Monday, April 7, 2014

A Cautionary Note about Collins' Sodom

Is this the location of Biblical Sodom?

Alice C. Linsley

Has Steven Collins found the site of Biblical Sodom? After eight years of archaeological discovery in the Jordan Disk he believes he has, and if he is correct the conventional dating of the events of Genesis and Exodus must be revised.

Collins' argument is based on three main assertions. First he asserts that the Hebrew word "kikkar" (feminine noun) can only be applied to the wide circular area of the southern Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea where Tall el-Hammam is located. Genesis 13:10 says that Abraham and Lot saw "all the valley of the Jordan."

In Hebrew this reads, "kikkar hayarden" and Collins insists that this refers to the Jordan Disk, not the Valley of Siddim. He attempts to reinforce this with these additional claims: the area is visible from the region between Bethel and Ai where Abraham had pitched his tent; the area had bitumen, and the battle of the kings which took plain in the Valley of Siddim would have been fought as far away from Abraham's home as possible. Genesis 14:3 states that the kings fought "in the valley of Siddim." At Tall el-Hammam, Collins argues and his team excavated "numerous vessels spanning a thousand years with interiors stained and/or coated with bitumen."

Collins' claim has received much attention from scholars who refer to Tell-el-Hammam as the "Sodom of the north." However, he was not the first to suggest this possibility. In the late 19th century Tristram, Conder, Merrill and Thomson made a case for a location north of the Dead Sea in the southern Jordan Valley.

Tall el-Hammam is located about 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea in the Jordan Disk, or "the Kikkar" (ring, disk, circle). This is a wide circular area of the southern Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea. Exodus 25:11 kikar zahav tahor = circle of pure gold

The Jordan Disk was home to many fortified Middle Bronze Age occupations, including Tall Nimrin, Tall Kafrayn and Tall el-Hammam. Tall el-Hammam is the largest of these. Situated on a major ancient trade route, it enjoyed prosperity with numerous satellite towns. The site has had a long history of occupation including the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods and the Bronze Ages (3600-2000 BC). The city was surrounded by dolmens and cave and shaft tombs, and agricultural lands to the west. The importance of the site is indicated by the 6-meter thick Early Bronze Age (3600-2350 BC) ramparts that surrounded the city (see image below).

Collins writes that "Tall el-Hammam’s necroscape is much larger and more elaborate than the southern cemeteries, with thousands of cave and shaft tombs, standing stones, stone circles, henges, menhirs and dolmens spread over several square kilometers around Tall el-Hammam. There's even evidence of menhir alignments with astronomical significance, and alignments with the central sacred precinct of lower Tall el-Hammam."

Many regard Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13-19) to be "Cities of the Plain," and based on Rabbinic sources, Sodom and Gomorrah have been linked with Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira. Collins argues that these sites are too early and in the wrong place. He believes that the evidence of a Middle Bronze Age destruction of Tall el-Hammam with the ensuing 500-year occupational hiatus strongly supports his theory that Tall-el-Hammam is Sodom. However, both the Jordan Disk and the valley of Siddim sustained equally ancient populations. The ramparts at Bab edh-Dhra in the south were started circa 3000 B.C. and the city thrived between 2500 and 2100. This corresponds closely to the time when Abraham would have been living in Canaan (c. 2050-1984).

The 1965-1968 cemetery excavations of Paul Lapp at Bab edh-Dhra cleared twenty seven shaft tombs with forty seven chambers in cemetery A, six tombs with single chambers on the slopes of cemetery C, and thirty shaft tombs with seventy three chambers in areas A, C, F, and G. It is fascinating to note that the majority of the graves were circular (kikar) like the “pan graves” of Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors.

The Habiru

There is much in Collin's portrayal of Abraham and Lot's that is supported by other research. For example, he argues that Abram and Lot were 'Apiru  or Ha'biru (Hebrew) warlords who made treaties with rulers. The Habiru excelled metal work, water management and animal husbandry. They were also known as warriors and priests (especially the clan of Levi). In ancient texts the ruler-priest caste was associated with the seven visible planets/stars. The linguistic connection between the number seven and the word Habiru is evident in the Nilotic Luo word for seven: abiriyo. Joshua 6:4 speaks of seven priests who walk before the Ark, each carrying a ram's horn. Genesis 1:1–2:3 is the Priestly Source and the number seven permeates the narrative. The number seven also appears in the Priestly account of the flood (Gen. 7:2-8).

The Habiru originated in the Nile Valley. They dispersed across Arabia, and had shrine cities from Beersheba and Timna to Edom and north to Tall el-Hammam, the site that Collins claims to be Biblical Sodom.

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