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Sodom Update

20 September 2023
Ancient history, Archaeology, Catastrophism

TeHEP newsletter 15th and 16th September 2023. Interesting interview published with Steve Collins on 16 years excavations at Tall el-Hammam in Jordan. It seems he was attracted to looking at the site of Babh ed-Dhra as the Bibical Sodom, as that seemed to be a popular location. However, when researching the possibility, he consulted the first 12 verses of Gernesis 13, and found it simply could not have been south, east, or west of the Dead Sea. The Biblical text is explicit, he says, and it is peculiar that WF Albright, a leading American archaeologist and highly influential in the 20th century, never did an analysis of Genesis 13. Albright suggested Sodom was underneath shallow waters of the Dead Sea’s southern basin. It was a novel idea and meant archaeologists didn’t have to bother looking for it anymore. It had been drowned. Unfortunately for that idea, water extraction in the modern world has dried out the southern basin on a number of occasions. There is not as much as a single sherd of pottery to be seen, yet alone a town. Not only that, it is still inclined to fill up when it rains heavily. To his credit, Collins adds, Albright never considered Bab edh-Dhra or numiera as the possible locations of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is because he believed the story of Abraham, and the patriarchal narrative, was co-eval with the Middle Bronze period – after 1800BC [in old money]. Whilst that idea could be challenged by expanding the date range to somewhat earlier we should bear in mind that the annihilation of Sodom was associated with Lot, rather than Abraham. There are also other idiosynchrosies within the patriarchal narrative that might suggest an entirely different origin to that of, shall we  say, the Judges period. In the latter, the Habiru play a significant role, but in the former, we have a more localised, or Canaanite, storyline.

Getting back to Collins, he adds, Jerusalem, Hebron, Shechem, and Dan, were unoccupied for the 400 years prior to 1800BC. Not only that but Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed at the end of the Early Bronze Age, 2500BC. In old money that is 2300BC [IntCal adjustments].

Steve Collins goes so far as to say he had never heard of Tall el-Hammam before he started his investigation of Genesis 13. It was the Bible text that led him there. He used the text to take him directly to the site. He adds, finding it was a cake walk. Genesis 13 implies Sodom was the largest Bronze Age city NE of the Desd Sea. It was also visible from Bethel/Ai. Hammam sits on the alluvial plain of the Jordan River at the north end of the Dead Sea. It seems that 19th century British and American explorers, who spent a lot of time in the Holy Land looking for Biblical sites, also located Sodom in the plain. They also did it by using Genesis 13. They did not know which ruin mound was Sodom but they were certain of where it should be. They included the likes of Condor, Wilson, Merrill, and others. They travelled around on horseback with a Bible as their guide book. Albright paid no attention to their efforts, as they were amateur sleuths. Archaologists of the 20th century followed his lead. He says, Sodom was lost – in plain sight. Tall el-Hammam is now recognised as one of the major Bronze Age civilisation complexes in the southern Levant, and the city was occupied continuously for 2,500 years. It was destroyed in a fiery conflagration. The excavators found evidence of the catastrophe quite early in their annual dig seasons. In fact, when they first did a 2m x 2m penetration into the MB destruction matrix they found a sherd with the surface melted into glass. Analysis of that sherd, and many others found over the years, attracted the attention of scientists slready onboard with cosmic airburst events, Presumably he means the team investigating the Younger Dryas Boundary event.

Collins also reveals that the Nature Scientific Reports paper of 2021 received a fair amount of pushback. One person in particular made it his goal to get the paper retracted. After 4 peer reviews the paper is still published and has been accepted by most people, it would seem. Collins has also revealed that a follow up paper is being written at this very moment – and will be published in the near future. Collins also said that Andrew Moore, former president of the American Institute of Archaeology, recognises the reality of the airburst event. He has actually looked at other sites in earlier periods where similar claims have been made. Abu Hureya in Syria for example. Collins then tells us what constitutes evidence of airburst events – not least proxies that require thousands of degrees of heat. Baked zircon crystals embedded in pottery sherds for example, nano-diamonds, rare earth and non-earth elements such as iridium and osmium, as well as shocked quartz. They were all found in plentiful amounts at Hammam. At the same time, Collins also revealed they have found evidence of earthquakes at Tall el-Hammam, on at least two occasions. These are at the boundary of EBII with EBIII, previously noted by Claude Schaeffer, and at the end of the Intermediate Bronze Age 2 [prior to MBI]. Collins has not ruled out earthquakes at other times but the evidence as yet is not conclusive – or is lacking, it would seem. It was Schaeffer’s theory that the Levant and Aegean were racked by a series of earthquake events throughout the Bronze Age, from 3000 to 1200BC. It brought periods of settlement to a close, led to abandonment of sites, sometimes forever, and delineates, the EB from the MB from the LB periods.

Some people still resist the idea that Hammam = Biblical Sodom, and not least some members of SIS. Collins says other evidence has emerged as the Bible seems to imply the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their neighbours, was followed by a period of ‘wasteland’ and abandonment. In the Bible this is coincident with the arrival of the Israelites. It is known as Abel = ‘to mourn a catastrophe’ or ‘a place of mourning.’ Joshua called it Abel Mizraim, and Moses, Abel Shittim. The Egyptians seem to have known it as Abel too [which may be where the Mizraim comes from]. Previously, they had known Hammam as Shutu, or Sudu. This seems to be the equivalent of Semitic Sodom. It is found in the Egyptian Execretion Texts of the Middle Kingdom [= MB]. This identification will be made in an upcoming academic paper – but you can read it here in anticipation of corroborating evidence. It would seem that Anson Rainey, historical geographer and historian, placed Shutu in the vicinity of Hammam, in a paper on the geography of the Execration Texts. Yet, he never made the connection with Sodom. Abel Shittim, below Pisgah, was in the vicinity of Hammam, too. The Israelites associated it with a place where nobody lived – or just the odd one or two = Abel of the acacia trees. It was deserted, one might say. It was occupied in the Iron Age, quite a way into the future. In other words, it was not reoccupied in the late MB period, or through the entirety of the LB age. No wonder the Egyptians referred to it as Abel. The same is probably true of Jericho – or the old site of Jericho. Both cities were supplied by plentiful springs. That is why both sites were chosen as a suitable place to live – yet they were abandoned for a long time. The point we may take from this is that the Israelites would have crossed over the Jordan at any point within MBIII and the end of the LB age. It is a matter of preference as far as chronologists are concerned. They were probably already in Cisjordan in the time of Ramese III and Ramses II. Unfortunately, the debate, in mainstream and in revision circles, gets bogged down by identiying destructions by natural disaster, mostly by earthquakes we may note, with the military campaigns of people such as Thutmose III. John Bimson’s book, ‘Redating the Conquest‘, illustrates this in some of his arguments counter to mainstream. David Rohl went on to show the Israelites, or at least events recorded in the Bible, were in Cisjordan during the LB period. In addition, it is also clear that Habiru groups were active not only during the Amarna era but in the reigns of Ramses II, Merenptah, and Ramses III. Rohl’s books are actually a blueprint that can be used side by side with what Collins is saying. It should also be remembered that the southern Levant was Canaanite right down to the time of Hezekiah and Josiah. Therefore, some events in the Bible belong to the indigenous population as well as to the newcomers [whose origins were in any case largely in Canaanite Levant]. This does not throw Peter James location of Saul and David out of the window, either. It seems, SIS writers, over the years, may have been right on the ball. Where that leaves Exodus I don’t know. I’m hoping Jovan Kesic’s book will locate it end of MB. A reappraisal of the Conquest is long overdue – if only because of the arguments made by various revisionists.

There is more to come from Collins – over the next couple of weeks. This will be duly posted. Some points we need to bear in mind are that Collins says Hammam was destroyed at the end of MBII. This means the site was unoccupied in MBIII. That is roughly the era of the Hyksos. One might imagine that the airburst event caused earthquakes far and wide in the Levant  and this may have led to the migration of people into Egypt. On that basis, the end of MBIII probably coincided with the expulsion of the Hyksos – or roughly at the same time. What happened to bring MBIII to a close – and spark another outbreak of earthquakes? Collins does not make the equation, however – which is a pity. The problem with the Exodus is that it would have been a major event. Or rather, a series of events if the Bible has a reliable timetable. It therefore seems unlikely it could have happened during the LB age which must require a rethink. A look at the events at the end of the Early Bronze should be considered. Perhaps. As features of Exodus have a parallel in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom [= EB], one may view it as having an origin in Egyptian religion and myth, and taken by Moses into the Levant. Otherwise it would mean the Exodus belongs to a period prior to the Old Kingdom = prior to recorded Egyptian history. The stumbling block, for some people, are Biblical numbers.

Finally, why has the Bible preserved a memory of just one catastrophic event when Psalms and other passages appear to insinuate other disastrous events. Did Sodom have a religious or cultural point to make? Was it included as a warning? Why is it included in the patriarchal narrative which has echoes of mythology such as Gilgamesh and Enkidu?



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