.
(4) Lot's Wife. The fate of Lot's wife, as briefly told in Genesis, implies that she lingered behind until overtaken by the fire and saline ejections, and that when the survivors sought her remains they found only a heap of saline incrustation marking the place where she perished.
In relation to Lot's wife, the term which is translated 'pillar' is netsib, and it should be ren dered 'mound.' The erroneous word pillar was probably suggested to the translators by the pil lar-like masses of salt that jut out of the salt cliff of Jebel Usdum.
(5) Causes of Destruction. With reference to the causes of the destruction of the cities, these are so clearly stated in a perfectly uncon scious and incidental manner in Gen. xix. that Sir William Dawson thinks no geologist, on comparing the narrative with the structure of the district, can hesitate as to the nature of the phe nomena which are presented to the observation of the narrator. Nor is there any reason to sup pose that the history is compounded of two nar ratives giving different views as to their prox imate causes or natural probability.