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Sodom and Gomorrah in Archaeology and Cultural Imagination

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‘Go where we will, at every time and place Sodom confronts, and stares us in the face’, the writer Charles Churchill exclaimed in 1764. For centuries, the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have been invoked to talk about forbidden urban pleasures. This paper will investigate the role of Sodom and Gomorrah in Western European and American culture during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Part of a collaborative project that investigates how a group of biblical cities came to play significant new cultural roles in nineteenth-century Britain, it examines why Sodom and Gomorrah were such powerful signifiers and how the archaeological search for the biblical cities (resulting in more than a dozen ‘identifications’ of the ruins in different location around and under the Dead Sea) enmeshed with an older cultural imagination. It analyses how and why the city was imagined and reclaimed by a diverse groups including, archaeologist, artists, biblical scholars, western imperialist governments, fundamentalist Christians and the emerging gay rights movement.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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