The Search for Sodom

On Wednesday the 6th of May at 21.00pm, and Thursday the 7th of May at 13.00, an episode called “The Search for Sodom” in the series of “Secrets of the Bible” will be broadcast in the UK. This will be on Yesterday TV (Freeview Channel 19, Sky Channel 537), with the programme being available on UKTV Play service for the following week.

It tells the story of how Dr. Steven Collins found the location of the ancient city of Sodom. Steve Collins is dean of the College of Archaeology and Biblical History at TSW University, Albuquerque NM, USA.

Dr. Steven Collins pointing to the site of Tall el-Hammam on an aerial photograph displayed on Mount Nebo in 2009. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

I first met Steve in 1996 at the excavations of Kh. El-Maqatir, a site in Benjamin in the Land of Israel that the excavator, Dr. Bryant Wood, believes to be biblical Ai (Joshua 8). Steve has researched the geographical and archaeological evidence for the location of the biblical city of Sodom for almost two decades until he found the site of Tall el-Hammam, based on his reading of Genesis Ch. 13.

A view of Tall el-Hammam at the southern end of the Jordan Valley with the Upper Tall on the right and the Lower Tall on the left of the centre in the picture.

Genesis 13 contains many geographical pointers that tell us exactly where Sodom was located. This chapter tells us that Sodom was located east of Bethel/Ai (vs.11) and situated in the Plain of the River Jordan. The Hebrew word for “Plain” is kikkar– a flattish round area, geographically located at the southern end of the River Jordan. This round area can easily be seen on any map or satellite image of Israel.

The southern end of the Jordan Valley widens out into an almost circular area. This area is called in Gen.13 the Plain (kikkar – circle or disk) of Jordan. The Kikkar ends where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. The Cities of the Kikkar, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim were located in the eastern part of the Kikkar, as that is the area that can be seen from Bethel/Ai.
The view of the Kikkar from Bethel-Ai, looking east. Photo: Mike Luddeni
A reconstruction of Tall el-Hammam in the Middle Bronze Age. The excavator of the site, Dr. Steve Collins, has pointed out that the geographical data preserved in the Scriptures, especially in Gen. 13, strongly indicate the area northeast of the Dead Sea for the location of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim. Archaeologically speaking, Tall el-Hammam is also the best candidate, as its terminal destruction occurred in the Middle Bronze Age, which was the time of Abraham.

The TV program details one of the major finds in Tall el-Hammam, that being the gate mentioned in Genesis 19.1: “Lot sat in the gate”. The first evidence of the gate was found in 2012:

Steve (right) and I standing in the gate opening. Photo: Daniel Gallasini.

The remains of several towers, including a large flanking tower, made it possible to draw a preliminary reconstruction drawing of the facade of the gate of Sodom:

During the excavations of Tall el-Hammam in 2012, a large flanking tower (left) and entrance (centre) through the Middle Bronze Age city wall were found. The gatehouse behind the entrance was found the following year. This reconstruction drawing shows what the main gate of Tall el-Hammam would have looked like.

We expected to find a gatehouse with chambers during the digging season the following year. The gatehouse was indeed found, but instead of internal chambers, many column bases were discovered, giving this gatehouse an internal layout that was highly unusual in the Ancient Near East.

During the excavations of Tall el-Hammam in 2013, a large gatehouse with pillars was found behind the main entrance to the Middle Bronze Age city. This reconstruction drawing shows what the main gate of Tall el-Hammam would have looked like. The drawing shows a right angled pathway through the gatehouse with a space at the side where the elders and judges of the city would have congregated.

Many other exciting finds were made, such as melted potsherds and burnt skeletons, that testify to a terrible and fiery destruction, reminiscent of that described in Genesis 19. If you have the opportunity, “The Search for Sodom” is well worth watching!

11 thoughts on “The Search for Sodom”

  1. The repeat is at 1am Thursday rather than 13.00hrs I think.

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing this. I know it’s been broadcast in the USA already on AHC, and hopefully will be shown in other countries too.

  2. It looks as if it depends on the region of Freeview you have. It’s repeated at 1am, 1pm and 8pm on the 7th May, and there’s the +1 channel too on Sky!
    Lot’s of lovely TV programme.

  3. Hi Leen, I have a related question. When Abraham returns from defeating the invaders, the king of Sodom goes out to meet him. This meeting is said to take place at Salem, which I understand to be Jerusalem. Some older commentators (e.g., ISBE) put it somewhere closer to Sodom: as far as I can see, simply because Salem is a fair way from Sodom. I don’t see that this defeats the Jerusalem identification, but would be interested in your comments. Further, the meeting is said to take place in the king’s dale. Am I right in locating this on the southern side of the city? There are a number of biblical references to gardens, vineyards, etc in this area where the steps go down from the city of David.

  4. Michael, as far as I know, the identification of Salem with Jerusalem has not been questioned in archaeological circles. Internal scriptural evidence also equates Salem with Zion/Jerusalem: Psa. 76:2 “His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion” (ESV). The meeting between Melchizedek and Abraham took place in the Kedron Valley, probably near the Gihon Spring, as that is the logical route for Melchizedek to go down to this meeting place (the steps that go down from the City of David belong to a later period). Later on, Absalom erected a pillar in the King’s Dale (2Sam. 18:18). Although the monument called Absalom’s Pillar, which stands in the Kedron Valley today, has nothing to do with Absalom, its location still reflects this tradition. For further description and photograph, see: Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer, “Jerusalem – The Temple Mount, a Carta Guide Book”, pp.14,15.

  5. A fascinating programme, despite the doom-laden musical soundtrack! Interesting to learn a bit more about Steve Collins’ background in anthropology etc too.

  6. And here I’ve always thought it was the southern part of the Dead Sea. You learn something new every day.

  7. Good Day:

    I am a Netflix fan and I watch Secrets of the Bible Episode called The Search for Sodom. Today is Nov.28th, 2016 and I live in Pennsylvania. I thank Dr. Collins for his perseverance in locating Sodom. It was very informative. I am a widow age 59 and I work part time and this series brings to life many of the secrets and total truths in the bible. Thank you and Dr. Reitmeyer (?) I am unsure of the correct spelling of his name.

    Regards,

    The Black Widow of PA

  8. Many thanks to Dr. Collins and Dr. Ritmeyer for their hard work and informative presentation. I am an avid watcher of the AHC channel and have watched this episode of The Bible’s Greatest Secrets many times (comes on nearly every Sunday recently). For fifty years I puzzled at how Abraham kept running down to the southern end of the Dead Sea chasing and meeting people when the logical reading clearly placed the events to the north of the Dead Sea. I did notice the flat circular topography of that area thinking it would make traversing it easier. Also puts the cities of Amman and Moab, and traditional Lot’s Cave, within walking distance. My current question surrounds Lot’s wife. Her death doesn’t seem to square with a meteoric air burst or even a nuclear burst. Is there any recent speculation surrounding her death that can supplement faith and fact?

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