Why believe Sodom is located North of the Dead Sea?

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.


Anonymous said…
It’s terribly sad that so many bloggers have no real understanding of archaeology as a scientific process, and therefore completely miss the importance of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project in terms of its stated purpose: To shed light on the cultural history of the southern Jordan Valley in all represented periods. How can so many miss the fact that this is a cooperative project between our American team and the Jordan Department of Antiquities, in which professional archaeologists from the USA and Jordan work side by side in one of the largest archaeological endeavors presently working in the Near East? This is a well-conceived excavation with meticulous scientific standards. (Some media reports try to be sensational and focus only on the “Sodom” controversy, which stories are usually quite inept and bereft of facts.) For anyone to get side-tracked, even put off!, by my theory that the site is biblical Sodom is to miss the historical importance of our work. My arguments for the location of Sodom are textually solid and geographically sound, and now, archaeologically, quite probably correct. However, that the EB and MB cities at our site may be biblical Sodom should not detract from the excellent scientific work of our professional staff and intrepid volunteers. The directors of other digs in our area are actually quite interested in our site, even its biblical possibilities. It seems that my detractors are only those who know nothing about TeHEP, and who are unwilling to engage me in scholarly interaction and debate in an open forum, which we readily provide. (Many world-class scholars already agree with my theory on Sodom’s location, which theory, by the way, was the dominant one from the 4th century CE until some fallacious reasoning on the subject arose in the Albrightian era). Below is a mini-report on our 2007 season for those who are really interested in the truth.
To Interested Thinkers:
I've just returned from seven weeks in the southern Jordan Valley directing the Tall el-Hammam (Sodom) Excavation Project. I think it would be an understatement to say that TeHEP Season Two was a success.
With well over 100 participants, plus local workers, representing at least four continents and including countries like the USA, Jordan, Canada, England, Australia, Russia and Ukraine, TeHEP '06/'07 was one of the largest digs in Jordan in recent history (at least that's what we were told by our Jordanian colleagues). I deeply appreciated the support and encouragement of the Jordan Department of Antiquities, four of whom served on my dig staff.
When you add in the local workers we hired for just over three weeks of the season, we looked quite like a busy bunch of ants scurrying over the top of massive Tall el-Hammam, which spreads over a square kilometer at the eastern edge of the Jordan Disk.
Of course, for quite a while now I have put forth the idea that Tall el-Hammam is likely the site of biblical Sodom. That it is in the right place, according to the biblical geography, is impossible to question on the basis of even a cursory textual analysis of Gen 13:1-12. But what about the factors of "right time" and "right stuff" necessary to reasonably nail down such an identification? Well, after TeHEP Season One about a year ago, we stated that the archaeology of the site was leaning quite suggestively in the direction of a pretty straightforward biblical chronology for Sodom.
That chronology goes something like this: founded (at least) during the Early Bronze Age (Gen 10); occupied into the Middle Bronze Age, and destroyed during the MBA (Gen 13-19); not re-occupied for at least several centuries [Moses calls the same area "the valley…where Pisgah overlooks the wasteland" (Num 21:20) during the Late Bronze Age]; perhaps re-occupied much later (after the area recovered from the ecological disaster that had put an end to the Bronze Age civilization of the eastern Jordan Disk during the MBA).
Now, after the completion of TeHEP Season Two, this occupational profile has been established quite firmly.
While Iron Age II is well-represented by at least four, and possibly five, strata, the Late Bronze Age continues to be systematically absent. Still largely theoretical at the end of last season (but many pottery sherds), the presence of a fortified MBA city is now dramatically confirmed in multiple ways, not the least of which is the discovery of a massive MB rampart/fortification system that dwarfs the 3m-thick IA city wall built over it for much of its extent.
Last season we had only gotten a look at the top of this structure, and I speculated then that it looked remarkably like typical MB mudbrick/earthen rampart construction. Then it was just an educated hunch. Now it's an archaeological fact. We were able to uncover it to a height of about six meters, which effectively exposed eight to nine meters of its sloping outer face. I estimate that to be perhaps half it's actual height (the rest awaits us next season). But what is showing is pretty impressive, especially when you take a moment to extrapolate how it rings the footprint of the entire upper tall (about 400m east-to-west). The inner/internal construction seems to be a stepped structure of tightly laid mudbrick, faced on the outer slope by a meter or more of compacted earth/clay.
The footprint of the Iron Age city is smaller than that of the MB city. At a cool square kilometer, the EB city's footprint is the largest at the site. This demonstrates how erroneous information about Tall el-Hammam is in almost every source available. That's understandable, since we're the first ones to excavate it, while everybody else was simply guessing. (K. Prag did some probing only on the lower tall about ten years ago while excavating at Tell Iktanu to the south.)
Factually, Tall el-Hammam was THE dominant city in the southern Jordan Valley during the Bronze Age (but unoccupied during the LBA and probably most or all of Iron I) and Iron Age II A, B and C. Isn't it interesting that Sodom is the only major Bronze Age urban center mentioned in the Bible located on the eastern Jordan Disk, and that Tall el-Hammam is, in fact, the only major Bronze Age urban center on the eastern Jordan Disk? (There are at least five others within eight kilometers, but all a fraction of the size of TeH.) We must face the facts. There is no coincidence here.
From the macro (the massive MB rampart) in Field D to the micro (the classic MB piriform juglet) in Field B, we now know that Tall el-Hammam was a thriving center of civilization during the Middle Bronze Age when it seems to have met a fiery end. This event is attested by a meter of ash and destruction debris in Field B where the MB juglet, along with MB storage jars, were unearthed just a few weeks ago. The site then lay abandoned during the LBA, and probably most or all of Iron Age I, until a flurry of building activities in several phases turned the site into a significant city during IA II A, B and C.
At this point, I am willing to say that if Tall el-Hammam's identification as biblical Sodom is still denied after an examination of the growing body of evidence to that effect, then the identification of every single biblical site not confirmed by specific epigraphic evidence must me called into question.
That's it on a thumbnail. So now we have about 700 diagnostic sherds and many whole vessels to "read," and lots of organic analysis and C14 dating to do over the next several months as we assemble our first Preliminary Report later this year.
I’m also scheduled to present papers on the subject at several conferences this year, including ASOR and NEAS in the fall. And with Tall el-Hammam continuing to cover all the criterial bases relative to Sodom, I’ll continue to argue in that vein until the doubters get hold of their senses.
By the way, I got a chance to present my case “live and on site” to quite a few visiting archaeological dignitaries during the season. In those instances, Tall el-Hammam itself did most of the “talking,” almost defying anyone to deny her preeminence as the dominant Bronze Age city in the region (as Sodom was the dominant Bronze Age city on the eastern Jordan Disk in Genesis). After an on-site tour of Tall el-Hammam, with Gen 13:1-12 firmly in mind, the general response, minimally, was always something like, “Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it.” To which I usually responded, “Welcome to Sodom!”
Steven Collins, Director, The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Jordan; Dean of the College of Archaeology, Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
Unknown said…
Dear BK, Dr. Steven Collins, and readership,

The author refers to a blog-post he did the previous month, in which he gives a quote from Dr. Collins about Zoar’s location. I left a comment saying I agree with Dr. Collins on his reasons for where to locate it: the Arnon George. Unfortunately there is the issue of if Zoar was a City of the Kikkar, to which Dr. Collins flat-out says it was not. Dr. Collins is forced to conclude this based on his beliefs in archaeology, but he would conclude differently based on Sola Scriptura, or “Only Scripture”.

Zoar is not just “often listed as one of the five Cities of the Plain” on a whim, both Genesis 14:2 and Genesis 14:8 clearly list the Cities of the Kikkar, and yes one can count them: “the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;)”. That is a total of 5 kings, each a king of a city, which means 5 cities. This means that Zoar was in the Kikkar, and also means Jericho was not because it is absent in the entire Genesis text. Numbers 22:1 is the first time Jericho is ever mentioned, which is centuries later.

Therefore if Zoar was in the Arnon George, then that location halfway down the eastern shore of the Dead Sea was in the Kikkar, which Tall el-Hammam’s Kikkar ends many miles to the north at the upper shoreline of the Dead Sea. Zoar was going to be destroyed but Lot begged to have it spared because it was “a little place” in Genesis 19:17-23. This is why one needs to also remember Ezekiel 16:46

“And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters.”

When looking at the rising sun—east—south is to the right-hand side, which is where Sodom was based on Jerusalem’s location. Yes, it still must be east of Bethel and Hai, and that means much farther north than the southern Dead Sea region. The location this all lands upon is under the northern waters of the Dead Sea. There is a ton of evidence to testify to this fact. Detailed discussions of this are found in the links listed in Part-2 of this comment.

Do not forget to also read my thoughts on the previous article The Disputed Location of the City of Sodom by BK. Dr. Collins is denying The Pure Word of God without detraction!

Please read-on to Part-2
Unknown said…

I have read and written extensively on Tall el-Hammam versus what The Sacred Scriptures detail about Sodom and the other 4 Cities of the Kikkar. Dr. Collins has never given any official answer to the evidences I present, and that can only mean the arguments are air-tight, especially since he challenges people to discuss this topic in the open with him! I have not hidden any of what I have written and all are freely available to all. It is strongly recommended any eyes seeing this comment read further into the following links with myriads of additional evidences against Tall el-Hammam being Sodom.

G. M. Grena’s detailed review for The Kikkar Dialogues (Research & Discovery Series) (Volume 2) on LMLK: A Royal Blog for all matters belonging to the King, a king, &/or kings (05/25/14). Links below:

G. M. Grena’s brief review Steven Collins, an Easter-Bunny Christian for The Kikkar Dialogues (Research & Discovery Series) (Volume 2) on Amazon (06/07/14). Link here:

My review Not Israel’s Younger Sister for Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament's Most Infamous City on Amazon (03/21/14). Link here:

My review Archaeology’s War on Biblical History for The Kikkar Dialogues (Research & Discovery Series) (Volume 2) on Amazon (06/22/14). Link here:

My 11-part response to Dr. Collins’ comments on Biblical Problems with
Locating Sodom at Tall el-Hammam
by Dr. Todd Bolen on his blog (08/23/14). Link to first part below, scroll down to read further:

And lastly, search BiblePlaces.com Blog by Dr. Todd Bolen, keyword: “Sodom”. Be sure to also read the comment sections. Links to all the current blogposts, with a few other links, can be found here (02/26/13):

~ Nathanael “AmbassadorHerald” Eisner

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