The burning sulfur that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, described in Genesis 19:24, should have left a telltale destructive layer for modern archaeologists. But identification of the cities of sin has been salted with controversy.

Steven Collins, dean of the college of archaeology and biblical history at Trinity Southwest University, is the latest to announce discovery of the cities. Other archaeologists have suggested sites along the southeastern shore or underneath the Dead Sea, but Collins looked to the northeast of the sea.

Based on his reading of Genesis 13, Collins believes Sodom is located at Tall al-Hammam in Jordan. "The Bible makes it very clear," Collins said. "Sodom is the largest Bronze Age city east of the Jordan River, north of the Dead Sea."

Collins's excavation at Tall al-Hammam has uncovered massive destruction dated to the 18th and 19th centuries B.C., a time traditionally associated with the patriarch Abraham and his nephew, Lot. More significantly, the archaeological layer atop the destruction reveals no evidence of human habitation; there are no pottery shards or remains of buildings or walls for about 700 years, possibly indicating that the area was seen as cursed or uninhabitable following its obliteration. That timeline accords nicely with the biblical account, which records a desolate wasteland at Sodom's former location when Moses and the Israelites crossed over it hundreds of years later.

Eric Cline, an archaeologist at George Washington University and the author of From Eden to Exile, said that Collins might be on to something, but that he "has not yet produced any compelling archaeological evidence." Furthermore, Cline said, Collins's research was "putting the proverbial cart before the horse and excavating with an a priori bias." Cline said all Collins had so far was a hypothesis.

Both Collins and Cline agree, however, that another site favored by some archaeologists cannot be the site of Sodom and Gomorrah. The ruins of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, two cities destroyed in fiery conflagrations, were excavated along the southeastern shore of the Dead Sea in the late 1970s.

"But they are in the wrong place at the wrong time," Collins said. Evidence dates Bab edh-Dhra's destruction to around 2350 B.C., while traditional biblical chronology places Abraham several hundred years later.

In response to critics of his research, Collins pointed out that very few biblical sites have been confirmed by inscriptional evidence of the kind that Cline calls compelling. Geographical information is equally important, he said. "We probably have more geography embedded in the text for Sodom than we do for just about any other city in the Old Testament."

Related Elsewhere:

The Christian Post published Collins's comments to Erskine College and Seminary students about his search for Sodom.

More Christianity Today articles on archaeology are in our history section.

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