The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
by John Martin (1852)
Portrait Version in The Memory Page Online Study Bible

Original version source:

What normally would have been a ten minute exercise turned into a one week saga. The public domain pictures I've been incorporating from have been great, but the Sodom and Gomorrah picture was not suitable. Granted, the pictures are not part of the original text so there of course is a lot of room for artistic freedom, but the picture should not contradict the text or be otherwise misleading. I'm actually checking all of the pictures in this way rather than just slapping them in. Anyway, the Sodom and Gomorrah picture from the usual source reflects the traditional story that Lot barely escaped. But what does the scripture say?

" 'Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither.' Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar." - v.22

Yes, the angels were in a hurry to carry out God's instructions, but they were not allowed to start until Lot got all the way to the city of Zoar. The exact locations of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Zoar are unknown, but they were all cities of the plain and probably at least several miles apart. So the pictures of Lot escaping with the flames licking them from behind are exciting - but misleading.

I found John Martin's 1852 painting to be a suitable picture to use for the Genesis 19 page. This famous painting emphasizes the true horror of the destruction - and the seriousness of sin. However, there were still a couple of issues: 1) the picture is landscape instead of portrait, and 2) although Zoar is pictured it still looks too close to Sodom (or Gomorrah). So I decided to take the unusual step of taking the time to gently alter the picture. It took me several days to do this. The foreground of Zoar was enlarged and relocated to simultaneously 1) make the picture taller instead of wider, and 2) make Zoar appear just a bit farther away from Sodom - maybe not far enough, but at least closer to reality, as far as we know.

A couple of additional cautions: 1) The destruction happened in the daytime (v.23). It's certainly possible that the sulfur smoke made the whole area dark like night, but don't let the darkness of the picture make you assume it's night. 2) In John Martin's version, Zoar appears to be in a higher elevation. This could very well be true, but it still should be considered a plain city and definitely not high in the mountains (v.19,20). The modified picture tries to de-emphasize the "height" of Zoar a bit.

Pictures can be a terrific memory aid, and can also evoke powerful emotions to make the Bible more real, but don't let the pictures lock you in to a certain interpretation! Read the actual text, and meditate on it, and let that be the ultimate authority. By all means use the picture, but "animate" it in your mind with the facts you've learned from the actual text.

-- Kevin North, March 24, 2013