"Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah – from the LORD out of the heavens…" (Gen. 19:24)
During our 1998 trip of Israel-Jordan-Sinai, Ron Wyatt, our tour leader, took us to the ruins of Gomorrah destroyed by fire along with Sodom at the time of Abraham and Lot some 4,000 years ago. Ron had identified these sites near the western bank of the Dead Sea. The Gomorrah site is more accessible, being very close to Masada, see map.
There is doubt among Bible scholars on the exact locations of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some believe it was near the northern end of the Dead Sea. So the Gomorrah site I have mentioned is not accepted by all. However, this location has enough signs of destruction from an ancient eruption, that even if the exact identification is wrong, we get a general picture of the destruction.
The ruins appear like massive ashen hills on both sides of a road that has been cleared. The formations have peculiar shapes that seem to reveal structures that had stood there long ago before the destruction that are now covered with ash. They also look like ancient mountains that have eroded with stratified layers. Yet, this place has little rain (one reason these ashen hills have remained in tact to this day). No doubt weathering and wind have changed the appearance over millennia. We all collected some ash from the mountain slopes which had small sulfur balls in it; Ron Wyatt and his team went up to get better samples, and he kindly brought me a bag of ash with large chunks of sulfur. You will read below about these samples.
In my Gomorrah pictures below I have put some photographs I took of the ruins while touring the ruins.
You may read more about these ruins in the web sites at the end of this article.
Lab Analysis of the Ash
Being a chemist myself, I tested the sample I had brought back to USA in my lab. This revealed that the sample had two major components: (i) -ash (ii) elemental sulfur. Other items found occasionally were rocks (with some sulfur deposit), pebbles, and charcoal.
There have been reports which say that the ash is mostly calcium sulfate (gypsum) which is chemically inactive. I added dilute hydrochloric acid to the ash, and it foamed immediately, but no specific smell was noticed. This gives the indication that the ash has carbonate, and since limestone (calcium carbonate) is found as rock in many parts including the Gomorrah area, the ash could be mostly limestone; in addition there were some acid insoluble residues which could be silicates. Some researchers have thought the ash is mostly calcium sulfate but this is based on elemental analysis of calcium and sulfur. These researchers failed to recognize that the majority of the ash is calcium carbonate (limestone); the sulfur in the ash is from the powdered sulfur balls, not from sulfate. Apparently the destruction either did not decompose the limestone we see in the ash, or if did, the lime (calcium oxide), recombined with atmospheric carbon dioxide to form the carbonate again. The ash also contained iron compounds (perhaps iron oxide) which gave the solution after treatment with the acid a yellow color (due to ferric chloride).
I burned the ash in a Bunsen flame, and nothing much visibly happened. However, calcium carbonate would decompose upon heating to calcium oxide (lime), giving off carbon dioxide. The other material would be unaffected by the heat.
The presence of sulfur in the ash is unmistakable. It occurs as small granules as well as large chunks, sometimes round, as large as an egg (often encased). These ‘sulfur balls’ are pale yellow, unlike normal sulfur which is clear yellow. Also, these balls are light and are easily crushed into powder when pressed.
Interestingly, my Ph. D. thesis (1970) at the University of Washington, Seattle was on elemental sulfur and its reactions. So testing the sulfur balls was like going back to the old days. However, I had only used orthorhombic sulfur which are yellow crystals. The sulfur allotropes I have seen (monoclinic, amorphous etc.) did not look like the sulfur balls. The sulfur samples I tested were all orthorhombic, but not in crystalline form.
The sulfur ball I tested floated in water, and had a specific gravity of 0.9 (water: 1.0); common sulfur has a specific gravity of 2.0.
A small piece cut from the ball was burned in an open flame. As typical of sulfur, it melted to a dark reddish viscous liquid. Then it caught fire and burned with a bluish flame. The pungent gas, sulfur dioxide (smell of burnt matches) was released. There was a red-orange residue left on the porcelain spatula. This could be red iron oxide either left in the sample or formed by oxidation of some iron containing material left in the sulfur during the heating. Another sample I cut from the interior was almost pure sulfur, and it did not give the reddish residue; only some grayish ash was left.
Another sample was heated in a crucible avoiding flame, and the reddish liquid could be seen more easily.
Sulfur balls of the type I described are very rare. Sulfur deposits found near volcano mouths are in a deposited form. I have visited some regions in Italy with such formations. The ash found in the Sodom-Gomorrah sites is peculiar too. In most places the ash consists of silicate material (I have some Mt. St. Helens ash sample).
What I speculate is the following: Sodom and Gomorrah (and three other cities) were destroyed by massive ground eruptions in the valley of Siddim (present Dead Sea). The Dead Sea area had tar pits according to Gen. 14:10, when it was called the valley of Siddim. Since the Dead Sea itself is believed to have been formed during the catastrophe, it is possible that like Pompeii, the surrounding cities were overwhelmed by the fire and brimstone and ash from the explosions. The actual explosions would be in the region of the Dead Sea which is a deep pit (its northern bank is 1300 ft below sea level, and the bottom of the Sea is another 1300 ft further below at the northern end). During biblical times there have been minor eruptions under the Dead Sea with sulfurous fumes, (hence a miniature Lake of Fire), but for the last 200 years it has been quiet. There is indication, however, according to biblical prophecy that it may become active again towards end times when God judges the earth. The Dead Sea would finally be filled with ‘living water’ (Zech. 14:8).
During the ground explosions the valley of Siddim was broken up, and the limestone was shattered and pulverized; these shot up into the sky along with sulfurous gases and steam. The Bible does say that dense smoke like from a furnace was seen by Abraham the next morning (Gen. 19.27-28). This reminds us of Rev. 9:12 that out of the depths of the bottomless pit came smoke from a great furnace, an event yet to happen. It is important to realize that this catastrophic event was caused by divine wrath; it was not just another natural event. During normal volcanic eruptions there is always the release of steam, and sulfur gases such as hydrogen sulfide (smell of rotten eggs) and sulfur dioxide. These gases can suffocate people. It is known from chemistry that hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide could react to form elemental sulfur and water. So at the elevated temperatures of the eruption, sulfur was chemically generated and balls of molten sulfur were formed which adsorbed air and some ash particles, and became round as they fell down, probably encased in the ash, eventually solidifying into a porous solid which would be light (for a similar reason, charcoal is lighter than water because of inclusion of air, and is porous). It was not possible for the sulfur to crystallize because of air and the ash particles in it. The Genesis statement that sulfur came down from heaven is an observed fact because it literally fell from the sky, though not originating there. Sulfur is rendered brimstone (burning stone) in older English Bibles, a true translation from the original tongues.
Anyone who doubts the existence of the Sodom-Gomorrah ruins should pay a visit and just look around and feel the ruins!