Friday, May 6, 2011

Looking for Sodom: The North Side Story


Complete article and picture

For decades, scientists and scholars have been searching for the fabled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the "cities of the Plain", the cities that, according to the Biblical record, were destroyed anciently by God because of the great iniquity of their inhabitants. Recent archaeological investigations, including two currently in progress, are now raising some fascinating prospects that may possibly bring us closer to identifying the location and remains of at least one of these infamous cities, Sodom, the kingpin itself. One of these investigations may overturn long-held theories about where the infamous city was located.

The South Side Story

Traditionally, research has focused on the lands bordering the southeast end of the Dead Sea, where a narrow, arid alluvial plain abuts steeply rising highland areas. Many scholars have interpreted geographic and scriptural references documented in the Biblical account as pointing to this area:

And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

Genesis 13:10

Using Zoar as their operative word, many scholars thus guided themselves by the Biblical and extra-Biblical accounts of Josephus and the ancient Madaba Map as locating Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Early investigations in the area of Zoar, however, turned up nothing. But a later expedition conducted by Paul Lapp and then continuing excavations beginning in 1975 by Thomas Schaub of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Walter Rast of Valparaiso University after his death revealed some noteworthy finds. They explored and excavated the remains of four settlements dated to the Early Bronze Age. Excavations at the two largest sites, Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, turned up a 7-meter stone wall and earlier mudbrick wall, shaft tombs, house remains, and a clear destruction layer. Numerous Early Bronze Age tombs discovered in the area have been suggested to represent burials of as many as 500,000 individuals. Based on the dating, both Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira were destroyed at the same time. Some scholars have proposed that the settlements were destroyed by natural causes. Bab edh-Drha, the largest of the sites, has been advanced by some as a possible candidate for Sodom and the smaller site of Numeira as Gomorrah. Conclusive evidence that the Biblical cities have been found? The jury is still very much out on this one...

The North Side Story

What is now emerging as the most promising new prospect for Sodom, according to a number of scholars, is a site called Tall el-Hammam located approximately 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea in the fertile southern Jordan River Valley of Jordan. Nestled among lush agricultural fields, it is a mound (or Tall) that rises conspicuously from a ground space encompassing one square kilometer, a very large site by any comparison. Dr. Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University began research related to Sodom by carefully examining the biblical text in Genesis, along with geographic study and intense, broad-based archaeological surveys. All indicators brought him to the location of Tall el-Hammam....Tall el-Hammam represents what is left of the hub of a Bronze Age city-state complex at the cross-roads of major trade routes, rising to prominence as the economic powerhouse in the southern Jordan Valley and influencing and possibly controlling a system of smaller settlements in the region. Generations of kings built palaces, temples, administrative centers, and massive fortifications and defensive walls at this location.

Questions beg for answers. Who were these people and how did they live? How did they relate to the other kingdoms of the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Egypt at the time?

...More detailed information about the Tall el-Hammam excavations and the discoveries can be found at


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