GEOLOGY AND THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH
By Kerby Rials
Sodom and Gomorrah remind me of friends who farm irrigated land in Washington State. Because of the irrigation, they can water the plants exactly as needed — never too much, never too little, and always right on time.
Most farmers must depend on the weather for rain, which is unreliable. But irrigated farms in desert areas have harvests right on time because the weather does not interfere.
Buyers are thrilled with this reliability and sign big money contracts with farmers who use irrigation. My friends have contracts with McDonald’s to provide them with perfect potatoes, which they do, right on time, every year.
This is exactly the situation of Sodom and Gomorrah. They irrigated their crops from the large lake around them, which was fed by the pure waters of the River Jordan.
What an idyllic setting! Fresh fruit and vegetables of every kind growing practically 365 days a year! And sunshine all the time! And a beautiful fresh lake to swim in!
The towns were situated so that trade routes had to pass through them because of the lake. Boats fished and sold their wares up and down the lake and river. So everyone made money and had an easy life. You couldn’t ask for more.
Here is what the Bible says that Lot saw when he decided to move there: “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt,” (Gen. 13:10). (Egypt also grows crops using irrigation from the Nile.)
It did not take long for Lot to leave his sheep and tent to move to a real house in the city, despite its bad reputation. It was so bad that the Bible says Lot’s soul was “tormented day after day by their lawless deeds” — but he put up with it. Money called. (2 Peter 2:8)
He was respected and sat in the city gate — meaning he was practically a member of the city council, and he did not have to work anymore. He had the time to sit and watch others work. Money, respect, an easy life, sunshine, boats, beaches — it was all you could ask for.
So when the Lord told him that the city was going to be destroyed, he did not want to go. Everything was there. He had it made. His future was set. How could he leave this city? He was so attached to it that the angels had to literally drag him out! “When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.” (Gen. 19).
Note this warning the angels gave him: “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.” (Gen. 19:17)
They said, “Don’t look behind you!” But that is exactly what Lot’s wife did:
“But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26).
Jesus says, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
She had her hand to the plow but was looking back at her old life, and her pretty house. She was more interested in a city about to be destroyed, than saving her own life.
Today, as you know, that beautiful sunny lake that she loved so much is called the Dead Sea. So much salt fell on the area, that it killed all the fish in the lake and killed anything growing around it.
To this day nothing grows there because of the salt.
But is it really possible that salt can shoot up from the ground? Is the biblical account geologically sound? Absolutely. Geologically we know there is plenty of salt there. Salt is often found in underground salt domes, especially where there are fault lines.
“Active tectonics will increase the likelihood of salt structures developing. … faulting will both reduce the strength of the overburden and thin it. In an area affected by thrust tectonics, buckling of the overburden layer will allow the salt to rise….”
Also the rock above salt domes often has deposits of sulfur. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_dome)
Oil tends to collect under these salt domes, as petroleum geologists know very well. The correlation is so strong that they look for salt domes first in order to find oil.
Finally, the fault line adds all you need for a perfect disaster.
The likely scenario is that the hot oil trapped by the salt dome (oil found undergrond is usually hot) burst through the salt dome and the sulfur cap, perhaps due to an earthquake. The hot oil melted the salt and sulfur and spewed oil with them into the air. Sulfur, like oil, is flammable. Oil is often under tremendous pressure, so when it escapes it forms a “gusher.” If it catches on fire, the devastation and the heat are total, such as was seen when Saddam Hussein set Kuwait oil wells on fire during the Gulf War.
This is what we see in this example. The oil-sulfur-salt mix fell down on the surrounding towns. It could have ignited due to the sparks coming from chimneys and cooking fires in each house, or due to lightning.
This is just what the Bible says:
“Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone (sulfur) and fire.” (Gen 19:24)
Sulfur is still found on the shores of the Dead Sea, just as we would expect. And of course salt. (http://www.deadsea.com/articles-tips/interesting-facts/general-information-about-the-dead-sea/. Accessed Sept. 30, 2017)
But some might say, “Where is the oil then? If oil burst out from there, why do we not find it anymore in Israel?”
There is still oil in that area. Obviously the oil that had been trapped by this particular salt dome at Gomorrah burst out much like a pimple when squeezed. It fell on the area and burned up. But there is still more oil in the Dead Sea area today.
An Israeli company is currently authorized to drill for oil discovered near the Dead Sea worth about $320 million. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/dead-sea-oil-reservoir-entirely-within-israel-says-company/ Accessed Sept. 30, 2017)
Oil and salt are found together. Much of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves are found in salt domes related to salt tectonics. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_tectonics)
This is all supported by recent archaeological excavations of two destroyed towns by the Dead Sea. They show sudden destruction by fire. The complete skeletons of two men discovered there show sudden death from the very time when the Bible says Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. (http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx, accessed Sept. 29, 2017).
The excellent archaeological research on these two sites confirms the biblical account. Let us return to Lot and his family, fleeing for their lives. Jesus himself comments on them, saying: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). How did she die exactly?
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is often present in areas of petroleum deposits. This colorless gas is highly lethal. A whiff of pure H2S is enough to kill you. The British actually used H2S in World War II against the Germans in reprisal gas attacks. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_sulfide)
Ironically, it is a byproduct of Noah’s flood, generated from the decay of plants, animals and humans buried under sediment. The fact that Lot’s wife may have been killed by a gas created by God’s judgment on Noah’s generation is ironic. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_sulfide)
It is possible, in lagging behind her husband and daughters she got a fatal breath of this poisonous gas, and collapsed. H2S, although very pungent at first, quickly deadens the sense of smell, so victims may be unaware of high concentrations until it is too late. Likely all four of them smelled small quantities at first, then not at all due to the effect of the gas.
Since H2S is heavier than air, the higher you go the less you are at risk. Since they all were moving to a higher altitude, each step made them safer, but Lot’s wife, being lower and last, was most at risk.
The toxicity of H2S is comparable with that of carbon monoxide. It binds with iron in the cells, thus preventing respiration. Short-term, high-level exposure will cause immediate collapse, loss of breathing and then death. For example, in 1975, hydrogen sulfide released from an oil drilling operation in Denver City, Texas, killed nine people. Lot and his daughters, not looking behind them in obedience to the command of the angels, kept going, not seeing the collapse of Lot’s wife’s or hearing her in the conflagration. She was then covered by the liquified salt falling from the sky. She thus became a pillar of salt.
So what shall we say of all this? What is Jesus’ point in asking us to remember Lot’s wife?
First that this world is destined for destruction — just like Sodom and Gomorrah. We see this in in 2 Peter 3:11-12: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.”
We should not be too attached to a world that will soon be burned up. That car, that house, those clothes and that bank account will all be burned up. It is like making your bed on the sinking Titanic. Don’t worry about it! It is going to sink.
Secondly, we see from geology and archaeology and from a simple visit to the Dead Sea today that this biblical story really happened. It is not a myth or a fairy tale. It is a living example that God means business. We cannot live a life displeasing to him and escape judgment.
Remember Lot’s wife.