“Then the Lord said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’” (Genesis 18:20)
After 10 years of digging, archaeologist Steven Collins, of Trinity Southwest University of New Mexico, and his team believe they have discovered the location of Biblical Sodom in the Southern Jordan Valley in Jordan, about 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea. However, they are struggling to solve a deep mystery.
The city, with its massive walls, palaces, administrative buildings and surrounding farm region, flourished and dominated the region for 3,000 years. Based on evidence found at the site, some 4,000 years ago the entire area suddenly became uninhabited for over 700 years. Archaeologists and scientists are attempting to figure out why.
While digging at the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Collins studied accounts of Sodom extensively, explaining to Popular Archaeology, “Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text.”
“We know very little about the Bronze Age in the south of the Jordan River Valley. Most archaeological maps of the area were blank. But what we have found is an important city-state, which was unknown before our project began,” he said.
“Tall el-Hammam matches the description of the area where Sodom was located according to the Bible. It was said to be the largest city east of Kikkar. When we explored the region, Tall el-Hammam was an obvious choice, as it was five to ten times larger than the other Bronze Age cities throughout the region, even those found beyond Jordan.”
One of the characteristics of Sodom mentioned in the Bible is the incredible richness of the area. Lot, Abraham’s nephew who escaped Sodom when it was destroyed, chose the Jordan Valley for this particular trait (Genesis 13:10). The area of Tall el-Hammam fits that description well. The farms in the area took advantage of the annual flooding of the Jordan River, planting in the newly deposited rich silt as the floodwaters receded.
Sodom was also noted in the Bible for homosexuality. Collins offers a theory to link his findings to that aspect of the Biblical narrative, including archaeological evidence that indicates that homosexuality was an accepted part of the Tall el-Hammam culture.
“It’s quite large, and has a pillared gate-house through which one would enter the city,” explained Collins. “Such pillared architecture is more Aegean than Canaanite or Levantine, which suggests a connection to the world of the Minoans and Mycenaeans.”
Many of the architectural and artistic motifs found at Tall el-Hammam strengthen this cultural connection. According to Collins, there is documented proof that the Creat Minoans practiced homosexuality as part of their culture. Based on evidence indicating the strong cultural link between the Creat Minoans with Tall el-Hammam, it is likely they adopted this practice as well.
The site is adjacent to the Dead Sea, which has a 34 percent salinity. This unique feature coats the rocks on its shore in thick layers of salt. This is consistent with the Biblical account, which describes Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt.
Sometime between 2000-1540 BCE, the city and surrounding area became uninhabited. Initial tests show that no life existed in that area for about 700 years, but the archaeological team has found no evidence for this sudden and lasting desolation.
Clues to this mystery may also be found in the Bible narrative. The destruction of Sodom is described as God raining down burning sulfur, or, in other translations, fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24). At the Tall site, a layer of ash was discovered and the remains of one palace are stained red from burning. In addition, pottery shards display signs of exposure to extremely high temperatures. Normally, evidence of fire at such sites is the result of a military action, however a military conquest would usually be followed by an occupation, and it certainly would not account for 700 years of desolation.
Collins offers his own theory remarkably Biblical in nature. According to Collins, an enormous explosion over the city, such as that caused by a massive meteor, would account for all the evidence. He describes it as an “airburst”. As fantastic as that sounds, a similar occurrence was documented in Mesopotamia around 2200 BCE and credited with disrupting that civilization.
The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project is an example of how scientists are successfully using the Bible as an authoritative source to learn more about the world around us. In the case of Sodom, Steven Collins discovered that what most people understand as a Biblical myth was actually accurate in the most astounding ways.