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9 March 2022

It seems the very word Sodom can spark off an internet firestorm.  Who would have guessed?

The latest issue of the newsletter of the Tall el-Hammam excavations in Jordan has some interesting information about the fall out from the recent Nature Scientific Reports article. Steve Collins, the lead archaeologist on the excavations, says of the 64 page research paper, it was just 4 sentences within it that appeared to spark an extraordinary response from a certain section of the mainstream. That brief section began a fierce reaction to the idea Sodom had been found. Whilst it is true some revisionists are averse to an identity with Sodom as it contradicts favoured versions of pet realignments of ancient history, this was something much more strident. The research paper merely drew a parallel with the demise of Hammam and the oral tradition of a city destroyed by a cosmic object, namely the towns written down as Sodom and Gomorrah. Hammam does not of course come with a label. We don’t know what it was called. However, there is a strong parallel with Biblical Sodom and Collins used the Bible to locate the site of Hammam, as it complied with the direction from the hill country on the other side of the Jordan River.

At one time European and American archaeologists descended on the Levant with a bible in one hand and a spade in the other hand. Nowadays, a considerable number of people are averse to the Bible, and know very little about it. Finding Sodom, in some ways, contradicts the favoured view the Bible is a myth and only important to religious adherents, but to nobody else. This is the minimalist school that has overtaken academia. If Hammam was indeed Sodom the minimalists would have egg on their faces. There is also the fact that Sodom gave its name to sodomy, and in the modern world, this subject has a lot of clout, and a lot of people are prepared to defend it on social media. The sodomy question is probably a later interpolation and has nothing to do with the identity of a MB city with a Biblical town that was flattened by an airburst. Criticising what is a piece of science for daring to mention Sodom is a strange reaction. According to Collins, quoting from the Bible created a ‘firestorm of rage and condemnation, a veritable Vesuvius of disingenuous venom’ with an origin in a handful of scholars whose anti-Biblical emotions got the better of them. An ocean of seething misinformation ensued as their comments were reported over and over again. They even accused the Nature editorial team of encouraging bible-=thumping evangelicals, and claimed they had shifted to the dark side = Biblical archaeology. So raucous was the criticism it led to many people doubting the actual findings – although hundreds of thousands of downloads have been made. Presumably, most people can make up their own minds and the response may even have caused more people to read the article. However, the tantrums did come to the notice of the editorial team, and they checked through the article again as the vociferous minority had demanded it be retracted. No such luck for them. It basically went through the second version of peer review and came out sweetly much as before. The  article, ‘A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a MB age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea’ – see www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97778-3 …

This was a victory of sorts for not just Collins but the many contributors and authors of the article. They had been accused of doctoring the photos and falsifying the evidence, among other things. All the outrage expressed by a minority led to the editorial team re-examining the evidence and the photos, and the second peer review, agreed with the first peer review, making some small changes in order to pander to the criticism, and prove they had done their job a second time around. As it stands now the article has been subject to a more rigorous editorial scrutiny than most science  papers have to go through, a whole host of hoops that it has passed with flying colours.

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