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The archaeological discovery of Sodom – destroyed by fire and brimstone (or a blast from the sky)

6 August 2013

The Tall (or tell) el-Hammam Excavation Project (see www.tallelhammam.com and www.trinitysouthwest.com) has already resulted in a book being published – and is recommended reading for all members of SIS, would-be chronological revisionists, and erstwhile neo-catastophists, S Collins and LC Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom, Simon and Schuster (Howard Books) New York:2013 ISBN 978 1 4516 8430-8.

Phil Silvia, Doctoral Fellow at Trinity Southwest University and Field Supervisor with the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project responded to an In the News post of 24th July (prompted by the New Chronology Yahoo Groups email discussion group), and has kindly forwarded further information to what may turn out to be a very important discovery (but is perhaps being underplayed by mainstream for political reasons). The prevailing view is that the Bible is myth and religious concoction and anything that might bring one of the stories in the Bible into life and clarity is unwelcome to a lot of people.

The site is situated 12 km NE of the Dead Sea on the eastern side of the Kikkar, the circular plain at the bottom of the Jordan Valley as it abuts the Dead Sea, directly across from Jericho. The New Chronology query in an email asked why Joshua did not record Tall el-Hammam, an enormous site, and the replies to that email have not been satisfactory to say the least – as we shall see. The mound measures 1000m long times 600m wide and has an upper and lower tall (variant to tell due to accent) and excavations to date show a continuous occupation history going back to the Chalcolithic (4500BC). It extends to the bottom end of the MB period (roughly 1700BC in orthodox chronology according to the excavators – yet end of MB is usually dated between 1600 and 1550BC, so it is not clear at the moment, without reading further, if the destruction occurred at the end of what was MBIIA – or MBIIB-C (the periods are now MBI, II, and III, but we had a MBI previously so what happened to that? This is important, chronologically, as we can all, or a lot of us, could live with a Sodom destruction end of what was MBIIA (roughly end of Middle Kingdom in Egypt/ end of Dynasty One at Babylon and assuming the Hyksos period/early Kassite era, coincided with MBIIB-C – but is this what is being suggested? I shall be revisiting this subject after making sense of the chronology but suffice to say that not everybody is convinced that the site is Sodom (as an Internet search will show). For example, at http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2012/01/biblical-problems-with-locating-sodo… in which Steven Collins, the excavator, answers the criticisms. He makes the point that Tall el-Hammam is 12 times the size of Bab edh-Dhra, to the south of the Dead Sea, and once a popular identification for Sodom. It was destroyed and abandoned at the end of EBIII (2350BC) and has somewhat gone off the radar – but is revived by some of the commenters.

Steven Collins presents a very good case for his identification, and I shall proceed on the basis he is correct. The date for the destruction is established by pottery sequencing and is strengthened by architectural similarities and fashions (from period to period). What is most obvious is the complete hiatus at the site during the Late Bronze period as a whole (and possibly the latter end of the MB period if MBIII = what was MBIIB-C) and also Iron Age I, altogether a period of 600 years and more. In Iron II levels a fortress was constructed on the upper Tall (or tell) with some occupation on the lower tall at the same time. Occupation was slight in comparison with the MB era and continued all the way down to the Roman era. They built a bath house near the hot spring that sits in the saddle between the upper and lower talls (tells). Tall el-Hammam was subsequently abandoned prior to the Islamic period.

The Chalcolithic period at the site was contemporaneous with the Pre-dynastic era in Egypt, the greening of the Sahara, and the Arabian peninsular, and sits at the tail end of the Mid Holocene Warm Period (climatically), a time when the Jordan valley was perhaps semi tropical due to its situation in the Rift Valley. There were seven springs in the vicinity of Tall el-Hammam, which made it a favourable settlement location in all periods, and two streams (or wadis). The period around 3000BC was dry and people appear to have resorted to largely animal husbandry, and pastoralism. The wet weather returned in EB2 and EB3 (the two strata separated by evidence of a wide arc of earthquake damage across the Levant, dated to 2700BC). After 2350BC (end of EB3) the Intermediate Bronze Age is used in the article – but is this what is classified as EB4 in Syria, or a period dividing EB3 from MB1 (and therefore contemporary with Akkad and dynasty 6). It was a dry period which would tend to suggest it overlapped with the First Intermediate in Egypt (after the collapse of dynasty 6) although there were problems between dynasty 5 and 6. Collins describes it as a period of cultural discontinuity – and Marie Agnes Courty has spent over 20 years taking samples of soil in Syria in search of evidence of a cosmic airburst that she considers brought the Akkadian period to a close.

This was followed by MB1 when the climate improved and wetter weather prevailed but ending with a dry period of 50 years or a bit more. MB2 is dated from 1800BC at Tall el-Hammam which would coincide, perhaps, with dynasty 12 and part of 13, when the climate was agreeable (or mostly so). So, it seems reasonable to conclude Tall el-Hammam was destroyed contemporary with the end of MK Egypt (which involved some big earthquakes along the Nile valley going by the destruction layers associated with the demise of the MK forts there, for example Buhen – as described by Velikovsky and others). Every large tall or tell in the Plain appears to have been destroyed at this juncture, even Jericho on the western side of the Kikkar. The excavator thinks a comet airburst was the culprit – something akin to the recent Russian meteor but of greater magnitude, or exploding at a lower point in the atmosphere, perhaps. There is no evidence of a crater – but that is not a problem as soil samples may provide the evidence. Jericho recovered after 200 to 300 years but the sites on the eastern side of the Plain remained uninhabited – until Iron II (9th or 8th century BC, getting on for 900 years on that reckoning). 

A date at the end of MBIIB-C would seriously challenge revisionists (including the New Chronology of D Rohl, and the less drastic version penned by P James) and cause problems to the Velikovsky and Curnock models, and other deep revisionists in general. In Velikovsky's scheme the Exodus is dated to the end of MK Egypt, in Rohl's scheme likewise, and J Bimson, in his book, and articles in SIS journals, placed the Conquest at the end of MBIIB-C (which we have noted may have been different from end of MK Egypt). We may wonder how reliable Biblical chronology is at this point – is it really a successional series of events or has it been cobbled together at a later date. For example, the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom is closely entwined with the patriarchal era and the figure of Abraham – but should we see this as help or a hindrance. It may be that the Lot part of the patriarchal story has been attached during the composition of the chronological framework and was at one time independent, or loosely attached to Abraham. For example, if the patriarchal era was contemporary with the end of urban EB Syria-Palestine it would occupy that Intermediate zone when pastoralism became the favoured way of life and arable farming was abandoned due to the drying out of the climate (for whatever reason). In that sense, if Lot lived somewhat later, an end of MB2 date would not be impossible. This would necessarily mean the Exodus came later still – which appears to point a finger at the expulsion of the Hyksos (which involved not just the ruling elite, or the dynastic Hyksos kings themselves, but that part of the population with roots in Syria-Palestine as a whole – or a wide body of them). These people had arrived as economic refugees in the MK period, were subject to the Hyksos as much as the native Egyptians, but were expelled because they were perceived as a threat, being foreigners in broad and populist terms, and they all had to go in order to placate the gods (or whatever). It should be born in mind the Biblical chronology is bound together by artificial numbers such as the 480 years that precede the Solomonic Temple and the 480 years that follow it (12 times 40) and a sojourn in Egypt of 400 years (10 times 40) with a variant of 430 years (a compound of 4 and 3) and so on. 

Likewise, the story of Joshua has a distinct problem. The conquest is supposed to have led to the annihilation of the major cities of Palestine (CisJordan) at the command of the god Yahweh – the complete and utter destruction of cities and their inhabitants (mass genocide). This clearly did not happen as Canaanite culture and religion continued all the way down to the 8th to 6th centuries – and a Canaanite geneology is even basic to the Israelites (from Genesis). In other words the historicity of the Bible is common to Canaanites and Hebrews (and therefore to all the inhabitants of the region), and the rise of Yahweh came about as part of the religious reforms we may associate with Karen Armstrong's 'Great Transformation' and Rens van der Sluijs geomagnetic anomaly leading to auroral phenomena being witnessed in that part of the world over a period of a few centuries and coinciding with visions and prophecy in various parts of the ancient world (from Buddha and the Boab Tree to Confucius and Greek Philosophy). In that context it is worth looking again at the Joshua story of conquest – if the Canaanites (and what became the Israelites) were already residing in Syria-Palestine, and one interpretation might be that the Conquest, the utter destruction of cities, and the killing of many thousands of people, actually reflects an event attributable to Yahweh – the end of EB destruction levels for example. The problem here is that Biblcial chronology places this after Abraham and Lot (who, we may suppose, rightly or wrongly, lived in the MB period,  and the conquest, as such came after the sojourn. However, if the sojourn came to an end with the expulsion of the Hyksos (and various foreign elements) a location at end of MB3 is necessary for the conquest – but clearly not all of the cities described in the Joshua account were destroyed at that time (or at the end of LB). Whatever date for conquest is preferred it should at least be viewed as perhaps a natural disaster of some kind – mixed up with a movement of people from Egypt to Palestine as occurred at the expulsion of the Hyksos (a human event). 


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