Have archaeologists discovered the biblical city of Sodom?

This is a non-political story (but a very cool one nonetheless) which I was first alerted to by John Hawkins at Right Wing News. Archaeologists who have been busily digging into a massive mound in southern Jordan for the last ten years are growing increasingly convinced that they have located the city of Sodom, famously known in the Bible for having been struck down by God due to the sinful ways of its residents. While there aren’t any postcards with “Welcome to Sodom” emblazoned in neon, the ruins are definitely the remains of a massive city-state which thrived from 3500 to 1540 B.C. before suddenly being abandoned with a large layer of ash over it.

So does this provide scientific proof of one of the tales straight out of the Old Testament? The leader of the dig, Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University, thinks it’s a pretty good bet. (Popular Archaeology)

Indeed, according to Collins, when comparing it with the remains of other nearby ancient cities, along with its prime location and dates of occupation, it emerges today as the best candidate for the lost city of Sodom—the infamous city that, based on the Biblical account, was destroyed by God in a fiery cataclysm because of its iniquity.

“Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text,” he says. “Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar (the Jordan ‘Disk’, or ‘well-watered plain’ in the biblical text) cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”

Scholars will no doubt be debating this one for a long time to come unless they can come up with something that definitively labels the city as Sodom, but it certainly looks like a good candidate. But even then there will be arguments over how the city came to be destroyed. (Earthquake triggering a massive fire?) Of course, it’s not the first time that we’ve unearthed things which backed up people and places from the Bible as being history rather than parables and allegory. Scientists previously uncovered a stone marker bearing the name of Pontius Pilate dating back to the correct period and other supporting evidence exists.

Of course, every new discovery leads to more questions than answers. Some of our assumptions about the early history of man are being challenged in big ways as we do more and more digging. The time of Sodom was in the middle of the bronze age and was fairly early on in the period of written history. They built the walls and most of the structures in this city out of mud bricks, and there supposedly wasn’t much in the way of major, iconic construction going on except for the great pyramid in Egypt. (Which dates to roughly the same time period, estimated at 2500 B.C.) If you wind the clock back a few thousand years earlier, the vast majority of humanity was allegedly comprised of hunter gatherers. But how then do we account for Gobekli Tepe? Located in modern day Turkey, somebody erected a city there with massive, intricately carved stone columns weighing up to ten tons and they did it 11,000 years ago. (Smithsonian)

Gobekli Tepe was first examined—and dismissed—by University of Chicago and Istanbul University anthropologists in the 1960s. As part of a sweeping survey of the region, they visited the hill, saw some broken slabs of limestone and assumed the mound was nothing more than an abandoned medieval cemetery. In 1994, Schmidt was working on his own survey of prehistoric sites in the region. After reading a brief mention of the stone-littered hilltop in the University of Chicago researchers’ report, he decided to go there himself. From the moment he first saw it, he knew the place was extraordinary.

I think the rule of thumb is that we should never rule out anything. The past is at least as interesting as dwelling on the future and there’s always more to learn. Finding out that the Bible is historically accurate in many ways may prove to be an annoyance to some atheists, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t remarkable.