Aug 6, 2021

Battle of the Valley of Siddim Gen 14

MAP Representing the fault lines and the
level of the Dead Sea in
the Middle Bronze Age (about 2000 BC).
This map also depicts the southern campaign 
of Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam described in Genesis 14:1–12

During the Battle of Siddim (historically accurate in Gen 14) the location of the cities of the plain on the ESV Bible map (in the post of the top ten finds Associated with Abraham) are associated with Bab edh-Dhra (Sodom) and Numeira (Gomorrah). However these sites were destroyed 250 years apart and in the Early Bronze Age (prior to Abraham in the MB) period. Feifa and Khanazir in the south are merely cemeteries in the EB and MB periods and not occupied settlements. 

A better location of the Cities of the Plain are identified by sites in the north end of the Dead Sea (Valley of Siddim [Shittim]) on the Kikkar where the Hebrew text places them. Tall al-Hammam (Abel-Shittim) is a better candidate for Sodom with the other Cities of the Plain located at sites in the MB period (tall Nimrin, Tall Kefrien, Tall Mustah and Tall Bleibel (Zebuiim is plural in Hebrew so these last two sites close together would make sense). The story of the battle of Siddim in the Jordan Valley (Kikkar) makes more sense and is archaeologically more tenable.

In this text, a confederate army of kings, representing the regions of Shinar (Babylonia, Gen 10:11),[1]  Elassar (eastern Asia Minor, i.e., Cappadocia or Hurrian) , Elamite (Sumerian, modern Iran), and Goiim (Hittites)  unite under Chedorlaomer (Kedorlaomer) to march south, no doubt on the King’s Highway (Num 20:17–21), to make war (Heb. מלחמה Josh 11:18) against the tribes of the southern Levant (See Map attached). 

The list begins with the battle at 

(1) Ashteroth-Karnaim (Tel Ashˊ-ari) in southern Syria where the Rephaim are defeated.[2]

Next, the army travels to 

(2) Ham (Zuzites) between Bashan and Moab, and then on to 

(3) Emim (Deut 2:10–11) in northern Moab (Shaveh-Kiriathaim [Shave-Qiryathaim]). The location of Emim is uncertain but may be near Madeba at Khirbet el-Qureiyeh, Qaryet el-Mekhairet  [Khirbet al-Mukhayyat] [3] near Mt. Nebo [cf. Num 32:37; Josh 13:19; Jer 48:1]). Next Chedorlaomer enters the region of Seir to defeat the Horites (Deut 2:12–22) as far as 

(4) El-Paran (possibly Eilat; Deut 2:8; 1 Kgs 9:26) on the border of the wilderness of Zin. Turning back toward 

(5) En-Mishpat, which is identified as Kadesh-Barnea, they defeated the Amalekites (Exod 17:8, 14; Num 13:29; Deut 25:17, 19; 1 Sam 15:2–8). Next they defeated the Amorites, who were resident at 

(6) Hazazon-Tamar (also, Ḥaṣaṣon-Tamar), which is identified with En-Gedi (also Engedi or Ein-Gedi; 2 Chron 20:2).[4]  Wenham points out that some scholars suggest that: 

Ḥaṣaṣon-Tamar should be identified with Tamar in southern Judah (1 Kgs 9:18; Ezek 47:18–19). Still other possible identifications include Kasr ejuniyeh or Ain Kusb (20 miles southwest of the Dead Sea).[5] Whichever is the correct location, it is clear that from Kadesh the kings turned northwest back toward the Dead Sea region and the cities of the plain. [6]

It is only then that Chedorlaomer encounters the kings of the Cities of the Plain [7]

(7) in the Valley of Siddim which is full of bitumen pits. Wood suggests that the presence of bitumen pits “tips the scales in favour of a southern location”[8]  for the Cities of the Plain. However, two factors need to be resolved before this evidence may be admitted. First, where is the location for the battle in the Valley of Siddim, and second, where is the location of the bitumen pits? 

 The first question which needs to be asked is: did the battle in the Valley of Siddim, near the bitumen pits, occur at the location of the Pentapolis or at another location, some distance away from the Cities of the Plain? And why would these ancient people build their cities near dangerous bitumen pits?

The second important factor in the debate is the location of the bitumen pits. Wood suggests that the bitumen pits are in the south,  while Collins points out that this would mean that Chedorlaomer had to backtrack to go south; while if he traveled north, this would correspond better with the direction in which he was already travelling to free Lot. Abraham was at Mamre (Hebron; Gen 14:13) when he received word that Lot (Abraham’s nephew) had been taken captive, and so he pursued Chedorlaomer to Dan (Laish, identified as Tel el-Qadi).[9]  Since Chedorlaomer was travelling north to Dan, with Lot, it would make sense that Chedorlaomer would not have turned south with his armies to encounter the kings of the Pentapolis.[10]  Since there are bitumen pits at both the north and south ends of the Dead Sea, does this really help to indicate the location of the Valley of Siddim, which is associated with the Dead Sea? The heaviest concentration of sink holes (i.e., bitumen pits) are located along the western shore of the Dead Sea.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, ed. David Allan Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1987), 308.

[2] S. Cohen, “Ashteroth-Karnaim,” ed. G. A. Buttrick and Keith R. Crim, International Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 255; Trent C Butler, Joshua, vol. 7, WBC 7 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 136.

[3] Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, trans. Anson F. Rainey, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster/Knox, 1981), 307; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1:309.

[4] Power states: “this identification is confirmed by the preservation of the name Ḥaṣaṣon in the modern Wady el-Ḥaṣaṣa about ten kilometres to the north of Engaddi (sic En-Gedi).” Power, “The Site of the Pentapolis: Part 1,” 44; J. Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible: A Book of Scripture Illustrations Gathered in Palestine (London: Cassell & Company, 1887), 115; Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1:312.

[5] Werner Schatz, Genesis 14: Eine Untersuchung, vol. 2, Europäische Hochschuleschriften 23 (Bern: Herbert Lang, 1972), 174–75; Encyclopedia Miqra’it (Encyclopaedia Biblica) (Jerusalem, 1976), 8:607–8.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1:312.

[7] This is the first time that the Cities of the Plain are listed in their standard order: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela/Zoar.

[8] Bryant G. Wood, “The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah,” Bible and Spade 12, no. 3 (1999): 67–80. see  67; see also, David M. Howard, Jr., “Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 4 (1984): 385–400. see 390.

[9]  Kaiser, Jr. and Garrett, NIV Archaeological Study Bible, 378.

[10] Steven Collins, “A Response to Bryant G. Wood’s Critique of Collins’ Northern Sodom Theory,” BRB 7, no. 7 (2007): 8.

For more on the Slim pits/ bitumen pits see The Location of Sodom pp 33-34

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