CSI Hammam: The Fifth Season of Investigating a Biblical City

Share/recommend this article:

Excerpt The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project is a joint scientific project between Trinity Southwest University’s College of Archaeology & Biblical History and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. TeHEP is a multi-year study focusing on the relationship of this immense and strategically-located site within its ancient socio-cultural, economic and political context... Continue reading

Related Articles
Like this artice?

Our Ministry relies on the generosity of people like you. Every small donation helps us develop and publish great articles.

Please support ABR!

Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover & PayPal

Modern Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) carefully observes, measures, photographs and analyzes contemporary crime scenes in an attempt to reconstruct what happened at that location in the recent past.  Archaeological excavations take the same multidisciplinary approach to gathering evidence at an ancient site1.  Starting with the observable facts of the site’s natural geographical, topographical and environmental situation, archaeology ultimately attempts to identify each stratum of occupation and human activity, usually by digging a series of scientifically controlled excavation squares.  The result is a proposed reconstruction of what transpired at that location during every period of activity at the site.  With the addition of ancient written texts, including the Bible, researchers can often provide evidence as amazingly technical and precise as their modern CSI counterparts.  

Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) and Archaeological Site Investigation (ASI)

The Tall el-Hammam2 Excavation Project (TeHEP) is a joint scientific project between Trinity Southwest University’s College of Archaeology & Biblical History (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA) and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. TeHEP is a multi-year study focusing on the relationship of this immense and strategically-located site within its ancient socio-cultural, economic and political context. 

Typical of archaeological research, our own “ASI” (Archaeological Site Investigation) centers on a large ancient city, called today Tall el-Hammam in the southern Jordan River Valley, about 9 miles northeast of the Dead Sea.  Archaeological evidence indicates it represents the largest Bronze Age site in the whole region (and possibly in all of Jordan).  The tall proper (including both upper and lower) spreads over almost 90 acres, all apparently within the ancient city’s fortifications.  Situated in a 100+ acre fertile triangular area against the foothills of the Jordanian plateau to the east, the site is bounded by almost perennial wadis to the north and south, with their confluence in the west.  Surveys and excavations suggest a general occupational footprint throughout most of this area from as far back as the Chalcolithic Period through the Middle Bronze Age (some 1,500 years).  Significant later occupation on many parts of the site has also been identified during the late Iron Age and Roman periods. 

Tall el-Hammam’s geographical location, archaeological remains and massive size suggest it was an active participant in much of biblical history – Old and New Testaments.  Precisely what it was named during each period is still under discussion, but the possibilities can be summarized as following (I have outlined the biblical connections in an earlier article4).  It was a major city from earliest times and may be one of the oldest cities mentioned in the Bible, in the Table of Nations (Gn 10).  It is TeHEP's working hypothesis that Tall el-Hammam was Sodom from those earliest days to the time of Abraham, well over 1,500 years.  After its Middle Bronze Age destruction, and with no evidence of occupation for over 500 years, it may have been the site of Abel Shittim (“meadow of the acacia trees”) at the time of Moses.  During the Iron Age, a city was built on the upper tall, and it is a reasonable candidate to be the capital of Solomon’s twelfth administrative district – within eyesight of the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem, Solomon’s capital.  In New Testament times, a new city arose around the base of the talls and may have the eastern extension of Abila or even Livias (Julias), the capital of King Herod Antipas’ Perea.  Finally, Tall el-Hammam may be one of the unnamed sites on the famous Madaba map.  Admittedly, this one site fitting every one of these identifications seems unlikely, but it must be considered as a reasonable candidate for each at this point. 

Whatever the precise biblical connections turn out to be, it is quite apparent that ancient Tall el-Hammam was a significant Bronze Age city-state.  It likely controlled as much as 125 sq miles of territory, stretching from the hills in the east and south while bordering the Dead Sea to the south and the Jordan River to the west.  From the western acropolis of the upper city, where a Bronze Age palace complex was located, the kings who ruled from Tall el-Hammam had direct line-of-sight contact with virtually all their domain.  

After Season Five, the 66-yard long Tall el-Hammam Trench LA.28

In the previous four seasons5 we were able to identify elements of the city’s defensive system from the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze and Iron Ages, circling the upper tall.  Within the city’s defenses we also excavated monumental structures (palaces) and common houses from each of these periods, as well.  This year’s major focus was on clarifying the city’s fortification around the lower tall, centering on Trench LA.28.  I am summarizing from our fifth year Season Activity Report to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (Collins et al 2010), especially evidence from that 10-square, 66-yard long trench.    

The Early Bronze Age Defensive Fortification System

A very consistent line of stone blocks clearly representing the inner face of a city wall could be seen on the surface along the southern side of the lower tall.  Scholars have long assumed it was the Early Bronze city wall and we did likewise.  Last season we excavated this inner face to below its base, about 5ft deep.  This season we were having trouble finding its outer face, until we realized that we were working with the remains of two different walls from two different periods. 

At the conclusion of this year’s excavation, we could identify an approximately 13ft thick Middle Bronze city wall built over and inside an earlier Early Bronze city wall which turned out to be 17ft thick.  It was constructed with a base of stone boulders, five or six courses high, and up to four courses of mudbricks above that – still standing to over 6ft. The absolutely stunning thing is that it was all sitting just below the surface and had been there just like that for almost 4,000 years!  

TeHEP dig director, Dr. Steve Collins, and the author standing on top of what remains of the Early Bronze city wall, with the Early Bronze roadway in the foreground.

Carefully ASI excavating at the base of this Early Bronze wall brought even greater insights about the ancient city.  The first thing we recognized was a hard-packed mud road surface carefully constructed against the wall’s outer stone foundation and gently sloping away for at least 16ft.  It appeared they were both constructed and in use at the same time.   

Further investigation of the Early Bronze wall indicated it had been constructed in two distinct building phases.  Built in conjunction with the road surface during Early Bronze 2, it consisted of inner and outer wall faces of stone boulders and the space between filled with a mudbrick core.  The entire wall (17ft thick) was topped by a mudbrick superstructure. 

Evidently that wall was destroyed and rebuilt later in the Early Bronze Age.  This rebuild started just above the original stone foundation which the builders leveled with one or two courses of mudbricks and four or five courses of stone.  So this rebuild was the top of the wall we found still standing.  The roadway continued to be refurbished and re-used for hundreds of years. 
This was a critical point of clarification for us.  Last season, we were unsettled by the size of the stone boulders we found in that inner face wall’s construction.  It “felt” more like typical Middle Bronze boulder-and-chink construction than Early Bronze.  As it turned out, this wasn’t the EB wall we thought it was (but more on this wall line later). 

In Trench LA.28, the TeHEP team is sifting excavated dirt in the foreground (above) with the ancient mudbrick superstructure of the city wall in the upper right.  See a close up of those mudbricks (below), still standing just below the present ground surface.

The Early Bronze Age City Gate

Trench LA.28, where we excavated the city wall, was cut perpendicular (north/south) to the wall line.  This trench of typical archaeological squares was the standard 5m (16ft) in width.  We chose this particular location because we could see that original city wall inner face on the surface, along with stone house foundations inside the city and additional parallel stone wall lines on the outside.  It seemed like a good place to ASI a number of interesting features, but we had no idea just how significant this very location along the city wall would be. 

As if the finds already described weren’t enough – believe it or not – along the east edge of our trench we also found a gate in the Early Bronze city wall!  Not substantial in size, just over 4ft wide and straight through the wall, it was clearly constructed in conjunction with the original Early Bronze wall and then reused in the later Early Bronze period.  That even helps understand the hard-packed mud road area on the outside.  This would have been a well used location for people to congregate and maybe even a bit of a market place.

Later, the outer face of the gate opening was blocked with a solid stone wall line and the gate passageway was backfilled with mudbrick material.  We are guessing this may have been done in the Intermediate Bronze Age or Middle Bronze 1 periods, but it will take coring the blocking wall in the future to be sure. 

While this gate was not large in size or monumental in construction, it was an important part of the Early Bronze city fortification system.  It is reasonable to assume this was not a main city gate and there may have been as many as four or five such gates in the city’s defensive wall.  While the later Intermediate or Middle Bronze 1 blocking of this gate indicates it was no longer in use, the wall line and the outer street against the wall continued to be used.    

TeHEP dig director, Dr. Steve Collins, and the author standing on top of what remains of the Early Bronze city wall.  Notice the wall’s full width and the Early Bronze gateway behind and to the left of Collins.  “Dirt” in the foreground is actually the base of the wall’s mudbrick superstructure.  Remains of the Middle Bronze city wall are seen on the far left.

Middle Bronze Age Fortification System

While we didn’t really see it as we were digging everything out (even CSI misses some things the first time around!), after we had excavated the 5ft of debris from present ground level down to the roadway outside of the city wall, we had another major surprise. 

Very clearly in the western side of the excavation square (in ASI we call the side of the square a “balk”) you could see that the roadway was deliberately covered by different layers of fill all the way to the present ground surface.  This filling was literally piles of various kinds of materials—all engineered-fill with consistent pottery from every period, beginning with Chalcolithic right through to Middle Bronze.  In ASI research, the latest dated pottery is the earliest date the material could have been put there.  It became clear to us that Middle Bronze builders built their own city wall by first filling in the road area up to what was left of the Early Bronze city wall and then constructed their own defenses above.   

Trench LA.28 showing the inside face of the Middle Bronze stone city wall.  The later Early Bronze city wall is just behind it and the two actually look blended together from this angle.  But see the Early Bronze city gate with stone blocking along the outer face, center left.  The mounds of dirt at the top of the photo are our dirt dump from Trench LA.28.

Further ASI support to this interpretation came when we traced a hard-packed mud street inside the city which abutted the inside face of the Middle Bronze stone city wall.  This street sealed against a well-dated Middle Bronze stone house foundation on one side and against the facing boulders of the city wall on the other.  All three were apparently contemporaneous in both construction and usage.

The stone pile, just beneath and to the right of the red/white meter stick, is the remains of a Middle Bronze house foundation.  The wall of large stones going deep into the square on the right is the inner face of the Middle Bronze city wall.  The 3ft wide dirt walkway between them is all that is left of the Middle Bronze city street connecting the two stone structures.

So now we had the Middle Bronze stone house foundations, an inner roadway and the inside face of the Middle Bronze city wall.  These were wonderful finds – but the season wasn’t over and we just kept extending our excavation trench of squares further outside (south of) the city wall and past the hard-packed outer road.  In the end, we uncovered the full width of the entire Middle Bronze fortification system – and it was far more extensive than we ever dreamed.  

It will sound a bit technical (but it is good ASI stuff!) and I want you to get a feel for the vastness of the Middle Bronze city fortifications we found at Tall el-Hammam this season.  From inside (north) to the outside (south) it consisted of the following elements:

a) The 13ft thick stone boulder constructed city wall (originally topped by a mudbrick superstructure of which we found nothing) built over engineered fill, placing the bottom Middle Bronze stone course at the same level as the remaining top course of the former Early Bronze city wall;

b) The entire 17ft thick Early Bronze city wall and 16ft wide outer road were also covered with that engineered fill.  This fill extended to a parallel 4ft thick stone stabilizer wall;

c) Laid mudbricks, representing the Middle Bronze exterior defensive rampart, extend from that wall further south to another parallel stone stabilizer wall; (d) and then more mudbrick and another wall still further to the south; (e) and then bits of mudbrick were found out to the edge of a bedrock scarp.  

All this laid mudbrick created a sloping defensive rampart (much of which was built above the purposely deposited fill) extending out from the city wall. Taken together, these features (including the Middle Bronze stone city wall) extend over 100ft.  That would be a 100ft+ defensive fortification close to 4,000 years old, and most of it started appearing just beneath the present ground surface!  It is still hard for me to imagine that it has been sitting there all this time and no one had any idea.  The features of our Middle Bronze fortification system should offer important new data for understanding Middle Bronze Age defenses elsewhere.

Chalcolithic Houses  

We reached bedrock a bit over a foot below the Early Bronze roadway. Sitting on the bedrock were remnants of what appear to be two Chalcolithic broadhouses. We excavated the foundation trench for one of them and it was cut into the rather soft bedrock, containing only Chalcolithic sherds. It appears to also have been refurbished later, in Early Bronze 1.  Next year we will completely excavate inside both houses using micro techniques to understand what activities had taken place there over 5,000 years ago.   

Chalcolithic broadhouse stone foundation with Early Bronze 1 rebuild above.  This house was covered by the later Early Bronze roadway outside the city wall and gate.

Dig Director Collins noted that we had evidence of occupation in this area, for all intents and purpose, continuously from the Chalcolithc/Early Bronze 1 houses – with no evidence of erosion overlaying them – right into the later Early Bronze road and city wall phase.  Chalcolithic and Early Bronze 1 settlements are known elsewhere to not typically be fortified and city fortifications are known to have generally begun in Early Bronze 2.  But the virtual no significant lapse in time between them here at Hammam was a bit surprising.

The original city wall appears to have been constructed above part of at least one of the houses.  But why did the site’s inhabitants decide it was necessary to build the wall in the first place?  It also begs the question – who could command the power, authority and resources to undertake such a monumental task.  While this phenomenon occurred at enough sites during this time period that scholars have already recognized a trend, we can only speculate about the people or the plans here at Tall el-Hammam.

Continuous Occupation – Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age

Putting all this good ASI evidence together from Trench LA.28 suggests no hint of any occupational break or any evidence of erosion overlaying any feature in this part of Tall el-Hammam from the Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age.  Fill dumped in top of the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze 1 houses leveled that area for construction of the Early Bronze 2 city wall and roadway. Above the roadway, piles of fill again leveled the area as a base for the Middle Bronze city wall.  Even though there is evidence for significant destruction during a couple of periods (seen along Trench LA.28 inside the city), the inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam seemed to regroup quickly and rebuild all through the Bronze Age.

A Thumbnail ‘History’ of Tall el-Hammam.  The west balk of Trench LA.28P on the lower tall at Tall el-Hammam indicating continuous occupation at the site from the Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age.

So, while the site continued to be occupied throughout a couple of millennia, occupational changes still occurred and are evident in the archaeological record.  The changes are sometimes as simple as a decision to start new construction or renovate something old – such as the decision to build the first city wall in the Early Bronze Age.  But, at least three periods of occupation at Bronze Age Tall el-Hammam appeared to end in destruction, based on the evidence.  The cause of those destructions is unclear – possibly natural disaster, human error or even war.  All we know for sure, at this point, is that it happened and the city was quickly rebuilt again each time – until the last one. 

Sunset at Tall el-Hammam.  The acropolis of the Middle Bronze Age palace on the upper tall is silhouetted against the Dead Sea.



Whether in the field digging or back home processing finds between dig seasons, the TeHEP team continues to do our own ASI (Archaeological Site Investigation), utilizing the same scientific discipline, rigor and even technology of modern CSI.  It is my privilege to be part of the excavation team here. 

Tall el-Hammam is an amazingly large site with an incredible amount of archaeological features and artifacts – many found right on or just below the surface.  Finds here will provide greater understanding for scholars about the whole region, as well as the specific periods of history when Tall el-Hammam was occupied.  Whatever the precise biblical connections eventually turn out to be, this site was standing and active, right in the midst of most periods of biblical history. 

On a personal note, the scientific work we do at Tall el-Hammam has helped me better understand and appreciate the biblical world.  While we do not find answers to all the questions we are asking and new finds often bring additional questions, my field work does not make me question my faith, but strengthens it.  We don’t need archaeology to “prove” the Bible, but it can demonstrate the historical reliability of the Scriptures.  So I will say, with confidence, that we can trust the Bible for history – for the past.  And, if we can trust the Bible for the past, then I suggest we can also trust it for the future – for eternity.  And, if we can trust it for the past and the future, why not trust it for today – learning to live one day at a time! 


Chalcolithic Period = Copper/Stone Age, 4400-3300 BCE

EBA = Early Bronze Age, 3300-2350 BCE

IBA = Intermediate Bronze Age, 2350-2000 BCE

MBA = Middle Bronze Age, 2000-1550 BCE

LBA = Late Bronze Age, 1550-1200 BCE

IA1 = Iron Age 1, 1200-1000 BCE

IA2 = Iron Age 2, 1000-586 BCE

IA3 = Iron Age 3/Persian Period, 586-332 BCE

HP = Hellenistic/Greek Period, 332-63 BCE

ERP = Early Roman Period, 63 BCE-168 CE

All photos courtesy of Mike Luddeni.


1  While archaeology is sometimes called a “soft” science, it accurately demonstrates the scientific method in practice (see Byers 1999: 9).  Like CSI, archaeology is practiced today with precision and timely reporting in a multidisciplinary scientific context.

2  The spelling of site names in Jordan is a bit problematic.  Most literary references spell our site Tell el-Hammam or Tall al-Hammam.  The Excavation Project has obviously chosen the former, but in some publications (Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan) the later is preferred. 

3.  In 2010, the Associates for Biblical Research became the first member organization in the TeHEP consortium. 

4.  Possible biblical connections to Tall el-Hammam are detailed in my 2009 article about the third season of excavations.

5.  The report for the first 4 seasons of excavation at Tall el-Hammam can be found in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 53: Amman: 2009:385-414.


Byers, Gary A.
1999   The Ai Expedition and the Scientific Method, Bible and Spade 12:1:9.

2009   Tall el-Hammam 2008: A Personal Perspective. 

Collins, Steven; Hamden, Khalil; Byers, Gary A.
2009   Tall el-Hammam: Preliminary Report on Four Seasons of Excavation (2006-2009)  Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 53 :385-414. http://www.tallelhammam.com/uploads/TeHEP_ADAJ_2009.pdf

Collins, et al.
2010   The Tall el-Hamman Excavation Project Season Activity Report-Season Five: 2010 Excavation, Exploration and Survey. 


Comments Comment RSS

4/14/2010 10:37 PM #

Having written extensively against Tell el-Hamman as Sodom, it is sad to continue to see articles such as this make publication for it continues to promote being contradictory to God and calls Him a liar.

There are major problems with this archaeological site as Sodom and one is the so-called definitive geographical passage does not say nor prove that Lot crossed the river Jordan. To say he did, is eisegesis at its best and claiming the Bible says something it does not.

Also, God was very clear of the condition of Sodom after its destruction. Zeph. 2:9 states God swearing on His own life that Sodom was and remains a wasteland forever, a place of weeds and salt pits.  Every discovery claimed by Dr. Collins and company, every detailing of evidence for each archaeological age provides evidence that their claim that Tell el-Hamman is Sodom is wrong.

Yet they do not stop and make the necessary correction nor adjust their claims and admit they are wrong. Why is that? Are their egos to big to allow themselves to be humble enough and state that they made an error?  

Who knows but this perpetual declaration needs to stop for they claim to be christian yet defy the very God they claim to believe in and make a mockery of His vow and words. That is not smart nor christian.

Dr. Collins, in one of his many papers onthe subject, argues from silence tomake his point when he said...'God did not say that Sodom was destroyed forever...' Yet he ignores the passage in Zeph. that clearly states it was. Such scriptural dishonesty has lead to his academic and archaeological dishonesty and has lead many down the same sinful and wrong path. That includes the ABR organization, who are usually very good people but they are making mistakes they should not make and straying from what God wants.

Here are some links to opposing papers anda discussion on this very topic which presents allthe errors Dr. Collins and Byers are making and showin how they are off in their claim:






I will be making a copy of this reply and linking to this article at my website for further discussion and so the words will not be lost due to editing that takes place on this forum. My website is:


dr. david t - 4/14/2010 10:37:03 PM

4/15/2010 12:15 AM #

Dear Friends,

ABR does not endorse the site of Tall el-Hammam as Sodom. And Gary Byers' article here has very little to say about that identification. His main discussion involves the archaeology of the site, which is enormously interesting and great material for those with a passion for archaeology.

Dr. Collins' arguments are not ABR's and should not be seen as such.

Gary Byers has never categorically stated that he thinks this is Sodom. In fact, in many of our interactions, he has said: "I don't really care, I just love doing archaeology there". Further, Dr. Bryant Wood disagrees with the identification as Sodom, as he wrote in the Summer 2007 issue of Bible and Spade.

However, we believe that Tall el-Hammam is a significant archaeological project worthy of attention for archaeological and Biblical studies.

We hope this discussion will continue in a civil and Christ honoring manner.



Henry Smith - 4/15/2010 12:15:51 AM

4/15/2010 12:18 AM #

"It was a major city from earliest times and may be one of the oldest cities mentioned in the Bible, in the Table of Nations (Gn 10).  It is TeHep’s [not ABRs] working hypothesis that Tall el-Hammam was Sodom from those earliest days to the time of Abraham, well over 2,500 years.  

After its Middle Bronze Age destruction, and with no evidence of occupation for over 500 years, it may have been the site of Abel Shittim (“meadow of the acacia trees”) at the time of Moses. [Dr. Wood believes this may be the correct identification]."

ABR - 4/15/2010 12:18:59 AM

4/15/2010 7:38 AM #

I agree with Dr. Wood on both accounts and people should care because christians are to go for the truth as the Holy Spirit leads people to the truth. To not care or to let false ideas continue without rebuttal is dangeorus as it sends the wrong message and allows people to go astray without thought of their actions and the ramifications.

If the christian archaeologist doesn't care about the truth, then where are the regular church goers going to get their  correct information? It is a sad state that allows professional christians to abdicate their responsibilities to the rest of the flock.  Dr. Wood even stated, and i have agreed and often quoted him, that he and other christians are doing archaeology to counter the secular scholars (etc.) {paraphrased}.

Yet how can we counter them if we do not care and openly go against God and His word? Christians need to care, they need to find and promote the truth and stay in line with God and His word or what options do unbelievers have?or borderline christians looking to shore up their faith?  

We cannot go as the secular world does, we need to do so hand in hand with God so that He gets the glory and the world knows that He exists.

I find too many 'christian' organizations failing the people of God and too many of the latter fall away fom the faith because they were not fed properly nd shown that their belief is not in vain.

We need to care that we have the truth, we need to care because people rely on us to present the truth and show where the secular professionals have it wrong. If we do not, then we have failed both God and our fellow christian.

dr. david t - 4/15/2010 7:38:22 AM

4/20/2010 3:56 PM #

Please...it does not take a rocket scientist to see that Lot traveled east from between Bethel & Ai in Genesis 13, after discribing the well watered  plain/valley, or Kikar in hebrew, of the Jordan River. Also, some of you angry Christians, need to chill out with your comments on "others faith", etc. Read Ezekial chapter 16 and verse 55. Sodom and her sisters, (more than one) will be restored.
Also, how can anyone get past the Cities of the Kikar. Not one, not two, but at least five. On the eastern edge of the Jordan River Kikar there are five cities...all distroyed at the same time durring Abrahams life, with no Late Bronze occupation. Follow the roads and the water and the facts, Tall el Hammam is the "Big Apple" of it's time.
Scholarship is full of egoes and pridefull accomplishments, where some it seems, refuse to see the forest for the trees.
What's great about the field of Archaeology; we can disagree with our colleges, but remain friends...waiting to see the revealed evidence.
Indeed, we should all be helping each other, and not declaring others lack of faith etc. Everytime I hear that kind of remark, it's always from someone who is stuck in their own pride...no one can be correct 100 percent of the time. If Tall el Hammam is not the city of Sodom, with her sisters just next door with the same occupational profile, than what is it?

Thanks Gary for your sensible article on Tall el Hammam. You are a man full of love, emulating the true love of Christ.

Thomas Winder - 4/20/2010 3:56:26 PM

4/20/2010 4:29 PM #

I appreciate the article on Tall el-Hammam by Gary Byers, who is a valued colleague working with TeHEP. Indeed, the discoveries at Tall el-Hammam are changing the way we view the history of the southern Jordan Valley, the biblical Kikkar of the Jordan. Gary is absolutely correct: whatever the identification of TeH turns out to be, the site definitely swirls with biblical connections. No one living anywhere in the region during the Chalcolithic Period, Early Bronze Age, Intermediate Bronze Age, or Middle Bronze Age could have missed interacting with the powerful influences of this significant city-state. As far as its identification as Sodom goes, I stand in the company of a majority of 19th and early 20th century scholar/explorers (like Merrill, Conder, Thomson, Tristram, Wilson, and many others) who, by carefully analyzing the biblical geography (particularly Gen 13:1-12), correctly located the Kikkar (circle, disk) of the Jordan as the widened alluvial plain of the Jordan above the north end of the Dead Sea, "at the bay of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan, below Pisgah" (as so many OT passages describe the southern extent of the Jordan Valley). Albright ignored the majority northern view, and opted to follow the lead of Robinson in looking for the Cities of the Plain toward the southern end of the Dead Sea. However, he wasn't swayed by the existence of sites like Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira (which he correctly determined were destroyed hundreds of years before the time of Abraham and Lot). He opted to locate the Cities of the Plain underneath the shallow waters at the southern end of the Dead Sea. That the fresh water system of the Jordan River Valley had never extended at all into the Dead Sea Valley wasn't considered. After all, the cities were on the Kikkar of the Jordan, and were called the Cities of the Kikkar. Through Albright, and Wright who followed his teacher, the southern view was adopted into evangelical Bible literature, maps, and commentaries. And this was the view that I held, taught, and based tours on for the first 25 years of my academic career. Now and again I still have people coming up to me and saying that they saw me on TV touting the southern location of Sodom and Gomorrah, which I did on a primetime, major network documentary in the mid 1990s! But I can say with complete perspicuity that my personal belief in the historical accuracy and authenticity of the Torah texts led me to question the southern view as a result of taking the narrative of Genesis seriously, something most scholars don't do. For me, a long-time teacher of biblical hermeneutics at the graduate and doctoral levels, the Genesis geography for the Cities of the Plain ramains abundantly clear. That Lot crossed the Jordan at a location east of Bethel/Ai is almost without questioin. That he did, in fact, cross into the Transjordan to become the father of the Ammonites and Moabites is one of the main themes of the story. Contrariwise, all the southern sites were pretty much "hit and miss" in their occupations, as they were located on the margins of agricultural viability. Indeed, Numeira (often touted as Gomorrah) only lasted about 150 years, ending finally ca. 2600 BCE. The walled city at nearby Bab edh-Dhra ended ca. 2350 BCE, and then limped along as an unwalled village down to about 2200 BCE. Occupations at the other Early Bronze Age sites in the area were also inconsistent. It is my contention that such fragile, marginal economies could never have given rise to the geographical tradition described in Genesis as "the Cities of the Kikkar of the Jordan, well watered like the garden of Yahweh and the land of Egypt." But the well-watered Kikkar of the Jordan (later called the Kikkar of Jericho after Sodom, et al, were destroyed), north of the Dead Sea, with its magnificent, long-flourishing Bronze Age civilization centered at Tall el-Hammam, fits the bill literally and authentically. On a slightly different note, later poetic, prophetic passages in the OT do use Sodom's destruction as a condemnatory metaphor, but when all this genre of literature is examined, it becomes clear that forcing "eternality" for said destructions is not hermeneutically viable. One need only examine Ezekiel 16 wherein Yahweh promises to restore the fortunes of Sodom and Samaria, returning them to their former state, along with Jerusalem. Passages such as these must be seen in their proper context. Further, the building of a handful of Iron Age towns and villages in the area of the infamous Kikkar cities, some 600 years after their destruction, cannot be construed as a rebuilding of any of the Cities of the Plain. Indeed, those cities and all their inhabitants and culture were absolutely destroyed---so much so that the Kikkar remained virtually uninhabited for the next several centuries (while Late Bronze Age cities flourished in areas beyond the Kikkar!). I fully realize that there are some, like ABR's Dr. Bryant Wood, who hold views on these issues that differ from mine. But that's simply the nature of scholarship! We agree on many things as well. I think I can say honestly that my views on the location of Sodom might be Bryant's fault, at least in part! I learned many skills for dealing with biblical geography by working with Bryant for six seasons at Khirbet el-Maqatir. It's true that I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now in the field of archaeology if it hadn't been for Dr. Wood. He is a beloved servant, and a good friend. Is he right about Sodom's location? Of course not. Ha! But he would say the same about me. Iron sharpens iron. Thus, I don't understand the vitriol brought into this discussion by a few "outsiders" who spew their venom while hiding behind pseudonyms. My views are accessible in detail, as are Dr. Wood's. He has written a response to my views, and I have written a response to his. We remain friends and brothers. For anyone to make personal attacks in the manner of a previous poster is simply sad. I encourage ABR members and readers to see through this self-righteousness, and understand it for what it really is. On a final note, I thank Gary Byers, Walt Pasadag, and ABR for bringing ABR into the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project as a consortium member. We are honored and encouraged by this. God bless you all.

Dr. Steven Collins
Director, Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project, Jordan
Dean, College of Archaeology, Trinity Southwest University

Dr. Steven Collins - 4/20/2010 4:29:17 PM

4/20/2010 5:04 PM #

One small additional note on Zephaniah 2:8-11. God swears to do to Moab and Ammon (the sons of Lot) what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah. Hermeneutically, this kind of condemnation is generally referred to as the "rhetoric of annihilation." It is quite common both in the OT and in other ANE literature. God swears that (not maybe!) "Surely Moab will be like Sodom, And the sons of Ammon like Gomorrah---A place possessed by nettles and salt pits, And a perpetual desolation; The remnant of My people will plunder them, And the remainder of My nation will inherit them." In this beautiful passage of Hebrew poetry, multiple parallelisms reflect how Yahweh will deal destruction to the two Transjordan kingdoms. Yet, this "perpetual desolation" is obviously a metaphor to be applied to the people of Moab and Ammon targeted for his destruction. In fact, the regions of Moab and Ammon have continued to be productive agricultural lands with many towns and villages from ancient times all the way to the present. So how does this idea of "perpetual destruction" apply at all to Moab and Ammon? Simple: this is an authentic ANE condemnatory statement that applies metaphorically to those targeted for destruction in their day. They themselves are wiped out, not their lands. The "nettles and salt pits" are metaphorical to what will happen to those who taunt (v.8) the people of Yahweh. The literal land isn't involved at all. Did the roots of this metaphor, Sodom and Gomorrah, suffer "perpetual destruction"? Yes, in the same manner as intended for Moab and Ammon in this Zephaniah passage. As a Hebrew scholar and good friend recently stated to me, "I'd always assumed that the lands on which Sodom sat could never have been restored or re-occupied, but then I read all the passages about Sodom in the OT and realized that I was wrong. There isn't any reason in the text of the OT why the area of Sodom and Gomorrah couldn't have flourished once again sometime in the future." (This particular scholar is well known to ABR!) I've taught Hebrew for several decades myself, and I can hardly imagine a single Hebrew scholar who would disagree with what my friend has said. To be faithful to the Scriptures means taking them as they were intended, not re-making them into constructs of our own biases or ignorance.

Dr. Steven Collins

Dr. Steven Collins - 4/20/2010 5:04:47 PM

4/20/2010 8:25 PM #

"As far as its identification as Sodom goes, I stand in the company of a majority of 19th and early 20th century scholar/explorers (like Merrill, Conder, Thomson, Tristram, Wilson, and many others)"

There is a lot of information to point out in those three posts but this one will suffice and you will have ot go to www.archiesarena.com to get the rest of the rebuttal

IF God did things via the majority or majority rule, Moses would have been deposed long before the Israelites left Mt. Sinai. Now I only recognize one of those names as possibly being Christian and it is NOT a wise thing to be proud of standing alongside non-christian people who do not acept nor follow God or His ways.

The church world has strayed far from God's word. One other thing- when people do not believe God they turn His words into metaphors so they can sin or follow the world's ideas without guilt:

"Yet, this "perpetual desolation" is obviously a metaphor to be applied to the people of Moab and Ammon targeted for his destruction. "

There is no metaphor used in that passage found in Zeph. 2:9 and saying that God swearing by His own existence is merely rhetoric shows a great disrespect for God and who he is. it is also wrong as it says God didnot say what he said and that is never a wise thing to do.

dr. david t - 4/20/2010 8:25:02 PM

4/20/2010 8:29 PM #

By the way Thomas, only 4 of the cities were destroyed not 5. Zoar was spared because of Lot's moving to that city.

Dr. David T. - 4/20/2010 8:29:59 PM

4/20/2010 8:43 PM #

Since Dr. Collins has made an appearance here, maybe he can show without a shadow of a doubt, without manipulating scripture and with archaeological evidence (not conjecture or theory or hypothesis) that Lot crossed the River Jordan.

His definitive geographical location passage, Gen. 13:1-12, does not state that he did and to state something that the Bible clearly does not say is adding words to God's word which is a big no-no in the eyes of God and both the OT and NT have warnings about doing this.

dr. david t - 4/20/2010 8:43:00 PM

4/21/2010 3:31 AM #

Zeboim is plural...it is a twin.
Abel Shittim is not a city, but an area, that Tall el Hammam maybe within. It is a fortified city of enormous proportions, in the right place, at the right time, with all the right stuff, including it's "sisters" with all the right stuff as well. It is also surounded with acacia trees.
No one is manipulating the scriptures, or avoiding scriptures. Are you avoiding Eze. 16:55?
So, let us all tool up and discover what else is at Tall el Hammam.
See you there this coming winter season.  

Thomas Winder - 4/21/2010 3:31:15 AM

4/21/2010 8:45 AM #

I told Mr. Smith that all I would post is the link to my rebuttals so as not to ruin any further discussion on his website so the following is that link:


dr. david t - 4/21/2010 8:45:28 AM

4/21/2010 5:12 PM #

I'm glad to see that the rebuttals are all going to a different website as some of the above dialogue is tainting the contents and focus of Gary Byers' well- written article.1} The geography of Tall el Hammam is set and factual. The site is a substantial ancient city located in a well watered plain (that is, between 2 wadis with numerous springs that are still apparent). 2}The strata is set and factual. By means of ceramics dating, Tall el Hammam exhibits continuous occupation from Chalcolithic (as exposed in this past Season) to Middle Bronze Age. 3} The destruction layers are factual and set. The approximate meter of ash layer immediately following the Middle Bronze Epoch is documented by both paperwork and photos. 4} Gary's mention of Tall el Hammam as Sodom being the working hypothesis for the excavation project is factual and set. Any archaeologist and scientist Must have a hypothesis before drawing final conclusions. The fact that Near Eastern sites define and associate tells (talls) with Biblical sites is not only common but takes place almost 100% - even by nonbelievers in the Biblical text. So, I conclude by saying thank you to Gary Byers for this article on the evidence that's being discovered and thank you to Dr. Collins for tackling this 100+ acre project and recording and publishing these facts to enlighten our understanding of Tall el Hammam.

Carroll Kobs - 4/21/2010 5:12:23 PM

4/21/2010 7:19 PM #

"The site is a substantial ancient city located in a well watered plain (that is, between 2 wadis with numerous springs that are still apparent). 2}The strata is set and factual."

In my rebuttal I address this common error. But I should add that just because an ancient city is located in an ancient area that was well watered, doesn't mean that it is Sodom or in the area of Sodom. There were other well watered areas in the land as well.

You have to factor in the destruction and that the pre-flood scenery was changed and you see that at Bab edh-Dhra. Also, the Bible is very clear in Gen. 19: 25 that the'entire plain' and 'vegetation in the land' were destroyed as well.

It is not enough to have a destroyed city, for an invasion or armed conflict could do that. You have to get out into the plain and examine it and the ancient vegetation evidence as well (and mere crop burning would not qualify for farmers do that all the time prior to planting).

This is where Dr. Collins is making a great mistake. (and I have read his articles and website) He is only focusing on the city remains and has limited his investigation which means he is drawing conclusions without the proper research. if the samelevel of the plain or the vegettion is missing, there is no way he can identify Tell el-Hamman as Sodom, it is just another city that lost a battle.

dr. david t - 4/21/2010 7:19:35 PM

4/21/2010 8:27 PM #

I refer interested readers to my book, The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah, available as a download at www.shop.tsu-edu.us. I also have a number of relevant journal articles online at www.BiblicalResearchBulletin.com. Anyone who has carefully read and understood our research realizes that the destruction of the 25km-diameter Kikkar of the Jordan, was thorough. All of the many Bronze Age sites within the circle = kikkar were destroyed violently toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age (= time of Abraham and Lot), so much so that this once-lush farmland with its two major city states resisted habitation for the next six or seven centuries, and then only much smaller towns were built (during Iron Age 2). That the best-watered agriscape in the southern Levant would lay uninhabited for so many centuries after its destruction, while LB cities flourished just beyond the boundaries of the Kikkar, is a mystery....except for those who read Gen 10-19! The research of TeHEP extends literally over the entire Kikkar and even somewhat beyond. We continue to explore and survey the entire area, and are coordinated with all other excavations in our "neighborhood." Our research, explorations, and excavations include everything that is within, and touches on, the Tall el-Hammam city-state. TeHEP is as comprehensive a project as one could hope for. For someone to say that "it is just another city that lost a battle" is profoundly out of touch with the facts on the ground. In such a project, we must do good science, follow rigorous logic, and practice sound hermeneutics. This is what we do every day. Unfortunately, my time constraints and travel will not allow me to spend any more time here. Folks can keep up with the progress of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project at www.tallelhammam.com.

Dr. Steven Collins

Dr. Steven Collins - 4/21/2010 8:27:36 PM

4/22/2010 12:12 AM #

Here is my response to the above, recent coments by Dr. Collins-- www.phpbb88.com/.../viewtopic.php

Scroll down to the bottom please. But I will say that the above is typical of him, he will insult those who disagrees with him, and he will make th eexcuse thathe has no time then he runs and hides. He has done this at the BAS forum as well.

I mention this in my response but if the man were honest, he would not direct people back to his own writings but encourage them to do their own research and read as many differing opinions to enable one to make their own decision.

if you go to this link and scroll down to reply #3 you will see that dr. collins discourage independent thought:


In a p.s. to my response I address this once again

Dr. David T. - 4/22/2010 12:12:41 AM

4/22/2010 5:39 PM #

here is my latest rebuttal to the above comments, scroll down to the last 2 posts


dr. David t. - 4/22/2010 5:39:27 PM

Research RSS Feed

AddThis Feed Button

Recent Articles

In this article we will discuss why the decree of Daniel 9:25 must be identified with one issued by the...
II. Analysis and Discussion 3. Liber Biblicarum Antiquitatum 4. Augustine’s Renegade Scribe Theory 5....
II. Analysis and Discussion 2. Straw Men and Ad Hominems
II. Analysis and Discussion 1. The Rabbinic Deflation of the MT’s Primeval Chronology
Associates for Biblical Research
  • PO Box 144, Akron, PA 17501
  • Phone: +1 717-859-3443
  • Toll Free: 1-800-430-0008
Friend ABR on Facebook.com Join us on Twitter Join us on Twitter