Discovering the City of Sodom

Start with the text. He opened his Bible to Genesis 10–19 as if it were a letter describing an event he’d missed and would want to know about.

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That Dr. C had been calling Sodom and Gomorrah.

Coming to Tall el-Hammam

The wonder of Tall el-Hammam, the site of the mighty ancient city of Sodom, isn’t that it exists, for it has stood for thousands of years, hulking and dominant just eight miles from the Dead Sea in what is now known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The wonder is that it has escaped the notice of most Bible-focused archaeologists, all but virginally untouched for most of the one-hundred plus years that modern archaeology has existed.

It is certainly not invisible, no Shangri-la perceived only by enlightened eyes. A traveler would observe that from its foothills it is actually one of many; yet first among peers, a giant among the mounds or “talls” along the western edge of the foothills of the Transjordan Highlands.

It has been hiding in plain sight of those who, for no good scientific reason, didn’t just summarily cross it off a list of candidates for Sodom.

In fact, in the last century, practically no one had put it on the list in the first place.

As one travels up through the mountains and crags that huddle around Tall el-Hammam, it’s at first indistinguishable, at least in hue, from the dun-colored Kafrayn Dam across the road and the sagging slopes of runoff-sliced hills all around. From that vantage point, everything from here to the east is beige and taupe and light brown and tan and off-white.


In contrast, the blocky fields of squat little banana trees blare green. They are watched over by their owners on nearby hills; and in the case of Sodom, six brothers’ houses overlook the brilliant emerald of their cutleaf trees, each one bearing the only crop of its lifetime: not-yet-yellowed fingers all pointing up like hands grasping for the sun.

Towering above the fields, Sodom looks as natural—and upon observation, as designed and processed—as a huge anthill that has erupted from the earth, once of the earth and now in it. As with an anthill, too, almost nothing grows on its higher slopes, perhaps in tribute to the fact that its desolation speaks of upheaval and transport and other times, of a hidden history revealed, of secrets and threats and dread.

Once you are within its mighty walls, both hot and cool springs are now in the open, anchoring a spot of luxurious foliage, home to Sodom’s abundant little green frogs.

Every rock on this mud mountain was hauled up there, from the small ones to the great boulders that formed foundations for immense walls. Some haven’t seen light for four, five, six thousand years. Even the mud itself, decomposed bricks, came from somewhere else.

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