Any book with the title Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City promises to be a sensational read. But a book about discovering the biblical city of Sodom must surely be just another crackpot’s wild theory, right? Wrong. Dr. Steven Collins is a veteran archeologist and he has plenty to say against the crackpots and misguided adventurers whose escapades in the Middle East pose as archeological discoveries. And while his claim that Sodom has been found is controversial, he does his best not to be overly sensational and claim more than the evidence warrants. Collins is not without his skeptics, but the case he builds, I believe, is painstakingly thorough, and in the end convincing.
I listened to an audio version of this book, read by Sean Runnette, available at christianaudio.com. And even without pictures and maps, I was enthralled by the tale. Collins, with the help of co-writer Latayne Scott, a professional writer, uses a variety of literary technicques to make a nearly decade-long project of digging holes in the sand sound interesting and engaging. He walks us through a day in a typical dig, describing the personality types and theological motives (or lack thereof) that people bring to such an undertaking. He uses flashback and personal anecdote, and then puts on his teacher’s hat as he assembles facts about archeology, dating, and the history of the Levant (the archeological term for Palestine).
An archeologist’s faith
I was struck by Collins’ faith, and how he is unashamed to use the Bible as a souce alongside other ancient Near Eastern texts, in his scientific method. And with the Bible being the sole historical record of the city of Sodom, Collins surveys in detail the various aspects of the Biblical record and applies that to his research. His attention to the text with its many geographical details, ultimately is what convinces me that Tall el Hammam in modern-day Jordan, is the site of the biblical Sodom.
Collins makes a convincing argument that Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah was located on the Kikkar, a plain near the Jordan river just to the north of the Dead Sea. And while he doesn’t find mysterious sulfur balls of the kind that lead to wild tales of supposed discovery, he does find an area bereft of any human civilization for 700 years after a sudden fiery end to what was a prominent culture.
There are problems and puzzling sides to his story, however. He defends a date which will not fit with an early date for the Exodus. Anyone familiar with OT evangelical theology should know that the question of dating the Exodus is not as simple as it may seem. Collins dates the fall of Sodom to around 1650 B.C. Now with some work, his date could fit with a late date for the Exodus, as accepted by many scholars. However his own advocacy of a middle date for the Exodus, based on historical synchronisms with the text makes the problem even thornier for Collins himself. In the context of his grappling with the chronology of his finds, he makes what I believe is an important observation. And in this particular case, I believe he may well be right.
Geography trumps chronology when you’re dealing with the ancient Near East and the Bible. That’s because there are a lot of variations in Near Eastern chronologies–with high, middle, and low versions that can vary thirty to fifty years at given points…. By comparison, geography is quite static. With few exceptions, it doesn’t move around…. Again, we begin with the text, and that’s how, using all the geographical markers in the story of Abraham, you invariably find Sodom located in the Kikkar of the Jordan, because that’s what Abraham and Lot saw when they were dividing the land between them. (pg. 130)
He goes on to argue for honorrific or symbolic numbers when it comes to the age of the patriarchs, but he also presents alternative views which could reconcile the dating with his find. He argues in the end that we cannot take the Bible “only literally” but must read it “authentically.”
Whether one agrees with his take on biblical chronology or not, you will have to grapple with the impressive geographical evidence that Collins marshalls from the text. It is clear that he respects and listens to the Bible’s text, and this very fact makes him a target of liberal scholars for his audacity to believe the Bible’s record could be true. By the end of the book it is clear that Collins isn’t out to make friends but to pursue the truth, and he believes his work has provided concrete evidence bolstering the belief that the Bible’s account of the destruction of Sodom is grounded in historical truth.
Collins explains why others have not looked for Sodom in this locale. It is chiefly due to theories that Sodom was under the Dead Sea or to be found on its southern shores. Ultimately these theories were based less on evidence than on unsubstantiated educated guesses from earlier and still renowned biblical archeologists. Further data has contradicted the assumption that Sodom was in the barren wasteland of the southern Dead Sea – which was never (during the time of the Biblical sodom) an Edenic paradise that was to woo Lot to pitch his tent there. And the fact that the Dead Sea is at its lowest depth in the last four thousand years, aruges against the idea that the cities are to be found in its depths.
The book ends with the most exciting find of all: pottery shards that are superheated to glass on one side, yet are perfectly normal pottery on the other. The conclusion of experts is that the shards were super heated and then cooled far too rapidly than would be expected by any typical human furnace or heating method known in ancient times. Extensive, independent research compares this to molten sand left over after nuclear experiments and the green glass found in the desert at times due to meteoric events. The best physical explanation is a meteor that burned up in the atmosphere leaving no crater, but still sending a fireball to earth (as in a documented case in Sieberia in the early 1900s). This may very well be concrete proof that the story of Sodom’s fiery demise as recounted in the Bible is true.
Collins hesitates to say more than what science can affirm, but he holds the biblical record to be true by faith. Along the way he presents an excellent example of how to hold true to Scripture and yet still seek to pursue a path of valid scientific inquiry.
The book reads well–mystery and history interwoven with the science of archeology. It will interest amateur archeologists and bible geeks, as well as history buffs. It can be understood by high schoolers as well and may spark an interest in biblical archeology in younger readers.
The audio quality on the ChristianAudio.com recording was superb. Downloading the book in any format is a breeze. And the narrator does an excellent job keeping the story fresh and alive, rather than dull and boring. And kudos to him for pronouncing all the difficult words with ease. A simple search at Amazon.com will supply many of the charts and maps that are missing in the audio book experience. I am sure you’ll find the audio book as much fun as the hardback version. Of course, like me, you may be enticed to purchase both versions after listening to the audio reading of the book.
About the authors
Dr. Steven Collins is Executive Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Biblical History, Dean of the College of Archaeology and Biblical History at Trinity Southwest University, and Visiting Professor of Archaeology at Veritas Evangelical Seminary.
Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the author of fourteen published books, including The Mormon Mirage.
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