Tall el-Hammam: Sodom, Abel Shittim, Abila, or Livias?

Gary Byers of the Associates for Biblical Research has written a new article on the excavations of Tall el-Hammam, a site that has been identified as Sodom by its excavator, Steven Collins.  The essay is a sensible review of the site’s history based on archaeological work and biblical data.  I don’t find the Sodom identification compelling based on the present state of the evidence, but this does not detract from the value of the article.  There is no doubt that Tall el-Hammam was an important site in the ancient world, and continued excavations there will no doubt be useful in revealing more of the region’s history.  The article concludes:

In review, our site was a major city from earliest times. It may be one of the Tell el-Hammam excavations, tb060108194dxo oldest cities mentioned in the Bible, in the Table of Nations (Gn 10).

Maybe it was Sodom from those earliest days up to the time of Abraham, well over 2,500 years. Then, after its destruction in the Middle Bronze Age, and with no evidence of occupation for over 500 years, it may have been known as Abel Shittim (“meadow of the acacia trees”) at the time of Moses. During the Iron Age, a city was built on the upper tall, and it is a reasonable candidate to be the capital of Solomon’s twelfth administrative district, in sight of the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem, Solomon’s capital. In New Testament times, a new city arose around the base of the talls and may have been Abila or even Livias (Julias), the capital of Perea. Finally, our site may be one of the unnamed sites on the Madaba Map.

Whatever our excavations and research may eventually tell us, there is no question that Tall el-Hammam was an important site throughout the Biblical period. During each period of history, it stood as a quiet witness to some of the Bible’s greatest people and events.


6 thoughts on “Tall el-Hammam: Sodom, Abel Shittim, Abila, or Livias?

  1. One might also want to read Dr. Bryant Wood’s excellent review of the Tall el-Hammam project as a candidate for Sodom in Bible and Spade, “Locating Sodom: A Critique of the Northern Proposal”, 20:3 (Summer 2007), pp. 78–84. In his article, Dr. Wood states claims Tall el-Hammam is a candidate for Sodom go beyond the available evidence.

  2. Gary Byers has provided a good survey of the possible occupational layers for Tall el-Hammam and pointed out the value of this important site. I have argued for 25 years that Bab edh-Dhra is a good candidate for Sodom (Southern Location) but recently having worked as a square supervisor at Tall el-Hammam for five seasons and examined the evidence first hand at both sites and I have changed my opinion to represent Tall el-Hammam (Northern Location) as a better local for one of the Five Cities of the Plain (Biblical Sodom?). Apart from the geography found in the text (east of Bethel and Ai), the strongest archaeological argument is that Bab edh-Dhra only has early bronze occupation and destruction, with no Middle Bronze occupation while Tall el-Hammam has both EB and MB occupation with a massive destruction in the MB strata with no LB occupation (cursed?). It is almost unanimously agreed that Abraham lived during the MB period in which case of the two sites only TeH fits the criteria necessary by both the geography and archaeology.

    Concerning the identification of TeH with Livias in the Roman period see our (Dr. Scott Stripling and Dr. David Graves) upcoming article in Levant the annual archaeological Bulletin of The Council for British Research in the Levant.

  3. Reading Gary Byers’ field report, “Tall el-Hammam 2008: A Personal Perspective,” I noted with interest this line:

    “The 4th century AD pilgrim Egeria mentions looking down from Mount Nebo and seeing Livias north of the Dead Sea and all the land of the Sodomites to the left.”

    In this case, “left” means “south.” This is would be in agreement with the testimony of Josephus and Eusebius that supports the traditional location of Sodom southeast of the Dead Sea, rather than northeast of the Dead Sea. Here is the relevant passage from Egeria’s account of her pilgrimage:

    “From the door of the church we saw the place where the Jordan runs into the Dead Sea, which place appeared below us as we stood. On the opposite side we saw not only Livias, which was on the near side of Jordan, but also Jericho, which was beyond Jordan; to so great a height rose the lofty place where we stood, before the door of the church. The greatest part of Palestine, the land of promise, was in sight, together with the whole land of Jordan, as far as it could be seen with our eyes. On the left side we saw all the lands of the Sodomites and Segor which is the only one of the five cities that exists to-day. There is a memorial of it, but nothing appears of those other cities but a heap of ruins, just as they were turned into ashes. The place where was the inscription concerning Lot’s wife was shown to us, which place is read of in the Scriptures. But believe me, reverend ladies, the pillar itself cannot be seen, only the place is shown, the pillar is said to have been covered by the Dead Sea. Certainly when we saw the place we saw no pillar, I cannot therefore deceive you in this. The bishop of the place, that is of Segor, told us that it is now some years since the pillar could be seen. The spot where the pillar stood is about six miles from Segor, and the water now covers the whole of this space.”

    Segor = Zoar

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