Sep 15, 2015

Qumran not far from Sodom

The ruins of Qumran in 2011. The Dead Sea is visible in the
distance. Tall el-Hammam is located in the center of the photo
just northeast of the Dead Sea. The Essene city is not far from
Sodom if Tall el-Hammam is Sodom.
Today I located another clue to the location of Sodom. According to Dio Chrysostom's (ca. 100 AD) biographer, Synesius, he states:
"praises the Essenes, who form an entire and prosperous city near the Dead Sea [Qumran], in the center of Palestine, not far from Sodom." ([Cohoon] Disc. 3.2). 
Tall el-Hammam (Sodom?) is not far from Qumran (23 km). Bab edh-Dhra, the southern candidate for Sodom, would be far away from Qumran (70 Km). Tall el-Hammam fits Dio Chrysostom's description best for the location of Sodom as it is closest to Qumran.


Chrysostom, Dio. Discourses 1-11. Translated by J. W. Cohoon. Vol. 1. 5 vols. LCL 257. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939.

Graves, David E. Key Facts for the Location of Sodom Student Edition: Navigating the Maze of Arguments. Moncton, N.B.: Electronic Christian Media, 2014.

Sep 14, 2015

New Journal Article on Sodom and Salt

One of many naturally formed salt pillars around the Dead Sea
which have become known as Lot's wife. This pillar is on the
Jordanian side of the Dead Sea north of the Lisan.
Photo by Dan Galissini.

In 1993 Flanagan, McCreery, and Yassine coined the phrase “a Late Bronze gap” (1994: 207) speculating that “the 500 year gap of occupation from ca. 1500 to 1000 B.C. [Late Bronze/Iron Age I in the Jordan valley and Tall Nimrin] must be due to significant sociopolitical and/or environmental phenomena that remain to be explained” (1994: 219; 1996: 286).

A clue to the phenomena of the “Late Bronze gap” can be found in the reference to Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt in Genesis 19:26. In a forthcoming article (Graves 2016), I argue that one possible explanation for the Late Bronze gap in the Jordan valley north of the Dead Sea is the catastrophic destruction of the Cities of the Plain which affected the entire Jordan valley and prevented settlers from repopulating the area. Recent soil analysis of the region indicated abnormally high levels of saline and sulfate compounds in the destruction level above the Middle Bronze layer that made the soil toxic and incapable of supporting life (Silvia 2015: 111–13, 141-42, 155). The fact that the narrative of Genesis 19:26 describes Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, and not some other substance, is also consistent with the use of salt in the violation of a covenant and its associated curse (ban, Heb. ḥêrem) in the ancient Near East (Judg 9:45, see also 1:17; Destruction and curse of Taidu by Adad-nārārī I (1307-1275 B.C.), Arinu by Shalmaneser I (1265-1235 B.C.), Troy by Agamemnon (ca. 1194–1184 B.C.), Hunuša by Tiglath-pileser I (ca. 1114-1076 B.C.), Arpad by Bar-ga’yah (ca. 782-773 B.C.), etc.), and with the well documented practice of throwing salt on property that symbolized infertility and barrenness (Fensham 1962: 50; Gevirtz 1963: 60). Lots’ wife, in being turned into a pillar of salt, was seen through ancient Near Eastern eyes as now being infertile and barren and under the covenant curse. 

The text now makes sense, with theology and archaeology converging to help explain the cryptic comment of the “pillar of salt” in the Hebrew text and help explain why there is a “late Bronze Gap.”

Fensham, F. C.
    1962      “Salt as a Curse in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East.” The Biblical Archaeologist 25(1): 48–50.
Flanagan, J. W.; McCreery, D. W.; and Yassine, K. N.
    1994      Tell Nimrin: Preliminary Report on the 1993 Season. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 38: 205–244.
    1996      Tall Nimrin: Preliminary Report on the 1995 Excavation and Geological Survey. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 40: 271–292.
Gevirtz, S.
    1963      “Jericho and Shechem: A Religio-Literary Aspect of City Destruction.” Vetus Testamentum 13 Fasc. 1: 52–62.
Graves, D. E.
    2016      “Sodom And Salt in Their Ancient Near Eastern Cultural Context.” Near Eastern Archaeology Society Bulletin, 61, 1–27 Forthcoming.
Silvia, P. J.
    2015      The Middle Bronze Age Civilization-Ending Destruction of the Middle Ghor. Ph. D. diss., Trinity Southwest University.

Feb 18, 2015

Two hard working volunteers and their reward.

Alex and Mark with their reward.
Two of our volunteers relaxing after a long day of digging and rewarded with a whole jar. They took 3 entire jars from this same location, a juglet, bowl and this beautiful jar. They only had to dig down 1.5 meters to reach it. To date 12 whole vessels have been excavated out of my squares in 9 seasons at Tall el-Hammam - 3 Iron age, 6 Roman / Byzantine and 3 Middle Bronze Age. Of course thousands of sherds and many diagnostic sherds have been excavated from the squares but whole vessels are rare and extremely important for dating our locus in our squares. Great job Alex and Mark. Alex has been working with us for 9 seasons and Mark just joined us but plans to be back.

Feb 15, 2015

Start of week 4

Daniel our photographer and videographer taking the photos of our disassembled tabun (ancient oven). We will make a 3D image of the installation to preserve it for future analysis.
Our team this week.

Feb 13, 2015

Square at the end of second week

Here is a shot of our square at the end of the second week. We have gone down about two meters.

Two hard workers.

Alex (left) and Mark (right) working in the square. Alex is a nine year veteran of Tall el-Hammam and works away like a well oiled machine. Mark is new this season but has caught on very well.  I set up my office in the square because it was so windy the last two days and needed to be down below the walls to protect from the wind. It has also been very cold the last two days compared with other years. We hope the weather will warm up next week. We are not digging tomorrow as it is our one day off this week since we got blown off the tell on Thursday.

Feb 10, 2015

Balk Etiquette

Irina highlighting her water bottle while Josh does his paperwork for his square beside ours.
Some people wonder why we leave all those stones in the balk (walls).  Well here is the answer. They are shelves to hold our water bottles. The golden rule on the site is "Love your neighbour and keep a straight balk." The balk is very important as it is critical in reading the occupation levels in the square. It was originally developed by Mortimer Wheeler and then brought to Palestine by Kathleen Kenyon. It is now sometimes called the Wheeler Kenyon method of excavation (6X6 meter squares with a one meter balk.)

Feb 8, 2015

Week 3 -Lunch on the Tel

Abdule Rachman sitting on his truck after delivering our lunches.

Irina serving us lunch.
Yes Lunch is delivered and brought to the site each day by our local landowners son and his new truck. We have either a falafel or a shwarma with either Coca Cola or Fanta. We burn off the calories in the afternoon moving dirt and rocks.