Damien F. Mackey
“These cities, five in all, have been suggested as possible candidates for Sodom and Gomorrah, the five cities of the plain. However, the narrative of Numbers 31, Moses’ attack on the Midianite cities, fits the details better, particularly when one views the nature of the destruction at these cities. It was not the type of geological destruction that the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah would suggest, but far closer to that which would be wrought by human agency”.
Dr John Osgood
The most popularly suggested locations for the biblical sin city of Sodom and its satellites are either the Early Bronze Age cities situated in the environs of Bab edh-Dhra (map taken from Dr. Osgood’s “The Times of the Judges -The Archaeology: (a) Exodus to Conquest”, Fig. 12) http://creation.com/the-times-of-the-judges-mdash-the-archaeology-exodus-to-conquest
or, for Sodom, the more northerly Middle Bronze Age site of Tell [Tall] el-Hammam (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3270999/Has-Biblical-city-Sodom-Monstrous-site-Jordan-matches-descriptions-area-destroyed-God.html)
Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira
Bryant Wood appears to consider the identification of these two sites as, respectively, Sodom and Gomorrah, to be a “conclusion” that is “inescapable” (“The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah”) (http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx),
Looking for the Sites
Sodom and Gomorrah were two of five cities referred to in Scripture as the Cities of the Plain. From references to the “plain of the Jordan” (Gn 13:10), “the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea)” (Gn 14:3) and Abraham looking down to see the Cities of the Plain from the area of Hebron (Gn 19:28), it is clear that the cities were located in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. Since the mountains come close to the shore on both the east and west, the cities must have been located either north or south of the Dead Sea. Various commentators over the centuries have suggested locations both north and south (Mulder 1992: 101 102). The reference to “bitumen pits” in Genesis 14:10, however, tips the scale in favor of a southern location (Howard 1984). Bitumen (a natural petroleum product similar to asphalt) was commonly found in the shallow southern basin of the Dead Sea in antiquity. (Bilkadi 1984; 1994; Clapp 1936a: 901–902; 1936b: 341–342).
One popular theory, repeated yet today, is that the Cities of the Plain were located in the plain south of the Dead Sea and later covered by the waters of the southern basin, never to be seen again. The level of the Dead Sea has receded substantially in recent years, causing the southern basin to dry up. (2) Extensive exploration and activity in the area has produced no evidence to indicate that there were ancient sites there (Rast 1987a: 193).
It wasn’t until 1973 that solid archaeological evidence for locating the Cities of the Plain was found. At that time an archaeological survey of the area southeast of the Dead Sea was conducted by Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub in conjunction with their work at Bab edh-Dhra, an Early Bronze (ca. 3300–2000 BC) site on the east side of the Lisan peninsula.(3) Rast and Schaub discovered four additional sites south of Bab edh-Dhra, which they suggested might be related to the Cities of the Plain of the Old Testament (Rast and Schaub 1974). Subsequent excavations at Numeira, 13 km (8 mi) south of Bab edh-Dhra, have verified its close affinity with Bab edh-Dhra. ….
Even though the locations of three of the Cities of the Plain remain elusive, evidence is strong that the two most important, Sodom and Gomorrah, have been found.
Identifying the Sites
Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira are the only known inhabited towns in the region of the Dead Sea between ca. 3300 and 900 BC. Moreover, Bab edh-Dhra is the largest site from the pre-Hellenistic period in the area (Rast 1987b: 46). The conclusion that these sites are associated with the Cities of the Plain is inescapable (Rast 1987a: 190–94; 1992: 561).
The site to the north of Numeira, Bab edh-Dhra, would then be Sodom. Since Bab edh-Dhra is the largest ancient ruin in the region it stands to reason that it should be identified as Sodom, the most famous of the Cities of the Plain. It was occupied throughout the Early Bronze Age for a period of over 1,000 years.
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According to the above, “… it is clear that the cities were located in the vicinity of the Dead Sea”. But I think that we can be far more precise than that, thanks to the editorial work of holy Moses. There was no Dead (or Salt) Sea, in fact, when Pentapolis was flourishing in the fertile Valley of Siddim. The Dead Sea was an effect of the catastrophe that destroyed those cities and turned the erstwhile Valley of Siddim into a Sea of death.
I explained this as follows in my article:
Editor Moses Added Vital Geographical Clues for the Genesis Flood and Sodom
So Moses, whilst carefully preserving the original patriarchal histories, had also up-dated these, as editors do. For example, he provided new names in cases where older ones had since been replaced.
And, in so doing, Moses has allowed for us to know exactly where Sodom was located.
Genesis 14 apparently was in particular need of an update. Hence we are advised by Moses:
Bela (that is, Zoar) (vv. 2, 8);
Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea) (v. 3);
En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh) (v. 7);
Hobah (that is, north of Damascus) (v. 15);
Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley) (v. 17).
And what has all this to do with Sodom?
Well it is to the fertile valley region of the Valley of Siddim (v. 3), where Sodom was located, that Lot had chosen to dwell (Genesis 13:10-11): “ Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east”. According to (http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/20020708.htm): “Lot chose to live in the Valley of Siddim because it was then “well watered everywhere like the garden of The Lord” …”. By the time of the Exodus, though, we find, the Valley of Siddim, shockingly, had virtually ceased to be. Moses tells the Israelites that it was now “the Salt Sea” (the Dead Sea), a most desolate region – sometimes described as the ‘entrance to Hell’.
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This fact alone probably renders worthless such favoured locations as the above-mentioned sites for Sodom, and would incline me to favour, instead, a search along the following lines, at the bottom of the Dead Sea (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/141132):
However, some archaeological evidence has emerged that indicates that the site could be on the east bank of the Dead Sea, with two sites in Jordan – Bab edh-Dhra, and Numeira, both considered viable candidates. The Jordanian-Russian search will center on Bab edh-Dhra, which also has several Christian monuments.
According to Madani, further evidence that the cities remains are located on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea came after recent NASA photographs of the area indicated that the bottom of the sea is littered with debris and objects not found in other bodies of water. According to the Jordanian, Israel recently sent a submarine down into the Dead Sea in an attempt to explore the bottom of the sea, but discovered that the objects in the NASA photos were on the Jordanian side of the sea. Jordan prevented the Israelis from searching over the border, and now Jordan is seeking to discover what it believes are the remains of the cities by itself.
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Another hopeful, Steven Collins, believes that the site of Tell el-Hammam where he is involved matches “every Sodom criterion” (“Possible site of ancient Sodom yields more finds”): http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/june-2013/article/possible-site-of-ancient-sodom-yields-more-finds)
Now having completed the tenth season of excavations, an archaeological team headed by Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University, New Mexico, has unearthed a goldmine of ancient monumental structures and artifacts that are revealing a massive Bronze Age city-state that dominated the region of Jordan’s southern Jordan Valley, even during a time when many other great cities of the “Holy Land” region were either abandoned or in serious decline.
Known as Tall el-Hammam, Collins has been leading excavations at the imposing mound, or tel, since 2005.
“Very, very little was known about the Bronze Age in the Middle Ghor (southern Jordan Valley) before we began our excavations in 2005,” says Collins. “Even most of the archaeological maps of the area were blank, or mostly so. What we’ve got on our hands is a major city-state that was, for all practical purposes, unknown to scholars before we started our Project.”
Indeed, according to Collins, when comparing it with the remains of other nearby ancient cities, along with its prime location and dates of occupation, it emerges today as the best candidate for the lost city of Sodom—the infamous city that, based on the Biblical account, was destroyed by God in a fiery cataclysm because of its iniquity.
“Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text,” he says. “Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar (the Jordan ‘Disk’, or ‘well-watered plain’ in the biblical text) cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”
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This choice for Sodom, Tell el-Hammam, is perhaps an even worse fit than is Bab edh-Dhra for the geographical guideline as provided by Moses (Genesis 14:3), and it is archaeologically even more too late for Abram (Abraham) according to my:
Better archaeological model for Abraham
in which is completely rejected the current opinion that the patriarch Abraham belonged to the Middle Bronze Age.
Dr. John Osgood, the only one to establish a realistic and workable archaeology for Abraham – and indeed for much that follows his time (Exodus, Conquest, Judges) – has also managed to make complete sense of the Bab edh-Dhra complex. So I believe.
They are cities of Midian
In his “Times of the Judges …”, Osgood has well explained:
Region 3—The EB IV—MB I People of Trans Jordan: A Cultural Smorgasbord
Trans Jordan becomes a snare for archaeological interpretation since I believe any attempt to interpret the archaeology of EB IV—MB I in Trans Jordan is doomed to failure in ultimate analysis unless one takes cognisance of the biblical narrative of the Exodus and Conquest.
Numbers 21 fills in some fascinating history about Trans Jordan. The following facts emerge, from the north downwards (see Figure 10):
- The Amorite king, Og, ruled in Bashan in the far north.
- It appears that the original kingdom of Sihon, the Amorite, was just north of the Wadi Zerqa, known in the Bible as the River Jabbok (Numbers 21:24)
- It appears originally that the former king of Moab had ruled the area south of the River right down to the Wadi el Hasa (Wadi Zared)
- Prior to Israel conquest of this area, Sihon had conquered the area between the River Jabbok and the Arnon River from the former king of Moab. It appears, importantly for our discussion, that he did not totally drive out the Moabites from this area but they served him (Numbers 21:29, where captivity is mentioned).
- In the days of Israel’s conquest, Moab under Balak, king of Moab, was the territory between the Wadi el Hasa and Wadi Mujib (Arnon).
Figure 10. Map showing the territories of Bashan, Sihon and Moab. (See also Fig. 11).
The conquest by Israel of Trans Jordan extended from the Wadi Mujib right up north to include all the area of Bashan—in other words, all the area of Sihon and all the area of Og, king of Bashan. It explicitly did not include the main area of Moab, south of the Wadi Mujib (see Figure 10 again).
These facts will give us the following guide archaeologically (see Figure 11):
- The northern kingdom of Bashan should show evidence of Amorite civilization, here equated with EB III, which was ended by the MB I peoples, here called Israel.
- The area of Gilead north of the Jabbok River but south of Bashan should have exactly the same pattern as that of Bashan EB III superseded by MB I civilization, where Israel settled.
- The area between the Wadi Mijib (Arnon) and the Wadi Jabbok will show evidence of three phases, the lower phases representing Moabite culture, here defined as EB IV, a second layer representing Sihon’s civilization holding Moabites captive, here it will continue to be EB IV and then a third culture representing the Israelite conquerors (MB I).
- In Moab south of Wadi Mujib we will meet with an EB IV culture which has arisen from a previous EB III culture, and which will continue on in that vein without explicit conquest by the MB I people.
Figure 11. Table comparing the parallel development of Moabite and Amorite cultures, and Israelite conquest west of the Jordon River
This pattern (see Figure 11 again) is, in fact, exactly what we find from the archaeological reports presently at hand.
EB IV in Trans Jordan is, in fact, defined most clearly in the area of ancient Moab. It will, however, include a portion which was occupied by the group known as the Midianites mentioned in Number chapter 31. The area where these Midianites lived can logically be identified if one bears in mind that the Midianites were associated geographically with the Moabites, and close to Israel’s encampment north of Moab in such a way that the social intercourse with the Midianite women at Beth–Peor could occur. And if one bears in mind that when Moses lived in the northern Sinai–Negev region during his forty years of exile from Egypt, he came in contact with this Midianite group and married one of their women. Then clearly the only geographical spot where these Midianites could have lived is in the western portion of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, and perhaps at its southern end (see Figure 12). It is just there that the cities of Bab Ed–Dhra, Numeira, etc. have been excavated, all of which show signs of destruction at the end of EB I and subsequent poor repopulation by the EB IV people (here defined as Moabites).
These cities, five in all, have been suggested as possible candidates for Sodom and Gomorrah, the five cities of the plain. However, the narrative of Numbers 31, Moses’ attack on the Midianite cities, fits the details better, particularly when one views the nature of the destruction at these cities. It was not the type of geological destruction that the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah would suggest, but far closer to that which would be wrought by human agency.
The area between the Jabbok and the Wadi Mujib is the most interesting of these areas, especially as a number of sites have been excavated in this area providing consistent results, particularly at the sites of Iktanu and Tel Iskander.
Prag,8 while discussing Tel Iktanu, points to two phases, both particularly emphasising red coloured ceramics, essentially of an EB IV phase with similarities to the Moabite area EB IV, and also states that these red slipped or burnished pottery of Iktanu phase 1 and southern type are not to be found in the areas north of the Wadi Zerqa (Jabbok).
She saw the Jabbok as a border area, so that what in essence is occurring in this part of Trans Jordan is two phases of what might be called EB IV followed then by MB I, often built on different sites. Now this corresponds exceedingly well with the phases suggested for this area (see Figure 11 again), which was conquered from the former king of Moab by Sihon and then reconquered from Sihon by Israel.
Down in the south, however, the red burnished wares continue on through all phases:
“The essential point of interest for all these southern sites is that red slipped and burnished wares continued right through the pottery of early and late phases, though there does seem to be an increase in plain and non–red slip wares towards the end of the period at the expense of the red wares.” 8
However, north of the Jabbok or the Wadi Zerqa, we meet the situation where Middle Bronze I sites are often built straight on sites that previously had to have Early Bronze III habitation, the Early Bronze IV of the south now being absent.
“They indicate that in the region north of the Zerqa River in Trans Jordan, significant proportion of EB–MB sites (approximately half) were founded on the same position as a previous EB III or EB II settlement.”8
EB–MB in this discussion is the same as MB I. It is Kathleen Kenyon’s terminology.
The sites in the north consistently show the evidence of destruction at the end of EB III wherever excavations have occurred, and a supplanting by the MB I people, a picture that is thoroughly consistent with the biblical narrative of the– Exodus and Conquest. ….