Archaeological Evidence for Sodom

Dr. Steven Collins, a professor at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, believes that he has found archaeological evidence for the remains of the city of Sodom, a city which according to Genesis 19:1-38 was destroyed by fire from heaven.

Collins and his team have been excavating the site at Tall el-Hammam since 2005. He believes that the site at Tall el-Hammam is the location of biblical Sodom.

According to an article written for ASSIST News Service, Collins said that the traditional site of Sodom does not correspond to the geographical location of the place described in the book of Genesis.

Collins said about the proposed location of Sodom: “To start with, the Tall el-Hammam site has twenty-five geographical indicators that align with the description in Genesis. Compare this with something well known—like Jerusalem—that has only sixteen. Other sites have only five or six. So this site has a greater number of indicators than any other Old Testament site. That is truly amazing.”

Collins also gave several other reasons he believes Tall el-Hammam is the site of Sodom: “Second, our findings—pottery, architecture, and destruction layers—fit the timeframe profile. Meaning we should expect to find items like what we are finding from the Middle Bronze Age. This is exactly what we are uncovering.”

Collins and his team also found skeletal remains that show signs of a quick, violent death. According to Collins, two osteologists who were part of the team, looked at the bones found at the site. He said: “The area they concentrated on was the bottom half of the body, including the pelvis region, legs, and feet—the upper portions on two of them were missing. The initial results were amazing and quite exciting archaeologically—but sad in how the people died. They found the bodies splayed out, face down, joints twisted, toes hyper-extended, with many signs of violent burial within collapsing debris. In short, the bodies were extremely traumatized in their death.”

Collins concluded by saying that they “found ash, pottery, mud bricks, and objects, all pointing to a Middle Bronze Age time frame—the time of Abram and Lot.”

According to Collins, one of the leading archeologists in Jordan called Tall el-Hammam “perhaps the most important archaeological discovery of the modern era.”

Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces is skeptical of Collins’ claims. He wrote: “Collins’ discoveries sound intriguing, but I still contend that every bit of evidence he uncovers for a destruction towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1600-1500 BC) makes it all the more unlikely that he is excavating Sodom. The chronology simply will not work, unless you imagine that Abraham died when he was about 30, his son Isaac died when he was about 30, his grandson Jacob died when he was about 30, Joseph died when he was about 30, the Israelite sojourn in Egypt lasted about 40 years, and the wilderness wanderings lasted about 40 years. In short you have to massively compress all of the numbers in the biblical narrative to make everything ‘fit.’ (By ‘compress’ I mean to deny and invent your own to suit your theory.)”

According to Todd, “Collins appears to be a professor of archaeology who has never earned a degree from a school with an archaeology program.” He concludes: “My concern is that believers of the Bible who are less knowledgeable about biblical chronology and archaeology will be convinced by Collins’ exuberance and not realize that most evangelical scholars find his claims incompatible with Scripture.”

I encourage you to read Todd’s post on his evaluation of this tentative archaeological evidence for the discovery of Sodom.

Several blogs have been praising this discovery as another evidence of the veracity of the Bible. Personally, I would call for caution when declaring that the site of Sodom has been discovered. This kind of sensational claim can do more harm than good.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to Archaeological Evidence for Sodom

  1. Daniel says:

    A very interesting post.

    After rereading the relevant passages in Genesis I don’t see that many geographical indicators of where Sodom should be found. There are references to other towns and tar pits but how does one know where these ought to be? If Abraham and Lot were between Bethel and Ai, north of Jerusalem, one might expect them to look to the northern Dead Sea area for additional habitation, not to the southern portion of the Dead Sea.

    It does seem the identification of the bitumen might refer to a region south of the Lisan. There is some archaeology going on to the east of the Lisan that could be promising also.

    It looks like most of Collins’ conclusions focus on the evidence for an earthquake or some other seismic event.

    The responses to Bolen’s post are most informative. Hopefully the two scholars can remain professional in their disagreements.

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    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Daniel,

      I agree with your conclusions. Although I have not read the field reports, it seems to me that Collins’ conclusions may be an effort to prove the biblical narrative. I think that Bolen’s argument is atrong.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini

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  2. Dr. David E. Graves says:

    Dear Dr. Mariottini,
    I appreciate your report on the excavations at Tall el-Hammam. I have been a field supervisor there for eight seasons and can report first hand on the finds. Every archaeologist begins with an hypothesis of what their site is and in this case Dr. Collins believes that the geographical indicators point to Sodom (Gen 13:10-12 Heb. kikkār hayyardēn) or the plain of the Jordan. Gen 14 (i.e., bitumen pits) is not talking about the location of the cities of the Plain but the region where the battle with the Elamite king Chedorlaomer took place. Geological studies have shown that the sinkholes (i.e., bitumen pits) are located on the western side of the Dead Sea neither near the southern location for Sodom (Bab edh-Dhra) or the northern location for Sodom (Tall el-Hammam). The issue over the location of Sodom in the vicinity of the Dead Sea region is either in the south (supported by Dr. Bryant Wood and Todd Bolen using the early date for the Patriarchs MB I) or north (supported by Dr. Steven Collins using the later date for the Patriarchs MB II) and rests on the dates for the Patriarchs. Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed in the Early Bronze age (2350 BC) according to Rast and Schaub who excavated it. Tall el-Hammam was destroyed in the Middle Bronze age (1750–1650 BC) according to the excavation reports submitted to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Bab edh-Dhra cannot be a candidate for Sodom if Abraham and Lot lived during the Middle Bronze Age which is where everyone places them (MB I: J. Walton, J. Bimson, R. Price, N. Glueck, E. Merrill. MB II: K. Kitchen, A. Millard, W. Albright, N. Glueck, S. Schultz, G. Wright, J. Hoffmeir, A. Horeth & J. McRay, G. Archer, B. Walke, J. Goldingay, W. La Sor, B. Arnold, J. Holden & N. Geisler). Tall el-Hammam does provide evidence that is commensurate with the biblical text. As Dr. Collins puts it Tall el-Hammam has the “Right place, right time, right stuff.” I would highly recommend the following material:
    Collins, Steven. “Explorations on the Eastern Jordan Disk.” Biblical Research Bulletin 2, no. 18 (2002): 1–28.
    Collins, Steven. “The Geography of the Cities of the Plain.” Biblical Research Bulletin 2, no. 1 (2002): 1–17.
    Collins, Steven, Khalil Hamdan, and Gary A. Byers. “Tall El-Hammam: Preliminary Report on Four Seasons of Excavation (2006–2009).” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 53 (2009): 385–414.
    Collins, Steven. “Where Is Sodom? The Case for Tall El-Hammam.” Biblical Archaeology Review 39, no. 2 (2013): 32–41, 70–71.

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    • Dear Dr. Graves,

      I appreciate your update on the excavation at Tall El-Hammam. The possibilities for the site are fascinating. If Tall El-Hamman proves to be the site of Sodom, it will provide strong support for the story as it appears in the book of Genesis. I hope readers will visit the official website of the Tall El-Hammam Excavation Project at Tall El-Hamman.

      Claude Mariottini

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