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Fire and Brimstone Rained on Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah afire by Jacob de Wet II, 1680

Come Follow Me lesson February 14–20, 2022; Genesis 18–23; by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD

We read in Genesis 19:24-25, “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.”

There was a sense of urgency for the angels who were sent to get Lot and his family out of Sodom before its destruction: “And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.”1

But Lot didn’t want to flee to the mountain. “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord: Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die.”2 They were no longer in Sodom when this conversation occurred, but were somewhere “abroad.” And Lot said to the angels, “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”3 “And he [apparently the angel] said unto him, 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 any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.”4 Notice that even though the angel agreed to let Lot go to Zoar, there was still considerable urgency in his response. Apparently Zoar was far enough away from Sodom and Gomorrah so as not to be caught up in their destruction.

Most of the paintings depicting the destruction of Sodom show Lot, his wife, and their daughters headed into the mountain as Sodom burns behind them. But the only account we have, in Genesis, says that Lot and his family were in Zoar before Sodom was destroyed, as the angel said, “…I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither.” Then came the now famous account of Lot’s wife, “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”5 Another version of that verse states, “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”6

Jesus discussed Lot’s wife, as recorded in Luke 17:22; 28-32, “And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it…Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife.” He said, concerning someone in the field to, “…not return back. Remember Lot’s wife.” Did Lot’s wife do more than just look back? How far behind Lot was she? Is it possible that she didn’t just look back, but, at least partially, “return[ed] back”?

At this point, I will leave off the scriptural narrative and discuss what we have learned from science about the destruction of Sodom, beginning with what appear to be similar destructions from fire and brimstone from heaven. On 30 June 1908, a small asteroid, slightly smaller than a football field, which had been pulled out of its solar orbit in the asteroid belt by the earth’s gravity, hit the earth’s atmosphere at around 33,500 miles per hour and exploded some three to six miles in the warm morning air above the sparsely populated northern forest along the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, Russia. An alternative, but less strongly supported hypothesis, is that what exploded over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River was a comet from the Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud, rather than an asteroid. The problem is, there are no, as yet identified fragments from whatever exploded. No matter what hit the atmosphere, the result was what is now known as the Tunguska explosion. The blast from the aerial detonation was powerful enough to kill around 500 caribou and flatten approximately 80 million trees over an area of around 830 square miles. Witnesses at the time reported seeing an extremely bright bluish fireball, moving across the morning sky, followed by a huge flash and a massive boom. The resulting shockwave knocked people off their feet and broke windows hundreds of miles away. The Tunguska blast was 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.7

7news.com.au/news/world/tunguska-event-was-a-mysterious-blast-caused-by-aliens-c-186772; To this day an impact crater has never been found, leaving an area where no trees grow. Credit: Getty Images

Although there were millions of flattened trees over a vast area, all facing away from ground zero below the blast site, there was no crater, nor were there any fragments of the asteroid (or comet). A large part of the problem is the terrible conditions that exist at the site. The location, called the Suslov depression, which lies directly beneath where the aerial explosion occurred, is very wet, deep, and boggy. One can dig into the peat bogs there and find a charred layer that shows evidence of the explosion. There is also evidence of high-temperature destruction, including melted spherules, meltglass, shocked quartz, iridium, and even tiny diamonds.

However, no meteoric remains of whatever hit the atmosphere have been found in the layer and water fills up holes almost as soon as they are dug. The area is so remote that it is very difficult to bring in pumping equipment – and so the water remains. With the bogs being so deep, it is possible that any asteroid fragment hitting “land” may have sunk deeply into the substrate. And, with water pouring in, it seems impossible to dig deeply enough to find asteroid fragments. On the other hand, if the exploding heavenly object was a comet, made mostly of ice, there may not be many fragments left to find. Kind of reminds one of the famous exchange in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “And why is the carpet all wet, Tod?” “I don’t know Margo!” Another, annoying problem with the Tunguska area is that there are mosquitoes swarming the site, large enough to haul off most investigators. When I have watched videos of excavations at the depression, I could actually see, from quite some distance, the swarms of mosquitoes and horseflies all around the researchers.

In the 1930s, a Russian mineralogist, Leonid Kulik, returned from an expedition to Tunguska with a very rare sample of melted glassy rock containing bubbles, which he considered to be evidence for a meteoric impact event. However, amazingly, this extremely valuable sample somehow disappeared and has never been found, and, therefore, was never subjected to modern analysis.8

Then in 1988, Andrei Zlobin from the Russian Academy of Sciences, not only searched the depression, where he found no meteorites, but also searched the nearby Khushmo River, where the substrate was more solid and space debris may likely remain near the surface. He collected some 100 interesting river rocks and returned with them to Moscow. However, for some odd reason, Zlobin did not immediately examine his treasure. Rather, the specimens remained in boxes, on a shelf in his laboratory, for the next twenty years. Finally, in 2008, the one hundredth anniversary of the explosion, he sorted through the collection and found three rocks with what he considered clear evidence of melting and exhibiting regmaglypts – thumb-like impressions formed on the surface of meteorites do to ablation as the super-heated meteorite falls through the atmosphere at high speed. Then Zlobin waited another five years, until 2013, when he finally announced his discovery. If his conclusions are correct, those three rocks could finally help solve the over one-hundred-year-old puzzle of what sort of extraterrestrial object exploded over Siberia all those years ago. But Zlobin apparently has never carried out any detailed chemical analysis of the rocks to determine their exact composition. He was of the opinion, based on his calculations of the density of the extraterrestrial body, that the exploded object was indeed a comet with a core containing some rock fragments.9However, now another eight years and more have passed without any additional details.

Zlobin’s findings were immediately challenged by a colleague at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Natalya Artemyeva of the Academy’s Geosphere Dynamics Institute, dismissed Zlobin’s claim as “ridiculous.”10 She stated May 4, 2013 on RIA Novosti, “There are many meteorites on Earth. For 100 plus years since the fall of the Tunguska space body, the weight of meteoric dust and small meteorites that have fallen out in that region has exceeded the mass of Tunguska.” Artemyeva explained that you can’t tell if a rock is a meteorite just by looking at it and even if it is a meteorite, that doesn’t mean that it’s a remnant of the Tunguska explosion.11 An estimated 100 tons of space debris enters Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis.12

Based on our current understanding of the asteroid belt, it is estimated that a small asteroid will impact the earth approximately every 10 to 100 years, with Tunguska-sized events occurring roughly once every 1000 years. Such an estimate doesn’t include the probability of the earth being impacted by a comet, which is nearly impossible to predict. In fact, the Tunguska explosion was repeated, only on a smaller scale, 1,500 miles to the west, and 105 years later. On February 15, 2013, a similar but smaller meteoric airburst occurred over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Based on video observations of the fireball and maps of damage on the ground, it is estimated that the Chelyabinsk extraterrestrial object was about one fifth the size of the Tunguska one. It was most likely a small asteroid that broke up and exploded some 15 miles above the ground. The shockwave from the explosion, estimated at 550 kilotons, blew out roughly a million windows and injured more than a thousand people. However, the explosion was not enough to blow down trees or buildings.13

Reports of asteroid or comet explosions that occurred in antiquity are also turning up in the modern scientific literature. In 2008, Gordon Osinski and others described Dakhleh Glass, produced some 150,000 years ago by a meteoric airburst over the Western Egyptian Desert.14 Then, in 2020, Andrew Moore and others, published a paper in Nature, Science Reports describing a cosmic impact at Abu Hureyra, Syria around 12,800 years ago.15

In 2021, Ted Bunch and others (21 total) described their fifteen-year study of the destroyed walled city of Tall el-Hammam, a Middle Bronze Age city in the southern end of the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, leveled by a Tunguska-sized airburst with an epicenter some three to six miles southwest of the city, but with even more power, around 1750 to 1650 BC (some 3600 years ago). The research team discovered walls sheared off above only a few surviving mudbrick courses. Mudbricks and pottery were shattered and melted by temperatures exceeding 2000°C (3632°F). The surface of many pottery sherds were melted into glass, and some mudbrick fragments were bubbled as if “boiled.” One particular potsherd apparently came from the shoulder/neck transition region of a wheel-turned storage jar. The pot had been made from tan-colored, gritty, sandy clay and the shard had a maximum thickness of around 1 cm (0.4 inches). The broken edge reveals that only the outer 2 mm of the sherd had been melted into glass, whereas the next 4 mm was darkened by thermal exposure but had not melted, and the inner 4 mm of the sherd matrix appeared undamaged.16

natgeotv.com/asia/photo-of-the-day/2019/December 10; Jordan: Excavation at Tall el-Hammam. This image is from Buried Secrets of The Bible with Albert Lin.

Furthermore, the destruction layer exhibited a distinct SW-to-NE orientation of objects across the excavated floors. Of some 2000 different vessels, mostly fragmentary, found in the destruction matrix, not a single one, whole or broken, was found in its ‘working’ position. Instead, the vessels had been broken and strewn in a narrow SW-to-NE pattern spanning up to 30 feet. One notable example involved pieces of a distinctively decorated pot spread narrowly along an eighteen-foot path, with the majority of its fragments pushed up against the SW-facing wall of the room. In the rare cases where more-or-less intact pottery vessels were found, they were almost never discovered on the SW sides of walls, but rather, they were found, protected on the NE sides of walls, often embedded in destruction matrix.17

Another layer, immediately above the destruction matrix, was composed of thin, windblown (perhaps a blast wind), fine-grained stratum, including fragments of plaster, limestone spherules, and charcoal, radiocarbon-dated to around 1650 BC. This unusual stratum is referred to as the ‘blow-over layer'. Nothing similar to this layer was identified in any older or younger layers.18

The data suggest that the city’s destruction resulted from a catastrophic high-temperature event. Many sherds exhibited adherent diamond-like carbon particles, as well as iron and silicon spherules and calcium carbonate spherules from melted plaster. The team also discovered melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz. Furthermore, the aerial explosion had caused extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation to nearby humans. The research team stated, “The circumstances and condition of the human bones and fragments suggest that at the moment of death, these individuals were going about normal activities inside the palace, on the upper ring road, and/or on the rampart above the road, where they were struck by a high-temperature thermal pulse, followed by a hyper-velocity blast wave from a catastrophic cosmic airburst.” They further stated, “We propose that the individuals represented by the bones were violently torn apart by a powerful airburst/impact, leaving only a few hand and foot bones still articulated and unbroken.”19

The airburst also apparently aerosolized significant quantities of the nearby Dead Sea, and this “hypersaline water,” was deposited as a coating of salt over a thirty-mile diameter area. The Jordon Valley had been a productive agricultural region, supporting tens of thousands of people for more than 3,000 years. Now the salt coating was enough to inhibit agriculture for around 300–600 years and witness the abandonment of around 120 regional settlements. Even today, when excavation sites at Tall el-Hammam are uncovered, the next morning, a very obvious salt crust, which formed overnight, covers the surface. Bunch et al. stated, “Also, we observed that the newly exposed mud/ash mortar between mudbricks hardened after exposure because of salt crystals and that many pottery sherds and some bones from the destruction layer were encrusted with large salt crystals.” The research team also discovered melted salt crystals within the destruction layer.20

We read in Jeremiah 50:40, “As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord; so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein.” Is it possible that the story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt21 was associated in some way with this layer of salt at Tall el-Hammam? Perhaps she turned back toward Sodom and was close enough, not to be blown apart in the city by the blast, but close enough to be killed and then covered by the salt fallout? Perhaps she was even still standing when blasted by salt – somewhat like the victims of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii who were frozen in pyroclastic concrete while still in their agonized postures. Why did the scriptures specify a pillar of salt rather than a pillar of stone or wood?

Before the destruction of Sodom, the Jordan Valley was a very productive well-watered agricultural area within a generally arid region. The valley was watered by numerous springs emerging from the Transjordanian aquifer. The area around Tall el-Hammam supported an estimated population of 50,000 people occupying three major cities, plus satellite towns, villages, and hamlets spread across 150 square miles. It is little wonder that, given the choice, Lot selected the fertile valley, leaving Abraham the arid region, “Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.”22

The three largest settlements in the Jordon Valley were Tall el-Hammam, Tall Nimrin, and Tell Es-Sultan (Jericho), each surrounded by numerous smaller satellite towns and villages. At 36 hectares of fortifications (around 90 acres) and an additional 30 hectares of “suburban sprawl,” Tall el-Hammam at its zenith was over four times larger than Tall Nimrin and more than five times larger than Jericho, and thus, was likely to have been the area’s politically dominant Middle Bronze Age urban center for many centuries. Then suddenly, essentially in one day, the occupation of Tall el-Hammam ceased at around 1650 BC, in a regional civilization-ending catastrophe, followed by an approximately 600-year occupation hiatus. The devastation of the southern end of the Jordan Valley was so extreme and so pervasive that it became known as Abel, the “land of mourning.”23

The researchers considered several possible causes of Tall el-Hammam’s destruction, such as war, earthquake or volcanic eruption, but concluded that although such disasters could have accounted for some of their data, only a meteor, or comet, airburst could account for all of them. The roughly five-foot thick Tall el-Hammam destruction matrix exhibited rare properties not found in the strata above or below it, nor in any other known archaeological strata. Sherds from thousands of pottery vessels, mudbrick fragments, objects of daily life, carbonized pieces of wooden beams, charred grain, bones, and limestone cobbles were randomly intermixed and distributed throughout the depth of the matrix, and many were burned to a chalk-like consistency. No such melted fragments were found anywhere in the city in younger or older sediment layers.24

Bunch et al. concluded that, “Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis).” They stated, “There is an ongoing debate as to whether Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom … but this issue is beyond the scope of this investigation…Nevertheless, we consider whether oral traditions about the destruction of this urban city by a cosmic object might be the source of the written version of Sodom in Genesis. We also consider whether the details recounted in Genesis are a reasonable match for the known details of a cosmic impact event…The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst.”25

Steven Collins was not a co-author on the Bunch et al 2021 paper, but his papers were cited several times by the authors. Furthermore, in their acknowledgements, they stated, “We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the senior staff at Tall el-Hammam: Director, Steven Collins…”26 Collins is Executive Dean at Trinity Southwest University, an unaccredited evangelical Christian university in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since 2005, Collins, has directed excavations at Tall el-Hammam, including those of the Bunch research team.

Back in 2012-2013, Collins had a literary debate with Eugene Merrill, distinguished professor of Old Testament studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary over the issue of whether Tall el-Hammam could be Sodom. Merrill cited several papers by Collins, which formed the original basis of their debate.27 Merrill’s opening salvo was published in Artifax magazine. Even though I could easily find a citation in Wikipedia,28 no portion of the paper, not even an abstract, was available in a Google search. According to a blog posted by Tod Bolen in 2012,29 “ARTIFAX Magazine is a little-known secret of biblical archaeology. If you are a member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Society (NEAS), you receive the quarterly magazine as part of your membership. If you do not, it’s quite possible that you’ve never heard of this magazine…” I was, however, able to find a PDF copy of Merrill’s paper, “Texts, Talls, and Old Testament Chronology: Tall Hammam as a Case Study,” at biblicalarchaeology.org/wp-content/uploads/MerrillRebuttal.pdf. I recommend reading the entire paper for anyone who is a serious student of the issues I will discuss below.

Collins wrote a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Merrill’s paper.30 I recommend the serious student read his entire paper as well. I will cite only a few points from Collins’ paper, which includes quotes from Merrill’s paper. In his opening summary, Collins stated that Merrill’s article in ARTIFAX was written in response to his paper, “Tall el-Hammam IS Sodom,” which appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of ARTIFAX. Again, I could not find the original paper; however, again, I recommend his paper in the Biblical Research Bulletin, as cited above. I am going to quote quite a bit from Collins’ paper because I like what he has to say about the relationship between science, in this case archaeology, and the Old Testament.

Merrill’s problem with identifying Tall el-Hammam as Sodom is the issue of dates. Collins and others, including Bunch et al., dated Tall el-Hammam’s destruction at around 1750 to 1650 BC, whereas Merrill and others have dated Sodom’s destruction as occurring during Abraham’s life, which falls between 2166–1991 BC. Merrill, and some other highly conservative evangelical Christians, have based their calculations of Biblical history on a system introduced by James Ussher, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1625 to 1656. Ussher’s calculations were so “precise” that he did not estimate Biblical dates within ­+ 100 years or so, he dated the creation, for example at around 6 pm on 22 October 4004 BC, + an hour or two. I have always considered Ussher’s Biblical chronology as a sort of joke, showing how incredibly naïve even a very scholarly person could be in the 17th century. Apparently, Merrill and others still take Ussher’s ridiculous chronology as gospel.

Merrill made it clear that his Biblical calculations were based upon those of Ussher, “In the modern period, attempts to determine the dates of Old Testament events commenced notably with Archbishop James Ussher of the Anglican Church of Ireland (1581-1656). By methodically adding up the years attributed to various biblical persons and events, all the while making due allowance for concurrences and discordances, he concluded…”31 Merrill also stated, “Most serious of all—to the conservative scholar at least—is the methodological fallacy of testing and assessing biblical information in light of presumed archaeological primacy and the necessary shift of the ground of authority from text to tell.”32 In Merrill’s mind, the Bible should take primacy over any other consideration, especially including archaeology of a tell [sic; actually a tall or hill such as Tall el-Hammam].

Collins responded, “In short, the “archaeological and biblical chronological data” to which Merrill refers are those of his own making or choosing, and would not receive anything resembling agreement except from a relatively small number of conservative evangelicals who follow the chronological methodology of Archbishop Ussher (worked out in the 17th century)… He [Merrill] makes it sound as if there is some great consensus of understanding among evangelical scholars as to an ‘official’ biblical chronology. This could not be further from the truth…The fact is that, among evangelical scholars, those holding to the archaic chronological views of James Ussher would be in the extreme minority, and virtually non-existent among non-evangelical Christian and Jewish scholars.”33

Collins continued, “If tells (talls) cannot shed light on the meaning of biblical language and linguistic conventions…then the gulf between archaeology and the Bible is hopelessly unbridgeable. If conservatives—I among them—are unwilling to let well-reasoned archaeology speak hermeneutically to the text, then they really should think about giving up archaeology altogether. If our predetermined under-standing of the Bible is so set in stone that we cannot at least entertain ideas that might contradict older, traditional assumptions about various facets of the text, what does that say about the relationship of the biblical record to testable physical reality?”34 I completely agree with Collins’ position here.

Collins also stated, “More than a decade of research, exploration and (now) excavations in the southern Jordan Valley, with particular focus on Tall el-Hammam, has led me to challenge my own previously-held views about the patriarchal chronologies of Genesis. I have come to the conclusion that if Tall el-Hammam is biblical Sodom—based on the volume of evidence I see no way around this implication—then the date of its terminal Bronze Age destruction provides us with a chronological peg by which an archaeologically and historically reasonable date for the career of Abr(ah)am can be fixed. Such an anchor-point may also provide hermeneutical grounds for either accepting or rejecting the traditional notion that the patriarchal lifespan numbers are to be understood as base-10, arithmetic values, or something else altogether…”35

Collins continued, “…in rejecting the identification of Tall el-Hammam as Sodom based solely on his [Merrill’s] Ussherian view of biblical chronology, he has set himself against all other lines of evidence and data-sets that say otherwise. Could it be that the problem is with his chronology? I think that is exactly what the collective evidence advocates…If Tall el-Hammam and its satellites are not Sodom and the Cities of the Kikkar, then the biblical geography of the patriarchal age has a very large hole in it, for it puts nothing else on that piece of well-watered, fertile real estate north of the Dead Sea.”36 “… taking the patriarchal lifespan numbers as formulaic (as opposed to base-10 literal) does not logically lead to a denial of the fact of creation or Noah’s flood, nor does it logically result in ‘a denial of the historical reality’ of the OT…Such rejections of biblical credibility were the result of a faulty—even nonscientific—worldview that disallowed the existence of an infinitely powerful intelligence who created and sustains the universe and everything in it.”37

Collins further stated, “Concluding that the patriarchal numbers were not originally written to convey literal, base-10 arithmetic values simply recognizes that the minds of ancient nomadic people did not employ numbers merely as chronological markers in a system of absolute dating—which, as far as we can determine, they did not use and knew nothing about. Via numerical formulas they represented not only physical age, but also symbolic elements reflecting perceived dimensions of societal status, personal attainment, and character. Such thinking was distinctly Mesopotamian, which the ‘inflated’ regnal spans of the Sumerian king list—in the ‘thousands’ and ‘tens-of-thousands’ of years—strongly imply. Abr(ah)am was a Mesopotamian, and Hebrew clan ties to Mesopotamia remained strong throughout the patriarchal period, as the Genesis record clearly demonstrates.”38

Collins concluded, “…Interestingly, if Tall el-Hammam is Sodom as I think the geographical and archaeological evidence categorically confirms, then it constitutes a most remarkable confirmation of the historical veracity of the patriarchal narratives, in addition to taking the mystery out of the precise timeframe for Abr(ah)am…If it [Tall el-Hamamm] is Sodom, it is the most significant archaeological confirmation of the patriarchal narratives ever discovered. If Tall el-Hammam is not Sodom, then both the geography and the reality of the biblical Sodom tales must be called into question.”39 “…When someone says to me, ‘I take the Bible literally,’ red flags go up in my mind…Such literalism, in many cases, presupposes a kind of ‘omniscience’ on the part of the interpreter because it forces the biblical text through a modern filter comprised of personal biases, perspectives, cultural experiences, and likely a mixture of accurate and inaccurate information. To have confidence that ‘I know what the literal meaning of a biblical passage is’ suggests that I know every nuance of everything about its history, social culture, material culture, religious background, and language. I find this kind of approach arrogant and unacceptable. Legitimate hermeneutics seeks to understand biblical texts in the light of what is knowable from every facet of its ancient context. It strives to rigorously apply linguistic, cultural, sociological, geographical, anthropological, and archaeological data in order to ascertain what a given text represents within its original historical setting. For me, ‘literal’ is just the wrong word, the wrong concept. We should employ every legitimate, relevant data-set in order to interpret texts authentically, not merely ‘literally’.”40

I greatly appreciate the perspective outlined here by Steven Collins. As a self-proclaimed conservative evangelical scholar, his opinion, in my opinion, about the necessary relationship between science, in this case archaeology, and the scriptures is right on the point. It is my opinion that if the Bible contains truth, which I believe it does, as far as it is translated correctly, then that truth should only profit from comparison to the truths revealed by science.

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD



1. Genesis 19:15-17

2. Genesis 19:18-19

3. Genesis 19:20

4. Genesis 19:21-22

5. Genesis 19:26

6. biblehub.com/text/genesis/19-26.htm

7. Anderson, Paul Scott and Kelly Kizer Whitt, Today in science: The Tunguska explosion, earthsky.org/space/what-is-the-tunguska-explosion, June 30, 2021

8. technologyreview.com/2013/05/02/178590/first-tunguska-meteorite-fragments-discovered

9. Ibid

10. universetoday.com/101997/claims-of-tunguska-meteorite-fragments-ridiculous-scientist-says

11. sputniknews.com/20130503/Scientist-Dismisses-Tunguska-Meteorite-Fragment-Find-Claims-180970556.html

12. universetoday

13. Anderson and Whitt, 2021

14. Osinski, G. R. et al. The Dakhleh Glass: Product of an impact airburst or cratering event in the Western Desert of Egypt?. Meteorit. Planet Sci. 43, 2089–2106, 2008

15. Moore, A. M. T. et al. Evidence of cosmic impact at Abu Hureyra, Syria at the younger Dryas Onset (~12.8 ka): High-temperature melting at > 2200 °C. Sci. Rep. 4185, 2020

16. Bunch, T.E., LeCompte, M.A., Adedeji, A.V. et al. A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. Sci Rep 11, 18632, 2021

17. Ibid

18. Ibid

19. Ibid

20. Ibid

21. Genesis 19:26

22. Genesis 13:11-12

23. Bunch et al., 2021

24. Ibid

25. Ibid

26. Ibid

27. For his reports and other publications on Hammam, see Collins in Biblical Research Bulletin VII 1 (2007); VII 3 (2007); VII 4 (2007); VII 7 (2007); Bible and Spade 15 2 (2007); Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 53 (2010): 385-414

28. Merrill, Eugene H. "Texts, Talls, and Old Testament Chronology: Tall Hammam as a Case Study". ARTIFAX, vol. 27, no. 4:20–21, 2012

29. bibleplaces.com/blog/2012/09/artifax-magazine

30. Collins, Steven, Tall el-Hammam Is Still Sodom: Critical Data-Sets Cast Serious Doubt on E.H. Merrill’s Chronological Analysis; Biblical Research Bulletin, The Academic Journal of Trinity Southwest University, Volume XIII, Number 1, 2013 wsimg.com/e51ae8bfbc4244582e9e31c604b120c3?AccessKeyId=0DC57D8CA671AC05ECA4&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

31. Collins, 2013, p. 10

32. Collins, 2013, p. 9

33. Collins, 2013, p. 7

34. Collins, 2013, p. 9

35. Collins, 2013, p. 4

36. Collins, 2013, p. 6-7

37. Collins, 2013, p. 10-11

38. Collins, 2013, p. 11

39. Collins, 2013, p. 18, 21

40. Collins, 2013, p. 3

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