Geography Trumps Chronology

Nikanor Chernetsov Mouth of Jordan River

I am still struggling with HG, so posting for now will be sporadic at best.  However, I recently managed to actually read through a book and retain some information from it (Yay!).

Here is one quote that stood out to me from the book, Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Famous City by Dr. Steven Collins and Dr. Latayne C. Scott on pages 130-131:

Here’s an assertion that may be controversial, but I’m committed to it–and for what I think are very good reasons: Geography trumps chronology when you’re dealing with the ancient Near East and the Bible.  That’s because there are a lot of variations in Near Eastern chronologies–with high, middle, and low versions that can vary thirty to fifty years at given points.  It’s far looser with the high, middle, and low biblical chronologies that swing to the tune of at least two hundred years for periods preceding the reign of King Solomon–and centuries more than that, if you consider the view of renowned biblical geographer A.F. Rainey and others who view Abraham and the patriarchs as Aramean clan-heads of the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE.  Needless to say, that’s a lot of chronological uncertainty and disagreement among scholars!

By comparison, geography is quite static.  With few exceptions, it doesn’t move around.  Mount Hermon has been in the same place through all antiquity, Jerusalem is fixed, the Jordan and the Dead Sea are fixed.  So if there’s a tenable geographical case for the location of a biblical site, such as there is for Sodom, then you can nail down the geography so long as the stratigraphy–the archaeological artifacts, especially ceramics that anchor chronology in a certain stratum or excavation level–is in the ballpark.

Again, we begin with the text, and that’s how using all of the geographical marks in the story of Abraham, you invariably find Sodom located in the Kikkar of the Jordan, because that’s what Abraham and Lot saw when they were dividing up the land between them.  The text specifies where Sodom was, and after a decade of intensive exploration in that area excavating there, and even closely examining maps and satellite pictures of the topography, we’ve concluded that if the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah still exist, they would have to be at Tall-el-Hammam, at nearby Tall Nimrin, or at other Bronze Age sites on the eastern Kikkar.  It is what it is, and it is where it is.

Furthermore, we’ve found within the excavated ruins of Tall el-Hammam the verification of multiple points of the Genesis Sodom account.  (Right stuff: more about that in a coming chapter.)  The Bible, the geography, and the site all agree.

NB: I found this book to be a fascinating read, although I do not endorse all of the authors’ views. For instance, I personally found this statement about John the Baptist on page 29 to be bizarre: “His captors had dragged this man, whose bones were made of insect shells and whose veins ran half honey, along these skidding stones and slammed him into one of the many caves that dot the slopes of the hill below the fortified compound.”  I’m sure I’ve read before that John the Baptist ate wild locusts and honey.  However, I don’t recall ever reading a claim that his bones were made of insect shells!


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