Where is Biblical Sodom?

By on January 18, 2018

Where is Biblical Sodom – Bible Research Tools
For more than a century — since at least as far back as the days of the 1851 expedition to the holy land by Louis de Saulcy — archaeologists have concentrated the search for Sodom in the Dead Sea area. That began to change in 2002 when Dr. Steven Collins revealed potential evidence for a different location of Sodom, called Tall el-Hammam, in the Jordan River Valley north of the Dead Sea[1].

As many of you are aware (those who have visited the Bible Research Tools website), a video playlist by archaeologist Collins on his research at Jordan’s Tall el-Hammam has been a fixture of the Biblical Archaeology page since its inception. A recent article by Bible History Daily titled “Where Is Sodom?” highlights the work of Dr. Collins, including some of the many challenges by fellow scholars.

 

The Biblical Timeline
 
The biggest challenge to Dr. Collins’ claim seems to be based on his timeline, which places the destruction of Sodom as much as 200 years later the long-held consensus.

A modern-day biblical archaeologist, Dr. Bryant Wood of the Associates of Biblical Research, who promotes a southern Dead Sea location, challenges Collins’ position in part on the basis of the biblical interpretation of the time of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt[2]:

“[Paul J.] Ray has carefully reviewed all of the pertinent evidence regarding the Sojourn and concludes: “the various lines of evidence would seem to indicate that the 430 years should be taken at face value for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt” (2004: 42; 2007: 94).”[3]

Wood explains:

“Starting with the date of the Exodus at 1446 BC (Wood 2005)[4] and a Sojourn of 430 years, a straightforward reading of the chronological data in the Old Testament yields dates for Abraham of 2166–1991 BC, with the destruction of the Cities of the Plain occurring in 2067 BC (Walton 1978: 40)[5], at the end of the Early Bronze (EB) period. Collins, however, lowers this date by 215 years to 1852 BC in the Middle Bronze I period. Since Middle Bronze Age pottery was found at Tall el-Hammam, Collins concludes that it must be Sodom (2007: 75)[6]

A potential flaw in Wood’s interpretation is his reliance on the unreliable Hebrew Masoretic Text for dating the sojourn. The Apostle Paul, who tended to rely on the Greek Septuagint text (the LXX), and/or more ancient Hebrew manuscripts, gave us a timeline of 430 years from the Abrahamic Covenant to the Sinaitic Covenant:

“And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” — Gal 3:17 KJV

The LXX seems to confirm Paul’s timeline:

“And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Chanaan, was four hundred and thirty years.” — Exo 12:40 LXX

The ancient Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, gave a similar timeline:

“They [Israel] left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt. It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron three more. They also carried out the bones of Joesph with them, as he had charged his sons to do.”[7]

 

Wood’s source relies on extra-biblical assumptions to arrive at a 400 year Egyptian oppression:

“The name Amram of [Exo.6] vs. 20 may be a conflation of the name of the Amram who was the head of one of the third-generation families of Levi, with the name of a later Amram who was the father of Moses and Aaron. There was a tendency among the Levites to name their sons after their forefathers (cf. 1 Chr 6:7–13; Lk 1:5, 59–61). Thus, several generations appear to have been telescoped here, with Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, probably being at least the grandson of the original Amram, if not even a later descendant.”[3]

However, the author of 1st Chronicles provides no support, since the lineage of Levi was still intact in the days of David:

“The sons of Levi: Gedson, Caath, and Merari. And the sons of Caath; Ambram, and Issaar, Chebron, and Oziel. And the sons of Ambram; Aaron, and Moses, and Mariam: and the sons of Aaron; Nadab, and Abiud, Eleazar, and Ithamar.” — 1Chr 6:1-3 LXX

“And David divided them into daily courses, for the sons of Levi, for Gedson, Caath, and Merari . . . The sons of Caath; Ambram, Isaar, Chebron, Oziel, four . . . The sons of Ambram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was appointed for the consecration of the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the Lord, to minister and bless in his name for ever.” — 1Chr 23:6,12,13 LXX

 

The Calculation
 
A simple calculation of the birth dates reveals the LXX to contain the more realistic timeline. Start with Levi, who lived 137 years:

“And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their kindreds, Gedson, Caath, and Merari; and the years of the life of Levi were a hundred and thirty-seven.” — Exo 6:16 LXX

His son Caath (Kohath) lived 133 years:

“And the sons of Caath, Ambram and Issaar, Chebron, and Oziel; and the years of the life of Caath were a hundred and thirty-three years.” — Exo 6:17-18 LXX

And his son Ambram (Amram), Moses’ father, lived 132 years:

“And Ambram took to wife Jochabed the daughter of his father’s brother, and she bore to him both Aaron and Moses, and Mariam their sister: and the years of the life of Ambram were a hundred and thirty-two years.” — Exo 6:20 LXX

Moses was 80 when Israel departed Egypt with the children of Israel:

“And Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron his brother was eighty-three years old, when he spoke to Pharao.” — Exo 7:7 LXX

So, from Levi’s birth to the Exodus was a maximum of (137+134+132+80=) 484 years. That assumes that each of Moses’ ancestors, beginning at Levi, had sons on or about the day of their death, which is not likely.

 

But there is another factor to consider. Levi’s son, Caath, was already alive when the Israelites departed for Egypt:

“And these are the names of the sons of Israel that went into Egypt with their father Jacob—Jacob and his sons. The first-born of Jacob, Ruben. . . And the sons of Levi; Gerson, Cath, and Merari.” — Gen 46:8, 11 LXX

Thus, we can remove Levi from the timeline, and simply sum the three descendants to yield (134+132+80=) 346 years as the maximum possible time of the Israelites in Egypt.

Of course, a logical assumption would be the fathers of Moses had their children at younger ages; and, even better, we can simply believe the Apostle Paul:

“And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” — Gal 3:17 KJV

For additional information, see the Youtube video titled “How Long Were The Israelites In Egypt?

 

The Biblical Location of Sodom
 
So, what about Dr. Collins’ claim that the Tall el-Hammam location is based on the scripture? We know that Abraham had built an altar on a mountain between Bethel and Ai:

“And he went to the place whence he came, into the wilderness as far as Baethel, as far as the place where his tent was before, between Baethel and Aggai (Bethel and Ai), to the place of the altar, which he built there at first, and Abram there called on the name of the Lord. And Lot who went out with Abram had sheep, and oxen, and tents.” — Gen 13:3-5 LXX

The scholarly consensus seems to be that Bethel and Ai were located north of Jerusalem, and due west of the Jordan River valley. We know that Jeroboam, the first king of the northern tribes, built an altar at a place called Bethel, rendering it unlikely to be located in Judah:

“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.” — 1Kin 12:32 KJV

Joshua implied Bethel and Ai to be near Jericho, which is located in the Jordan River valley north of the Dead Sea, and across the river from the Tall el-Hammam dig site:

“And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.” — Jos 7:2 KJV

The scripture indicates, from the location of Abram’s altar between Bethel and Ai, that Lot traveled east to a watered country round around Jordan:

“And Lot having lifted up his eyes, observed all the country round about Jordan, that it was all watered, before God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha, as the garden of the Lord, and as the land of Egypt, until thou come to Zogora. And Lot chose for himself all the country round Jordan, and Lot went from the east, and they were separated each from his brother. And Abram dwelt in the land of Chanaan.” — Gen 13:10-11 LXX

That is the way Collins interpreted the text, according to Wood:

“Collins’ main evidence for locating Sodom north of the Dead Sea is found in Genesis 13. There we have the account of Lot choosing the Cities of the Plain (kikkar) as the area where he would pasture his flocks. Collins interprets the location of the event as “the environs of Bethel/Ai” (2007: 71). Thus, when Lot “set out toward the east” (Gn 13:11), he would have traveled to the area of the southern Jordan Valley just north of the Dead Sea.”[2]

Wood disputes Collins’ interpretation, but provides no biblical evidence to the contrary. Rather he tends to rely on his interpretation of archaeological data and the Masorete timeline.

The scripture offers no other clues, from the time Abram and Lot arrived in the region of the altar in Genesis 13:3-4, until Lot departed from Abram (vs. 11). At that time, Abram pitched his tent toward Sodom (vs. 12). There is no mention of Abram departing from the area until verse 18, when he departed for Hebron.
 
 
Other Resources
 
For additional information on the dig at Tall el-Hammam, see the Steven Collins’ Playlist. The video below is the first video of the playlist:
 

 
Or, visit the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project.
 
Dan

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Footnotes:

[1] Collins, Steven 2002 – The Geography of the Cities of the Plain, Biblical Research Bulletin, Trinity Southwest University, Vol. II, No. I

[2] Wood, Bryant G. 2016 – Locating Sodom: A Critique of the Northern Proposal, Associates of Biblical Research. Reprinted from Bible and Spade 20-2 (2007): 78–84.

[3] Ray, Paul J. Jr. 2007 – The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt. Reprinted from Bible and Spade 17 (2004): 33–44.

[4] Wood, Bryant G. 2005 – The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 475–89.

[5] Walton, John H. 1978 – Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan. [Wood: “The birth of Isaac was announced by the Lord as being “about this time next year” (Gn 18:14). Since Isaac was bom in 2066 BC (Walton 1978: 40), the destruction of the Cities of the Plain occurred one year earlier in 2067 BC.”]

[6] Collins, Steven. 2007 – Sodom: The Discovery of a Lost City. Bible and Spade 20: 70–77

[7] Flavius Josephus, The Complete Works: Antiquities of the Jews. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1934, Book II.15.2, p.148

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