Published: 3 January 2022

Tall el-Hammam And The Bible’s Chronology

The Bible's Chronology
Tall el-Hammam (Sodom)

How well does the date of the destruction of Tall el-Hammam line up with the Bible’s chronology for the destruction of Sodom? We’ve already considered that Tall el-Hammam is in the right place to be Sodom. It’s also been observed that Tall el-Hammam contains the right stuff to be Sodom. However, if Tall el-Hammam’s destruction was hundreds of years before or after the time of Abraham, it can’t be Sodom.

This is one reason why the site of Bab edh-Dhra, the ruin at the southern end of the Dead Sea, cannot be Sodom. This is beside the fact that the biblical text does not allow a southern Dead Sea location for Sodom. For about a century, Bab edh-Dhra has been the preferred choice of many archaeologists for Sodom. However, its destruction in 2350 BC occurred 400 years before the birth of Abraham. What’s more, Bab edh-Dhra’s destruction, and that of its neighbor city, Numeira, took place more that 250 years apart.[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bab_edh-Dhra#Causes_of_downfall;_Sodom_theory.[2]Collins, Steven; Scott, Latayne C.. Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City. (Kindle Location 1415). Howard … Continue reading The Bible says that the destruction of all the cities of the plain happened at the same time – during the time of Abraham.  

The scientific date of Tall el-Hammam’s destruction

There are several methods of dating an archaeological site. Pottery and carbon-14 dating methods have both been used at Tall el-Hammam. “Ceramic dating remains the most important and most accurate means of dating in the field of archaeology.”[3]Stripling, Scott. The Trowel and the Truth: A Guide to Field Archaeology in the Holy Land, 2017. 52. How does ceramic pottery help date an archaeological site?

Pottery styles changed over time in antiquity. Just as someone today can look at an automobile and determine its year of manufacture, a pottery expert can do the same. Unlike an automobile, pottery can’t give us an exact year, but rather a time period that a certain style was in use. Likewise, carbon dating isn’t exact enough to give a precise year. “Carbon-14 dating is normally accurate to within fifty years, but the further back in time that archaeologists probe, the more necessary it becomes to calibrate dates using other means.”[4]Ibid., 53. In other words, the older the specimen being examined, the less accurate C-14 dating becomes.

Dating estimates

The science team investigating the airburst event over the Jordan Valley estimate the destruction of Tall el-Hammam to be between 1750 – 1650 BC.[5]Bunch, Ted E., Malcolm A. LeCompte, A. Victor Adedeji, James H. Wittke, T. David Burleigh, Robert E. Hermes, Charles Mooney, et al. A Tunguska Sized Airburst Destroyed Tall El-Hammam a Middle Bronze … Continue reading Dr. Steven Collins’s estimate of the destruction is between 1800 – 1700 BC.[6]Collins, S. (7 March 2022). Troweling Down. TeHEP Update: Official Newsletter of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project. At present, it is not possible to be more precise about the date of the destruction. The variances in the dating methods (pottery, C-14, etc.) do not allow a more precise date. This is why the estimate for Tall el-Hammam’s destruction could vary by over a century.

The Bible’s date for Sodom’s destruction

Dating biblical events prior to the time of kings David and Saul is difficult. For this reason, Bible scholars have different opinions about the dates of important events such as the exodus, Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, etc. At present, it seems impossible for Bible students to arrive at a consensus on the date of Sodom’s destruction. Regardless, my understanding of the Bible’s chronology leads me to the conclusion that Sodom’s destruction happened around 1850 BC. 

1 Kings 6:1 holds the key to determining the dates of a number of events which took place in the book of Genesis. This verse tells how long it was between the exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple.

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he [Solomon] began to build the house of the LORD. (1 Kings 6:1 ESV)

Rare scholarly consensus

We can precisely date the reign of Solomon and correlate it with a modern calendar. Working backwards, we can get a really good idea of the dates of certain prior events. Scholars have determined that Solomon began to build the first temple in 967 BC. Impressively, there is scholarly consensus on this date. 

How scholars have been able to arrive at this date is an interesting story all by itself. That is a story for another time, but suffice it to say, the date was determined by historical synchronisms with events in Assyria and Egypt. It even involves correlating solar eclipses recorded by the ancient Assyrians with modern astronomical calculations![7]Kitchen, Kenneth A. “How We Know When Solomon Ruled,” Biblical Archaeology Review 27, no. 5 (2001): 32–37, 58.[8]Thiele, Edwin Richard. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.

I Kings 6:1 says the first temple’s construction commenced in the 480th after the exodus. This would date the exodus to 1446 BC. Note that only 479 years had elapsed; they were in the 480th year when temple construction began. God gave the law at Mount Sinai in the same year of the exodus and Galatians 3:16-17 tells us that God made the promise to Abraham 430 years earlier. 

We know that Abraham was seventy-five when God made the promise to him (Gen 12:4). We also know that Abraham was ninety-nine when Sodom was destroyed (Gen. 17-18). Knowing these things, we can calculate the date of Sodom’s destruction and it turns out to be 1852 BC.

Biblical Chronology of Sodom's destruction.

Uh Oh!

So, things aren’t quite in alignment. The Tall el-Hammam science team estimates that the earliest date of destruction was 1750 BC, and perhaps as late as 1650 BC. Collins’s estimate puts the earliest date at 1800 BC. The Bible’s chronology indicates that Sodom’s destruction happened around 1850 BC. We have a discrepancy of 50 years at best and 200 years at worst. How does this impact Tall el-Hammam’s identification as Sodom?

Don’t forget that the dating methods used in archeology are estimates. In spite of the uncertainty, archaeologists tend to feel very certain of their dating estimates. In fact, Dr. Steven Collins is so certain of the dating estimates for Sodom’s destruction that he has concluded scholars have misinterpreted the Bible’s chronology! He thinks the patriarchal dates/numbers in the Bible are symbolic or honorific and not literal.[9]Collins, Steven; Scott, Latayne C.. Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City. (Kindle Location 2254). Howard … Continue reading Granted, there are things about the ages and genealogies in the Bible we don’t have a full grasp of. However, I find the biblical chronology laid out above to be fairly simple and straightforward. Future discoveries and subsequent dating refinements will reveal if archaeologists’ present confidence in their dating estimates are justified.

Can Tall el-Hammam be Sodom?

Even though there is a current date discrepancy, I am convinced that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom. The geography matches the Bible. The artifacts and means of destruction match the Bible. We cannot ignore or dismiss these facts. The evidence is too compelling to allow any other conclusion.

Why am I comfortable with Tall el-Hammam’s identification as Sodom given the date discrepancy? To keep things in perspective, we are talking about events that happened 3,700 years ago. Dating things that long ago is not a trivial task and there are uncertainties. I consider half a century to be in the chronological ballpark. Even though the scientific and biblical dates are off by 50 years (or more), I am confident that Dr. Steven Collins has discovered Sodom. Future discoveries may help close the gap. We still have much to discover and learn about the world of the ancient Near East.

We don’t know what we don’t know

There are about 30,000 sites of antiquity in Israel. The vast majority of them have never been excavated and analyzed.[10]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_of_Israel Of the thousands of excavations archaeologists have conducted in Israel, only a small percentage have fully published reports.[11]https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-archaeology-in-israel What this all means is that there are unpublished findings and a great deal of discoveries waiting to be made. We don’t know enough at this point to say the dating methods are right and our methods of biblical interpretation are wrong!

I believe that as time goes forward and our knowledge of these ancient ruins improve, the dating discrepancy between the Bible and the scientific teams will disappear. While the archaeologists may be confident in their current dating estimates, I think the jury is still out. We don’t know what we don’t know. 

Archaeology supports the Bible

It has been said that no archaeological discovery has ever contradicted the Bible. I am confident that in time, archaeology will show that Sodom’s destruction took place exactly when the Bible says it happened. Dr. Steven Collins will go down in history as the man who discovered Sodom. 

If you’d like more information about this topic, I have created a video playlist on my YouTube channel of Dr. Collins’s talks about Tall el-Hammam. There are hours of videos to watch. Enjoy.

References

References
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bab_edh-Dhra#Causes_of_downfall;_Sodom_theory.
2 Collins, Steven; Scott, Latayne C.. Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City. (Kindle Location 1415). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.
3 Stripling, Scott. The Trowel and the Truth: A Guide to Field Archaeology in the Holy Land, 2017. 52.
4 Ibid., 53.
5 Bunch, Ted E., Malcolm A. LeCompte, A. Victor Adedeji, James H. Wittke, T. David Burleigh, Robert E. Hermes, Charles Mooney, et al. A Tunguska Sized Airburst Destroyed Tall El-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age City in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. Scientific Reports 11, no. 1 (September 20, 2021): 18632.
6 Collins, S. (7 March 2022). Troweling Down. TeHEP Update: Official Newsletter of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project.
7 Kitchen, Kenneth A. “How We Know When Solomon Ruled,” Biblical Archaeology Review 27, no. 5 (2001): 32–37, 58.
8 Thiele, Edwin Richard. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.
9 Collins, Steven; Scott, Latayne C.. Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City. (Kindle Location 2254). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_of_Israel
11 https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-archaeology-in-israel