Aug 24, 2006

Arguing the Location of Sodom

My interest in Sodom has spanned the last 30 years. It was the topic of the first paper I wrote in my undergraduate program arguing at the time for Bab edh-Dhra as it was the best candidate we had at the time. I spoke with Dr. Byrant Wood whom I have the deepest respect for and relied heavily on his research in the Bible and Spade magazine. He argued from some geographical indicators, such as being located near a Wadi, that five ruins must be the five cities of the plain. Most of the research was focused on the fact that all shared destruction in the Early Bronze Age and Paleoethnobotany evidence that the inhabitants were well fed. While there were references made to Gen 13, particularly arguing for the location of the “cities of the plain” being on the mountain ridge rather than on the plain, much of Gen 13 was neglected.

Wood also argued that the Hebrew words are Kullahh Mashgeh which literally means “to be completely and totally irrigated”. The source of water for the irrigation system would come from the eastern hills. These five sites were located at the point where these springs entered into the Ghor. These cities would overlook and control the irrigation flow. However, building near water would be natural for any settlement.

Also the phrase, cities of the plain (Genesis 13:12; 19:29), in Hebrew is in the 'construct state'. This means that the word ‘cities’ has a very close association with word ‘plain’ but according to Wood does not mean the cities were on the plain or in the plain. The strategic position of the cities overlooking the Ghor would act as a natural defence. Also, the cities would not have been built upon the plain because the land was too useful and precious. It would also be extremely hot to live at 1200 feet below sea level where the temperature would rise as high as 130 F. It would be cooler on the higher level where the cities were uncovered. These arguments however are all circumstantial and based on speculation rather than archaeology or hard facts. Besides, the “construct” argument actually strengthens the northern location since Tall el-Hammam is actually on the plain. Cities does indeed have a very close association with the word plain.

Then 15 year later I rewrote the material from my paper and included it within The Biblical Scroll, Multimedia Study Bible CDRom. I had been a proponent of the southern location for this time based on the meagre evidence we had at the time. It was all the evidence we had at the time. And besides Albright and Wright said it was in the south Dead Sea region. As has often been said “show me a better location for Sodom”.

Well I believe that Dr. Collins has shown us a better candidate for Sodom – Tall el-Hammam. The arguments are stronger and more richly supported by substantial facts which makes the Northern location of Tall el-Hammam not only possible but plausible. It is in the right time (Middle Bronze Age, although a small minority wish to debate if Abraham lived in the Middle Bronze Age), right place (kikkar argument is strong and must be connected to the Jordan River and the site is definitely on a well watered plain even today, strategically located on the NS and EW trade routes where people would want to live in ancient times, visible from the region of Bethel and Ai while the southern location for Sodom is not), with the right stuff (once destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age no occupation until the Late Iron II like all the other cities of the plain, while in the Late Bronze Age they are living in the hill country but not on the plain).

As has been pointed out before locations of major Biblical cities (Bethsaida, Bethel, Gath, etc.) have been called with a whole lot less evidence than this and been accepted by many scholars. Furthermore, the biblical account (Genesis 14:1-16) of the battle between the kings of the Cities of the Plain and the forces of Kedorlaomer in the valley of Siddim fits the northern theory perfectly as one traces the battles down the Transjordan around the southern tip of the Dead Sea, over to Kadesh and then up as far as Hazazon-tamar (probably En Gedi) until he encounters the kings of the cities of the plain. The tar pits where the soldiers were stuck are the black slime pits that look like tar along the western shores of the Dead Sea (even today En Gedi is famous for these slime pits used in their spa as I’ve experienced this first hand).

Again I ask is there another site that meets the Biblical criteria? I’m open to suggestions. I’ve changed my mind once and would be willing to do it again if there was better evidence than what we have at Tall el-Hammam. The only way I believe there could be stronger evidence would be an inscription that said “welcome to Sodom” at another site. And who knows this season we might even find that at Tall el-Hammam. From all the geographical and archaeological indicators the evidence is overwhelming. Of course I’m an Evangelical who accepts the biblical account as a historical record. It would be easy to make this all go away if you believe this is nothing more than a myth.

“Are they [Biblical record] purely fiction, containing nothing of historical value, or of major historical content and value, or a fictional matrix with a few historical nuggets embedded? Merely sitting back in a comfy armchair just wondering or speculating about the matter will achieve us nothing. Merely proclaiming one’s personal convictions for any of the three options just mentioned (all, nothing, or something historical) simply out of personal belief or agenda, and not from firm evidence on the question, is also a total waste of time.” K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 3

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