Dr. Steven Collins, the director of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP), published a paperback (& Amazon Kindle electronic edition) titled Research & Discovery Series: The Kikkar Dialogues. It can be divided into 4 major sections:
- Chapter 1: Informal E-mail transcripts from 2006 between Collins & other scholars/researchers
- Chapter 2: Interviews of Collins in 2006, 2007, 2011, & 2013 by Scott Stripling & John Moore
- Chapters 3-6: Articles by Collins rebutting Bryant Wood, Clyde Billington, E.H. Merrill, & William Schlegel
- Chapter 7: An unabridged version of an ASOR Blog post by Collins
Yours truly was included in Chapter 1 along with:
- Alan Millard
- Amihai Mazar
- Anson Rainey
- Carl Morgan
- David Graves
- David Noel Freedman
- Gary Byers
- Israel Finkelstein
- James Tabor
- John Melancon
- Scott Stripling
- Terry Daughtrey
- Todd Bolen
- Tom Schaub
- William Fulco
Collins apparently did not inform any of the aforementioned people that their E-mail remarks would be published in a book for a popular audience. One quotation in particular will give readers the impression that the writer (whom I will not name) never intended his comment to be published:
“I do not share any theological views about the Bible. It is another literary creation from the Ancient Near East. … [ellipses by me, GMG] in legends such as these (which probably have some historical kernel behind them) … [ellipses by me, GMG] But you … [ellipses by Collins] might do well to keep your apologetics apart from facts on the ground. Incidentally, I would cross the street to convince you to share my view of the Bible. Your views and motivation are your business. But I would just suggest you play it cool.”
After someone told me about my quotations in the book, I bought a copy & informed Dr. Collins that it was unusual to include personal communication without giving the person a courtesy notice. To his credit, he then halted the publication, & that’s why the physical books are no longer available directly from major distributors (the publisher’s link is dead). My primary purpose herein is to defend the points I made in 2006 against arguments still being made by Dr. Collins.
To back up a bit & put this subject in full context, I initially met Dr. Collins back in January 2004 at Trinity Southwest University when he graciously granted me full access to analyze, photograph, & publish the 10 LMLK handles that were at their museum. LMLKs get mentioned briefly in this book on p. 21 when Collins responds to Daughtrey:
“In the current issue of BAR, Gabriel Barkay makes a case for Ramat Rahel as mmst (of lmlk handle fame), and offers the same taunt: ‘If anyone can find a better candidate for mmst, I challenge him to make his case.’ He has critics—but no identifying inscription! I simply echo the same challenge for Tall el-Hammam as Sodom: If it’s some other site, make your case.”
(By the way, at Dr. Barkay’s recent all-day lecture I attended, he included “MMST” in his list of excavation projects, rather than “Ramat Rahel”!)
And also in a grammatical typo of “lmlk” instead of simply “mlk” on p. 31: “The name Tid’al/Tudhaliya certainly dates back to the 15th century BCE, and could reflect the name of an earlier (MB) Hittite or Hurrian king or commander/prince (there’s great flexibility in lmlk).”
Putting aside the issue of whether Collins should have published the informal remarks made by some of these scholars, here are the ones made by me in bold font along with Collins’ responses in italics:
I’ve done a cursory reading of all the material I’ve received from you so far, and your work is excellent and admirable considering your opposition! Your results have thoroughly challenged the proponents of Bab edh-Dhra. Personally, I have no problem reckoning archaeology (or any other branch of science) with Scripture; my biggest problem is figuring out how to tell you and Dr. Wood (whom I admire more than any other scholar I’ve ever read) that I disagree with both of you: Gen 14:3 “All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.” That I could not find a detailed analysis of this verse back in January in your 104-page work, ‘The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah’, speaks volumes. (If you’ve written about it since, or if I overlooked it, please forgive me and point it out to me.) I’m not nearly as knowledgeable as you and Dr. Wood, and I’m Hebrew illiterate, but 14:3 sounds to me like the writer is saying, “Sodom used to be where the Dead Sea is now.” Not “north”, “east”, “south”, or “near” the Dead Sea—one and the same as the Dead Sea. If Sodom were not located where the Dead Sea is now, I agree with you that Tall el-Hammam would be the numero-uno candidate. I’ll believe Sodom used to be where the Dead Sea is now until someone drains it and shows me that there’s no evidence whatsoever of either human settlement or a massive layer of klinker-equivalents, neither of which scenarios being likely now that nearly 4,000 years of sedimentary buildup/erosion have worked their chemical magic on the former city. Something made the Salt Sea unusually salty, and it sure as Sheol wasn’t the Jordan river. My simple-minded guess remains “brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven.” Before you argue that Sodom was not located under the Dead Sea, you need to find a Scriptural reference to a large, salty body of water NEAR 1 or more of the 5 cities at that time. I cannot find any reference to a body of water, salty or fresh. All I hear about is a plain, “well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah”. I believe the Jordan used to flow all the way south to the gulf (only one small section of the dried-up riverbed south of the Dead Sea presently rises ~700 ft above sea level—easily accountable for due to sandstorms over several thousand years). Where’s the evidence that your northern region was “well watered”—not just “watered”? If you can argue that your kikkar was formerly well watered then but not now, then I can argue the Jordan used to flow all the way to the gulf. Again, I’m neither an archeologist nor a geographer, so please take my remarks with a grain of salt (sorry–couldn’t resist that pun). Furthermore, the fact that God did not want Lot and his family to be eyewitnesses to the destruction, tells me that God did something unusual there. If it were merely the equivalent of a nuclear blast, the radiation would’ve affected Lot and his wife equally irrespective of whether she turned around or not. I understand that in ancient times when a victorious army didn’t want a city to be rebuilt, they’d scatter salt over the conquered place to ruin the soil. It’s very easy for me to imagine God disassembling the entire cluster of cities, opening a hole to Hell, tossing in every artifact thereof, then closing up the hole (a la Korah in Numbers 16:33 without a trace), scattering massive amounts of salt over it, and allowing the little Jordan to slowly fill it over time, with enough seeping into underground pathways to prevent it from overflowing and running south again. This, of course, is all completely speculative, but I spelled it out so you’d understand how difficult it would be for me to be convinced that any Jordanian tell could be Sodom. Brimstone from Heaven would easily cause a big, deep crater, and a big, deep crater would easily interrupt the flow of water. Though I’m not a geologist, I believe the brimstones were more like lead pellets than gently-falling snowflakes!
“I suggest that you do more than a cursory reading of my work, because there many problems with what you’ve proposed that I’ve addressed in detail elsewhere. But for these purposes, allow me to enumerate them: 1. Gen 14: 3 has nothing to do with the city locations. It has to do with where they met in battle. They—the allied armies of the Cities of the Jordan Disk—“all came to the valley of Siddim.” We know that the “Cities” army is the antecedent of “they” because of its proximity in the text, and also the following sentence has the same “they”: “For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer…” The plain meaning of this language is that the allied “Cities” forces traveled from their home on the Jordan Disk to the Valley of Siddim. They didn’t live in the valley of Siddim (fact: no city-folk did during the MB!), they only went there in an attempt to cut off Kedorlaomer’s army as he advanced northward from En Gedi (a popular watering stop) with (obvious) intent to plunder their Cities before heading further northward and home. As I’ve pointed out many times, allied local city armies would usually engage a foreign foe at some distance from their homes (as did the Canaanites at the Battle of Megiddo against Tuthmosis III). This engagement seems to have taken place on the west shore of the Dead Sea just north of Hazazon-tamar (En Gedi), a relatively short march from the eastern Jordan Disk. The Cities of the Plain were subsequently plundered as Kedorlaomer’s forces continued north toward Dan. 2. Recent geological studies show quite conclusively that the (Bible map) configuration of the Dead Sea hadn’t changed for at least 15,000 years until modern times when the Jordan River water has been removed for agriculture (plus the damming of the wadis on the east side). The Dead Sea is salty primarily because of major underground salt deposits that intersect with it. Of course, the fact of no outlet and evaporation contribute to the heavy salt concentrations. Geologically (and biblically!), the Jordan River has always terminated at the Dead Sea’s northern “bay” (as the Bible calls it). The surface of the Dead Sea is 1300 ft below sea level, so there could be no outflow toward the Gulf of Aqaba; at least not within the past 15,000 years. Also note that the Valley of Salt (Siddim) already existed before the destruction of Sodom, and was in no way created by it. Further, why would “brimstone” produce a salty environment? It wouldn’t. 3. The word translated “brimstone” is goprit. It can mean sulfur, but to the ancient mind it really meant the material of which lightning was thought to consist. It seems that the ancient phenomenological explanation for (yellow) sulfur deposits was that they were created as a result of lightning strikes. There are hundreds of recorded testimonies of people struck by lightning who smelled a strong sulfurous odor. The ancients may have surmised the lightning/sulfur connection from this phenomenon. So the account may preserve the memory of destructive electromagnetic activity and perhaps has nothing at all to do with actual sulfur. 4. The cities on the eastern Kikkar north of the Dead Sea were very, very well watered not only by the Jordan River system with its annual inundation (like the Nile!), but by numerous springs and seasonal waters from the many wadis flowing from the Transjordan highlands. They likely used irrigation canals extensively because the topography and hydrological configuration of the area would have made it quite easy to do so. The area was an agricultural “paradise” during the EB and MB, supporting several successful cities—until their mysterious demise. 5. We’ve never said the “klinker” sherd—the MB storage jar fragment with the outer surface boiled into glass—was caused by anything nuclear. We just said that all the materials scientists who’ve examined it (now confirmed by electron probe microanalysis) say it resembles trinitite (silica material subjected to an atomic blast) in almost every way, and that it was produced by a flash heating event of some kind, at a very high temperature followed by quick cooling. Presently, it seems an anomaly—but a very interesting one indeed! Again, I stress that the geography of Gen 13:1-12 is quintessential to the location of Sodom. Thanks for providing an opportunity for me to respond to your observations and ideas.”
I concede that I totally misread 14:3—”Siddim” registered in my brain as “Sodom,” and I see now that I was wrong on that point. I would suggest that if you believe the west shore of the Dead Sea near En Gedi represents the “vale of Siddim,” you should mark it on one of your maps in ‘The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah’ (again, I looked but did not see it). Combined with my misinterpretation of 14:3, this would make a nice chapter, or section of a chapter with a figure showing the distance from Tall el-Hammam to En Gedi. I’m interested in what physical evidence leads you to pick this location for the battle (e.g., Is it “full of slimepits” today?), and why you believe it would be described “which is the salt sea” rather than “west of the salt sea” or “by the sea of the plain” or “near the shore of the salt sea.” Please elaborate, or refer to a page number in one of your many [related pieces]. In spite of my misreading Siddim for Sodom, I stand by all of my other speculations. If you really believe in the concept of Prehistory (e.g., “the Dead Sea hadn’t changed for at least 15,000 years”), I will not argue those points since you and I have different foundations for geological dates. (For example, all of your statements about the Kikkar being “well watered” once would apply to the continuation of the Jordan if the Dead Sea was actually created by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but I respect your belief that the Dead Sea existed 15kya.) Do you have an ancient literary (Biblical or non-Biblical) basis for your statement, “the Valley of Salt (Siddim) already existed before the destruction of Sodom”? In response to your question, “why would “brimstone” produce a salty environment”: I’m not aware of any scientific study or chemical analysis performed on fresh specimens of “brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven,” though I appreciate your explanation of “goprit.” P.S. You have my permission to reprint all of my remarks above, but please keep them in the context of speculation apart from scholars who specialize in this subject.
“I guess I wasn’t particularly sensitive to any difference between your comments and those of the “experts.” It seems to me that most of the experts have gotten us into a southern Sodom that can’t be defended biblically, linguistically, geographically or archaeologically, so their “expertise” really isn’t any better than speculation. I appreciate your comments because you have at least thought about it—albeit from a less technical perspective. And if you’re entertaining certain ideas about the passages in question, then others are likely to be thinking similar thoughts. I appreciate the opportunity you’ve afforded me to speak to such ideas as you’ve proffered. Several scholars have noted the similarity between Sodom and Siddim, so you aren’t necessarily wrong on that count. But I didn’t say that the area near En Gedi constituted the valley of Siddim. The valley of Siddim may indeed refer to the entire Dead Sea valley. The Cities army went there to engage Kedorlaomer. Note carefully what Gen 14:3 says: “All these came as allies to the valley of Siddim, that is, the Salt Sea.” This passage makes it very clear that the “Valley of Siddim, the Salt Sea” existed before the destruction of Sodom in Gen 19. The Salt Sea is also ringed by many archaeological sites from the Neolithic Period through the Early Bronze Age. The geological record of the area is also confirms the existence of the lake in its “biblical” configuration from remote antiquity. Thus, the Bible and all other avenues of evidence tell us that the Dead Sea was a stable entity throughout the biblical periods (but earthquake-prone, for sure!). There are “slimepits” today, if by “slime” we refer to the blackish mud/ooze that exists in abundance around the Dead Sea shore. Past asphalt seeps did exist, but not producing great quantities of material—not enough for a bunch of soldiers to fall into. This slimy mud looks like normal ground, and you can even walk on it slowly without sinking into it. But if you apply pressure to it, as by running, you’ll sink up to your knees straight away (personal experience!). I think a group of the City troops tried to do an end run around Kedorlaomer’s east flank (shore-side), were routed, then got bogged down in the mud/slime near the shore as they fled for their lives. Those attacking Kedorlaomer’s west flank (hill-side) were also routed, but were able to flee into the steep hills west of the Dead Sea just north of En Gedi. All this is recorded in Gen 14:10. Again, let me say that your speculation isn’t fundamentally different from that of W.F. Albright and G.E. Wright who both suggested that, after their destruction, the Cities of the Plain sank beneath the waters at the southern end of the Dead Sea as a result of some catastrophic event. They were the experts of their day, but they were wrong in every way. (Hey, that poetic!)”
Here’s another question for you to tackle: If you were Lot living near Tall el-Hammam, why would a messenger of God tell you to flee to the mountains (southwest?) instead of directly west across Jordan toward your uncle Abram? I’m assuming Zoar’s believed to be in that general direction instead of east or north. Please correct me if I’m wrong again. I still prefer to believe Sodom was located where the Dead Sea presently resides, in which case the best place to flee to would have been the higher ground in the mountains directly west. I’m at a disadvantage though, because I’ve never visited the region in person.
“It’s common to read things into Bible stories that aren’t there. And, as you suggest, if you haven’t been to the area in question, it’s harder to play out the scenario in your mind. The entire Kikkar and Dead Sea Valley are flanked by mountains east and west—the Cisjordan Plateau to the west; the Transjordan Plateau to the east. Actually, the plateaus really aren’t mountains as such, but just look like mountains if you’re down in the bottom of the Rift Valley. The hills of the Cisjordan Plateau are more properly mountains, as they rise up east of the Mediterranean coast at the Shephelah, top out at the mid-ridge around Jerusalem and Hebron (approx. 2500 ft. in elevation), then drop off dramatically eastward into the Great Rift Valley, reaching a depth of about 1200 ft. below sea level at the Dead Sea. If the Rift Valley weren’t there, the Cisjordan Plateau would continue uninterrupted as the Transjordan Plateau on to the eastern desert. It’s really only the deep gash cut by the Rift Valley that creates “two” plateaus. Tall el-Hammam is about 400 ft. below sea level, similar to Jericho on the other side of the River, and has a commanding view of the Kikkar of the Jordan and the surrounding hills, both east and west. From this setting, the biblical story plays out to perfection—if Tall el-Hammam is taken as Sodom. Now to answer your question. Although there were probably several places to ford the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea, it wasn’t a feat to be accomplished as easily as walking across a bridge. If a speedy escape from the soon-to-be-toasted eastern Kikkar was the goal prompting the Angel’s evacuation instructions, then to attempt to flee from Sodom (Tall el-Hammam) in Abraham’s direction (near Hebron) would have required fording the river. But in the time it would have taken to cross the river channel alone, one could have traveled many miles along a road or path without such a watery, muddy obstruction. So the Angel’s instructions were entirely logical: “Escape to the mountains, lest you be swept away!” The foothills of the eastern plateau rise quickly almost from the eastern edge of Tall el-Hammam—in fact, right across the road east of the tall! The main E/W trade route leading up to the Transjordan Highlands drops onto the Kikkar right at Tall el-Hammam. Indeed, the fastest route away from the Kikkar’s easternmost city, Sodom (Tall el-Hammam), would have been straight up that road away from the area targeted for destruction. Lot and his family would have had to travel eight to ten kilometers just to reach the river before negotiating a crossing. Within the same space of time, but traveling up to the Transjordan Plateau from Tall el-Hammam, they would have already reached a place of safety. But the mountain road is a very steep trek, and perhaps Lot felt that, if the destruction was coming quickly, he and his family could cover more ground by taking the N/S road from Tall el-Hammam (Sodom) to Zoar, which (biblically!) was located just north of the Arnon River, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the south, and downhill all the way (Tall el-Hammam is 400 ft. below sea level; the mouth of the Arnon Gorge near the Dead Sea is about 1200 ft. below sea level). Sodom couldn’t have been located where the Dead Sea is now, simply because the Dead Sea was already a principal feature of the story before Sodom’s destruction. The Dead Sea in its (approximate) present configuration—also according to ancient settlement patterns—is an important geographical component of the story. In fact, you can’t play out the scenarios of the story without it. I do hope you’ll get to visit the area sometime, as you’ll be able to see the biblical narrative play out over that landscape with amazing correspondence.”
Thanks for the informative, detailed rebuttal! You’re definitely helping me to better understand your position and all the evidence that can be used to support it, though we still disagree on our starting points. I would very much recommend that you include some sort of illustrations to represent this in your book, particularly Fig. 9 on p. 46 where the “superheated air” is shown striking at an oblique angle but with no compass reference. Also it would be nice to see some sort of isometric topographical figure showing the elevation of TeH relative to the Dead Sea Valley and the foothills of the eastern plateau. (By the way, is there a Hebrew word for “plateau” or “highland” distinct from har for “mountain”?) I had been influenced by stories of Lot fleeing into the hills west of the sea, and his wife turning into salt where the sea is, but now I question those associations. I would also like to see your proposed location of Zoar on Map 9 (p. 76) along with a mileage scale (ditto for Map 8 on p. 65). The distance from TeH to the Arnon (~25 miles or ~40km in your estimation) seems considerable in light of the statement, “…this city is near to flee to.” “this city,” not “that city on the eastern shore of that huge salt sea north of that river x-days journey south of here.” Was the area north of the Arnon you’re proposing actually visible from the TeH neighborhood? From Redondo Beach, I can just barely see Malibu on a clear day, but would not be able to make out a village were we living 4,000 years ago. I understand that it would’ve been a downhill journey, but that’s still a long walk. Or are you assuming they had transportation? Is there any hint in Gen. 19 that they hitched a ride or had any mode of transportation other than their legs? Note that the two messengers took them by the hand in a hurry. How far could a family travel in a few hours by foot with no provisions (i.e., from verse 15 “when the morning dawned” to verse 23 when “the sun had risen”)? Note that your statements about Lot having to travel 8-10 km and ford the river are not applicable if Sodom were located in the present site of the Dead Sea, on the west bank of the pre-goprit Jordan. Note that the “ancient settlement patterns” you referred to cannot possibly include a detailed examination of the Dead Sea floor since I don’t believe one has ever been performed. At some point you’re going to have to provide a source reference to support the belief that the Dead Sea existed 14,000 years ago.
“I think I’ve answered all these issues before, so I’ll be brief. The diagram is a possibility based on the text. It’s purely theoretical and, therefore, any directions or measurements would be meaningless. It’s only suggestive! Isometric drawings showing elevations, to me, would be overkill. It’s downhill some 800-900 ft. over about 25 miles from TeH to the Arnon. What’s mysterious about that? There is a Hebrew word for ‘flat place’ or ‘plateau’ (miy”r), but it isn’t used much in the OT (9 or 10 times). It mostly refers to the Transjordan Plateau. Stop being influenced by stories, and pay attention to the biblical text and what it does and doesn’t say. My piece on Zoar’s location (which is being included in my book as an appendix) has a map. But use your imagination. My placement of Zoar near the Dead Sea just north of the Arnon River is pretty straightforward. Why is the distance from TeH to Zoar a problem? They were nomads tough-as-nails tent dwellers. Even on foot they could easily cover that ground by mid-day (from first light) without breaking much of a sweat. There’s no problem here. You’re making this too difficult. Maybe Lot was showing the messenger some kind of area map Look (pointing to a crude map on parchment or one he’d just drawn in the dirt), here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it’ There’s nothing in the text that says he could see Zoar. They just needed to get far enough away so that whatever was about to destroy the Kikkar wouldn’t kill them. The text doesn’t say whether they used transportation or not. Thus, they could have, making the trip even easier. You keep focusing on minutia, and aren’t looking at the big picture. All the geographical elements are there in the text as plain as day, and they all center around the eastern Jordan Disk and areas in close proximity. I don’t know what else I can say. I’ll say it again: it’s foolish to say that the Dead Sea didn’t exist before the destruction of Sodom simply because it’s clearly referred to in the text before the destruction took place (Gen 14:3,8,10). So get that notion out of your head! The geography being described is little different from the way it is today, except the Dead Sea has dropped several meters. Placing Sodom where you suggest destroys all the plain meaning of the text as it is. It’s just nonsense. You’re imagining a geography that never existed, and that Genesis isn’t describing. Several geological examinations of the Dead Sea region have been performed. Several settlement pattern studies have been done. Someone recently even took a mini-sub around the Dead Sea and found absolutely, positively nothing but the gooey bottom (pretty embarrassing, I’d say they should’ve believed the geologists and archaeologists!). You need to abandon this Dead Sea thing. Until you do, you’re completely blinded by such unsupportable speculation. I could bury Tall el-Hammam in documentation as to the age and configuration of the Dead Sea. I have provided references to some studies in my book. I don’t feel I need to go beyond that because even the most conservative scholars realize that the Dead Sea has been there in its ‘Bible map’ configuration at least since the time of Gen 10. It just isn’t an arguable point from a scholarly point of view.”
Okay, that was 2006; return with me now to 2014. The only correction/change I would make to what I wrote back then, is that I would still believe the Dead Sea covers the cities even if it were drained & there was no evidence of the cities whatsoever (even if its present salinity were proven to be chemically/geologically unrelated to the fire/brimstone event). I was being way too generous & open minded back then. And bear in mind that these were informal E-mail conversations, not rigorous investigations.
The first “arguable point” I’m going to re-emphasize is how Collins projects onto others that which he himself is guilty of doing. Recall his remarks:
“[Genesis 14:3] makes it very clear that the “Valley of Siddim, the Salt Sea” existed before the destruction of Sodom in Gen 19. … It’s common to read things into Bible stories that aren’t there. …Sodom couldn’t have been located where the Dead Sea is now, simply because the Dead Sea was already a principal feature of the story before Sodom’s destruction. … [I]t’s foolish to say that the Dead Sea didn’t exist before the destruction of Sodom simply because it’s clearly referred to in the text before the destruction took place (Gen 14:3,8,10).”
Collins wouldn’t know the sea was a principal feature of the story without assuming it to be. The Genesis writer (living/writing after the destruction of Sodom) didn’t describe this valley in relation to the sea because no directional term was given, only “EUA” equating them. I prefer to uphold my belief that a named valley applied to the region when it was a (mostly dry) valley, & became a named sea after transforming into a full body of water. The same writer used the same term (“EUA”) for the same literary reason in 14:7 (Enmishpat nee Kadesh) & 14:8 (Bela nee Zoar). The difference between me & Collins is that I will not argue that my interpretation “makes it very clear” that my interpretation is the correct interpretation.
(Note: And yes, I’m aware of the “the plain sea, the salt sea” named in Deuteronomy 3:17, Joshua 3:16, 12:3. In each case I believe it’s the same sea described 2 ways relative to the other geographic boundaries being described in that later context.)
“It’s common to read things into Bible stories that aren’t there. … Maybe Lot was showing the messenger some kind of area map Look (pointing to a crude map on parchment or one he’d just drawn in the dirt) … There’s nothing in the text that says he could see Zoar.”
This is another point worth re-emphasizing. Zoar was near enough that they could not only see it, but its proximity required God to grant it miraculous protection:
“See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken. Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar” (Gen 19:21-2).
Here are some other points he makes in the first 2 sections of this book in discussions with other people, which I’d like to counter:
Page 4: “I really can’t find anyone who can give me a reasonable argument that Kikkar shouldn’t be the official capitalized name for the Disk of the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea. After all, that’s what the Israelite writers called it!”
Page 7: “[W]hen Moses and Joshua brought the Israelites to the Plains of Moab (the same piece of real estate as the eastern Kikkar of the Jordan north of the Dead Sea), it was referred to as ‘the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland’ (Num 21:20).”
I see. So the reason it should be named Kikkar today is because the Israelite writers of Genesis called it Kikkar, while the Israelite writers of Numbers called it Plains/Valley of Moab. No, I can’t imagine anyone who could give Collins a reasonable argument against that!
Page 9: “[W]hile the idea of the permanency of such a disastrous condition may have been extrapolated for Sodom and Gomorrah by some biblical writers, it doesn’t come from the Gen story itself. … Gen 19 never suggests that the place would be a wasteland forever.”
Sadly, Collins, a devout & professing Christian, views portions of the Holy Word of The LORD/Yahweh/God/Jesus/Holy Spirit as simply “some biblical writer” who “extrapolated idea[s] for make-believe literature, similar to Brothers Grimm & Mother Goose:
“As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man dwell in it” (Jeremiah 49:18).
“Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation” (Zephaniah 2:9).
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto Heaven, shalt be brought down to Hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23).
Imaginative fiction per Collins’ interpretation. Following those words of our Savior, let’s juxtapose a summary of occupational periods found on his/TeHEP’s Welcome web page:
“Surveys and excavations have revealed a long occupational history at Tall el-Hammam, including the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods, the Early, Intermediate, and Middle Bronze Ages, and Iron Age 2. Minor Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic occupations are also in evidence.”
Page 17: “I have a nose for logic and reason, and … I can usually spot a non sequitur from a galloping horse.”
I was able to spot “Iron Age 2” & “Roman” from my comfy chair. My interpretation of the evidence for the location of Sodom does not require me to dismiss the Word of God as the mere product of human imagination. Being a logically consistent Christian, that makes me happy.
Page 23: “It’s interesting that once the Cities of the Plain were destroyed in Gen 19, they’re never again used in a geographical context…”
…which makes sense if they were no longer cities but a sea full of salt, which isn’t mentioned until the Israelites encounter it during the Exodus (in a geographical context). It does not make sense for them to be described as vacant/desolate in Iron Age 2 & Roman writings if they were occupied at those times.
Page 26: “[Y]ou’ve got to look at the whole picture–the components of geography, chronology, archaeology, cultural context, and historical millieu all must be satisfied.”
Just don’t look at the Word of God (Jer 49:18, Zeph 2:9, Matt 11:23). That’s the best way to prove the Word of God is reliable, right?
Page 27: “It is an incontrovertible fact that there exists one definitive, primary passage in the hermeneutical landscape of Sodom’s geography– … traveled eastward, as far as Sodom. This is the definitive passage on the location of Sodom.”
Actually Gen 13:11-12 say, “Lot journeyed east [from Bethel/Hai] … and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.” Those verses do not say Lot traveled directly east until he dead-ended at Sodom. That’s simply a subjective bias Collins projects into the text (the technical term is “eisegesis”). Here’s a map showing modern al Bira, the approximate location of Bethel/Hai:
The top green line shows where you’d end up if you went directly east (& another line going directly south for reference). Neither Collins’ nor my location for Sodom are directly east, even if you assume Lot had to initially go southeast passing through Jericho. The verse is ambiguous regarding Sodom. It says that Lot dwelt in the plain, but from within that plain, Sodom could’ve been north, south, east, west, or anywhere relative to its center; so Collins can’t even use this point legitimately against southern Dead Sea opponents. Gen 18:16 is just as useful for locating Sodom (relative to Hebron, which is why I included it in the bottom-left of the map). If Abram & Lot had been in Jerusalem or Hebron during Gen 13 instead of Bethel/Hai, the text would’ve read the same.
Page 44: “As for the patriarchal numbers, I think there is a correspondence between them and how many of the Mesopotamian peoples, particularly the Sumerians, used the number ’40.’ Personally, I think it was perhaps a system of what I’ve called ‘honorific numerical attributions’ whereby the metaphorical generation number ’40’ was assigned (often in multiples) to important individuals, such as clan-heads or kings, elevating them to an ‘elder’ status within a social context where they were lords over men often physically older than they.”
Page 88: “[Merrill] and others who hold that the patriarchal lifespan numbers in Genesis are base-10 arithmetic numbers are just grasping at straws.”
Page 89: “I think 40–the idealistic generation–is added honorifically into the patriarchal lifespans for a variety of cultural reasons. Honorific, formulaic, symbolic–or some combination thereof. … The numbers are symbolic or honorific formulas, and we just don’t understand how they work. But it’s obvious that this is what they were doing. The numbers were symbolic in a system we don’t understand.”
If I were an atheist, I’d throw my arms around Collins & give him a big hug for embracing my (irrational) worldview by saying something I “don’t understand” is “obvious[ly]” the correct interpretation (e.g., the existence of abstract entities such as the laws governing nature & human awareness of them). Relegating ages within historical Bible texts to mythical values is no different than any Christian embracing evolutionism, homosexuality, & abortion. Calling them “honorific” is like calling a perverse/evil act such as homosexuality “gay”.
Erroneous hermeneutics don’t necessarily jeopardize a Christian’s own salvation, but it makes his/her testimony to others laughable, equivalent to the molding of a gold calf for worship. In each instance when Collins acknowledges this fundamental/fatal flaw with his overall theory of TeH=Sodom, he avoids 2 important aspects: 1) Which people’s ages are honorific, & which are real? 2) How are they distinguished? With no rational/scientific foundation for his ideas, his whole theory about the location of Sodom crumbles.
Page 76: “I’m the first to admit that it’s a sticky problem. And I also admit that five or six years ago I used to hold to a much earlier date for Abraham. But the excavations at Hammam have forced me to rethink the chronology based on archaeological evidence. … Geography always trumps chronology when you’re dealing with the ancient Near East and the Bible.”
He’s honest. If the site he chose for Sodom causes a conflict with the ages of people preserved in God’s Holy Word, his site identification can’t possibly be wrong; God’s Holy Word must contain mysterious/arbitrary numbers for the simple ages of people in the bloodline of Jesus Christ, which means that the names & quantity of people in the bloodline might also be mysterious/arbitrary rather than plain/perspicuous. Besides, Jesus was wrong about Sodom not being occupied during the Iron, Hellenistic, & Roman periods, so His life & thoughts about salvation are not really relevant to the far-more-important work of archeologists, right?
Page 77: “Ancient people didn’t have any concept of absolute dating like we use. They just didn’t.”
Last time I checked my calendar, it was 2,014 years from what is believed to be the birth of Some Guy. Last time I checked Exodus 12:40-1 & 1Kings 6:1, they seemed to indicate systems “like we use.” They just do.
Page 78: “You’ve got to let the text and the ground talk to each other.”
That makes sense … in a very honorific way … from the man who has a nose for logic & reason, who can usually spot a non sequitur from a galloping horse.
Page 85: “I think any suggestion that the existence of the Genesis story is somehow coincidental to the archaeological data of the Kikkar’s MB2 (ca. 1800-1540 BCE) destruction and centuries-long occupation hiatus borders on insanity. … It’s just the anti-biblical bias that drives this kind of illogic. Scientifically, rationally there’s no way … that the MB2 Kikkar destruction doesn’t share a direct, cause-and-effect relationship with the Sodom saga. No way! No way.”
Unless that MB2 destruction was caused by the Israelites in Numbers 21:21-35. Right place, right time, right stuff (courtesy of TeHEP). Way.
Page 87: “There’s no rational thought or logic attached to [the arguments advanced for locating Sodom under the Dead Sea] at all. The Dead Sea is currently at or near its historic low. Why would anyone in their right mind go looking for cities underneath the surface of water that’s at the historic low? Think about it. It’s just an absurdity!”
Again, the only way he would know that it’s currently at/near its historic low is if he presumes it to be older than the Bible says it is (i.e., “15,000 years”). And along with the conventional dating of Earth & our universe by evolutionists, there’s no rational thought or logic attached to that … for in 6 days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, & rested the seventh day.
Page 94: “If Tall el-Hammam isn’t Sodom, then I think, logically, we’ll have to unidentify places like Old Testament Jersusalem… Those who still try to argue against Hammam as Sodom are simply operating on emotions and not facts and science. They’re [sic] arguments against our identification of Sodom are nonsensical, and don’t amount to a hill of beans.”
Astute readers will note that Jerusalem has been continuously occupied since OT times under the same name. By Collin’s own excavation, we know that TeH has had occupational gaps of many centuries, during which time its ancient name was lost. I fail to see the logic in making Jerusalem’s undisputed identity dependent upon Collins’ identification of TeH with Sodom (even if every other scholar ends up agreeing with him). I believe it’s clear from the quotations I’ve provided who is letting his emotions dictate his interpretation (which is why I emphasized his hyperboles).
I like Dr. Collins, & hope he & his team continue doing an excellent job excavating Tall el-Hammam; but on the interpretation of its ancient identity, for now I’ll stick with Jeremiah, Zephaniah, & Matthew.