Back to Sodom

I began this story as a prospective novel more than twenty years ago!  I got bogged down early on and laid it aside for a long time!  I would occasionally revisit it and jot down a few notes or even add to the ‘book’ a little, but felt overwhelmed most of the time when I thought of finishing it.  A short while ago when I decided to write some short stories, I decided to finish “…Sodom” as a short story.  Kind of makes sense anyway, since the main story is supposed to be a quickly written journal.  Hope you enjoy it!

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I finally had it right here in my hands. After years of research and interviews and following countless leads to dead ends, I had found it at last. In my hands was the legendary Ceremonial Knife of Abraham! The metal blade had tarnished and rusted some and, of course it was dirty, but the gems embedded in the otherwise smooth bone handle gleamed in the light from my lantern.

As I knelt inside the cave a few miles to the west of the Dead Sea, I remembered the journey that now had become worth it all. For years I had searched ruins and excavations throughout the Middle East. God had been good to this archaeologist from nowhere. I had a good job teaching my life’s passion, Bible Archaeology, at a small college in rural Iowa and the school had backed many expeditions to the Middle East for me and my students. We had conducted several successful digs and had brought back a fairly large number of relics over the years to build quite a nice little museum of ancient artifacts at our college. For several of these years, I had heard about a legend of the Ceremonial Knife of Abraham, and finally began, about five years ago, to take the legend seriously enough to research it.

Interviews had led to journals which led to investigations and more research and so on. Most of the information was sketchy at best and generally led to dead ends. The legend was that Abraham, Father of the Jews, had a special knife that he used only for religious purposes. It was just an ordinary knife to begin with – about 12 inches long, with a smooth curved handle carved from bone, and a razor sharp metal blade. However, according to the legend, Abraham had dedicated the knife to the Lord when Jehovah Himself commissioned him to circumcise all the males in his camp and establish a covenant people for Jehovah. From that moment on, only Abraham would use that knife and then only for religious purposes – circumcisions and sacrifices.

The legend said that Abraham made the knife more special by embedding several precious stones of various kinds into the bone handle and kept the knife in perfect condition – cleaned and sharpened before and after each use. It was said to be the very knife that he planned to use when called upon by Jehovah to sacrifice his child of promise, Isaac. The knife that the angel of God stopped in Abraham’s hand from plunging into Isaac’s heart. The knife Abraham then used to kill the ram that God provided as a substitute for Isaac.

According to the legend, another knife then began to be used in its place and the ceremonial knife was set aside as a reminder of God’s grace and provision, never to be used again as a knife, but rather as an instrument in worship. So much so, apparently, that years later, the keepers of the knife started a cult centered around the knife. They accorded themselves a special place among Abraham’s descendants and followers. They believed that descendants of those circumcised by Abraham with that particular knife were more spiritual than others. They should have places of higher rank and authority in the community and were worthy of more honor and even larger inheritances than those descending from men circumcised with lesser, more ordinary knives.

The Knife Cult naturally remained small for years and eventually died out with the loss of the knife, but the legend continued to be told among certain family groups even though the knife had been lost for centuries. Several years of searching had finally led me to a small cave in the foothills near the Valley of Siddim, just west of the Dead Sea, somewhere near the ruins of what were likely the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and I had found it at last! Me – Dr. Ezekiel Smith, Ph.D., professor of archaeology from ‘no-name university in nowhere Iowa’, who – thanks to the famous Indiana Jones movies, had been nicknamed ‘Iowa Smith’ – held in my dirty, scraped up hands, the 4,000 year old Knife of Abraham!  The jewels alone made the knife worth a million dollars, but its historical significance and legendary status would more than triple that value. This was virtually the Holy Grail of the Old Testament and I had it!

My mind drifted off to the ancient land of Canaan and the days of Israel’s Father Abraham. I imagined his encounter with Jehovah which instructed him to take his knife and circumcise the males in his camp as a covenant sign of faithfulness to the Lord. Abraham took out his knife and held it up before the Lord and said, “I will, Lord. With this knife I will seal the covenant between you and me and all the males who follow after me. From this day on, this is Your knife, Lord.”

My vision faded out, then back into a second scene. Abraham, older now, and his son Isaac were on the mountain of sacrifice. Isaac lay bound on an altar of stones and wood as Abraham stood above him, knife in hand, tears streaming down his face. He raised the knife in the air and it glistened in the early evening sun. I could see that the bone handle now had several precious gems embedded into it. As he cried out, “Your will be done!” he started to bring down the knife, but his arm froze in mid-air. A voice called out to him from nowhere to “Stop!” A rustling in the bushes nearby led Abraham to a ram to sacrifice instead of his son.

I was suddenly shocked back to reality as gunshots rang out inside the cave! Bullets ricocheted off the rock walls around me. I dove for cover behind a pile of rocks as more shots were fired. Quickly I opened my leather belt pack and carefully placed the knife inside the foam-lined pack, careful to make sure I closed the pack securely. Still under the cover of the rock pile, I drew my pistol and peeked out between the rocks. I saw shadows on the cave walls back toward the entrance, but couldn’t see the men themselves.

I fired at the shadows. I hoped that return fire might scare them off or at least discourage them from coming closer. If I was lucky, maybe a ricochet would find a human target and they would retreat to care for their wounded comrade. I was alone in my search, so help was out of the question.  Undaunted by my shots, they returned fire. I knew I had only a couple of rounds left. Somehow, I had to find a way out of this, perhaps another cave exit, but what could I do to hold them back in the meantime?

Then I noticed a rock ledge above the passageway between us, closer to the intruders than to me. I fired two rounds at the rocks and prayed it would knock them loose. It did. The ledge began to crumble and rocks began to fall. I saw the shadows on the cave wall shrink back toward the entrance and I got up from my hiding place to run farther into the cave. The ledge had completely given away, sealing off the entrance. However, the loss of support weakened the cave roof itself and the entire passageway began to cave in. I started to run, then stopped abruptly, turned back to grab my hat that had fallen off when I dove for cover from the gunfire, and then raced back into the cave just as the ceiling above me gave way.

I ran deeper into the cave as rocks tumbled and crashed to the floor behind me. If I stopped even for a second, I would be crushed to death or buried alive. I kept running for my life, searching frantically ahead for signs of a way out.

Finally, I saw it – a ray of light ahead. I sped toward it, straining forward to reach the ever-widening spot of light before it was too late. I knew what the Apostle Paul had meant when he wrote of “pressing toward the mark for the prize” that awaited him, as I furiously tried to stay ahead of the falling rocks and reach the safety of the light. Diving through the hole in the hillside that had provided the daylight, I landed outside the cave with a loud crash of rocks behind me and a blast of dust following me through the hole in the wall signaling the final collapse of the cave.

Safe at last, I slowly rose to my knees and dusted myself off. I opened my belt pack to take another look at my discovery to make sure it was okay. I carefully removed the knife and held it once again in my hands.

Well, that’s the way it ought to happen. In reality, I hadn’t been shot at, nor had I narrowly escaped a cave-in. In fact, I wasn’t even in a cave at all, but rather a large excavation pit. I was near what many believe to be the ancient ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but there was never a legend of the Ceremonial Knife of Abraham, much less the gem-studded knife itself. As I looked at the real object in my dirty hands once more, I saw a stone knife, dulled with age, with a broken ‘blade’. It was a nice find, but certainly not the stuff of which legends are made. Still, it was an ancient artifact and I carefully laid it aside to make notations of the discovery.

Just then one of my students shouted out, “Dr. Zeke! Over here!”  I stood up and looked toward the direction of the shout. It had come from over by the cave just west of our dig. We had found the cave entrance our second day in camp, on one of our nature walks. We often take a walk around the area in the early evenings during our digs to relax and ‘see the sights.’ The cave showed no signs of having had any traffic in years, much less of having been worked. It appeared that a recent rockslide had uncovered the previously hidden entrance. Possibly, an earlier slide from above had covered it up for years, maybe even centuries, and the entrance had only recently been revealed.

I had sent a couple of students to explore the cave while the rest of us began the painstaking task of digging, plotting, and sifting of dirt to find relics and notate their discoveries. We might work for days to recover even a few small relics of the past, hoping to find artifacts that might help us understand early Canaanite or Hebrew people and cultures.

Sean, a big country-boy from the Midwest, waved to me from the entrance of the cave. His partner, Alex, apparently was still inside. As I headed toward them, Sean continued, “We’ve found something! Come on!”

The others stopped their digging to join us. It was customary in our digs for all to converge, though carefully, on a discovery so that we all might be a part of the experience. As we gathered at the entrance to the cave, Sean informed us that the small entrance would open up to a fairly large room which they had begun to explore and dig in a little. We could enter only one at a time, but would have plenty of room once inside for all of us. He led the way in.

There were six more of us to follow Sean into the cave, but we crawled in quickly in anticipation of the discovery. Once inside, we all gathered around Sean and Alex, who were kneeling over a small, shallow hole near the west wall of the cave. Freshly dug dirt was piled to one side and their battery powered lantern lit up the entire cavern.

“Down here, Dr. Zeke,” Alex said, with excitement obvious in his voice as he pointed into the hole. “Some old clay pottery and a pouch of some sort. I can’t be sure, but it looks like something has been kept inside the pot – it’s broken and I see something in there.”

I knelt down beside Alex as the other students inched in closer with a couple of them holding up lanterns for even more light. “Let’s have a look.”

Taking Alex’s brush from him, I gently swept away some dirt and with my knife, carefully dug loose more dirt all around the edges of the clay pot. Alex worked tediously at digging the pouch loose and brushing it clean. It was smaller than the pot, so he finished before I did and carefully lifted it up for all to see. “It looks like an ancient wineskin or something. See the narrowed end for drinking?” Alex said.

Sean pointed to one end of Alex’s pouch and added, “And this looks like what’s left of the strap.”

One of the other guys called out, “Any wine left in it?”

One of the girls jabbed him in the arm, to which he replied, “Well, they say wine gets better with age. Any wine in this ought to be great by now.”

Another student asked me how old I guessed it to be. “Hard to say just yet, but eventually, the pottery will tell us.”

Soon, I had successfully freed the ancient jug from its earthen prison and had removed the two broken shards and handed them to one of the girls. Suzette carefully laid them aside, placing them out of the way and putting them together like puzzle pieces. Alex had handed over the wineskin to Sean and joined me on his knees at the clay pot. Together we carefully lifted it up and out of the hole and set it down on solid ground in the center of a circle of curious onlookers.

“It’s a little pre-mature, but based on where we are and according to lots of others I’ve seen like it, I’d say this is early Canaanite pottery – between three and four thousand years old,” I informed the others, as I examined the pot more closely. “I’ll be able to tell more once we get it back to camp, but it looks like that to me.”

Holding a lantern up closer to the broken part of the pot, Alex confirmed that he could see something inside. “There’s definitely something inside and I think it is some kind of writing pages. A manuscript I bet – maybe some Bible!” he conjectured wildly.

“Slow down,” I warned. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll get these back to camp and clean them up and take a better look inside them. Some of you can continue to dig in here to see what else might be in this ol’ cave.”

Alex quickly chimed in, “I’d like to stay with the pottery and follow through on my discovery, if that’s alright. Maybe someone else can find some treasure in the cave, too.”

I told him that would be fine and assigned the two girls, Suzette and Callie, to work the cave with Sean and “Biggon”. That’s what I called Jake, because, well, he’s a biggon’ – 6’6” and 250 lbs of solid muscle. Naturally, he often served as pack mule on these expeditions.

“Alex and I will take the pot and the wineskin back to camp. Kyle, you and Kirk take over my place in the dig outside for now.” Kirk wasn’t his real name, but rather short for James Tiberius Kirkland – you know, like Captain Kirk of Star Trek. I guess his parents were Trekkies. I told the boys about the stone knife I had found outside and instructed them to retrieve it and continue searching in that area for more artifacts.

It was slow going, crawling through the cave entrance with the pot. I had to set it out in front of me as far as I could reach, then crawl up to it, set it out again, and so on. The others went out first and Alex carried the wineskin after putting the pottery shards in his back pack. By the time I had cleared the cave entrance and stood upright again, with the pot in my arms, Alex was already at the camp and the others were all working their new assignments.

The camp site was only about fifty yards away in a shady little indentation into the bottom of the hillside just south of the cave entrance. We had four small tents for sleeping in pairs, a larger tent for supplies and food preparation, a tent specially designed and equipped as a bathroom, and a large tent with equipment for the detailed work on our discoveries. Of course, we also had two trucks and a jeep for transportation and additional supplies.

The hillside rose slightly behind us and curved around us as well, giving us some shelter from wind and the afternoon sun. The east side of the site faced the open plain and if you kept going east you would come to the southern end of the Dead Sea. Our dig and the cave were slightly to the north of the camp, within easy walking distance. We were just west of some previous digs, in virgin territory, archaeologically speaking.

It’s likely that digs had not extended this far west of the Dead Sea before, as the most likely sites for villages were closer to the Sea and either to the north or south. Caravan routes would probably have been closer to the villages. Other than occasional campsites of herdsmen traveling along with their flocks through the plains territory, there weren’t likely to be any actual ruins this far west. Our group, however, wasn’t concerned with trying to excavate entire villages, nor did we have the financial backing for huge undertakings. We thrived on smaller, lesser digs and uncharted areas like this were perfect for us.

We would probably never uncover large cities nor discover whole ancient civilizations, but we could find plenty of relics. We knew how to content ourselves with smaller, less consequential discoveries and therefore, seldom be disappointed, though always hopeful. We could dream of finding the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail – or even the legendary Ceremonial Knife of Abraham – yet exalt in the occasional ancient wineskin or clay jar.

So, with great anticipation, but bridled energy, Alex and I worked to clean up and examine our newly found pieces of antiquity. He had the wineskin cleaned up and catalogued in no time. We wouldn’t try to open it up, but would wait to have it x-rayed back in the States. It didn’t appear to have anything in it anyway. Whoever had left it in the cave long ago had probably drank it dry before discarding it in the cave or dying there beside it. Maybe one of the others would dig up some bones.

The clay pot, on the other hand, definitely had something inside. It did look like some manuscript pages and I could barely keep from breaking the pot open to find the hidden treasure. The jar had a lid on it that somehow over the years had become sealed to the wide neck of the pot itself. I had to remind myself that due to its age, the pottery was a treasure as well and I should try to keep it as intact as I could.

So, first I cleaned and photographed the clay pot. Then I notated its discovery – journaling the details of when, where, and how we found it. Then I began to look for a way to get it open, hopefully without breaking it.

A little carving around the neck, in the joint between the pot and its lid, showed me that the neck had probably shrunk a little, sealing the lid tightly. Perhaps the clay had not hardened enough before use. Or maybe the damp air inside the cave had caused some shrinkage and tightening until the pottery finally hardened over the years. In any case, it would take a little work to break the seal, but I felt it could be done without damaging the pot. At the very worst, I could probably cut the pot where the neck and lid came together and then at least the artifact would appear to be intact, making a good display in our school museum.

A little more carving and prying worked the lid loose and Alex stood by, holding his breath as I opened the jar and laid the lid aside on the table. The Bible describes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the graces He brings to our physical presence as a “treasure in earthly vessels.” I was anxious to see what treasure we had found in this jar of clay.

Rather than moving the jar again, I stood on a short ladder in order to be able to see down inside. I wanted to be very careful when removing whatever was in there. You don’t just reach down into a 4,000 year old pot and grab the contents.
“It is definitely a manuscript of some kind,” I informed Alex. “Looks like it has been fairly well preserved, too.”

“The tight seal of the lid probably helped,” Alex offered.

“If the jar hadn’t been broken, the pages might well have stayed in perfect condition,” I added. “There are quite a few pages in here. I’ll pull out some and hand them to you. Place them on the trays as I lift them out, keeping them in order.”

We had special trays for such things as might roll off of a flat surface or blow away in the wind. The trays had a three inch rim all the way around them, much like a bread delivery tray, only solid. We could eventually spread out the pages, yet keep them safe from falling or blowing off the table. Even though ancient papyrus is much thicker and heavier than modern paper, strong winds could still blow them off a flat surface.

Every step of the archaeological process is painstaking, so it took several minutes to remove all of the manuscript and place the pages into four separate trays. Later, we could spread a few pages out inside each tray for further examination, though we would save most of that for after our return home. Generally, we would do some cleaning and a little cursory examination on site, then package up the artifacts for a long, safe ride back to Iowa. This was a rare find for us, though, and I wanted to learn a little more about what we had discovered before continuing our dig.

Soft brush in hand, I showed Alex how gently we must brush away the dirt from the pages. They were mostly in excellent shape, but a little decayed and soiled on the edge that was closest to the broken section of the pot. Some soil and moisture, naturally, had worked their way into the jar through the break, but damage was still fairly minimal. Being in a cave had helped – even temperature year round; protection from wind, rain, and snow; no traffic over the ground on top of the jar. We had no clue yet what we had, but it was definitely ancient and in very good condition. I was thrilled – Alex was ecstatic!

As we cleaned away some dust and dirt, I could see that the writing was not done professionally. I had studied enough ancient manuscripts to know that scribes were meticulously neat – straight lines, even strokes of the stylus, few errors allowed. Too many errors and the scribe would discard the page and start over. Ordinary people with common writing skills and agendas would simply scratch out the errors and go on. There was quite a bit of that and the lines of writing were somewhat erratic and uneven. What we likely had here was someone‘s personal journal or something like that.

The alphabet characters appeared to be akin to ancient Sumerian and Hebrew letters, though I immediately saw some that I didn’t recognize. I had studied several of the ancient Middle Eastern languages and their variations, but it’s not something I stayed fresh with and I knew I would need lots of help and time in translation once we got back home. For now, it was enough to verify that we had found a manuscript of ancient Canaanite or Hebrew origin, probably over 3,000 years old and in nearly pristine condition. Alex would make it into the history books – at least our own college history anyway. He walked around on cloud nine for the rest of the expedition.

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The past two years had brought many changes to my work at the college. All of the students who had been on the trip where we discovered the manuscript were gone now except Alex. He stayed at the college to work on his master’s degree toward a doctorate in ancient cultural studies, specializing in languages and writing forms. His work enabled him to help me translate the journal he had discovered.

Sean, who had been with Alex when he found the wine skin and the clay pot with the journal inside, had graduated with an agricultural degree and was helping his dad turn the family farm here in Iowa into big business.

Speaking of “big”, Jake hurt his knee in football, keeping him out of the pros, but was very happy as an assistant coach at a nearby high school and doing quite well. He loved the game and was an excellent role model for teenage boys. I imagine he will be head coach soon and eventually move up the scale as high as he wants.

Kyle is working on a Masters in business at a state university here in Iowa and Kirk – James T. Kirkland, that is – is a navy pilot, hoping to soon be flying off one of our country’s aircraft carriers. Thanks to the ROTC program at our college James is already a captain and yes, they call him “Captain Kirk!”

Callie earned her teaching degree and teaches junior high English and speech on a large Christian campus not too far from here. She and Suzette stay in touch through the internet as Suzette is usually overseas on assignment. She is a journalist for a major travel magazine and says she has seen lots of places she would love for us to dig up!

We’ve all stayed in touch and they have been very patient as Alex and I have taken our time to translate the manuscript, whose discovery tied us together with a very special bond. I kept the contents of the journal secret from them all, and everyone else for that matter, except for Alex of course, who helped me do the research and translating. Now, a grad student knew the contents as well from typing it up for us, but she was sworn to secrecy on threat of losing her position with the school. Alex had said “and maybe her life, too!”

Alex came through the door as if on cue as the final page eased out of the printer. “Is it finished? Is that it?” he asked, setting his books down to hurry over to my side.

“This is it,” I confirmed. “The first copy of Ka-mal’s Journal.” As soon as we had learned the author’s name and confirmed my suspicions that it was indeed a personal journal, we gave it that nickname.

I hit “Print” again to get Alex his own copy and gathered up the first copy to get it ready for reading. We separated it into several smaller sections for hole-punching, then reassembled the sections to insert into one of several binders we had already purchased for the manuscripts. We had bought a dozen, just alike, with a leather cover and the title already etched into the front cover, along with a sketch of a cave and a broken clay pot just outside the entrance.

We had to rein in our enthusiasm and almost overwhelming desire to sit and read the finished project right away. We printed enough copies to complete the twelve journals and set them aside. Later, I would hand write a note on the inside cover to each of the students who had shared in the discovery and present to them their copies at a private party we were planning for the occasion. Not until all the journals were ready did Alex and I each get our copy and sit down to read the story again.

Naturally, we already knew the story – we translated it into English. But it was different now. It was one complete saga, rather than seemingly disconnected words and phrases. I imagine it was like an actor watching his own movie for the first time. He knew the lines and the plot and had even acted out the scenes, but they say it’s really different to sit “outside” the film and watch it all come together. This time we were able to read it straight through and just enjoy the story. It really was almost as if we were seeing it for the first time.

I finished reading first, but only by a couple of minutes. I sat in silence, watching Alex as he finished. His eyes seemed to glow as they traversed the pages and though his lips moved slightly and silently with the reading, he couldn’t hide the trace of a smile – a proud smile.  “Awesome!” he said as he closed the journal. “Amazing!”

“And it’s real,” I said. “Not some guy’s novel written for fun or fortune, but the real-life story of a young man who lived and loved over 3,000 years ago.”

“I know,” said Alex. “That’s what makes it so awesome. I mean, the Bible is awesome, but somehow Ka-mal’s Journal just brings it even more to life.”

I knew exactly how he felt. That was a big part of the satisfaction I get on each new archaeological dig. Every discovery just helps to bring the scriptures closer to home. I’ve believed they were true since I was just a boy growing up in Illinois. Yet, though true and very relevant, they were still ancient writings. And even though Ka-mal’s story was ancient, too, we had made it brand new with our discovery and translation. The world would soon know the story and we heard it first!

The following weekend was a great time. Everyone from the original team was there, along with a couple of spouses and a few of our college bigwigs, including the college president. I made them take the time over refreshments to catch up a little with each other’s lives and reminisce some. A slide show of the photos from the dig was rolling by on the big screen TV to help with that, until finally I got their attention and brought the chit chat to an end. Alex slipped out to retrieve a small cart that held all the journals and wheeled it on cue as I told the group that we not only had a copy of the journal with us, but had a copy for each of the team to keep.

Alex glanced inside each journal in turn and called out the new owner’s name, handing to each of the students their own piece of history. I gave the President his copy and told the others they could share the remaining four if they wished to read it tonight or later check a copy out of the school’s library. They read it that night.  they asked me to read it for them this first time.

Eager to know the story, they scattered around the room to find a seat and I pointed out to them, as I do now to you, dear reader, that Alex and I stayed as faithful to the original writing as possible. I admit I felt obliged to color the narrative a little with more adjectives than the author had used, but the story itself is as much of his words as I think possible. Naturally, in translating ancient languages, some words can only be surmised from the context and the author hadn’t intended on writing a flowing novel, but I believe what you are about to read is truly what happened as it happened and just as the author intended it to read.

Here is a story of one man’s journey to manhood and its tragic ending. Here is a love story, a story of faith and commitment, a war story, and a warning to all who would wander astray. Here is a personal account of one who lived and loved and died in the days of Abraham of Old Testament fame. Here is a journal with a story we called “Back to Sodom.”

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My name is Kahlaharmal Ben-Zophan, youngest son of Zophan and Lamah of Sodom. I’ve been badly hurt and I fear I will die soon, but I am not afraid, for my father Abraham has taught me well. He taught me not to trust in this life, but to look to the future. His God has become my God and ours is a God of hope and promise. I know my God will save me – I will live again!

My story must be told. The house and town of my father and his father before him lies in ruins and ashes. I fear that everyone there is dead. Sodom has been reduced to ashes and all my boyhood dreams went up in smoke as the Lord rained fire down from heaven to judge the wickedness of my people. But I must start at the beginning. I can only pray that God will give me the strength to finish writing the story.

My parents were Zophan and Lamah of Sodom. They were both born and raised in Sodom, as were their parents before them. They married and settled in Sodom and my father took over my grandfather’s market. They were sellers of cloth and linens – materials for blankets, window veils, tents, and clothing of all kinds. My parents were not wealthy, but neither were they poor. A good, honest trade provided for a nice house and plenty of food and possessions.

My mother helped my father at the marketplace when she could, but soon the responsibilities of raising children demanded all of her time. In all, six children were born to Zophan and Lamah – four sons and 2 daughters – over the next eighteen years. I was the last child to be born into the family. My mother named me Kahlaharmal; my family soon shortened it to Ka-mal.

It was not easy to be the youngest child of six, but mostly, life was good. My mother taught me to read and write at an early age, though our town and temple had few scrolls to read. My father taught me numbers and business and I began to help at the market when I was ten years old. He also taught me the ways of Baal, our god. I had no reason not to believe, as all my brothers and sisters had before me.

Sodom was a large city on a direct trade route. We had many travelers pass through our gates and I soon learned the ways of the world – different dialects, customs, traditions, and beliefs. I learned there were other gods besides our Baal. Or maybe they were the same god, but with different names. Mostly, I saw that everyone was religious, but it had little to do with any other part of life.

In Sodom, we all did as we pleased. Our god required worship and sacrifice at the temple. Our parents demanded respect and obedience at home. But when one reached adulthood, he could make his own choices – please himself.

Life was simple and good while I remained a boy. My life revolved around our home and my father’s marketplace. But as I grew to manhood, things changed. Age brought more freedom – freedom to enlarge my boundaries to include all of Sodom. My eyes were opened to the pleasures and entertainments of the city. Back then it seemed exciting and an expected part of growing up. Now I see it for what it really was – selfishness, rebellion against God, sin, and evil.

In Sodom, one could indulge freely and openly in almost anything one could imagine. Ours was a free community. Civilized. Open to all kinds of new experiences. Wine was more accessible than water. Men spent as much time drunk as sober. Games of chance robbed many families of money needed for food and clothing. Many of my father’s merchant friends worked all day for wages, only to lose them in one or two games before going home to supper.

There was always a party someplace where one could find wine and dancing. Plenty of young women found it easier to make money with their bodies rather than through honest, decent labor. If you couldn’t find a party, there were places of business just for such entertainments. Even our temples employed prostitutes and offered much wine and riotous parties. I must admit, to my shame, that I participated. Somehow, it felt wrong, but it was all I knew. My father and my brothers were the ones who took me there first. Until I met Abram, years later, I did not know there was any other way.

Still, there were limits to which I would go. I drew the line at certain activities that many friends and some of my brothers would do. In Sodom, sex was the ultimate pleasure and for many, it did not matter how one had it. Men with women who were not their wives. Older men with young girls. Some fathers with their own daughters. And as I soon learned, men with men and women with women. This I did not understand. This I would not do. But others did and it was common practice in Sodom.

Such was my childhood and early manhood. Then I met Jazmara, the beautiful daughter of the man who owned the inn near my father’s marketplace. I was unloading some bales of cloth from a cart in the street in front of our shop. Trade caravans passed through Sodom often and brought goods from other places for us to sell in our markets. Many of these travelling merchants stayed over in Sodom to revel in our many entertainments.

That day, as I unloaded the new linens my father had purchased, I heard a commotion in the alley just around the corner. I went to see what was happening. As I entered the alley, I heard a muffled scream. I saw a man, one of the traders from the caravan, fighting with a young woman. He held her tightly by one arm as she struggled to get free. With his other hand he had covered her mouth to muffle her screams. She kicked and swung her free arm, trying to hit him, but she was no match for his strength. Her fight only seemed to amuse him.

I hollered at him to stop and he turned to look my way. He told me to go away. Then he said to the woman, “Come now. You’ll enjoy it. Don’t fight it.” I yelled again and by this time I was there beside them. I grabbed his arm and told him to let her go.

He did. Not out of fear of me, but rather in order to deal with me. Cursing, he told me to mind my own business and go away. He pushed the young woman down and told her to stay there until he got rid of me.

I am not sure if it was courage or fear or anger or all of them, but I did not give him the chance to decide what he would do to me. I hit him with all of my might and he fell down. He started to get back up and I bent down and hit him again. This time he did not get up. I did not stay to see if he was badly hurt or maybe even dead. I took the young woman by the hand and we fled. We did not stop running until we were clear across town. When we stopped, we were alone, near the west wall of Sodom, and we rested under the trees there.

We embraced as she thanked me and praised Baal for sending me to her rescue. I told my name to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She told me hers – Jazmara. I have loved her from that moment until now. We talked for a long time and by the time we began to walk home, we knew all there was to know about each other. I walked with her to her father’s inn and said good-bye. I am sure I smiled all the way home.

From then on, my days and nights were spent working or with Jazmara. The entertainments of Sodom were no longer an attraction. I found all the pleasure I wanted in the company of my beloved Jazmara. I knew there would never be another woman for me. I hoped to one day take her for my wife. We talked about it often and she wanted that, too.

About a year later, she introduced me to a new acquaintance of her father’s – a man named Lot. She did not know too much about him, except that he was not from there originally and had no family in town. She said he had not made too many friends yet and seemed eager to do so. At the time, I had no way of knowing just how greatly Lot would affect our future.

For a long time, I thought life was grand and that the only thing that could make it better was when I would take Jazmara for my wife. My father said he had plans to expand our business and that we might just be the ones to help him with that.

Our city had a ‘sister’ city close by called Gomorrah. Most of the trade caravans came to Sodom, but not all. Some went to Gomorrah for business and entertainment, though there was not much difference between the two cities. Father felt that he could open up a small inn and purchasing center at the edge of Gomorrah and Jazmara and I could manage it! We could provide lodging and meals for travellers and buy their cloth goods to send to our market in Sodom. Jazmara’s experience working at her family’s inn and my training in our family business would make us a perfect fit for the new venture.

It seemed too good to be true! Jazmara and I talked about it often and I sometimes found it difficult to think about my daily chores. I daydreamed about our future home and family. I planned out how I would handle the business and bring in much money with the double business of the inn and cloth purchasing. I would be able to give Jazmara anything she wanted, though she said a life with me was enough.

At least, that’s the way it was for a long time. But something began to change in her over time. I cannot say what started it, but several things played a part in gradually turning Jazmara’s heart away from our dream. We planned to be married the next year. During that time my father would find the best location for our new business and purchase the land necessary. We would build our inn or repair an old house to be an inn or whatever it might take. We would get a stable ready for keeping the animals of our guests, as well as our own which we would need to transport our cloth purchases to Sodom. When all was ready, I would move in and begin working the cloth traders immediately. Shortly after would be the wedding and we would open the inn for business, too.

Father purchased the land and we began work. Perhaps that is when Jazmara’s drift began, too. I had to spend most evenings and any other free time getting the new place ready. There was a large house on the property just at the edge of Gomorrah on the side closest to Sodom and very near the trade route. The previous owner had let it run down considerably before he was laid to rest with his fathers. He had no heirs interested in the property, so they sold it to us.

Since the house needed much repair, my father was able to get it for a good price, but that also meant it would need much work. I now know that spending so much time on our future house and so little time with Jazmara was not good for us.

She came to Gomorrah often at first, to see our progress and imagine and plan with me how it would be someday. There were several rooms for lodgers and yet still room for a family someday. The large room just inside the entry could become a dining hall and a small room just inside the front door to the right could be used to do business with the traders. There was a small stable out back that we would add on to for the animals and plenty of water in the well. We would need a fence and lots of furniture and equipment, but it would work.

As time went on, Jazmara’s visits became fewer and farther between. When she did come, I noticed that her excitement had begun to fade. When I could, I would stop by her family’s inn in Sodom after my work day, before going to Gomorrah to work on the new place. I couldn’t stay long and she was usually busy preparing meals for their guests. Our time together was precious, but too short and frustration began to take its toll on what time we did have. Good times became rare.

Once, I remember looking so forward to a time when we had set aside two days in the future to be together. I could see a slight break coming in the work load at Sodom and the next expected caravan had been delayed by bad weather. I could stop the building work for one day and it would appear that we might both have an evening or two free.

I could not wait for that day! The time at my father’s market flew by and I hurried to Jazmara’s inn to get her. I planned to take her to Gomorrah for a meal and a tour of our future home and business. It had been quite some time since her last visit and I had done much to get our place ready. I was so proud and anxious for her response, but even more anxious to spend time with my beloved – neither of us having to work.

When I got to the inn, I rushed inside, expecting to find her finished with work and dressed to go away with me. She was finished with work and dressed to go out, but not with me. There was a woman there with her about our age, but I had never met her before. Jazmara introduced me to her and said that they had made other plans. She asked if I remembered meeting a man named Lot – I remembered. It seems Jazmara’s new friend was hoping to marry Lot. Lot and Jazmara’s friend associated with a different class of people than Jazmara and I and they were already used to a much different lifestyle – one that soon became a problem for us.

Lot’s wealth meant that he did not have to work for a living anymore, as he had herdsmen and servants for that. He had the money to indulge in fancy clothes and fine dining and entertainment. He had invited Jazmara to join them and I soon learned that her new friends and their lifestyle accounted for much of why she had not been to Gomorrah as often as before.

Jazmara explained to me that she would not be able to go with me for the evening. Her friend thought that maybe the party they were to attend might lead to an engagement to Lot and she really needed Jazmara for emotional support. I objected and tried to entice her by describing the evening I had in mind, but she would not be persuaded. I do not think Jazmara even noticed the disappointment in my eyes or my voice that surely must have been there, for I have never been good at hiding my true feelings.

I watched them hurry off to their party, laughing and talking, excited about the evening to come. I slowly made my way back to Gomorrah and tried to work some more on our house. My heart was not in it. My mind was at that party, imagining the temptations that Jazmara must have faced. I am certain that all the wealthiest, most handsome young men of Sodom would be there – asking my Jazmara to dance and to have wine with them, telling her how beautiful she is. They would not have to lie about that, but their intentions would be less than honorable, I was sure.

I had offered her a good future, but still a future of hard work, long hours, and only modest income, at least at first. They would offer no future, but many days and nights filled with music, wine, dancing, and – I shuddered to think of what else. Would our love for each other be enough for Jazmara to hold out and come back to me? I hoped so – I prayed to Baal for it. Yet, I knew that she had already slipped farther away from me than I had ever thought possible.

The days grew longer, the evenings less bearable. I saw her less and less as she partied more and more. My work on our house became more of a chore than a joy. I had very little hope of a change of heart in Jazmara, but I had to hope. It was all I had!

After a few months, I finished our house and new place of business and was just about ready to move in. Jazmara’s new friend had indeed gotten engaged at that party and Jazmara’s evenings had become filled with helping her friend plan the big event. They talked of clothing and feasts and who would attend. They dreamed aloud about how life would be once she was married. Meanwhle, there were more and more parties and more and more men vying for Jazmara’s attention. She swore she was staying faithful to me and a couple of friends of mine who had attended a few of the parties told me as much, but I could not help but wonder.

Time was my enemy. It was my fault for not paying enough attention to her. Jazmara was young and full of life. She needed to be able to live and enjoy her youth. It was too much to ask her to spend all her evenings at home while I worked on our future home.

I was busy and though I missed her terribly, I kept my mind occupied with the work. It was not the same with her. It was natural for her to fill her mind and time with other people, other activities. In the beginning, the parties were a real escape for her. But, alas, they soon became more than just an escape.

That lifestyle became her desire. Jazmara became the focus of many young men in Sodom. She never wanted for entertainment, elegant food and drink, and the attention of men. She began to revel in the attention. We drifted further and further apart until one day, she came to our home to tell me it was over.

Our home – such a distant memory now. Getting it ready had filled my every spare moment. I got the house ready, but it never became a home. She explained that day and said she was sorry, but we wanted two different things in life now and it could never work for us to be together.

I wanted to beg her to change her mind, but I knew it would do no good. She was no longer the Jazmara I had grown to love so much. I still loved that Jazmara and I hoped that maybe she would return some day. But I knew it would not be soon. As she walked away to return home, I cried for my loss. All my dreams and plans for our future were broken. I consoled myself with a slight hope that she would tire of her new lifestyle before it was too late. I would wait for her, no matter how long it took.

I started the business alone, hiring workers to do what I had planned for Jazmara to do. I had not seen Jazmara for a long time, but I heard stories – stories that broke my heart. I buried myself in my work to keep my mind off of Jazmara and when I was really busy, it worked. But at night, when all the travellers were asleep and the day’s work was over, I would often lie awake for hours and “dream” of what might have been. Between working so much and thinking about Jazmara in the meantime, I guess I was too busy to notice what was going on around us. Apparently, there was political unrest in the kingdom and others around us. Unrest that would boil over and change our lives forever!

**********

There was always a little unrest in the kingdoms of the plains where I dwelt. Each city had its own king, but we were not truly free. It was often whoever had the strongest army, perhaps the best walls around their own city, that actually ruled the area. Added to that, there was a constant state of intrigue and changing alliances. For much of my life, Chedolaomer, king of Elam, ruled the entire region, though he needed alliances to sustain that rule. And he had had them.

There was an alliance of four kings. Besides Chedolaomer, there was Tidal of Goiim, Amraphel of Shinar, and Arioch king of Eliasar. The rest of us had been subject to them for twelve years. It is all I knew. I didn’t like it, but I was used to it. A good portion of every piece of gold I earned went to line the coffers of Chedolaomer – for no good reason! But that is how it had been.

But in the thirteenth year of this servitude, things changed. Elam gathered a great army from its own country as well as from its three allies and waged war throughout the land. They moved from city to city all across the region, winning one battle after another, destroying cities, enslaving survivors, and worse. I had heard the almost daily reports, but I must admit I paid little attention – it didn’t concern me.

Ah, but it did! Our kings, Bera of Sodom and Birsha of Gomorrah aligned with Shinab of Admah, Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Zoar. These five set out to confront the other four kings and their army in the Valley of Siddim. Scouting reports had said that the army of the alliance of the four kings was heading for Sodom. The sentiment was that Chedolaomer had to be stopped!

One day as I was headed to the market in Gomorrah for supplies for my inn, I was seized by three armed soldiers. They were not my enemies; they were soldiers in the army of Birsha, King of Gomorrah. I protested, but they told me to be silent. Instead, I told them I was not the enemy, but an innkeeper and merchant, right here in Gomorrah! They laughed and said that I was not anymore! I was a soldier in the king’s army! They told me that it was the duty of every fit, young man to help fight for freedom. I argued that I didn’t know how. They countered by saying I’d be trained.

And I was. For three weeks – every day – all day long – I was trained in hand-to-hand combat with a small sword, a dagger, and a shield. I was taught to shoot the bow and I learned some fighting skills and tricks. I despised every minute of it. The only time in my life I had ever fought anyone was the time I had rescued Jazmara a couple of years before. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.

Then came that dreaded morning. Soldiers came to take me with them. I was to gather my weapons and head for the front line of the coming battle! I felt so unprepared, but I had no choice but to go. By afternoon, I’d likely see battle! Our training camp had been on the opposite side of the cities as the Valley of Siddim where the battle would be fought. We marched most of the morning until we reached the battleground. By mid-afternoon I found myself standing along side a few hundred countrymen, ready to fight.

No amount of training could have prepared me for what happened that day. We fought with all our might, but we were no match for the army of the Four Kings. I was spared somehow. I fought and yes, I killed. I am not proud of it. I had no choice.

We had held our own for a while – our front line fought valiantly. But soon, the enemy began to break through. Our men were falling. Once the line had been breached it went quickly. Our men were being overrun and the defense of our homes and families was up to men like me. Merchants, herdsmen, farmers – not warriors.

The man next to me was attacked first. He raised his shield to fend off a blow from an enemy sword, but to no avail. A second quick swipe and the shield was knocked out of his hand. As the soldier poised for the death blow a new sense came over me. I don’t know if it was courage, anger, fear, or duty. Likely it was a little of all those emotions, but I stepped toward the enemy and struck him down with my sword. My comrade regained his sword and shield and ran the enemy soldier through the heart.

Another of the enemy ran in upon us and I turned just in time to fend off a blow with my shield and thrust my dagger into his side. He went down and I moved on. I remember two or three more such fights before I was knocked down. Two soldiers disarmed me and jerked me to my feet. They quickly tied my hands with a leather strap and pushed me to walk ahead of them.

My comrade lay dead a short distance away. It was chaos all around. Our lines of defense were gone. Our men lay scattered on the ground or like me, were being hauled away as prisoners. I could see that the army of the enemy was ravaging our cities, taking prisoners and looting the homes and businesses.

Soldiers and townsfolk alike were fleeing for their lives. The Valley was dotted with tar pits – hot molten morasses here and there. We had used the molten rock for heat and construction. In the madness of the war they became death traps for many. Screams – the smell of burning flesh – it was awful.

As I was pushed along with a few other captives, we met up with other squads of soldiers escorting prisoners from town. I recognized Lot among them. I could not help but think about his wealth and lifestyle. What good were they now?!

Then it came to me. I had learned more about his background. He was a nephew to a great man named Abram. Abram was not like Lot nor the men of Sodom and Gomorrah. Belief in his god kept him from the wicked lifestyle of my countrymen. He had been blessed by his god for that. Abram was wealthy. Not only did he own much land and livestock, but he commanded a few hundred tribesmen and servants – an army of his own! If anyone could help, it would be Abram and surely, he would intervene for his nephew Lot. If I could escape, I could find Abram and enlist his aid!

A plan began to form in my mind. Just ahead we would have to narrow down our little caravan of captives to tread cautiously between two tar pits. Just to the west of those were the hills and plenty of brush I could use for cover – if I could get there. I stumbled on purpose to delay. Others moved ahead of us as I struggled to get to my feet.

Finally, now at the rear of the caravan, it was our turn to navigate the pits. There was a soldier beside me and one just behind to guard our rear against attack. I rammed into the soldier at my side, knocking him into one of the tar pits! The rear guard had not seen that it was an intentional act of aggression on my part and his first instinct was to try to rescue his comrade.

I rushed forward to head-butt him in his side. He buckled but kept his balance. I dropped to the ground on my back and raised my legs. I kicked with all my might and propelled him into the pit with his dead comrade! His sword lay at my feet. I rolled over to it and managed to cut my hands free. Picking up the sword I ran for the hills.

There was so much chaos and confusion and noise that no one even noticed. I made it to the bushes and small trees, and then as quickly as I dared, I made my way up the hillside to freedom. I travelled as far as my strength would take me that night, finally collapsing among some rocks to hide my sleeping space.

At dawn, I awoke to regain reality and get my bearings. I had dreamed of Jazmara and our home and family – something the dawn reminded me did not exist. I quickly remembered the battle, my escape, and my mission. I moved on toward Abram’s country.
I found water along the way, but no food. It refreshed me. My mission sustained me. If Lot had been taken, perhaps Jazmara had been, too. Even if not, there were many others who had been and perhaps even some of my family. I had to find Abram.

Just before dusk on that second day, I stumbled into Abram’s camp near the Oaks of Mamre. He ordered his servants to fetch me some water and food. He fixed me a place to recline as the provisions were quickly brought to me. After a little water, I was able to tell him about the battle and Lot’s capture.

Abram stood and quickly gave the orders. He wasted no time. The commands went out – some gathered food and water – three hundred eighteen trained men armed themselves for battle. I begged to go with them, but Abram would not allow it. My weakened, weary condition would only slow them down. They would rescue Lot and any others and return them and their goods to Sodom!

Before they left camp to pursue Lot’s captors, I asked Abram how he could be so sure of victory. He replied that Jehovah would give him success. I had heard of Abram’s god and his faith in that god, but I knew little about it. Abram seemed so sure as he rode off that he would return as the victor. I would seek to know more about this Jehovah.

I ate and rested. The servants saw to my needs but mostly left me to myself to rest. I wondered if Abram’s god could indeed give him victory, saving his nephew Lot and many others. Perhaps Jazmara had also been taken – I did not know. It was a few days before Abram and his men returned.

This is what they told me: they pursued the army of the Alliance of Four Kings until they caught up to them far north of us: they waited until dark to get close. That night Abram deployed his well-trained army of servants around the enemy’s camp and attacked by surprise from all sides. Victory was assured, but many of Chedolaomer’s soldiers fled to the north. Abram pursued them until Chedolaomer and the kings who had aligned with him were all soundly defeated. Lot and all the others were rescued – men and women and all their goods! They were returned to Sodom and Gomorrah and the King of Sodom went out to greet Abram.

I had been sent for by Abram and was able to join them at the return and celebration. I have never seen such strength of character, yet humility as I witnessed in Abram! Such a contrast with his nephew Lot and for that matter most any of the men I had known growing up in Sodom.

I saw Abram meet with the mysterious King of Salem, Melchizadek, of which I had heard much good. Abram took wine and bread with Melchizadek and gave to him a full tenth of everything he had! The King of Salem blessed Abram.

The King of Sodom accepted his people back and offered to Abram all the possessions he had recovered. I was awed by the fact that Abram refused the goods! He said he had pledged an oath to his God that he would not take anything from Sodom. He wanted only his God, Jehovah, to get the glory from whatever Abram became or owned. I noticed that in his praise of Jehovah, Abram attributed all creation to Him. I decided then and there that if Abram allowed me to, I would return with him to his camp and become as one of his own.

**********

I did indeed return with Abram to his camp at the Oaks of Mamre. He became like a father to me. I learned much from him and he taught me about his heritage. I tried to model my behavior after him, taking his morality as mine, trying to develop his integrity and character. I learned about Jehovah and committed myself to worshipping him alone as the one true God.

When I had been with Abram for about a year, he called all his people together. He told us that Jehovah had reaffirmed his covenant with him. Jehovah would bless him and through him, bless others. He would bless Abram and Sarai with a son, even in their old age. He would make great nations from their descendants. He expected worship, obedience, and sacrifice from Abram and his people. Abram expected it from all who would dwell with him.

I learned that if I was to become one of Jehovah’s and Abram’s people, I would have to be circumcised. I consented, along with all the other men. It was a sign of commitment and sincerity of belief and obedience. After that I was one of them.

Jehovah changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Time moved on and I got older, as we all do. I often thought of my family in Sodom and Gomorrah, but I never returned to visit nor did they attempt to contact me. I had a new family now – a new way of life – and a stronger aversion to the wickedness of my homeland. I wondered about Jazmara often. I still loved her – at least the Jazmara I had first known.

Occasionally, a traveler came through camp who had information about Sodom and Gomorrah. A couple of times someone came who had met my family or Jazmara.

Not once did I ever hear anything that pleased me or brought fond memories. Always, it was a bad report. I wondered how such people as I had grown up with and even loved, could continue to immerse themselves in such idolatry and wickedness. I wondered what the result of such living would be. One day I found out.

I had been with Abraham for nearly twenty years. I had not married because I simply could not forget my love for Jazmara. I spent most of my time serving Abraham’s family and others in his household. I was more than content though I was never quite happy without Jazmara.

One afternoon, three men came into our camp. When Abraham saw them, he rose and ran to meet them. I had never seen them in all the time I had served Abraham, but he seemed to know them, especially the one he who did most of the talking. Abraham called him my Lord and ask them to stay for rest and a meal. As they rested in the shade, Abraham put others to work preparing the meal.

I remained nearby, always listening and learning and serving Abraham and his guests. The one he had called Lord, told Abraham they would have a son. Sarah overheard and laughed because she was too old for such a thing to happen. He said it would happen in about a year!

Then the men got up and walked around a little. They stopped where they could look out in the direction of my homeland. I eased up closer, careful not to intrude. I got close enough to hear. The Lord told Abraham what he was about to do. The words sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.

He told Abraham that the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah was too much to bear any longer. The other two left toward Sodom and the Lord and Abraham continued their conversation. When Abraham realized the Lord was going to bring judgment upon my homeland, I realized that this Lord was in fact Jehovah! Abraham tried to bargain for my people. He asked the Lord to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous there. If even only fifty righteous lived there, would He spare them all? I thought to myself – I doubt there are fifty righteous.

The Lord said He would, and Abraham pressed for more. “What about forty-five?” he asked. The Lord yielded, so Abraham went even further. Would He spare them for the sake of forty? Yes. Thirty? Yes. I couldn’t believe it, but Abraham asked for twenty and finally just ten! Would the Lord spare all for the sake of ten righteous souls in all of Solomon and Gomorrah?

Abraham must have thought that surely there would be ten. His nephew Lot was there. We had reports that Lot had some daughters. They would be of age now. Perhaps Abraham thought that Lot would have passed along his faith in Jehovah to his family and maybe they had influenced others to the faith.

I knew better. I had lived among them. I had witnessed firsthand the wickedness of their beliefs and ways. No, even the nephew of the great Abraham would not have led to faith as many as ten people in all the city.

I could not bear to think of what was going to happen. I had no idea how the Lord would bring judgment, but it was obviously His intent for it to be total destruction. I raced to my tent. I got a bag and put in some clothes, a few other things, and some bread. I got a wineskin full of wine and without telling anyone, I left camp. I had to get to Sodom before it was too late. The men who had left in that direction had traveled the main route to my city. I took shortcuts. If I hurried, I could get there first. My family – Jazmara – they were facing death and did not know it!

It was shortly before dusk when I got to Sodom. I had gotten there first! I went straight to my family. Our reunion was brief and not too warm-hearted. We hardly recognized one another. We held little but blood in common anymore. I told them of my new faith in the God of Abraham. I told him how Jehovah had blessed Abraham. I reminded them how He had shown that in the rescue of Sodom and Lot twenty years ago. Then I told them of the destruction coming!

They laughed! They said too much religion had driven me mad! Their gods had sent no such warnings. If Abraham’s God wanted to do harm, He would have their gods to contend with. They would protect their people. I pleaded, but they paid no attention. I left to go warn Jazmara.

I found my once beloved at the inn of her parents. Our reunion was a little sweeter than that with my parents, but the result was the same. Neither she nor her family would listen. They laughed – not her – but her family. Out of respect for what we once had, she did not laugh. Nor did she believe.

I pleaded with her to leave with me before it was too late. She refused and told me I must go. She enjoyed the life she was living. Her beauty had not faded too much, despite the lifestyle she was leading. She tried to tell me of the freedom she enjoyed and pleasure she derived from the lifestyle she had chosen. She saw no reason to give it up.

I told her that her only salvation was to come with me now – leave the city. She should come with me and learn the ways of Jehovah. It was late, but she must have still cared a little for me, for we went outside alone and talked some more. She listened as I told her about my life with Abraham and his people. I told her about his heritage and journey of faith. I told her about Jehovah and the covenant He had made with Abraham. I shared with her about my commitment.

She said that was fine for me, but not for her. She would stay with her upbringing. She had her gods, her religion, her lifestyle, and it was all just fine. She started to describe the times she had enjoyed over the years and how I could have such times, too, if I would return. I told her to stop! I could not bear to hear what had become of her.

It would soon be dawn. I asked her once more to leave with me. I told her I loved her and asked her to come be my wife. We could start over. She smiled. I melted. She said, “No.” It was time to go. We had both made our choices. We were not of the same heart anymore.

With tears in my eyes, I watched her walk away. Jazmara went back inside and I turned to head out of Sodom before destruction came. As the sunlight of the dawn broke upon the new day, I began to feel uneasy. Something was happening – I could feel it! I didn’t see or hear anything yet, but I could sense it. Perhaps my family could, too!

I returned to the house of my father. They were beginning the work of the day as I approached. I asked if they had thought more about what we had talked about the night before. They said they had talked about it. It provided them with some good entertainment! They laughed at me again.

I left them with her merriment and went inside to try my mother again. She hugged me. She said she was glad I had returned. I had hopes, but she soon dashed them. She was hoping I had come to my senses! She asked me to forget all my foolishness and come back home for good.

Home? The camp at the Oaks of Mamre was my home. Abraham was my father. His people were my people, his God was my God. Sodom and Gomorrah held nothing for me. It held nothing for my family either – or Jazmara. It was doomed and they would not believe. I said goodbye for the last time.

With my bag of my belongings in my hand and my wineskin draped around my shoulder, I left my family for the last time and walked away. As I approached the edge of the city, the sky exploded with fire!

All around me hot balls of fire and smoke were falling from the sky! Smoke began to darken the sky! The molten hailstones were crashing into buildings, lighting fires all over the city. People were rushing for cover into houses and businesses. People were running out of burning houses hoping to find safety somewhere else. Fireballs were crushing people! The smell of smoke and sulfur and burning flesh began to fill the city.

I looked toward Gomorrah, the place of my former business and the home I had planned for Jazmara. Flames and smoke rose from that direction, too! Everywhere one could go, as far as the eye could see across the plains – smoke and fire and hailstones of molten rock!

Animals, people, every living thing was falling under the destruction. Jehovah was raining down fire from heaven. Evil would suffer today. Jehovah would have His vengeance on wickedness. I ran out of the city, headed for home!

I was struck by a fiery hailstone and knocked to the ground! Another hit my back and set my clothes on fire! I rolled around to put out the fire. Blood streamed from my forehead. I struggled to my feet and continued out of the city. I dodged as many fireballs as I could, but I was hit again and again!

Smoke filled my eyes and my lungs. My eyes burned; my throat burned. My body was beaten, sore, and bloody. I struggled on and finally made it to the hills just west of the plain that separated them from the cities. Somehow, in my confusion and distress, I stumbled upon the entrance to a small cave.

Once inside, I was safe from the fire that reigned from the sky. I could no longer hear the screams of my former countrymen. I prayed for their souls, even knowing somehow that it would do no good. They had made their choice. They were lost forever!

So, I changed my prayers. I knew I was dying. I should never have gone back to Sodom. I had heard Abraham plead for the lives of my people, but the Lord had shown us that not even ten righteous people dwelt in those two cities. I took comfort in knowing that I would die because I tried to save them.

My prayer was that I would live long enough to write my story. I had packed some writing supplies in my bag. I had brought a clay pot from Jazmara’s as a keepsake. I would store my story in that if I lived long enough to write it. Perhaps someday, someone would find it and know that the only right path is to choose to follow Jehovah.

So, I wrote. I cried. I prayed. And I wrote some more. And this last thing I will do is to place this in Jazmara’s pot and seal the lid…

**********

The reception room at the college was silent. Everyone had sat quietly as Iowa Smith, Dr. Ezekiel Smith, had read the Journal to them. Most had read along silently with him in their leather journals, but all listened, totally rapt with his narration. He had poured his heart and soul into the translation. He admitted that he sometimes felt as if he had become Ka-mal, felt his emotions, his pain. He felt that had helped him to fill out the narrative of Ka-mal’s primitive writing, yet stay faithful to its pathos.

Dr. Zeke looked around at his audience. The men stared forward or at their journals. The ladies wiped tears or simply looked at each other for a moment. All were in awe of the story – amazed at what they had discovered.

Finally, the silence was broken by the college president. All he could say was, “Amazing!”

Others echoed or added, “Wow!” What a story!” and the like.

The president raised his glass of punch and toasted Dr. Zeke, who immediately raised his glass and added, “To the team!”

Suddenly everyone wanted to talk! They had comments about their favorite parts or concerning the ‘cast of characters.’  They had questions about how it all might have felt. Callie, from the expedition, asked about the part in the Bible with Lot and the angels?

Suzette quickly added, “And Lot’s wife? Why wouldn’t Ka-mal have added all that?”

Alex took the lead there. “Dr. Zeke and I discussed that as we translated the diary. Remember how much time Ka-mal spent with his family and Jasmara? He was all night trying to convince them. The biblical account about the men of the city going after the angels at Lot’s house was happening at the same time.”

Biggon’ chimed in, “Yeah that’s right. Ka-mal wouldn’t have witnessed any of that.”

Suzette added, as if to answer her own question, “And he was just leaving the city when it all started. Lot’s family had left just ahead of that. Ka-mal wouldn’t have seen what happened to Lot’s wife either.”

Captain Kirk put in his two-cents worth saying, “And likely didn’t even escape in the same direction.”

Dr. Zeke gave a reminder to put the final touch on their conclusions, “Remember – this isn’t a history text, but just one man’s personal diary. He could only write about his own experiences and feelings.”

Alex raised his glass for one more toast. “To Ka-mal!” he said. They all took a sip of punch to toast their hero. Some began to chat about the journal or reminisce about the expedition, but a few sat down and turned to their journals to read it again and one more time, go “Back to Sodom!”

 

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