Greek archaeologists have disputed a recent claim that the biblical city of Sodom has been discovered at Tall el Hammam in Jordan. They claim that Sodom, its sister city Gomorrah and other key biblical sites are in fact located in the territory of modern Greece. In the Book of Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone because of the sin they harboured. An attempt by Abraham to intercede on the basis that he could find 50 (no 45, no 40, how about 30, no 20, OK just 10) righteous people to save the cities failed miserably. The cities’ names have since become bywords for vice and particularly homosexuality.
It is thought that the Greek archaeological establishment’s eagerness to lay claim to these historic sites is linked to a recent initiative to diversify Greece’s tourism offering by attracting more visitors from the LGBT community, starting in the northern city of Thessaloniki. This initiative gained initial support from the recent interpretation of the excavation finds at Amphipolis, as a monument to the biggest bromance of all time. However, disputes over this interpretation have led tourism chiefs to look elsewhere for relevant heritage sites. They have also poured scorn on the recent association of Gomorrah with Naples in southern Italy, pointing to the biblical description of the cities as lying in a well-watered and land, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, and suitable for grazing livestock. They believe that this places Sodom and Gomorrah in the vicinity of the picturesque towns of Thiva (modern Thebes) and Livadeia in Boeotia, which already attract scores of visitors on account of their visionary town planning.
Cynical observers have linked the recent interest in LGBT heritage to the Greek government’s stated intention to increase the state’s revenue from tourism. This includes the introduction of electronic ticketing and a significant increase in ticket prices for museums and archaeological sites. The Culture Ministry hopes that the increase in revenues from museum tickets will enable the government to lift the recently imposed VAT on private education, a measure which has provoked outrage among voters. However, it has been pointed out that the numbers don’t add up: current annual revenues from archaeological sites are in the region of €60 million, compared to the €400 million anticipated revenue from applying 23% VAT to private school fees.
Attracting tourism under the rainbow flag has historically met with vehement resistance from the Greek Orthodox Church, a powerful influence in all areas of life in Greece. For example, Thessaloniki’s Gay Pride parade is greeted by annual protestations from the local bishop, objecting to the “unpleasant, unacceptable and condemnable presence of homosexuals,” and calling on citizens to protect their children against “unholy and unnatural festivals.” Close observers of Greek politics have speculated that a strategy of “bringing the church onside” may be behind the recent softening in the Syriza-led government’s attitude towards the Church. While ostensibly staunch defenders of secularism, left-leaning Syriza ministers have recently made concessions to church leaders, by allowing the continuation of compulsory religious education in schools, and granting the Church of Greece significant easements under the ongoing capital controls regime.
A spokesman from the Culture Ministry who wished to remain anonymous also trailed plans to capitalise on the newly-established biblical links to drive an increase in Bible tourism. He noted that in addition to Sodom and Gomorrah, researchers were also confident in locating the biblical Armageddon in modern Greece, possibly under the modern site of the Employment and Pensions Ministry. This would challenge the long-held interpretation linking the biblical battle site to Tel Megiddo in northern Israel, while apocalyptic readings impute an entirely different meaning to Armageddon.
Image: “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” by Pieter Schoubroek (circa 1570-1607).