Twenty-one scientists dig up evidence from 3,600 years ago for the city of Sodom — and how it was destroyed by a meteor.
In 2013 a book called Discovering the City of Sodom told the story about an archeologist from Albuquerque who dug up Tall el-Hammam, a prominent geographical mound in Jordan, and claimed it was Sodom. Here’s what he found out:
• Sodom flourished for 3,000 years, until an abrupt destruction recorded in the Bible, in the period 1750-1650 BC.
• The city was surrounded by a wall of mudbricks. These bricks were similar to adobe bricks, and about the same size.
• Collins has excavated a large (and only) gate of the city, and the adjoining gatehouse, which is mentioned in the Bible story: Lot sat at the gate of the city.
The destruction of the city.
• Collins found an unusually thick layer of destruction with collapsed walls, broken mud-bricks, burnt debris, and skeletal remains, all inside a one-meter layer of ash. The ancient city was utterly destroyed.
• A piece of pottery (sherd) revealed a thin layer of glaze just 1/8 of an inch thick. The glazing (firing) of pottery was not a technique that the Sodomites used. This was glazing caused by red-heat at thousands of degrees for only one millisecond (i.e. a shock wave).
• One artifact looked like trinitite, the name for melted and fused sand caused by the first atom bomb exploded at Trinity site just a couple hours south of Albuquerque in New Mexico.
• Collins argued the source of destruction was a meteor, similar to the fireball called Tunguska that hit Siberia in the early 1900’s. That explosion flattened like matchsticks enormous pine trees for miles around. A meteor event was counter to the traditional explanation that an earthquake destroyed Sodom.
A new study published in Nature.
Now comes a new study by an independent team that proves beyond doubt it was a meteor airburst that destroyed Tall el-Hammam and surrounding towns about 1650 BCE.
The meteor blew up before reaching ground and that’s why it’s called an airburst. No crater was left behind.
The city was annihilated into a layer about 4-5 feet thick that contains charcoal, shocked quartz, melted gold, silver and nickel, melted pottery and mudbricks, seeds, and small human bone fragments. After many careful measurements in the laboratories, the authors conclude the temperatures must have exceeded 2000 degrees C.
Millions of mudbricks from the walls have never been found – they were pulverized by the enormous explosion.
Human bones were fragmented into small pieces, just a few inches in size.
The airburst demolished a 5-story palace and a massive 13-feet thick mudbrick rampart.
An influx of salt related to the airburst was deposited and the extra salinity inhibited agriculture for 300-600 years in over 100 abandoned settlements within a 15-mile radius of Sodom.
The article also states that Jericho, 12 miles to the west, was wiped out by the same meteor. In all, 15 cities and over 100 smaller settlements were abandoned for 300-600 years after the meteor destruction in this region of the lower Jordan valley.
This was probably the first-ever site destroyed by a meteor that was documented (in Genesis). But the article hesitates to identify the city as Sodom.
Is Tall el-Hammam really Sodom or not?
Saying that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom, as Collins did in his book, has been challenged on two grounds. First, the meteor date is wrong when compared with traditional dates.
To illustrate the conundrum, 1290 BC is an alternate and later date of the exodus, accepted by many, when Rameses II was Pharaoh (sidebar — I’ve seen his body close-up in the museum in Cairo).
Adding the traditional 400+ years gives 1690+ BC. 400 years is the traditional time the Israelites spent in Egypt. The + accounts for the years between Abraham and Joseph and this is four generations, or 200 years typically. This gives a date for Abraham coming to Canaan of 1890 BC. The discrepancy with the date of the meteor in 1650 BC is 240 years.
Collins analyzed the Biblical texts and argued that Abraham arrived in Canaan in 1700 BC, just 50 years before the meteor struck in 1650 BC. “The terminal destruction date of the Bronze Age civilization, with imposing Tell el-Hammamm at its core, provides a solid archeological anchor for the patriarchal chronology.”
Collins said in some cases “geography trumps chronology,” and he recognized that some biblical dates and time periods “can swing as much as 200 years or more.” In short, Collins uses the meteor date to anchor the times of the patriarchs Abraham through Joseph in Canaan, and accepts the adjustments for those times as needed.
The second challenge lies in the location of Sodom.
Deborah Hurn has studied the possible locations of Sodom, based on several biblical references. She concluded that Tall el-Hammam could not be Sodom, because Sodom was south of the Dead Sea (the traditional location) while Tel el-Hammam lies to the north of the Dead Sea.
She believed that a massive earthquake destroyed Sodom by unleashing an explosion of hydrocarbons, such as oil, from underground.
There are big problems with this scenario. First, no city of Sodom has been found south of the Dead Sea. Second, there is no evidence for an earthquake that unleashed an oil explosion.
In science, we look for the simplest explanation to explain the main facts. The four main facts are the destruction of Tall el-Hammam, the cause was a meteor airburst, the date was 1650 BC, and the event was documented in the Bible.
Bunch and his co-authors conclude that, “Regarding this proposed airburst, an eyewitness description of this 3600-year-old catastrophic event may have been passed down as an oral tradition that eventually became the written biblical account about the destruction of Sodom.”
This cautious conclusion seems to dismiss the origin of writing and careful preservation of Jewish chronologies. If only oral traditions were passed down for many hundreds of years, the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah contains an amazing number of statements that are consistent with a meteor airburst destruction.
As Collins points out, the dates may be in error but the over-riding linkage between the meteor destruction of Tall el-Hammam, and the biblical recounting of the story, makes a strong case that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom.
Even the biblical reference to Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt has credibility because an atmosphere over-saturated in salt ended up covering a large area around Sodom so that it remained uninhabited for 300-600 years.
The new study by 21 scientists confirms the remarkable work that Steven Collins and his co-workers did at Tall el-Hammam in uncovering the evidence. The early work was sensational, especially for biblical scholars, in its interpretation in terms of a meteor airburst that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
What this means for ancient Bible stories.
This whole picture cuts through propositions that suggest the Bible is just a bunch of fairytales handed down orally for many hundreds or even a thousand years. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has lasted for 3,600 years in identifiable and, in many parts, verifiable form.
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The Gray Nomad ….. An ancient story from the Bible is uncovered by archeology and can refresh our faith.
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. He overthrew, destroyed and ended those cities, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
[Genesis Chapter 19]