Arguments Against Locating Sodom at Tall el-Hammam

Todd Bolen responds to “Where is Sodom”

This piece was originally published by professor Todd Bolen on the BiblePlaces blog. Bolen comments on Steven Collins’s BAR article suggesting that Biblical authors located Sodom at the site of Tall el-Hammam. We invite our readers to continue the discussion in our comments section below.
All material republished with the permission of Todd Bolen.


The proposal that Sodom has been found on the northeastern side of the Dead Sea has been around for a decade or so, but with the publication of an article by Steven Collins this month it will receive the widest hearing to date. I thought it might be helpful for readers of Biblical Archaeology Review to know where to go for another perspective.

The proposal that Tall el-Hammam is Sodom fails on at least two counts, and these are helpfully summarized by two experts in their respective subjects.

Geography Fail: Bill Schlegel, professor in Israel for 25 years and author of the Satellite Bible Atlas, explains why the biblical text does not fit the geography of Tall el-Hammam.

Chronology Fail: Eugene Merrill, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, shows in a recent Artifax article that for Tall el-Hammam to be Sodom one must deny all of the biblical dates before the time of the judges.

I’ve written about the issue several times as well:

Excavator Finds Evidence of Destruction at “Sodom” (Dec 2011)

Video: Search for Sodom and Gomorrah (Aug 2009)

Tall el-Hammam: Sodom, Abel Shittim, Abila, or Livias? (Jan 2009)

Sodom Identified? (May 2006)

One final point: the excavator of Tall el-Hammam insists that by identifying the site as Sodom he is supporting the historicity of the Bible. In fact, if his theory is true, we cannot trust the Bible for accurate details about times and places. Tall el-Hammam is certainly a significant site, but Sodom is surely to be found elsewhere.

Northern end of the Dead Sea. Photo from Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4.


Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Where Is Sodom?

Locating Zoar
Steven Collins responds to a letter by Bill Schlegel

Lot’s Cave Museum at Ancient Zoar (Zoora)


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  • Joseph says

    The problem I see with the above article is that they assume that the Dead Sea was formed when God destroyed Sodom. However, this does not have to be. If the Dead Sea is a result of the Flood, then the reason to build a city in the area south of the Dead Sea not very worth while.

  • Tim says

    How do you deal with the lines of evidence stated here:

  • Patricia says

    I am fascinated with this site of Tel El Hammam for a different reason. I believe this region of the plain to be the burial ground of Gog from Ezekiel 39:11. “Gog” is equated with the nation of Israel in Numbers 24:5-9 in the LXX. Josephus details a major battle in AD 68 when thousands of fleeing Israelites were trapped against the Jordan and slaughtered by Placidus and his Roman troops. Many of their dead bodies were carried downstream into the Dead Sea (Wars 4.7.4-6). Presumably these thousands of Israelites were later buried there in the plain where all of the bodies and the bones of Israelite dead from the Jewish / Roman war were taken for burial in order to “cleanse the land” of Israel (Ezekiel 39:11 &16). It would be interesting if signs of a mass burial ground were to be found in this same area, dating from that AD 70 era. It would be indeed ironic if the site of the original Sodom’s destruction was also the cemetery for Jerusalem’s dead of AD 70 to be interred – the city that was “spiritually called SODOM and Egypt” in Rev. 11:8.

  • Mark says

    What makes me excited about the prospect of Tel El Hammam possibly being the authentic site is the weakness of the arguments against the site. With some of the other various biblical sites I have followed over the years, arguments against the sites have been substantial. Here and elsewhere, for Tel El Hammam, the arguments I have read have seemed rather weak.

  • dom says

    It is possible that it may have occured there too. The actual sites of Sodom and Gommorah were revealed to Ron Wyatt, and amateur archeaologist over 25 years ago, In searching the Bible for clues to their locations, Ron and his wife Mary Nell found scripture references that mention four of the cities as forming part of the boundaries of the Canaanites:
    “And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.” ……Genesis 10:19
    It would be strange for Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim to each be listed as boundary markers if they were all in the same general location, at the south end of the Dead Sea. It is logical that the cities would be located at some distance from each other in order for it to be necessary to include each of them as boundary markers.
    Ron’s location of the sites he had found were, indeed, scattered over a distance of over fifty or more miles. One of them was located North of Jericho which was in perfect accord with scripture which indicates that Zeboim would be located North of the Dead Sea.
    “And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines encamped in Michmash. And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned unto the way that leadeth to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual: And another company turned the way to Bethhoron: and another company turned to the way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboin toward the wilderness.”
    1 Samuel 13:16-18
    Later in 1989, Ron and Mary Nell Wyatt visited the site just below Masada and took samples of the whitish material which broke right off in their hands and disintegrated into particles the consistency of talcum powder. At that time, Mary Nell actually found one of the brimstone capsules imbedded in a piece of compacted ash, however, no conclusion was drawn, at that time, as to what it was.
    In October of 1990, Ron Wyatt and Richard Rives returned to area. As they examined the area below Masada they discovered that it had just rained. As they wandered through the area, Richard saw what looked like an open room or cave at some distance and as they approached the vicinity of the cave they came upon a very large chunk of ash that had just recently fallen from a high section – probably because of the recent rain. As Ron stopped to view this he saw numerous yellowish balls inside this broken ash, all surrounded by a reddish-black, crusty ring. Prying one out, he recognized it as sulfur. On closer examination, now knowing what to look for, it was found that all through the ashen remains were round balls of encapsulated sulfur (brimstone).
    After the discovery of the brimstone. Wyatt Archaeological Research began a study to see if brimstone was found in this form anywhere else. Ron and Mary Nell Wyatt along with Richard Rives went to the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington D.C. and examined their display of sulfur in its various forms, none being rounded balls of powdered sulfur. In addition, none of them were encapsulated. A request was granted by the Smithsonian that specimens other than those on display be examined. This collection of sulfur from around the world, consisted of over fifty specimens. None of them displayed the characteristics of the brimstone sulfur found in the vicinity of the “cities of the plain.”
    Ron Wyatt was not the first person to discover brimstone near the Dead Sea. When William Albright and Melvin Kyle set out to find the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in 1924, they, too, found these pieces of brimstone at Southern end of the Dead Sea.
    “…a region on which brimstone was rained will show brimstone. Well, it does; we picked up pure sulfur, in pieces as big as the end of my thumb. It is mixed with the marl of the mountains on the west side of the sea, and now is to be found scattered along the shore of the sea even on the east side, some four or five miles distant from the ledge that contains the stratum. It has somehow scattered far and wide over this plain.” “Explorations at Sodom” by Dr. Melvin Kyle, 1928, pp. 52-53.
    Neither was Marvin Kyle the first to observe the ashen remains. The other record of these cities comes from Josephus in his “Wars of the Jews”, Book IV, Chapter VIII:
    “Now this country is then so sadly burnt up, that nobody cares to come at it;… It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that divine fire; and the traces (or shadows) of the five cities are still to be seen,…”
    Josephus’ description perfectly describes what can be seen at these ashen sites: “…It be now all burnt up.”
    The account of destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and “all the plain” was not a fairy tale. It was an historical event that occurred exactly as the Biblical account presented it. Not only that, but the evidence remains, as Peter wrote, as an “ensample [a visual example] unto those that after should live ungodly”. They provide the entire world with the evidence of, as Jude wrote, “the vengeance of eternal fire.”
    Bearing this in mind let us consider the writings of Malachi who wrote of the final reward of the wicked:
    ” …behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”
    ” But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 4:1-3

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