By Vardah Littman
The Inferno of Sodom and the Purim Story
Achashverosh was raging in anger because Queen Vashti had refused to obey him and appear unclothed before the crowds attending his feast. To top it all off, she had deeply insulted his manly pride by saying he could not hold his drink. So he brought the case before “chochmei ha’itim,” which included Jewish sages of the tribe of Yissachar.
The sages were in a quandary as to how to answer the furious tyrant. They knew that once he sobered up he would probably make them pay dearly for whichever way they judged the case. If they exonerated Vashti, they would be blamed for disparaging his majesty’s honor. And if they found her guilty and had her executed, the crazy king would end up killing them.
The Yissacharites therefore found an honorable way out, claiming that as they were in exile, they did not have the tranquilly of mind to arbitrate capital cases. They advised Achashverosh to consult the wise men of Ammon and Moav. The sages were alluding to the fact that since these nations had came about through the abuse of wine by their forefather Lot after he had escaped the inferno of
. They were therefore the best equipped to judge a case that involved the result of the misuse of that beverage. Sodom
There are those that maintain they have found the charred ashes of
Sodom near the Dead Sea at Ha’veray Masada at the foot of the Masada fortress built by Herod (37BCE until 4BCE). They are bizarre lighter colored formations, hence their name “Ha’veray Masada,” “Pale Ones of Masada.” This mysterious landscape of white, strange building-like hills has inspired a number of other speculations to explain its origin.
Sea Sediments, Magical Park, or
Streets Ancient City
One source claims that it is part of the bed of the ancient
Lysine Sea that stretched from the Mediterranean though the until the Emek HaYarden. When this sea receded, these weird and wonderful Lysine Marl sea sediments may have been left behind. Emek Yisael Valley
Others say this is a “huge magical park set up by nature.” These pale, barren hills, glimmering in the bright sunshine near the turquoise Dead Sea, may be the result of nothing more than standard erosion of very soft rock beneath the cap-rock; They claim they are “straightforward” common deformation of sedimentary strata and examples of desert landforms, which are entirely of natural (wind erosion, etc.) origin. They state that this is nothing more than a natural geological erosion. They say that these formations are similar to those found in the Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, and Sierra Nevadas in
The most interesting conjecture, however, is the claim there is irrefutable evidence that this is one of the cities of the
Jordan plain from Lot’s time, which Hashem destroyed. These are actually the remains of streets with many, many fossilized, petrified buildings in which are clearly found windows and arched doorways. They state that there are other man-made elements that can be observed. For example, they point out that there are ninety degree angles extending out from walls, demonstrating the existence of the human element is this eerie architecture.
They point out that there are unique shapes that are visible in the formations that are not found in nature, with recognizable structures of a town that can be clearly identified. They allege that the "streets" truly “communicate” with each other like real streets. If these had been gullies from flash floods, they would have been washed down from the mountain side in a random pattern. But there is a well-organized arrangement of streets which seems to make it clear there was a metropolis here.
Destruction of the Jordan Plain Cities
The Torah gives us an account of the conflagration of the cities, in which balls of brimstone (sulfur) stormed from heaven (the atmosphere), completely burning them up. The material rained down upon these cities was so hot that it burned the limestone blocks that were used in the construction of the cities. The extremely high burning temperatures created a multi-shaded layering of ash that was formed by thermal ionization, caused by repelling and attracting electrons, thus creating a swirling effect in some of the walls of the remains.
Analysis of the remaining ash on the Ha’verim indicates that the event of the destruction of these cities was the result of a carefully controlled chemical reaction that took place very rapidly, while maintaining an equilibrium that didn't result in an explosion. This conforms to the commentaries that describe the destruction as starting only after Lot left
and happening very quickly. The ashen remains of Ha’veray Masada bear witness to this ancient inferno that burned at very high temperatures. Sodom
Embedded and scattered around what may be this man-made labyrinth that was once a teaming metropolis are numerous round "brimstone raindrops," many the size of golf balls. Some have burn marks all around them. These were analyzed in laboratories and found to be ash capsules containing 96-98% pure sulfur with trace amounts of magnesium which create an extremely high temperature when they burn.
This “brimstone” is not from any type of geo-thermal movement since there is no evidence of such a thing having happened in the area. Usually natural volcanic sulfur nodules are almost never more than 40% pure. This is the only place on earth where you can find 96 percent pure monoclinic sulfur in the form of a round ball. There are random pellet marks (the way rain falls), all over the walls of these formations, evidence of the fiery rain that fell on them.
A spear head and a cache of burned gold which is now gold salts, burned bones (with the marrow in the middle), jars, and tiles have also been found here.
Another interesting point is that that the structures (buildings) are set much higher than the level of the “road.” Below a certain level everything looks likes heaps of white powder and not too far below it is the substratum. This indicates that not only did the cities themselves burn, but even the ground dirt was turned to ash right down to the bed rock.
The View from
From the top of
Masada, the ruins reveal features that cannot be distinguished at ground level. From here, you can see sections which look exactly like artificially-raised, perfectly symmetrical platforms for temple areas, known form other ancient cities (e.g. Shushan). These "platform” show vast, flat areas with ziggurat-shaped masses on them. Large ashen "chunks" which bear a strong resemblance to that of eroded sphinxes are also present. On areas where the ground level rises, the ashen structures seem to be terraced, following the lay of the land.
What appear to be double-walls extend around this “city,” similar to the double walls of excavated Canaanite city sites. On the northern side, the wall has an opening which is believed to be where the gate was, and therefore an entrance into the city. There is a tall structure on the western edge of the opening, much like a gate tower.
Corroboration from Josephus
In his War of The Jews, Book IV, Chapter VIII Josephus (who can be relied upon for his visual descriptions) writes: "The traces or shadows of the five cities are still to be seen.”The proponents of this hypothesis claim: “If Josephus could see the Cities in his time, surely we can too”. They say the shore of the
Dead Sea has receded and the water level has fallen since the time of Josephus, so the areas Josephus saw in his day are even more visible today. Josephus' description perfectly fits what can be seen in the ashen site of Ha’veray Masada. All whitish in color, the shadows and shapes displayed at the location, match the visual characteristics of an ancient city and with its walls.
There are additional formations in what is today called
Jordan on the opposite bank of the Dead Sea in the , including a large cemetery area containing 1,000,000 graves. The same structures as found on the Israeli side were also found on the Jordanian side as well as ash, brimstone, and even ceramic tiles. Lisan Peninsula
The destruction of these cities took place in 2047 (1712B.C.E.) one year before the birth of Yitzchak Avinu. A tremendous amount of erosion must have taken place since that time, so it is quite amazing to find these ashen heaps of actual physical remains of the destruction. Just as the cities were destroyed in a Divine manner, it appears that Ha’veray Masada was also preserved in a Divine manner to remind us about Divine retribution.
There is also an explanation for this extraordinary preservation derech hatevah. After things are burned with sulfur, a heavier type ash is created. The structures are therefore composed of very heavy compacted ash. The material is densely-packed and crusty on the outside, preventing the wind and elements from removing it. You can actually crush the layered rocks of the formations into fine powder which proves that it is composed of ash.
Whichever explanation for these strange formations catches your fancy and you choose to believe, a tour of Ha’veray Masada is fascinating. Here are magnificent trails among the formations, with breathtaking views of the
Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moav behind it. The preferred time to visit there is on a night of the full moon. (Bring along touches.) Whether during the day or at night, beware that after the rain it’s very slippery. These trails are suitable for children, but it’s better not to visit on hot summer days.
This is an area that allows us to understand the drush on “Ein Zur k’Elokeinu”- that there is no painter as masterful as Hashem. To reach there from Highway 90, turn into the road leading into
Masada. Park your vehicle in the parking lot of Masada (Chenyon Temarim).
For a wonderful hike that lasts plus or minus one hour and takes you on a circular trek back to your car, follow the black marked trail (which goes up and down hills), until the trail straightens out. Then keep on going for about 20 minutes until you get to the green marked trail. Then turn right and follow green marks back to the parking lot. If you stay on the black marked trail, you will reach Highway 90 which is a good option if you have a vehicle waiting for you there.Bring a lot of water and use both a hat and sunscreen during the day. Wear closed shoes at all times. Warning; do not climb up, on or over the formations at Ha’veray Masada since they could collapse
Published in the "English Update."