CITIES OF THE PLAIN; CICCAR
sit'-iz, plan, (kikkar ha-yarden):
Included Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar. The locality is first referred to in Genesis 13:10, where it is said that Lot "lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the Plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Yahweh, like the land of Egypt, as thou goest unto Zoar." The word translated plain is kikkar, "circle." In this ver, and in the 11th, as well as in 1 Kings 7:46 and Matthew 3:5, we have the full phrase "circle of the Jordan." Elsewhere (Genesis 13:12; 19:17,29; Deuteronomy 34:3; 2 Samuel 18:23) the word for "circle" is used alone with the article. Until recently the traditional view that this circle of the Jordan was at the south end of the Dead Sea was universally maintained. The arguments in favor of this view are:
(1) The name of Sodom is preserved in Jebel Usdum--Usdum having the same consonants with Sodom; moreover, the name is known to have referred to a place in that region as early as the days of Galen (De Simpl. medic. Facult., 4,19) who describes certain "salts of Sodom" from the mountains surrounding the lake which are called Sodom.
(2) Zoar seems to have been represented in the Middle Ages by a place which the Crusaders called Segore, and Arabic writers Zoghar. Under the name Zughar or Sughar the place is often referred to by medieval Arabian geographers as situated 1? South of Jericho "at the end of the Dead Sea" and as a station on the route between the Gulf of Akabah and Jericho, two days' journey from Jericho. Ptolemy (v.17,5) reckons Zoar as belonging to Arabia Petrea. Eusebius (Onom., 261) describes the Dead Sea as lying between Jericho and Zoar. Josephus (Ant., I, xi, 4) makes the Dead Sea extend 580 stadia "as far as Zoar of Arabia" (Wars, IV, viii, 4). These references would locate Zoar at the base of the mountains just Southeast of the Dead Sea, and, as it was within easy reach of Sodom, from which Lot fled, would fix the Cities of the Plain in that locality. Jerome (Comm. on Isaiah 15:5) says that Zoar was in the borders of Moab.
On the other hand, it is maintained that the "kikkar of the Jordan" lay North of the Dead Sea for the following reasons:
(1) That is the region which is visible from the heights of Bethel whence Abraham and Lot looked down upon it (Genesis 13:10), while the south end of the lake is not visible. But it may be answered that the phrase need not be limited to the actual region in sight, but may have included the whole known extension of the valley.
(2) Zoar was said to be in range of Moses' vision from the top of Pisgah (Deuteronomy 34:1-3) whereas the south end of the Dead Sea is invisible from that point, on account of intervening mountains. But this description in De evidently is not intended to be limited to the points which are actually visible, but should be understood as describing the extreme limits of the land some points of which are visible in their near vicinity. Certainly the vision did not comprehend all portions of Da or Judah "unto the hinder sea." The phrase from Jericho to. Zoar is like "from Da to Beersheba." The mountain heights overlooking Zoar were certainly visible.
(3) In Genesis 14 the four kings coming up from Kadesh attacked the Amorites "that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar" before reaching Sodom, and Hazezon-tamar is to be identified with Engedi. On the other hand, it is possible that it is to be identified with the Tamar of Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28, and that this place lay Southwest of the Dead Sea. Or, if that explanation is not accepted, it is proper to note that the course of this expedition led at first a considerable distance South of the Dead Sea through Mt. Seir to El-paran, when "they smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites." In accomplishing this they would naturally be led along the highland to Hebron from which they could easily descend to Engedi, whence they could proceed without difficulty to the south end of the end Sea. Besides, it is by no means certain that there was not an easy passage along the whole western shore of the Dead Sea at that time. See DEAD SEA.
(4) It is argued that the region at the south end of the Dead Sea could not be described "as the garden of the Lord," etc. Neither, for that matter, could the region around the north end be so described in its present condition. But, on the other hand, the region South of the sea is by no means as devoid of vegetation as is sometimes represented, while there are convincing arguments to prove that formerly it was much more extensive and fertile than now. To the fertility of this area there is no more capable witness than Professor Hull, though he is an ardent advocate of the location of these cities at the north end of the lake. This appears both in his original diary, and in his more mature and condensed account contained in his article on the Dead Sea in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), where he writes, "When, in December, 1883. the writer found himself standing on the edge of the terrace overlooking the Ghor, he beheld at his feet a wide plain stretching away northward toward the margin of the Dead Sea, and to a large extent green with vegetation and thickets of small trees. To the right in an open space were seen several large Bedouin camps, from which the shouts of wild men, the barking of dogs, and the bellowing of camels ascended. Numerous flocks of black goats and white sheep were being tended by women in long blue cloaks; and on the party of travelers being observed, groups of merry children came tripping up toward the path accompanied by a few of the elders, and, ranging themselves in a line, courteously returned salutations. Here the Arabs remain enjoying the warmth, of the plain till the increasing heat of the summer's sun calls them away to their high pasture grounds on the table-land of Edom and Moab. At a short distance farther toward the shore of the lake is the village of Es-Safieh, inhabited by a tribe of fellahin called the Ghawarneh, who by means of irrigation from the Wady el-Hessi cultivate with success fields of wheat, maize, dhurah, indigo and cotton, while they rear herds of camels and flocks of sheep and goats. On the produce of these fields the Arabs largely depend for their supplies of food and raiment, which they obtain by a kind of rude, often compulsory, barter."
Authorities favoring the south end of the Dead Sea:
Dillmann, Genesis, 111; Robinson, BRP2, II, 187:ff; G. A. Smith, Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 505; Baedeker-Socin, Palestine, III, 146; Buhl, Buhl, Geographic des alten Palastina, 117, 271, 274; see also especially Samuel Wolcott, "Site of Sodom," Bibliotheca Sacra, XXV, 112-51. Favoring the north end: Sir George Grove in various articles in Smith, Dictionary of the Bible; Canon Tristram, Land of Moab, 330; Selah Merrill, East of the Jordan, 232-39; W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book.
George Frederick Wright
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