From where Lot was standing with Abraham on that
hill near Bethel and Ai, the cities of the plain lay to the
east. Lot did not need to cross the Jordan to go eastward.
What appears to give the impression that Lot went across
the Jordan is the statement that Abraham dwelled in the
land of Canaan while Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain.
However, we have already seen that the cities of the plain
were in Canaan.
The real question is where exactly the eastern border of
Canaan was. For this we turn to Moses, who was speaking to
the children of Israel when they were camped on the plains
of Moab on the east side of the Jordan:
“When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of
Canaan ;” (Numbers 33: 51).
“When ye be come over Jordan into the land of
Canaan ;” (Numbers 35: 10).
From these passages we see that the children of Israel
would not arrive in Canaan until they had crossed over the
Jordan to the western side. In other words, because the cities
of the plain were in Canaan, they lay on the west side of the
Jordan River. Lot did not cross over to the east side of the
Jordan centuries earlier when he chose the plains of Jordan.
There is a historical witness who places Sodom on the
west side of the Jordan. Josephus18 tells us that the mountain
behind Jericho (i.e. on the west side of Jericho) runs from
Scythopolis (ancient Beth Shean) in the north down past
Sodom and on to the far southward limits of the Dead Sea.
To make the geography of the area clear, Josephus then says
that there is a mountain on the other (east) side of the Jordan
as well; it begins at Julias in the north and goes southward
to Somorrhon, which is the bounds of Petra in Arabia (i.e.
in Edom). Note that Josephus only mentions Sodom when
he describes the mountain on the west side behind Jericho.
The prophecy of Hosea
We now turn to Hosea to determine more exactly where
the cities lay along the Jordan River. In Hosea 11: 8 (NIV),
the prophet says to Ephraim: “How can I treat you as
Admah? How can I make you like ;eboiim?” Note that
only the two cities of Admah and Zeboiim are included
in this prophecy. This is significant, because Sodom and
Gomorrah are mentioned more often in Scripture than
Admah and Zeboiim.
To make sense of this mention of Admah and Zeboiim,
we need to look at the map of allotments of land to the
tribes of Israel when they entered the Promised Land (see
figure 3). We see that Ephraim;s territory was directly north
of Benjamin’s, and that both territories bordered on the
Jordan River. Because the prophet was addressing Ephraim,
we would expect that Admah and Zeboiim were in Ephraim’s
allotment, north of the border with Benjamin. Therefore
Zoar, Sodom and Gomorrah in that order from south to north
would be located south of the Ephraim-Benjamin line. This
would result in the cities; lineup as shown in figure 3.
Then Hosea says in 11: 9 (NIV): “nor will I destroy
Ephraim again”. Because this statement is in the verse
immediately after the mention of Admah and Zeboiim,
it would be logical to say that this reference is to the
destruction of those two cities by fire and brimstone many
Hosea prophesied in the era of the divided kingdom,
over 600 years after the tribal allotments were made, but
the line between Benjamin and Ephraim had remained the
same. Benjamin had joined with Judah to form the southern
kingdom, while Ephraim had joined the rest of the tribes that
formed the northern kingdom (II Chronicles 11: 1).
Significance of Zoar/Bela
Although Zoar was a very small city, it is of some
importance in the story of the destruction. Zoar’s other
name was Bela (Genesis 14: 2, 8). So which name came first?
It is widely believed that it was originally called Bela, and
then was called Zoar later on19. It is suggested here that Zoar
was the original name of this little city, and that the biblical
comment about why it was called this name is misread. The
meaning of Genesis 19: 22 would therefore be: “This city
was called Zoar because it was a very little city.” This would
make sense because Zoar was a very little city situated right
next to Sodom.
If Zoar was its original name, then why might it later
have been called Bela? If we look again at the allotments
of the Promised Land, we see that Zoar was on the eastern
Figure 3. Partial map of the land allotments of the children of Israel,
showing placement of the five cities of ;oar, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah,
and Zeboiim along the west side of the Jordan River from south to north
;ocation of the five cities
JUDAH Dead Sea