A Night with Lot in Sodom: On Meteors and Memory
It’s a fascinating story: “A Tunguska-sized aerial explosion destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a Middle Bronze Age town in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea.
It is an academic and scientific article by Nature scientific reports by a whole team of researchers – starting with archaeologists, then adding physicists, geologists, metallurgists and a host of other “experts from multiple disciplines related to impacts and the like” (the article lists 21 co-authors).
But also: “The project is under the aegis of the School of Archeology, Veritas International University, Santa Ana, CA, and the College of Archeology, Trinity Southwest University, Albuquerque, NM. None of these schools are accredited. Veritas is the kind of outfit that announces an M.Div. in “apologetics” available online. Their archeology programs seem rather thin, the excavations of Tall el-Hammam serving as a platform for a parallel biblical-archaeological-tourist activity.
To get a sense of the perspective of these groups, consider this from the Veritas fundraising page for “Inner Circle Partners” of the dig:
The biblical story is under attack. Dr Collins and the TeHEP team are dedicated to presenting the impressive story that supports what the Bible teaches. Superior Critical Theory (HCT) has become a dominant school of thought because it denies the Old Testament. Imagine, many scholars are determined to indoctrinate students that King David, Solomon, and the Temple never existed! HCT teaches that “Moses did not write the Torah, and that most or all of the characters and events of the Old Testament, including Moses, probably did not exist at all but were simply fictions made up as propaganda in the aim to advance the religious and political agendas of Jewish writers, mainly between the 7th and 5th centuries BC. When we are able to definitively connect Tall el-Hammam to Biblical Sodom, the impact will be great and we would like you to share the journey with us.
“Dr. Collins” is Steven Collins, director of the “Doctorate in Archeology and Biblical History” program at Veritas. He received his own doctorate from… Trinity Southwest University. Collins has been on a quest to locate the biblical city of Sodom, and so, he hopes, prove that all of these biblical places are historically real and that all biblical stories are real history. And then all these arrogant critical theorists from all these arrogant accredited schools will have to take their hats off, implore forgive him and reassure him that they are wrong and that he is right, or something.
Collins has long written and published on this subject, largely in the Bible Research Bulletin (a post by, yes, Trinity Southwest). This is what led him to Tall el-Hammam – a site previously thought to be connected, instead, to the classical city of Livias or perhaps the biblical Beth-haram (see Joshua 13: 27).
But Collins is not one of the co-authors of this report in Nature. Nor, as far as I know, any of the other “biblical archeology” buffs from these two schools. The lead author is, I believe, a now retired professor of meteorology from Northern Arizona University. Last year, many authors have already collaborated on an article on a “cosmic impact in Abu Hureyra, Syria”. It was a much bigger impact, thousands of years ago, an impact that seems to have affected life all over the world.
I’m not sure the right folks at VIU and Trinity are happy with the conclusions this team of scientists came to based on data collected at their archaeological site. They may even see it as another “attack” on “the biblical records”. Here is the summary of the article, see if you can spot the problem:
We present evidence that in ~ 1650 BC. The proposed aerial explosion was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a fireball about 50 m wide exploded with about 1,000 times more energy than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. . A city-wide carbon and ash-rich destruction layer approximately 1.5 m thick contains maximum shock quartz concentrations (~ 5 to 10 GPa); molten pottery and mud bricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; spherules rich in Fe and Si; CaCO3 molten plaster spherules; and molten platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite and quartz. Heating experiments indicate temperatures above 2000 ° C. Amidst the devastation on the city side, the blast destroyed over 12m of the 4-5-story palace complex and enormous 4m-thick mud brick rampart, while causing extreme dislocation. and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans. An influx of salt from the aerial explosions (~ 4% by weight) produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture and caused an approximately 300 to 600 year-old abandonment of about 120 regional settlements within a radius of more than 25 km. Tall el-Hammam is possibly the second oldest city / town destroyed by a cosmic explosion / impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the first site with a written oral tradition (Genesis). Tunguska-wide air gusts can devastate entire cities / regions and therefore constitute a serious modern danger.
Scientists are focusing on the heat and outright destruction of this explosion – “1000 times more energy than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima“- but it is their dating of this impact that explodes any hope of making it a confirmation of” biblical history. “Put the destruction of” Sodom “- and therefore of Abraham’s life – until 1650 BCE cancels out the entire chronology of “biblical history,” bringing the Exodus so close that it almost collides with the reign of King David.
I think Dr Collins accepts this later date for Abraham, but hasn’t invested an extra half hour in his numerous YouTube lectures to see how he’s trying to make this work. In any case, the tortured speculation of Biblical literalists is nowhere near as interesting as the actual story presented by these 21 scientists in their article.
If they’re right – I’m not a meteorologist, astrophysicist, or metallurgist – then what we have here is evidence that a major city in the Middle Bronze Age was wiped off the map, almost instantly. No Pliny the Younger has escaped to provide a written account such as there was in Pompeii some 1,700 years later. And anyway, written accounts weren’t a thing yet.
But as the authors of this article themselves note, this spectacular destructive event is “perhaps” the source “of an oral tradition that has been [much later] written ”in this Genesis story. And that brings us back to something Philip Jenkins wrote under the name “The Ghosts of Stonehenge” and which we discussed here in an article on “Stonehenge, Yucca Mountain, and the Bible”:
How long can history and memory be preserved without any written record? And, even if we state that some residual memory might persist after several centuries, is there a way to separate these legitimate memories and stories from everything that has accumulated around them?
Even if our friends at Veritas Unaccredited do not want to accept it, the point is that the story of the destruction of Sodom and its neighboring “cities of the plains” in the book of Genesis has not been written for at least. a a thousand years after this ginormous bolide went Kaboom in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea.
As Jenkins said of Stonehenge, “the timescale is intimidating.” He illustrated the implausibility of such an unwritten memory:
Normally I am very skeptical when ancient or medieval writers claim to pass on older traditions, because they demonstrate so clearly how quickly accurate information fades. In eighth-century England, the author who wrote the poem The ruin describes the ruined Roman cities of the country in a way that shows he has no idea how they worked or what they actually did. That’s over a gap of only 400 years. … The biblical account of the conquest of Canaan several centuries ago describes the destruction of the city of Ai, a name which simply means “heap of ruins”. It was probably all the surviving memory of the site and its fate, and a story was made up as a result. Claims that an exact tradition can survive for more than a century or two without written continuity must be examined very carefully.
And yet here we have the enticing suggestion of some memory surviving much longer than a few centuries. It’s unlikely, but maybe not impossible, because it’s such a remarkable story. If what these scientists are saying is what really happened to Tall el-Hammam, then we should expect the story of this to spread and endure. Add to that the lingering effects of ‘hypersalinity’ inhibiting agriculture in the region that was once prosperous for centuries and you have a permanent reminder to keep the memory of this story alive.
The possibility that the story of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis may preserve a millennial memory of an actual cosmic event is fascinating to ponder. This is also – alas for Dr Collins et. Al. – far from evidence of, say, Lot’s historicity.
I don’t believe Lot is a historical figure. I don’t think that was what the author of this story was saying, or that it was something they wanted readers to believe. And, exhausting as it often can be, I’m always happy to have this argument with my “Bible literalist” friends.
If nothing else, such arguments provide a welcome distraction from that last sentence in the abstract of this scientific paper, the bit about how: “Tunguska-wide air blasts can devastate cities / regions whole and thus, pose a serious modern danger. ” Ouch.
* If I showed up for a week as a “volunteer” during an archaeological dig, I guess I would be torn between two impulses. On the one hand, I would like to dive in and get my hands dirty doing real archeology. But on the other hand, I would be horrified if they allowed someone as inexperienced as me to get it wrong and potentially start damaging the site.
Tall el-Hammam offers an added bonus as a potential site for your next vacation: it is one of the safest places in the world. A massive meteor exploded around 3,600 years ago, so the site is effectively pre-meteorized. What are the chances of it happening in exactly the same place?