The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the three other cities of the plain were sinful and godless. In their country there was an extensive vale, where they foregathered annually with their wives and their children and all belonging to them, to celebrate a feast lasting several days and consisting of the most revolting orgies. If a stranger merchant passed through their territory, he was besieged by them all, big and little alike, and robbed of whatever he possessed. Each one appropriated a bagatelle, until the traveller was stripped bare. If the victim ventured to remonstrate with one or another, he would show him that he had taken a mere trifle, not worth talking about. And the end was that they hounded him from the city.
Once upon a time it happened that a man journeying from Elam arrived in Sodom toward evening. No one could be found to grant him shelter for the night. Finally a sly fox named Hedor invited him cordially to follow him to his house. The Sodomite had been attracted by a rarely magnificent carpet, strapped to the stranger's ass by means of a rope. He meant to secure it for himself. The friendly persuasions of Hedor induced the stranger to remain with him two days, though he had expected to stay only overnight. When the time came for him to continue on his journey, he asked his host for the carpet and the rope. Hedor said: "Thou hast dreamed a dream, and this is the interpretation of thy dream: the rope signifies that thou wilt have a long life, as long as a rope; the varicolored carpet indicates that thou wilt own an orchard wherein thou wilt plant all sorts of fruit trees." The stranger insisted that his carpet was a reality, not a dream fancy, and he continued to demand its return. Not only did Hedor deny having taken anything from his guest, he even insisted upon pay for having interpreted his dream to him. His usual price for such services, he said, was four silver pieces, but in view of the fact that he was his guest, he would, as a favor to him, content himself with three pieces of silver.
After much wrangling, they put their case before one of the judges of Sodom, Sherek by name, and he said to the plaintiff, "Hedor is known in this city as a trustworthy interpreter of dreams, and what he tells thee is true." The stranger declared himself not satisfied with the verdict, and continued to urge his side of the case. Then Sherek drove both the plaintiff and the defendant from the court room. Seeing this, the inhabitants gathered together and chased the stranger from the city, and lamenting the loss of his carpet, he had to pursue his way.
As Sodom had a judge worthy of itself, so also had the other cities--Sharkar in Gomorrah, Zabnak in Admah, and Manon in Zeboiim. Eliezer, the bondman of Abraham, made slight changes in the names of these judges, in accordance with the nature of what they did: the first he called Shakkara, Liar; the second Shakrura, Arch-deceiver; the third Kazban, Falsifier; and the fourth, Mazle-Din, Perverter of Judgment. At the suggestion of these judges, the cities set up beds on their commons. When a stranger arrived, three men seized him by his head, and three by his feet, and they forced him upon one of the beds. If he was too short to fit into it exactly, his six attendants pulled and wrenched his limbs until he filled it out; if he was too long for; it, they tried to jam him in with all their combined strength, until the victim was on the verge of death. Hit outcrles were met with the words, "Thus will be done to any man that comes into our land."
After a while travellers avoided these cities, but if some poor devil was betrayed occasionally into entering them, they would give him gold and silver, but never any bread, so that he was bound to die of starvation. Once he was dead, the residents of the city came and took back the marked gold and silver which they had given him, and they would quarrel about the distribution of his clothes, for they would bury him naked.
Once Eliezer, the bondman of Abraham, went to Sodom, at the bidding of Sarah, to inquire after the welfare of Lot. He happened to enter the city at the moment when the people were robbing a stranger of his garments. Eliezer espoused the cause of the poor wretch, and the Sodomites turned against him; one threw a stone at his forehead and caused considerable loss of blood. Instantly, the assailant, seeing the blood gush forth, demanded payment for having performed the operation of cupping. Eliezer refused to pay for the infliction of a wound upon him, and he was haled before the judge Shakkara. The decision went against him, for the law of the land gave the assailant the right to demand payment. Eliezer quickly picked up a stone and threw it at the judge's forehead. When he saw that the blood was flowing profusely, he said to the judge, "Pay my debt to the man and give me the balance."
The cause of their cruelty was their exceeding great wealth. Their soil was gold, and in their miserliness and their greed for more and more gold, they wanted to prevent strangers from enjoying aught of their riches. Accordingly, they flooded the highways with streams of water, so that the roads to their city were obliterated, and none could find the way thither. They were as heartless toward beasts as toward men. They begrudged the birds what they ate, and therefore extirpated them. They behaved impiously toward one another, too, not shrinking back from murder to gain possession of more gold. If they observed that a man owned great riches, two of them would conspire against him. They would beguile him to the vicinity of ruins, and while the one kept him on the spot by pleasant converse, the other would undermine the wall near which he stood, until it suddenly crashed down upon him and killed him. Then the two plotters would divide his wealth between them.
Another method of enriching themselves with the property of others was in vogue among them. They were adroit thieves. When they made up their minds to commit theft, they would first ask their victim to take care of a sum of money for them, which they smeared with strongly scented oil before handing it over to him. The following night they would break into his house, and rob him of his secret treasures, led to the place of concealment by the smell of the oil.
Their laws were calculated to do injury to the poor. The richer a man, the more was he favored before the law. The owner of two oxen was obliged to render one day's shepherd service, but if he had but one ox, he had to give two days' service. A poor orphan, who was thus forced to tend the flocks a longer time than those who were blessed with large herds, killed all the cattle entrusted to him in order to take revenge upon his oppressors, and he insisted, when the skins were assigned, that the owner of two head of cattle should have but one skin, but the owner of one head should receive two skins, in correspondence to the method pursued in assigning the work. For the use of the ferry, a traveller had to pay four zuz, but if he waded through the water, he had to pay eight zuz.
The cruelty of the Sodomites went still further. Lot had a daughter, Paltit, so named because she had been born to him shortly after he escaped captivity through the help of Abraham. Paltit lived in Sodom, where she had married. Once a beggar came to town, and the court issued a proclamation that none should give him anything to eat, in order that he might die of starvation. But Paltit had pity upon the unfortunate wretch, and every day when she went to the well to draw water, she supplied him with a piece of bread, which she hid in her water pitcher. The inhabitants of the two sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, could not understand why the beggar did not perish, and they suspected that some one was giving him food in secret. Three men concealed themselves near the beggar, and caught Paltit in the act of giving him something to eat. She had to pay for her humanity with death; she was burnt upon a pyre.
The people of Admah were no better than those of Sodom. Once a stranger came to Admah, intending to stay overnight and continue his journey the next morning. The daughter of a rich man met the stranger, and gave him water to drink and bread to eat at his request. When the people of Admah heard of this infraction of the law of the land, they seized the girl and arraigned her before the judge, who condemned her to death. The people smeared her with honey from top to toe, and exposed her where bees would be attracted to her. The insects stung her to death, and the callous people paid no heed to her heartrending cries. Then it was that God resolved upon the destruction of these sinners.