In an article in the September/October, 1979 edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review titled "Have Sodom and Gomorrah Been Found?", the author describes a site located on the edge of the Lisan peninsula which extends out into the Dead Sea. This site, Bab edh Dhra, consists of a town and a cemetery which contains the remains of some 500,000 people as estimated by P. W. Lapp, archaeologist, who excavated the site between 1965 and 1967.
In the period of 1973 through 1979, four more sites were found by archaeologists Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub which they believe are the remaining four cities mentioned in Genesis 14:2. The five sites start with Bab edh Dhra at the north, and include in order to the south, Numeira, Safi, Feifa, and Khanazir. All five sites are located at the heads of small wadis and have been dated to the early bronze age. One of the sites, Safi, is identified in the Madaba Mosaic Map (a map found on the floor of a 6th century AD Byzantium Church approximately 50 miles away) as Zoar.
Two other cemeteries of equal size to the one at Bab edh Dhra have been uncovered at Feifa and Safi bringing the possible total to some 1.5 million human remains. (Biblical Archaeological Review Volume 6 No. 5).
What is unusual about these sites is that the cemeteries were in existence (3200 BC and earlier) before the towns, and the extremely high number of human remains buried there. The area is extremely arid, and at present does not have the capability, even given present agricultural technology, of supporting more than a small fraction of the population that the numbers in the cemeteries indicate that it once did.
The Bible indicates that prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the climate may have been dramatically different, and depending on the interpretation the Dead Sea either did not exist or was of a different configuration:
Genesis 13:10 "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar."
The site of Numeira was burned some time near the end of the Early Bronze Age, and at this point it is assumed that the other four sites were likewise destroyed at about this time as a result of conflicts with an invading people as noted in numerous references.
This would establish a period of habitation for the five cities of approximately 3200 BC to 2350-2200 BC depending on which chart one is using.
Uniquely, the majority of burials are associated with the early portion of this period and seem unrelated to the later destructions. Since it is to be expected that the longer a settlement exists, the greater its population may become, what possible explanation could there be for what has been observed? One theory that may explain these observations has been posited by Mike Sanders, a Biblical scholar. He believes that the five settlements represent relocation sites of the remnantal populations of five prior cities originally located closer to or within the confines of the Dead Sea. These, he believes, were destroyed due to some catastrophic disaster based on the fact that the cemeteries were in use prior to the establishment of the sites. He has therefore named these sites "the mirror cities of the plain" Quoting Mr. Sanders: "The archaeologists Rast and Schaub suggest that these five cities could be the cities of the plain, but this theory evokes more questions and answers.
It must be noted for example that the majority of the dead found at the site are dated 1,800 years before the sites were finally destroyed according to the conventional chronology.
Who then were the dead and are there any other sites world-wide with such vast charnel houses containing so many remains?"
"...dates the Exodus to the end of the early Bronze Age and the final destruction of these sites coincides with the area-wide catastrophe which occurred at that time with the mass migrations and disruptions that followed."
"The vast cemeteries were therefore begun some 1,800 years earlier using conventional dating figures (much less using the conventional chronology) and were created as a result of the mass slaughter that took place at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as recounted in the Bible."
"The scenario probably involved the survivors of that holocaust; those from the cities and the majority living outside the cities dragging their dead and wounded to a safe haven, preferably near a fresh water source (hence by a wadi).
Those that died were buried in mass graves BEFORE a settlement was established at Bab edh Dhra and Safi. Gradually as the danger subsided and a semblance of normality returned, the survivors broke up into settlement groups mirroring the original towns of origin.
Thus, those Sodomite survivors gathered together and formed a new settlement as did the survivors of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Bela.
Fortunately there was a wadi complex somewhat nearby and each settlement group managed to have their own access to fresh water at the head of individual wadis."
"Thus the sites found by our modern archaeologists are in fact the "mirror" cities of the plain." While Mr. Sanders goes on to elaborate on a revisionist chronology, he has in fact established the foundation for a credible theory of what may have happened when one considers the fact that the cities were located along an active rift system and given the Biblical descriptions that the environment was altogether different (Genesis 13:10) and that all five cities were perhaps located in a valley (Genesis 14:3).
One theory that may seem far fetched but possible is a sudden fault movement could have resulted in a shift in elevation and an explosive expulsion of pitch which could have been ignited giving rise to the story in Genesis 19: 24, 25:
"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground."
While the description more resembles the results of a volcanic eruption, since there is little evidence in the area for such an event at the time, the scenario involving burning pitch may be just as valid. If Mr. Sanders is right in his mirror city theory, the destruction of the original cities of Sodom and Gomorrah may have occurred sometime between 3200 to 2800 BC (Conventional Chronology) dependent on the accuracy of the investigators and their charts. An examination of a segment of a radar image created by special imaging techniques coupled with a microwave emitter aboard one of the Space Shuttle flights provides some interesting features for consideration. A unique property of such images is the ability to penetrate some distance through water to capture otherwise indiscernible features.
While the image only covers a portion of the Dead Sea, it clearly indicates an underwater channel for the Jordan at its northern most end as well as the rift zone along the Jordanian coast to the East. In addition, there is an obvious resistive feature to the East off the coast of Jordan. By no other process than resampling, we are able to enlarge this small image to reveal a structure of surprising symmetry.
Could this be one of Mr. Sanders submerged cities? If it is a natural formation then it is unusual in its obvious right angles and rectangular symmetry.
Rotating our original image and then overlaying the Madaba Mosaic Map, it is evident that this anomaly is directly off shore to the location identified in Greek as Safi.
Other satellite photos clearly indicate that at one time the Dead Sea seems to have extended to the south. It is just possible, lacking evidence to the contrary, that the Dead Sea was located further to the South prior to 3200 BC, and that movement along the rift in the vicinity of the Dead Sea resulted in the cataclysmic destruction of the original cities as described by Mr. Sanders due to a dramatic subsidence.
The survivors could have then moved to the positions at the wadis as postulated by Mr. Sanders and where they would have reestablished their trade with Ebla as recorded in the Ebla tablets that have been dated to 2500 BC.
A possible proof of this theory may be found in the cores that have been taken in the northern end of the Dead Sea by petroleum and mineral exploration companies.
Due to seasonal variations in the sediment load coupled with a similar process in the deposition of evaporitic minerals, recognizable banding should be evident.
If detailed examinations of these cores were to reveal continual annual deposition to about 3200 BC and terriginous (dry land) deposits thereafter, then Mr. Sanders theory could then be considered to have been proven empirically."
Michael S. Sanders
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