Discovering the City of Sodom
Dr. Steven Collins and Dr. Latayne C. Scott
God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah remains one of the most fascinating accounts of the Old Testament and one of the most terrifying records of God's wrath. There is no shortage of scholarly opinions about the historicity of the biblical account, and the mystery of Sodom's exact location adds to the fascination. Some scholars say the biblical record is a "pious fiction" invented by Hebrew priests. Others say it reflects the "cultural memory" of some ancient catastrophe that the Hebrews adopted as their own. Still others dismiss the story as mythology, pure and simple. All of these opinions, as well as others, are described and discussed in Dr. Steven Collins' half of Discovering the City of Sodom.
For the book is divided into two parts, the first by Latayne Scott (PhD in Biblical Studies) and the second by archaeologist Steven Collins. Both authors have worked together on the archaeological site Tall el-Hammam in Jordan, where Dr. Collins is director. Both presentations are based on evidence and logic, though Dr. Scott follows those chapters with limited speculation as to the means by which the destruction of Sodom may have occurred.
In proposing Tall el-Hammam as the location of Sodom, both authors begin with geography as fact. Then they attempt to match biblical narrative with the unchanging facts of geography, e.g., What parts of the Jordan River Valley could Abram and Lot actually see from their location near Bethel and Ai when they decided to go separate ways? This consideration alone leads them toward rejecting locations south of the Dead Sea. What other parts of biblical narrative describe identifiable geographical or architectural features?
Both scholars agree that the location of Sodom must also comply with the historical age of Abram and Lot, and they devote considerable space to establishing that time as the Middle Bronze Age 2, roughly 1800-1540 BC. (They also note widely variant ages proposed by other scholars.) Still, though, the proposed location and time must be confirmed by archaeological evidence.
It is in that evidence that the authors' arguments become most convincing. For in the archaeology of the site at Tall el-Hammam there is a historical gap. As the archaeologists dig downward, the seven-hundred-years-later Iron Age layer gives way directly to the centuries-earlier Middle Bronze 2 layer of ash containing "smashed and charred pottery vessels…and human bones—all violently churned into a telltale, ashy matrix." And the architectural features uncovered thus far in Tall el-Hammam coincide with those noted in the Sodom of biblical narrative.
The book is not casual reading, but neither is it overly difficult. For the committed reader it reveals voluminous detail and proofs that can only be suggested here. And for the student of the Bible it is especially rewarding: Those who read it will find their understanding of the biblical narrative of Sodom filled with insights not afforded to them before.
Reviewed by Donn Taylor, author of The Lazarus File, Rhapsody in Red, etc.