Genesis 19:24-29 (RSV) Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; [25] and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. [26] But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. [27] And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD; [28] and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomor’rah and toward all the land of the valley, and beheld, and lo, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. [29] So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.

Previously, I posted the article: Sodom & Gomorrah & Archaeology: North of the Dead Sea? [10-9-14] This presented the “northern theory” of Sodom and Gomorrah, as opposed to a location at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Dr. Steven Collins, primary excavator of the site, laid out the basic arguments for this view. Presently, I will concentrate on the opinion that a catastrophic meteor event was responsible for the destruction of the city in c. 1700 BC: which is during the estimated time of the life of Abraham (c. 1813- c. 1638 BC).

My goal, in many recent articles on biblical archaeology, is to relentlessly show that the Bible and archaeology (for the most part, and often remarkably so) are in harmony with each other.

We can’t find much (if any) direct evidence for Abraham by means of archaeology. But we can at the very least show that cities mentioned in the Bible as having been visited or lived in by Abraham (or in this case, mentioned with regard to his nephew Lot), did indeed exist before and during the time period involved. If they didn’t exist, then that would present a problem for a Bible passage that stated that they did. It doesn’t “prove” the Bible’s inspiration, but it does support its historical accuracy and it refutes attempted skeptical disproofs of biblical accuracy.

The Times of Israel published an article by Amanda Borschel-Dan, entitled, “Evidence of Sodom? Meteor blast cause of biblical destruction, say scientists” (11-22-18). It asserts:

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists has a new theory for why all human civilization abruptly ended on the banks of the Dead Sea some 3,700 years ago. According to analyzed archaeological evidence, the disaster of biblical proportions can be explained by a massive explosion, . . .

As reported in Science News, at the recently concluded Denver-based ASOR Annual Meeting, director of scientific analysis at Jordan’s Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project Phillip J. Silvia presented a paper, “The 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor Event: Catastrophic Termination of a Bronze Age Civilization” during a session on Environmental Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.

According to the paper’s abstract, the scientists discovered evidence of a “high-heat” explosive event north of the Dead Sea that instantaneously “devastated approximately 500 km2.” The explosion would have wiped out all civilization in the affected area, including Middle Bronze Age cities and towns. Silvia told Science News that the blast would have instantly killed the estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people who inhabited Middle Ghor, a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain in Jordan. . . .

Five large sites in the region which have also been excavated offered additional evidence of an immediate end to settlement at the same time of the proposed Tall el-Hammam disaster. According to Science News, radiocarbon dating of organic archaeological evidence has shown that structures’ mud-brick walls “suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.”

Contemporary potsherds’s glazes apparently experienced temperatures high enough to transform them to glass, “perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun,” Silvia told the news source. . . .

The team of scientists from New Mexico Tech, Northern Arizona University, NC State University, Elizabeth City (NC) State University, DePaul University, Trinity Southwest University, the Comet Research Group, and Los Alamos National Laboratories analyzed samples from 12 seasons of Tall el-Hammam excavations to conclude that the most logical explanation for the settlement’s demise was a meteor explosion.

“The destruction not only of Tall el-Hammam (Sodom), but also its neighbors (Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain) was most likely caused by a meteoritic airburst event,” the authors conclude. (cf. similar article published on the Universe Today site)

Steven Collins and Phillip Silvia elaborate in their conference paper: “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications” (November 2015):

Commensurate with these results are the archaeological data collected from across the entire occupational footprint (36ha) of Tall el-Hammam, demonstrating a directionality pattern for the high-heat, explosive 3.7KYrBP Kikkar Event that, in an instant, devastated approximately 500km2 immediately N of the Dead Sea, not only wiping out 100% of Kikkar MBA cities and towns, but also stripping agricultural soils from once-fertile fields and covering the E Kikkar— including Tall el-Hammam—with a super-heated brine of Dead Sea anhydride salts pushed over the landscape by the Event’s frontal shockwave(s). . . .

Tall Iktanu (K. Prag, 1988-91), Tall Nimrin (J. Flannigan, 1990-94), Tall Kafrayn (T. Papadopoulos, 2007-11), and Tall el-Hammam (S. Collins, 2005-present) all show evidence of continuous occupation from the Chalcolithic Period or EBA into the MBA (except for Tall Iktanu, which was abandoned at the end of the EBA). Combining this information from actual excavation reports with the more extensive survey work done by K. Yassine (1975-76) and others, a clear picture emerges of a thriving and robust MBA civilization occupying the principal sites of Tall el-Hammam (Sodom?), Tall Kafrayn (Gomorrah?), Tall Nimrin (Admah?), Tall Bleibel and Tall Mustah (together being Zeboiim?), and the nearly two-dozen smaller surrounding talls representing the towns and villages of these larger urban centers. . . .

A pottery sherd found in a sealed MB2 context on the Upper Tall shows evidence of exposure to extreme temperature in that one surface has been melted into glass. Examination of this “vitrified” sherd at New Mexico Tech (NMT), Northern Arizona University (NAU), and North Carolina State University (NCSU) found bubbles inside melted zirconium crystals in the glass that indicate boiling of the crystal at over 4000°C. The glass (melted clay) layer is less than 1mm thick, and thermal discoloration of the clay penetrated only half-way through the 5mm thickness of the sherd. This led the research team to conclude that the temperature profile to which the sherd was exposed was between 8,000°C and 12,000°C for less than a few milliseconds.

A large (672 g) “melt rock” (MR) was found in 2010 by S. Collins at Tall Mweis, about 8.5 km SW of Tall el-Hammam. The MR is an agglomeration of three different lithologies (mineral compositions) that appear to have been slammed together while in a semi-melted, plastic state. Melting of the entire mass continued long enough to coat the assemblage with a layer of glass. One of the
lithologies—composed mostly of fused quartz granules—contains melted zirconium crystals with numerous tiny bubbles indicating boiling. Another lithology—composed mostly of brown sandstone—contains bubbles lined with brown colored glass. These features led the research teams at NAU and NCSU to conclude that the MR was exposed to a temperature profile of about 12,000°C for at least a few seconds.

Archaeologist David Elton Graves provides many evidences for the location of Sodom, based on biblical descriptions (see the title page also). And he provides a comprehensive listing of relevant articles: “Sodom Research” (6-16-14). In a 2016 article, he gives his reasons for becoming convinced of the “northern” Sodom location.

Steven Collins provides extensive argumentation for a chronology of the Tall el-Hammam / Sodom archaeological site, which line up with the dates of Abraham, in his 28-page paper, “Tall el-Hammam Is Still Sodom: Critical Data-Sets Cast Serious Doubt on E.H. Merrill’s Chronological Analysis” (Biblical Research Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2013):

Three categories of evidence support of Tall elHammam as Sodom: geographical data (right place), chronological data (right time), and archaeological data (right stuff). The case in terms of the geographical data embedded in the primary biblical texts dealing with Sodom’s location (Gen 10; 13; 14) makes Tall el-Hammam an overwhelming choice for this infamous city of the eastern Kikkar of the Jordan. It was, in fact, the largest city in the southern Levant for most of the Bronze Age, and dominated the landscape viewed by Lot from the area of Bethel/Ai on the highland peaks WNW of Jericho. . . .

Much of the OT, in particular, is what I call a serial geography—virtually nothing happens in any narrative without the specificities of place being stated, often in quite amazing detail. It is on the basis of these geographical indicators that biblical texts can lead us to the location of biblical sites. Once discovered, these ancient sites and their surrounding landscapes provide often-stunning insights into the texts themselves. . . .

[T]he date of its [Sodom’s] terminal Bronze Age destruction provides us with a chronological peg by which an archaeologically and historically reasonable date for the career of Abr(ah)am can be fixed. . . .

[O]ver the past two seasons (2012 and 2013) the date-range of that pottery corpus has begun to solidify between 1750 and 1650 based on several key forms (or lack thereof). This is a significant development in terms of my own take on the patriarchal chronology, and many scholars have also found the ‘Hammam’ timeframe more suitable for theirs. . . . our refined date-range for Tall el-Hammam’s destruction is 1750–1650 BCE, . . .

I think the archaeological evidence from numerous data-sets unequivocally confirms that the patriarchs—from Terah through Joseph—belong entirely to the Middle Bronze Age, with most of that sequence occurring during MB2 (1800–1540 BCE). . . .

[Kenneth] Kitchen’s date-range for the Genesis patriarchs is between 1900 and 1600 BCE.  His determination of this timeframe is based on a wide range of historical and cultural phenomena. . . . Culturally, Abr(ah)am belongs to the MB2 period—most likely after 1800 BCE. One thing is for sure: Abr(ah)am does not belong in the Intermediate Bronze 2 period (ca. 2200–1950 BCE). This is confirmed by each relevant line of evidence examined by Kitchen, having a parallel in the patriarchal stories—the wide scope of travel; long distance marriages; wide political horizons (Gen 14); treaties and covenants; family customs; religion; geopolitics in Canaan; personal names; the price of slaves, and more. But there are additional arrays of evidence beyond what Kitchen cites. . . .

The fact that the lives of Abr(ah)am, Isaac, and Jacob were all affected by famine in Canaan is significant. . . . beginning around 1800 BCE sporadic fluctuations in the Levantine climate—exacerbated by severe deforestation and heavy population density—created a situation that drove vast numbers of Canaanites and other Semitic Asiatics into the Delta region of Egypt . . . Climatologically speaking, the period before 1800 BCE is no place for the famine-dominated stories of the Hebrew patriarchs, whereas the timeframe after 1800 BCE is picture-perfect . . .

Synchronously, the story of Joseph is difficult to place earlier than the Hyksos Period (ca. 1700–1540 BCE) for the simple reason that the chariot was not used in Egypt until that time. The Hyksos introduced the chariot into Egypt. Genesis 41:43 has both Pharaoh and Joseph riding in chariots! Indeed, the entire biblical period from Abr(ah)am through Joseph is perfectly at home after 1800 BCE, which is commensurate with a destruction of Sodom (Tall el-Hammam) sometime between 1750 and 1650 BCE. . . .

In the Sodom tales, four prominent cities are mentioned besides Sodom itself: Dan, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Damascus. When one investigates the occupational profiles of each of these locations, aggregately the archaeological evidence is overwhelmingly against placing the story of Abr(ah)am prior to 1800 BCE—much less 2000/1950 BCE—for the simple reason that Hebron and Jerusalem were unoccupied between 2200 and 1800 BCE (IB2–MB1); and Dan and Damascus were unoccupied from 2200 to 1950 BCE. All four were virtually abandoned after their demise at the end of EB3 (ca. 2350 BCE) save for small open settlements, which then disappeared ca. 2200. There is no shred (or sherd!) of evidence for settlements at Hebron or Jerusalem during IB2 (ca. 2200–1950 BCE) or MB1 (ca. 1950–1800 BCE). Hebron and Jerusalem were re-founded as fortified urban centers during MB2, beginning around 1800 BCE. Dan and Damascus were fortified about the same time, ca. 1800 BCE. . . .

To these data-sets I must add the remarkable research of Kitchen and Lawrence on ANE treaties, laws, and covenants. This monumental work demonstrates clearly that the composition and structure of Abr(ah)am’s covenants in the book of Genesis conform to treaties and contracts of the early 2nd millennium BCE, after 1950 and before 1550.39 They do not belong to the late 3rd millennium (ca. 2350–2000). . . .

Interestingly, if Tall el-Hammam is Sodom as I think the geographical and archaeological evidence categorically confirms, then it constitutes a most remarkable confirmation of the historical veracity of the patriarchal narratives, in addition to taking the mystery out of the precise timeframe for Abr(ah)am.

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Photo credit: Deg777 (1-15-07). The archaeological site of Tall el-Hammam, Jordan, overlooking the Jordan Valley: one of the largest sites in the Levant at over 62 acres. It is believed by some to be the Middle Bronze age site of Sodom [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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Summary: Present research at the Tall el-Hammam site in Jordan, believed to be the biblical Sodom, suggests that a giant meteor exploded over the region c. 1700 BC, during Abraham’s time.

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Tags: Abraham, ancient near east, biblical archaeology, Dead Sea, Genesis, Holy Land, Israel, judgment, Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, Sodom, Steven Collins, meteors, Tall el-Hammam, Cities of the Plain