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But the explanation that provides the most likely historical and geological context for the legendary destruction is a massive earthquake. The Dead Sea, part of the enormous geological fault line known as the Great Rift Valley, has been the epicenter of powerful earthquakes for countless millennia. Indeed, geologist Amos Frumkin believes that an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter Scale gave rise to both the Sodom and Gomorrah tradition as well as the story surrounding the Mt. Sedom salt pillar (known as Lot’s Wife) some 4,000 years ago. Other scholars have proposed that the earthquake caused the narrow isthmus between the northern and southern Dead Sea basins to give way, which in turn flooded the southern “Valley of Siddim” and inundated the wicked cities and all their inhabitants.
Matching the earthquake theory to the Biblical conflagration, however, has required additional explanation. Most have proposed that the earthquake caused the natural sulfur and bitumen deposits of the Dead Sea area to erupt to the surface, thereby releasing large quantities of natural gas into the air. When exposed to fire—perhaps created by a lightning strike from above—the gas could have ignited and turned the entire plain into a huge furnace, consuming everything and everyone that could not escape.
For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it. (Genesis 19:13 KJV)
The Dead Sea is located in the Dead Sea Rift, which is part of a long fissure in the Earth's surface called the Great Rift Valley. The 3,700 mile (6,000 km ) long Great Rift Valley extends from the Taurus Mountains of Turkey to the Zambezi Valley in southern Africa. The Dead Sea lies 1,300 feet (400 metres) below sea level, making it the lowest elevation and the lowest body of water in the world.
Thurston: Slime pits may be the answer. Bitumen was used all over the ancient world and was a very valuable commodity. It was used as a coating for the burnt mud bricks, as well as the mortar, and was used to provide a watertight caulking. Noah's ark for example was covered by pitch, inside and out. In its various forms bitumen was in high demand in the ancient world. In the Ebla tablets it is listed as one of the most valuable and expensive commodities The people of Sodom and Gomorrah had it all over the place.