Steven Collins and Letayne Scott, 'Discovering the City of Sodom', Howard Books (Simon and Schuster):2013 (isbn 978-1-4516-8430-8)
This is the most unusual book about an archaeological excavation that I have ever read. It is fascinating in one way as the authors claim the site of Tall-el-Hammam was destroyed by an airburst event and there is a lot of ink spent to justify this conclusion. It is as if the authors are only too aware that mainstream archaeologists are sceptical of such things – but they wish to stay strictly to the Biblical description, an angel of the Lord took out the cities of the Plain. Herewith note it was not just Hammam that was destroyed but a whole lot of other settlement sites on the Kikkar.
I like the analogy he makes between a kikkar (a local round bread that is broken with the fingers and eaten, something like the naan bread of India) and the shape and geography of the plain located north of the Dead Sea, where the Jordan becomes a delta into that lake. He even brings up lions and elephants in the Rift valley, and bears and other beasts in the hills etc (shades of Emmet Sweeney). This was certainly a well watered plain – just as the Bible describes it. It was not just the rivers however, but there are many springs too. Hammam had three springs to serve what was simply a huge site – a tell/tall that dwarfed Jericho (which is situated on the edge of the Kikkar Plain).
Collins has to balance the fact that most archaeologists are not very daring in their interpretation – frightened they will end up with egg on their face, or criticised by their peers. This is why Collins spends quite a bit of time on the airburst event and the nature of the destruction of the cities of the Plain – buried in a layer of ash and sand that has been turned into glass sherds. The site was never a city again – although there was Iron Age occupation at the top of the tell, but it was small in comparison with the MB city. There was also a Roman period residence on the top, and evidence it had been used as a lookout post down through history, as the tell/tall is in an imposing position looking out over the plain. In fact, MB pottery sherds were picked up from all over the site, at the surface and just below the surface. Hence, the excavation was able to reach the object of research in a very short time – the end of the city in a conflagration. The evidence was sitting there just waiting for somebody such as Collins and his team to come along and find it. As a result of a peace accord between Jordan and Israel the opportunity arose and Collins and team took advantage – and this is the story of it all.
Actually, there is very little said about the archaeology as it was the destruction layer that the book title is focussed on – and the destruction layer was there, on the surface. They did not have to dig down. They did of course dig down and they found the site had been occupied over a long period of time – going back to the Chalcolithic period. It even survived the end of EB site destructions elsewhere in Palestine – and Collins attributes this to the availability of water on the Plain. It is somewhat surprising as the Rift Valley, I would have thought, would have been prone to destruction during an earthquake storm – and yet they have found evidence of continued settlement in the Intermediate period (2300-2000BC) separating the EB from the MB periods. All the dates are orthodox and based on C14 calibration interpretation – as he is addressing the archaeological world as much as the popular market.
The authors spend a surprising number of pages justifying their identification of Tall el-Hammam with Biblical Sodom. Secular orientated archaeologists might find it all too religious and Biblically focussed but the authors are also addressing a specific market, and that is a group of people that want the Bible to come alive from the spade. Perhaps they try a little too hard – but then he has to convince people who have accepted earlier locations of Sodom at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Rohl seems to locate Sodom as a mining town on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. There is no evidence of a plain at the south end or anything like a plain where Rohl locates Sodom and in that respect Collins is spot on. In addition, he had done some archaeology in the region of Bethel and Ai, in the hills above the Kikkar, and had done plenty of hiking over the few seasons he was there. He makes the point that the Bible claims Abraham and Lot were looking out from near Ai towards the plain and Lot chose that as his share of the land distribution, as it was well watered and so forth. The Kikkar is clearly visible from Ai – but the southern end of the Dead Sea is many miles distant (he quotes 60 miles away). The geography appears to be spot on – it is the archaeology that critics don't like. Indeed, it is this that the average revisionist will baulk at. There will be howls of protest.
However, Collins has already been criticised over the archaeology. The foreward to the book, by Leeta Ritmeyer, an archaeologist, even includes the same point as she says she is onboard as far as the geography – but has reservations about the archaeology. Sums it up I suppose and the authors are forced on the defensive. In Appendix A he says we have to get into the heads of the writers of the Bible rather than looking at it as a linear history, a chronological series of events in the correct order and dated appropriately. This, he suggests, is not how you should look at Biblical numbers (the chronology). At this point I warmed to the man as this is a point I would endorse. The writers of the Bible did not see the passage of time in the way we do nowadays, where the information circus allows us to catalogue events in a chronological order, in the order they happened. In other words he is suggesting we ignore the constraints of the Biblical chronology as the people writing it visualised the numbers involved in a quite different way as we do in the modern world. He chooses the number 4 and its variants of 40 and 400 (and the 430 years assigned to the sojourn etc). He said the ancient authors saw different meanings to those numbers than people do nowadays. In other words the period of Abraham to Joseph and from Joseph to the Exodus was not conceived as the passage of a particular number of years – the symbolism was understandable to the people the Bible was addressed to at the time. It is not understable to us nowadays if we choose not to look behind the numbers.
Collins doesn't attempt to explain what those numbers mean – only that they don't mean what they appear to mean from a superficial point of view. He says millions of words have been spilt on the meaning of the symbolism, very often one version contradicting another (which is what you find when you try and explore number symbolism). All we need to take onboard here is that the chronological sequence of events did not necessary occur in the manner it is laid out in the Bible, in a linear fashion (which is how it is invariably treated by revisionists and orthodox historians alike).
This is a book for the popular market, in one sense, but it is also a book a lot of members of SIS will enjoy. A purely secular reader might have a different take entirely – they are more likely to accept the MB2 date for the destruction and ignore the Exodus as being significant. Collins locates Exodus in the reign of Thutmose IV, claiming there was an economic downturn at this time consistent with the migration out of Egypt of a large number of people (and apparently has written a book on just this). Others have located Exodus in the reign of Hatshepsut, contemporary with the Thera volcano – so it is not neccessary to stick to the Bimson and Rohl location at the end of MB2. In fact, as the account of Joshua fails to mention a city anywhere near Tall el-Hammam it is likely it was already a ruin.
Various scholars have gone so far as to identify some of the early characters in the Bible with super humans, or gods – or even as agents of god (particularlly the angels). Abram/Abraham has been compared to Hindu Brahma and various other characters from mythology and religion, and one translation of his name is derived from the stars in the sky, the whole gamut of the Milky Way. When we come to Biblical chronology we might wonder if all the events assigned to a single lifetime of a person, Abraham, might more realistically be spread about a bit – over a much longer period than one lifetime. For example, the MB period as a whole. Kenneth Kitchen, the sparring partner of Rohl and Newgrosh, is on record as claiming the MB period is culturally very similar to the patriarchal period as it is presented in the Bible. Kitchen had his own agenda – according to Rohl, being the kind of nonconformist Christian that would pan out very similar to Collins. What is interesting here is that famines were a feature of the MB period, especially at the beginning of MBI and the dividing line between MBI and MBII – ample scope for Joseph to be located somewhere like that. We can also imagine that Kitchen had a bigger knowledge base than Rohl or anyone involved in the New Chronology (which was hastily stitched together in some of its constituent parts). In other words, he could see the big picture – and I'm not sure that Rohl could do this in spite of all the books he authored. SIS journals were of course where Rohl began his adventures into the New Chronology – and some members are still supportive. A lot of members are unsure – and that is probably the best way to approach a revision of history. Others have divised their own version of a revised chronology, and Barry Curnock is the latest SIS character to be doing this, claiming to be closer to Velikovsky than most. A MB2 Sodom conflagration might be quite impossible in his scheme. We shall have to wait and see.
Altogether an enjoyable read – and the book came at a reasonable and affordable price (unlike some of the books offered for sale by academic publishers). It is also up to date and at the cutting edge of archaeology in the Holy Land – published this year.