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In Genesis 18:20 and 19:13 the reason is given for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

(Westminster Leningrad Codex interlinear with vowels)

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; Gen. 18:20

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. Gen. 19:13

זַעֲקַת is the Heb. form 'cry' in Gen. 18:20

צַעֲקָתָם Heb. form 'cry of them' Gen. 19:13

In Genesis 4:10 we have Abel's blood crying to YHWH from the ground:

And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

It would follow the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah would be like this cry seen in Gen. 4:10 which was a cry of the victim. However, every indication points to Sodom and Gomorrah's cry for itself, the ones committing the sin not the victims.

What is this 'cry' that brought total destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah?

OR

How do we understand the difference between 'the cry of them is so great" and "their sin is so grievous"?

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In the English "the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah" it is as though Sodom and Gomorrah are the agent of the crying event. In the Hebrew this is less clear. The phrase is a simple noun chain with "outcry" in construct state. This can indeed indicate a genitive relation, but it can also be understood as "the outcry about Sodom and Gomorrah" → "the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah". This is also how the NIV has translated 18:20 and 19:13:

18:20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great ...
19:13 ... The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

This reading is supported by 18:21, where God unambiguously says the outcry has reached him:

אֵֽרֲדָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה וְאִם־לֹא אֵדָֽעָה
I will go down now and I will see if according to her outcry that has come to me they act entirely — and if not, I will know.

A 2002-3 article by Timothy D. Lytton in the Journal of Law and Religion, "Shall Not the Judge of the Earth Deal Justly?": Accountability, Compassion, and Judicial Authority in the Biblical Story of Sodom and Gomorrah, further explains this (pp. 36–37, references in footnotes omitted):

This ad hoc trial is occasioned by an "outrage" and an "outcry" emanating from Sodom and Gomorrah in verses 20 and 21 respectively. These two words in Hebrew, za'akah and tza'akah, are really identical terms, dialectical variants of each other (ref.), denoting a cry of distress or suffering. They also serve as technical legal terms for a claim of injustice linked to a demand for redress (ref.). The phonetic similarity between the Hebrew terms tza'akah (outcry) and tzedakah (justice) symbolizes linguistically that cries of disress are usually opportunities for doing justice (ref.). This wordplay works in two distinct ways. First, tza'akah is linguistically perverted tzedakah, reflecting that it comes from perverted justice. Second, tza'akah cries out, so to speak, for tzedakah (ref.).

Thus, "the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah" is the distress over the injustice done there and the cry for justice to be done. Who is doing the crying is not mentioned. I would say it is the earth and injustice itself which cries for justice to be done.

On the other hand, as you mentioned, in Gen 4:10 it is the victim who cries for justice. But as the above shows, that is not crucial to the root. Crucial is the malformed justice on the one hand and the need for justice on the other.

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One possible answer comes from the additional reasons given for judgment in the later passage in Ezekiel 16:49-50.

49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. Ezekiel 16:49-50 (KJV)

The later passage suggests that there were victims that would have cried out from within the city of Sodom.

Verse 49 explains how there would have been victims and verse 50 explains that at the same time their sin was so grievous: their haughtiness (וַֽתִּגְבְּהֶ֔ינָה) and their abominations (תוֹעֵבָ֖ה).

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  • thank you for your response. Something about their 'cry' strikes me as unique. It's as though it has a weight and meaning that is elusive. – N.Ish Jan 15 '18 at 0:39

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