Sodom Identified?

I’ve been reading for a few weeks about new excavations by Steve Collins of a site that he thinks is biblical Sodom. You can read a typical report in the El Defensor Chieftain (also here and here), which doesn’t tell you much besides the site’s name and the excavator’s enthusiasm. The proposed site is Tell el-Hammam, which didn’t ring any bells. So I grabbed my copy of the best place to start for research on biblical sites in Jordan: “East of the Jordan:” Territories and Sites of the Hebrew Scriptures, by Burton MacDonald (ASOR, 2000). It says that the site is located on the northeastern region of the Dead Sea, in what is known biblically as the “plains of Moab.” Bells went off, as I know from previous study that of the three possible regions for the location of Sodom and Gomorrah based on all of the Scriptural evidence (northeast, southeast, under the Dead Sea), the least likely is the northern theory. The second problem is not insurmountable, if the excavators can find evidence of occupation from a different period that has been found already. I’ll quote MacDonald in full here, as it may be useful in the months/years to come as the Hammam excavation moves forward.

Tall al-Hammam appears to be a very large and strongly built Iron Age I-II fortess (sic) completely enclosed by a strong outer fortification wall (Glueck 1951: 379). The East Jordan Valley Survey reports Iron I-II sherds as dominant at the site (Yassine, Sauer, and Ibrahim 1988: 192, 197-98). Prag’s 1990 work at the site indicates that relative to the northeast tell at Hammam ‘the most prominent ruins are probably of the Iron Age II and Persian periods, when it appears to have been strongly fortified. These remains were recorded in some detail by Glueck, who dated them to the Iron Age 1 and 2 periods’ (1991: 60). Tall al-Hammam is a good, though not certain, candidate for the location of Abel-shittim (MacDonald 2000: 90).

Perhaps then Collins will have one biblical site (Abel-shittim) if not the other (Sodom).

What does the team need to find in order for this site to potentially be identified with Sodom? A destruction layer in EBIV/MBI/Intermediate Bronze (2300-2000 B.C.). The Iron Age mentioned above is dated roughly 1200-600 B.C.

Bab edh-Dhra is the site most frequently identified with biblical Sodom.

9 thoughts on “Sodom Identified?

  1. Todd, don’t write this this one off yet. Dr. Collins requested that all info from their recent excavations be kept confidential till his report is formally published in ADAJ (Annual of the Department of Antiquities, Jordan). For now, just be aware that Tall el-Hammam is a very “tall” site!

  2. The Iron Age site partial covers an earlier EB city similar to Arad (according to the excavators). Tall el-Hammam was a HUGE city in the IRon Age; the earlier EB site was large as well.
    Evidence of an EB settlement, however, still doesn’t go far in proving a biblical connection. What you’d need is a whacking great destruction level in the MB covered in all sorts of ash and debris to confirm Collins’ theory.

  3. Sodom was covered by the south end of the Dead Sea. There also was Gommorrah and two sister cities buried at the same time. They are mentioned in the Revised New Testiment corrected by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
    They will some day re appear when the land of Palistine is returned to its original beauty as it was
    at the time of the Canaanites.
    It was then described as “like unto the Garden of Eden”. DW

  4. Hello friends in the blogoshpere:
    What Todd (Hi, Todd) has written about Sodom needs some adjusting. Some of what others have written is just plan jibberish. Dating Abraham to the Intermediate Bronze Age (2300-2000 BCE) or even MB I (2000-1800 BCE) is extremely problematic, i.e., there is a systematic lack of cultural specificity and historical synchronisms (see my book, The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah). Abraham belongs to the MB II period, almost without question. The Masoretic biblical “lifespans” drawn from the Genesis numbers are most likely “honorific attributions” and not to be taken literally. But even if you do take them literally, the earliest possible date for Abraham’s entrance into Canaan is about 2091, with the destruction of Sodom taking place after that. So the EB and IB are just too early for this event. Besides, there’s only one IB site immediately north of the Dead Sea, and there are no IB sites south of the Dead Sea (the fortified city at Bab edh-Dhra’ was destroyed about 2350 BCE–and remember, Sodom was fortified!). And why does no one ever offer a rigorous analysis of the geographical data embedded in Gen 13 as I have done? You can’t go south with Sodom based on that data, you can only go north of the Dead Sea. And why do people keep talking about what exists at Tall el-Hammam as if they knew what we, the excavators and researchers, know. They don’t know. I don’t care what Glueck or anyone else has said. He and they are ancient history on the subject. I’ve forgotten more about Tall el-Hammam and the issue of Sodom’s location than most others have known collectively–and I haven’t forgotten much! Even Prag’s information is inaccurate as to what exists on the upper tall (she only slightly probed the lower EB city). The fact of the matter is that our six years of textual research, focused exploration of the entire Dead Sea area, detailed sherding surveys, and now our meticulous excavation, confirm our theory, including the EB/MB/IA occupational profile at Tall el-Hammam. The IA city wall was built in Iron II over the top of the MB earthen rampart system (there’s no evidence thus far for Iron I). I can’t believe what people are willing to say when they don’t know anything about the issue factually! Every argument for a southern Sodom is ludicrous. And what’s this stuff about needing a huge ash layer at Sodom? What is that? It’s nonsense. Evidence of some kind of fiery destruction, yes. But piles of ash?–not after a site lies exposed to the elements for at least five centuries. We do have lots of evidence of burning and destruction at the MB/IA interface. People just need to focus on the facts–and the archaeological facts about Tall el-Hammam and the Kikkar of the Jordan are my specialty. As the Director of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, I am the expert on that subject. Everything else that has ever been said or written about the site is only meager or general speculation. I urge you to get with the program and find out what the facts are. I am available and will communicate freely. I guarantee that the southern location for Sodom will die in time, as painful as it might be for some people who’ve married themselves to an untenable, traditional theory. I’m sorry, but there is simply zero evidence of any kind to support it! The Albrightian myth of a southern Sodom will soon give way to the facts of scientific archarology and rigorous textual analysis. I invite you to come excavate with us!
    S.Collins, Director, the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Jordan

  5. Hi Todd: I’ve just returned from seven weeks in the southern Jordan Valley directing the Tall el-Hammam (Sodom) Excavation Project. I think it would be an understatement to say that TeHEP Season Two was a success.
    With well over 100 participants, plus local workers, representing at least four continents and including countries like the USA, Jordan, Canada, England, Australia, Russia and Ukraine, TeHEP ’06/’07 was one of the largest digs in Jordan in recent history (at least that’s what we were told by our Jordanian colleagues). I deeply appreciated the support and encouragement of the Jordan Department of Antiquities, four of whom served on my dig staff.
    When you add in the local workers we hired for just over three weeks of the season, we looked quite like a busy bunch of ants scurrying over the top of massive Tall el-Hammam, which spreads over a square kilometer at the eastern edge of the Jordan Disk.
    Of course, for quite a while now I have put forth the idea that Tall el-Hammam is likely the site of biblical Sodom. That it is in the right place, according to the biblical geography, is impossible to question on the basis of even a cursory textual analysis of Gen 13:1-12. But what about the factors of “right time” and “right stuff” necessary to reasonably nail down such an identification? Well, after TeHEP Season One about a year ago, we stated that the archaeology of the site was leaning quite suggestively in the direction of a pretty straightforward biblical chronology for Sodom.
    That chronology goes something like this: founded (at least) during the Early Bronze Age (Gen 10); occupied into the Middle Bronze Age, and destroyed during the MBA (Gen 13-19); not re-occupied for at least several centuries [Moses calls the same area “the valley…where Pisgah overlooks the wasteland” (Num 21:20) during the Late Bronze Age]; perhaps re-occupied much later (after the area recovered from the ecological disaster that had put an end to the Bronze Age civilization of the eastern Jordan Disk during the MBA).
    Now, after the completion of TeHEP Season Two, this occupational profile has been established quite firmly.
    While Iron Age II is well-represented by at least four, and possibly five, strata, the Late Bronze Age continues to be systematically absent. Still largely theoretical at the end of last season (but many pottery sherds), the presence of a fortified MBA city is now dramatically confirmed in multiple ways, not the least of which is the discovery of a massive MB rampart/fortification system that dwarfs the 3m-thick IA city wall built over it for much of its extent.
    Last season we had only gotten a look at the top of this structure, and I speculated then that it looked remarkably like typical MB mudbrick/earthen rampart construction. Then it was just an educated hunch. Now it’s an archaeological fact. We were able to uncover it to a height of about six meters, which effectively exposed eight to nine meters of its sloping outer face. I estimate that to be perhaps half it’s actual height (the rest awaits us next season). But what is showing is pretty impressive, especially when you take a moment to extrapolate how it rings the footprint of the entire upper tall (about 400m east-to-west). The inner/internal construction seems to be a stepped structure of tightly laid mudbrick, faced on the outer slope by a meter or more of compacted earth/clay.
    The footprint of the Iron Age city is smaller than that of the MB city. At a cool square kilometer, the EB city’s footprint is the largest at the site. This demonstrates how erroneous information about Tall el-Hammam is in almost every source available. That’s understandable, since we’re the first ones to excavate it, while everybody else was simply guessing. (K. Prag did some probing only on the lower tall about ten years ago while excavating at Tell Iktanu to the south.)
    Factually, Tall el-Hammam was
    THE dominant city in the southern Jordan Valley during the Bronze Age (but unoccupied during the LBA and probably most or all of Iron I) and Iron Age II A, B and C. Isn’t it interesting that Sodom is the only major Bronze Age urban center mentioned in the Bible located on the eastern Jordan Disk, and that Tall el-Hammam is, in fact, the only major Bronze Age urban center on the eastern Jordan Disk? (There are at least five others within eight kilometers, but all a fraction of the size of TeH.) We must face the facts. There is no coincidence here.
    From the macro (the massive MB rampart) in Field D to the micro (the classic MB piriform juglet) in Field B, we now know that Tall el-Hammam was a thriving center of civilization during the Middle Bronze Age when it seems to have met a fiery end. This event is attested by a meter of ash and destruction debris in Field B where the MB juglet, along with MB storage jars, were unearthed just a few weeks ago. The site then lay abandoned during the LBA, and probably most or all of Iron Age I, until a flurry of building activities in several phases turned the site into a significant city during IA II A, B and C.
    At this point, I am willing to say that if Tall el-Hammam’s identification as biblical Sodom is still denied after an examination of the growing body of evidence to that effect, then the identificaton of every single biblical site not confirmed by specific epigraphic evidence must me called into question.
    That’s it on a thumbnail. So now we have about 700 diagnostic sherds and many whole vessels to “read,” and lots of organic analysis and C14 dating to do over the next several months as we assemble our first Preliminary Report later this year.
    We’ll also try to make several conferences this year, including ASOR and NEAS in the fall. And with Tall el-Hammam continuing to cover all the criterial bases relative to Sodom, I’ll continue to argue in that vein until the doubters get hold of their senses.
    By the way, I got a chance to present my case “live and on site” to quite a few visiting archaeological dignitaries during the season. In those instances, Tall el-Hammam itself did most of the “talking,” almost defying anyone to deny her preeminence as the dominant Bronze Age city in the region (as Sodom was the dominant Bronze Age city on the eastern Jordan Disk in Genesis). After an on-site tour of Tall el-Hammam, with Gen 13:1-12 firmly in mind, the general response, minimally, was always something like, “Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it.” To which I usually responded, “Welcome to Sodom!”
    Steven Collins, Director, The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Jordan; Dean of the College of Archaeology, Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque, New Mexico USA

  6. My Biblical Archaeology professor at Atlantic Baptist University in Moncton, NB has been part of this dig. He has presented several convincing arguments about this being Sodom. First Scripture says that Abraham could see Sodom from between Bethel and Ai, and Hammam can be seen from there. Secondly, Sodom is described as being in the kikkar plain, a circular shaped valley, just like the one located on the north of the Dead Sea. Thirdly, my prof, David Graves, has himself found a layer of char at his dig site dating to the patriarchal period. Forthly, there is no evidence of habitation at Hammam from the patriarchal period until the time of the kings, as if no one wanted to live at this cursed city. There were several others, but this is all I can think of off the top of my head. It’s quite interesting to hear his entire speech on it.
    James S
    Moncton, NB

  7. According to the bible Sodom, Gomorrah, Adama and Zeboim were destroid by fire and brimstone.

    Further, there places were named as points on the border of the land of Israël.

    Look for Sodom in combination with Ron Wyatt or Michael Rood on youtube.
    Maybe you will be amazed.

  8. "Thirdly, my prof, David Graves, has himself found a layer of char at his dig site dating to the patriarchal period"

    That would be a huge critical key! I would hinge the authenticity on that.

    As far as the person quoting Joseph Smith (Don Smith) Joseph Smith was a false profit and there has never been anything scientific or archeological about any of his ridiculous claims (only the resounding opposite). The only miracle he ever did was to get people to believe his lunacy!

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