A team of archaeologists are making the case for Sodom. Not for buggery, mind, but for the historical location of the doomed city. And when you hear the evidence for the queer, fiery end of the proposed site, you might believe Sodom has finally been discovered.
On the other hand, other teams of researchers, as is not surprising, dispute the findings. Since I am not an archaeologist, nor do I possess special knowledge of ancient Middle East history, I am not well equipped to judge who is correct. But our interest here on this lazy Saturday morning is in evidence, what it means and how it is used. Hat tip to the Five Beasts for the pro-side and Lee Phillips for the anti side. Read this book for the philosophy of evidence.
Popular Archaeology has the article “Making the Case for Sodom“. Tells the story of Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University and the evidence he has why a site called Tall el-Hammam is actually Sodom. I’ll assume you’ll read it.
“It all came from analyzing the Biblical text regarding the location of Sodom,” says Collins. “The quintessential passage holding the geographical key to Sodom’s location is Genesis 13:1-12.” As a Bible scholar and archaeologist, he, like many in his field, recognized the inescapable parallels between many of the archaeological sites and remains that dot the Levant with the place-names of cities and towns well known in the Bible—places like Jericho, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Megiddo and Hazor, to name a few.
This is followed by information on digs, locations, transitions of pottery types and the like.
And for Collins, this finding could provide another supporting clue to his suggestion that pederasty, a documented practice among the Cretan Minoans, may possibly also have been practiced among the ancient inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam, who may have been influenced by or had cultural connections to them…
But based on the excavated evidence, this Bronze Age heyday seems to have nevertheless come to a sudden end toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age—and the ancient city became a relative wasteland for 700 years, for the most part void of human habitation…
One possibility could have something to do with a Middle Bronze period ash layer discovered at various excavation areas of the Tall…Evidence of fiery destructions are commonplace among archaeological sites across the Levant, usually associated with conflict and military campaigns. Recovered pottery sherds evidencing exposure to very high temperature levels, much higher than what would be expected from heating from a kiln or oven, could be yet another clue. Collins has hypothesized that the latter could have resulted from an ancient ‘airburst’, a mid-air explosion caused by an object in the air above the ‘target’ area, such as that of an incoming meteor. A similar, earlier airburst was documented to have disrupted civilization in Mesopotamia around 2200 BCE.”
There is much more, including a video, all of which accords with the common view of Sodom’s fate (Collins explains Gomorrah in the video). Collins created a website devoted to Tall el-Hammam. On it he says these curious things:
As active members of the community of Levantine archaeologists, the TeHEP team is quite aware of the prevailing sentiment among many in the discipline who feel that archaeology should not be used to “prove” components of biblical narrative. We certainly agree that objective archaeology should take us where the evidence leads; but we also understand the importance of ancient texts like the Bible that often provide an historical framework for the identification of geographical locations…
If rigorous scholarship and responsible, objective archaeology confirm a link between Tall el-Hammam and Sodom (or between Tall Nimrin and Admah) or ?the other. As A. J. Ayer’s verification principle requires of any assertion, we must state clearly the criteria whereby any hypothesis can be verified and/or falsified, then follow the evidence wherever it leads. This is the strict method of science.
About the dispute between The Bible and reality and the wishes of archaeologists, more in a moment. First, it should be recalled Ayer eventually rejected his own verification principle, not the least because the principle itself cannot be falsified or proven by any measurement. Many propositions are impossible to verify, but which are true and believed. Any mathematical axiom, for instance.
Enter the detractors to the theory. Gent named Todd Bole isn’t buying the location, for a host of reasons which fall into two groups, incorrect inference of Biblical passages for the siting, and irreconcilable dating with Biblical texts not directly about Sodom. Bole points to one Bill Schlegel who dislikes Collins’s siting inferences, critiques which revolve around where Lot went when he ventured into the “Kikkar of the Jordan” (on his way to Sodom). Experts can weigh the differences; to my layman’s eye, both men have a point.
More tangible (to me, at any rate) is the evidence provided by Eugene H. Merrill, who makes a good case (his math works) that the dates do not to add up if we accept Collin’s theory. Merrill’s paper is interesting also for the time table of ancient events; Abraham’s birth date and so forth. He is also adamant. But then we recall knowledge of dates, even once-certain dates, for ancient events have changed to marked degree among historians, and so could here, too: Merrill and the archaeological community could be mistaken. Again, I don’t know enough to say.
Merrill opens his paper by saying, “Steven Collins is a committed Evangelical scholar with impressive experience in Near Eastern archaeology…” Now that is odd. You would not have expected another archaeologist to have written “Eugene H. Merrill is a wishy washy agnostic, and sometime atheist, with impressive experience etc.” (I have no idea of Merrill’s religious views.) Collins is an evangelical, and although Merrill calls his experience impressive, Collins’s education isn’t traditional (his degree was awarded by the school which employs him).
Christianity (and to a smaller extent Judaism), then, is strong filter, or anti-filter. More information from the dig has been coming out, prompting many popular stories, such as one in the Washington Post, which proves the filtering from a quote from Israel Finkelstein: “We are probably dealing here with an etiological story, that is, a legend that developed in order to explain a landmark.”
Or we could be dealing with a story describing actual events, a story told in an the ancient and not modern manner: people did not convey information as we do now (when there is too much of it). Finkelstein’s remarks remind us of those people who deny the Biblical flood took place since it was written about in many cultures besides Jewish culture, as if multiple witnesses made an event less likely (see this article for additional tidbits). At any rate, Hershel Shanks thinks Tall el-Hammam is a likely site, but he had to say, “Theological questions are not subject to scientific proof—or disproof.”
That’s false. Christianity is founded on a claim which can and must be subject to “scientific” proof.