Years of research at Tel Hammam by multiple teams of scientists have revealed remarkable results, but a major dispute remains. While most of the researchers claim that the site bears signs of an ancient and massive catastrophe conforming to the Biblical description of the destruction of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, others claim that Tel Hammam, in the eastern part of the lower Jordan Valley close to the mouth of the Jordan River and about 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea, has substantial remains from the Chalcolithic, Early, Intermediate, and Middle Bronze Age and from Iron Age II.
A walled city with administrative buildings
The archaeologists studied the remains of an extensive walled city with administrative buildings and surrounding farm regions that flourished and dominated the region for 3,000 years. Based on evidence at the site, some 4,000 years ago, the entire area suddenly became uninhabited sometime between 2000-1540 BCE and remained so for over 700 years.
A report in 2018 by Phillip Silvia of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque added more pieces to the puzzle. Silvia led excavations at five large sites on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River. According to Silvia, the 15 square-mile circular Middle Ghor was a fertile plain, populated continuously for at least 2,500 hundred years. Some form of catastrophe 3,700 years ago brought this to a sudden end, wiping out all of the estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people who inhabited the area at the time. The event was so catastrophic that the area remained unpopulated for 600 years.
Charcoal, ash, and melted bricks
Studies of the remains of 120 small settlements in the region showed signs of extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. Researchers were faced with a 5-foot-thick layer of charcoal, ash, melted bricks, and pottery at the site, which researchers called the destruction layer. The evidence of intense heat precluded a war or earthquake. They determined that the bricks melted at a temperature of 2,700 Fahrenheit, hotter even than a volcano. Pottery was discovered to have been exposed to heat so intense that it melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the sun’s surface. Pottery fragments discovered at the Tall el-Hammam site contained tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on the area.
The study concluded that about 3,600 years ago, an icy space rock measuring 50 meters across entered the atmosphere while traveling 38,000 mph. Lacking a crater to indicate an impact, the researchers concluded that the asteroid entering the atmosphere resulted in a massive fireball that exploded about 2.5 miles above the ground. The resulting blast was about 1,000 times more potent than the Hiroshima atomic bomb and destroyed the region.
The storm traveled
Air temperatures in the entire region rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, causing clothing and wood to immediately burst into flames. Mud Bricks and pottery began to melt, something even volcanoes do not do. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire. The combustion was followed by a massive shock wave moving at about 740 mph. The upper 40-feet of a four-story palace were sheared off and blown into a nearby valley. The storm traveled 14 miles across the valley, toppling the walls of the city of Jericho and burning it to the ground. Silvia also found evidence that shockwaves from the explosion pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farmland.
The scientific explanation reflects the Biblical description of the destruction of the twin cities of evil located in the same area.
Hashem rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from Hashem out of heaven. He annihilated those cities and the entire Plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and the ground’s vegetation. Genesis 19:24-25
The similarity of their conclusions was not lost on the researchers. Co-author of the research paper, Dr. Steven Collins, wrote in an article in Biblical Archaeology Review that the Biblical account results from a real event being incorporated into the collective unconscious and consequently being recorded in the Bible.
Preserved in the Book of Genesis
“The memory of the destruction of ha-kikkar, with its large population and extensive agricultural lands, was preserved in the Book of Genesis and ultimately incorporated into a traditional tale that, drawing on the layer of ash that covered the destruction of one of its major cities, remembered a place consumed by a fiery catastrophe from ‘out of the heavens’,” he writes. “The Bible gives the city’s name: Sodom.”
Others raised doubts about the claim. An op-ed published in Sapiens Anthropology Magazine called the claim “pseudoscientific,” suggested that it could erode scientific integrity and warned that it might lead to the site’s destruction by looters. Critics also accused the researchers of altering some of the images used as evidence.
Last month Steven Jaret, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, and R. Scott Harris, a space scientist at Atlanta’s Fernbank Science Center, challenged Silvia’s conclusions. They suggested that a standard smelting process caused the evidence of extreme heat affecting the pottery. Paul Braterman, blogging at Primate’s Progress, wrote an article titled “an airburst of gullibility” in which he discounted Silvia and his team as representing “an unaccredited Bible college.”
“Not credentialed as we expect
“It certainly raises suspicions when an archaeologist makes dramatic claims like ‘this site is Biblical Sodom,’ and that person is not credentialed as we expect,” said James Hoffmeier, emeritus professor of Near Eastern archaeology and Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in an interview with Religion News Service.
Silvia responded in Retraction Watch:
“The accusation that the image was photoshopped is categorically false,” Silvia wrote. “The only edits made to that image are the additions of the colored dots to note the pieces that came from the same pots and the outlines to group them.”
“As far as the comments made in the link you provided are concerned… Note that they are all ad hominem attacks against the authors (including myself) and the institutions (like TSU) and affiliations (like the Comet Research Group) with which we are associated. None of their comments address the science within our paper, probably because they have nothing of value to add to the discussion. It’s a classic example of character assassination substituted for a rational discussion of the evidence. What motivates it? Who’s to say?”