A few days ago, I wrote a short blog about a recent archaeological effort to find the city of Sodom north of the Dead Sea. The scholar conducting the search, Steven Collins, believes that he has found the City of Sodom in an area that has been named Tell el-Hamman. Details on Dr. Collins' work can be found on the Trinity Southwest University site, here.
In my earlier blog on this subject, I discussed the points listed in an article in Bible and Spade giving the ten reasons that Sodom should be found south of the Dead Sea. I did not, in that blog, set forth Dr. Collins' case for locating Sodom north of the Dead Sea, and I want to set forth part of his argument here. The following does not consitute his entire argument which is enclosed in a booklet he has produced entitled The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah, but represents three of the keys from Scripture that he uses for looking north of the Dead Sea instead of south of that location.
The first reason Dr. Collins gives for looking to the North is the Hebrew word used for describing the plain on which the Cities of the Plain are located. The word is found in Genesis 13:10, which reads:
And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it [was] well watered everywhere (before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.
The word translated "plain" is the Hebrew word "kikkar." "Kikkar", literally translated, means "round" or "circular". As professor Collins notes, the word is used 65+ times in the Old Testament, and in more than 50 of those occasions, the word is not used to describe geography at all. Instead, it is used to describe either a "talent" of silver, gold or lead, or a "loaf" as in "loaf of bread." Now, a "talent" of some valuable metal is a round, flat disk of the metal generally used in exchange (just like coins have been throughout history). Also, the loaves of bread in antiquity were usually flat and disk-shaped. Dr. Collins uses this to come to the conclusion that the use of the word "kikkar" to describe the plain must have meant that the plain was a circular area.
The area north of the Dead Sea is circular in nature. As Dr. Collins puts it:
Even a curosry glance at a topographical map of the southern Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea reveals the circular nature of the area. But when you actually descend from the foothills onto the plain (kikkar) from the east (from the direction of present-day Amman), the sense of the disk-like circular plain, which sweeps around to the south and west toward the Dead Sea and around toward the north and west toward Jericho across the Jordan River, is very impressive.
I note, but Dr. Collins doesn't mention, that the plain mentioned in Genesis 13:10 where Sodom is located is the plain of Jordan -- not the plain of the Dead Sea. Since the Jordan River is to the north of the Dead Sea, why would it be denominated the Plain of Jordan if it is to the south of the Dead Sea?
Second, Dr. Collins notes that the Lot and Abraham dwelt together in the land of Bethel and Ai. Genesis 13:3-6 notes:
And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the LORD. Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.
In other words, the exchange between Abraham and Lot where Abraham tells Lot that they need to go their separate ways almost certainly took place in the area of Bethel and Ai, where they are described as having dwelt together in verse 5. Dr. Collins believes, reasonably in my opinion, that if they dwelt together in that area, Lot would have chosen between the land to the East and the West of that area. So where are Bethel and Ai? While there exact location of Bethel has not been pin-pointed (some candidates have been found, but disagreements exist as to the exact location), Dr. Collins states that Bethel was "located in the central highlands of Canaan approximately siteen to twenty kilometers north of Jerusalem." He then notes the City of Ai was located "at the nearby site of et-Tell in modern Deir Dibwan, about four kilometers east of Bethel."
If he is correct, and the conversation between Lot and Abraham took place in the vicinity of Bethel and Ai where they lived together, they were certainly in the highlands to the west of the plain north of the Dead Sea where Tell el-Hamman is located. From that vantage point, could Lot see "all of the plain of the Jordan" (as the Bible says) if it was located to the South of the Dead Sea? Dr. Collins concludes that it would have been impossible to see the area to the south of the Dead Sea from that vantage point. Dr. Collins notes:
. . . I should point out that I excavated in the area of Bethel and Ai for six seasons, and I, along with several of my colleagues, have hiked all over the territory in question. I am intimately aware of what can and cannot be seen from practically every vantagepoint between Ai and the edge of the Jordan Velley to the east. The southern Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea and the foothills on the eastern edge of the Jordan valley are easily visible from that area. On a clear day, you can even see a portion of the northern end of the Dead Sea itself. But under no circumstances or by any stretch of the imagination can you see with the naked eye beyond that point to the middle (Lisan) regions or the southern end of the Dead Sea.
Third, he notes that the text of Genesis 13:11 that "Lot journeyed east" from that place. East from the area of Bethel and Ai is into the circular valley to the north of the Dead Sea. Now, it is possible that Lot headed east and down the eastern shore of the Dead Sea to the southern end of the Dead Sea, but the Bible doesn't seem to suggest that.
Dr. Collins continues to stengthen his argument using scripture, geography and history over the course of the 77 pages of The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah. I found it quite interesting, and tend to believe that his arguments are more persuasive than the arguments made in the Bible and Spade article. I will be interested to see how Dr. Collins' excavations of the site of Tell el-Hamman progresses and whether he finds more signs of a firey end to that city in the future. I will also be most interested in reading the entire Bible and Spade article that fills in the details about the 10 reasons that Sodom should be found south of the Dead Sea when they finally re-issue the original article. As for now, I reserve judgement, but I remain accutely interested.