By Shawn Carnahan
The city of Sodom is referenced repeatedly in the Bible as both a city of wicked men and the object of God’s judgment. Sodom first appears as a reference point for the direction one must look to find Canaanite territory (Gen. 10:19). Later, it is referred to as a place in the valley of the Jordan where the inhabitants were wicked and sinful (Gen. 13:10-13; 14:2).
Perhaps the most well known biblical account of Sodom surfaces in the context of the narrative of Lot and Abraham. Lot pitched his tent in Sodom after separating from Abraham, and was later rescued by him from an invading army. Later, Abraham would again intervene on behalf of the city and for the sake of his nephew Lot. Still, God determined He would not save the city because of its exceedingly grave sin. Ultimately, the Bible reports that Sodom was destroyed as God rained down fire and brimstone upon it (Gen. 19: 23-29).
But did this city actually exist, and, if so, where was it located?
Ancient history testifies to the existence of Sodom. The Ebla tablets contain a probable reference to biblical Sodom, indicating that the city existed as early as 2500 BCE. Philo, writing in the first century CE, indicates that sulfur was present in the region where Sodom was located, but that a neighboring city contained fertile land. Josephus corroborates the fiery destruction of Sodom. In addition, Tacitus observed the remnants of cities in the area where Sodom was located. In sum, a number of fairly early historical sources attest to Sodom’s existence, and state that this city and its surrounding region were destroyed by fire.
In modern times, the twentieth century was marked with efforts to locate the lost city of Sodom. After an expedition in the early 1920’s, W.F. Albright is recognized as being the first archaeologist to propose the city of Sodom was located on the southeastern side of the Dead Sea. In the spring of 1960, Ralph E. Baney studied the Dead Sea with hopes of finding Sodom and proving the veracity of the Bible. More attention was given to Sodom in the mid 1970’s when Walter Rast and Thomas Schaub performed a survey of the region near Bab edh-Dhra, on the southeastern corner of the Dead Sea.
Initially, Bab edh-Dhra was considered to be a strong contender for the location of biblical Sodom. However, more recent evidence from Tall el-Hammam, in the southern Jordan Valley within the Kikar region, has challenged this view.
Tall el-Hammam was not as eagerly studied in the late twentieth century because it was thought to be in an area of landmines. Revived interest began when Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University began having doubts about the authenticity of the Bab edh-Dhra location. His survey of the cities in the circular and fertile plain above the Dead Sea led him to study Tall el-Hammam, and he has since concluded that this site must be the destroyed city of Sodom. Collins has assigned a destruction date of ca. 1650 BCE to Sodom.
While not all archaeologists and historians are persuaded by Collins’ arguments for locating Sodom at Tall el-Hammam, Collins has nonetheless provided a fairly compelling case. For example, the existence of trinitite (a glassy residue formed by intense heat) at Tall el-Hammam presents a factor in locating Sodom that is atypical for any other site. No other location in the region of the Dead Sea has been found containing samples of this substance. The circumstances leading to its creation require heat that is equal to that of magma, or 1,300 – 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other factors that make the Kikar region a likely candidate as being the location of biblical Sodom include the fact that it is near the Jordan River, on a once fertile plain, visible from between Ai and Bethel, and presents evidence of simultaneous terminal destruction to cities that remained unoccupied for several hundred years. Kikar also presents evidence of objects falling from the sky, colliding with, and causing the compositional change of pottery and silica.
In sum, there is historical and archaeological evidence for the existence of biblical Sodom, and recent excavations have demonstrated that it is likely Sodom was located in the Kikar region, in the southern Jordan Valley. While we cannot be absolutely certain that this was the location of biblical Sodom, the most recent evidence points in this direction.