Somebody thinks they have found Sodom

Here is a link to an article in Christianity Today, an evangelical journal.  The article says that an archeologist named Steven Collins claims to have found the site of Sodom.  The place being excavated is in Jordan and is called Tall-el-Hammam.  Here is a link to the official website of the excavation.  I found nothing there about Sodom.

The place’s fortifications in the Early Bronze Age were gigantic.  Here is what they think the gates may have looked like:bg_a3yxIt is an impressive and an important find.  But Sodom…?

The big issue pointed out in the Christianity Today article is that of chronology.  Tall-el-Hammam was an important city and then it suffered a catastrophic destruction like Sodom.

But there’s one major problem: The pottery in that destruction layer dates to 1650-1600 B.C. That’s a date barely two centuries before the Exodus, according to conventional biblical chronology.

Evangelical Bible scholars believe a much longer period is needed to account for the time of the patriarchs and the Israelites’ time in Egypt. Thus, most do not accept Collins’s identification.

The dating is a feature, not a bug, in my opinion.  The implication that all evangelical scholars hold to the so-called biblical chronology is just wrong.  But some do.  Here  is the case made by Eugene Merrill.

For the geographical problems with Tall-el-Hamman as Sodom, see here.

As I mentioned when writing about the Amarna letters, I don’t see any way to put the Hebrew settlement before the 14th century.  There is no time during the period from the Exodus through the Judges when the Bible portrays Egypt in political control of Canaan.  Yet we know it was the ruling power until around 1200 B.C.E.

But I am still not going the say Tall-el-Hamman is identical with Sodom.  That would require some kind of confirmation of all those kings mentioned in Genesis 14:1 ff. as going to war against Sodom.  Collins needs to look hard for those kings in the 17th century.. We know quite a bit about empires and geopolitics in those days and I do not see that combination of kings.  What would have been the strategic purpose of the kind of campaign mentioned in Genesis 14, anyway?

My concerns are quite different from those mentioned in the article, because if Sodom turns out to be unhistorical, a kind of once-upon -a-time-long-long-ago story, it would not upset my faith.  I do not believe the Bible has to be historical and precise about things like the Sodom and Lot stories.  But I do think the story of Sodom could go back to some kind of memory that got passed down.

We may someday find the kind of confirmation I’m looking for.  But just because we have an old city that has a layer that suggests destruction does not mean we have to assume it is Sodom–unless you are anxious to prove a theory about  inerrancy as some evangelicals are.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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