Estimated Reading Time: 35 Minutes
This blog has been updated to include a part 2 to address The Bible Skeptic’s response to this blog.
Recently, The Bible Skeptic (from here on out known as TBS) decided to post a video claiming the biblical site of Sodom cannot correlate with the Tall el-Hammam site. He didn’t mention my video, but he did reference several arguments I utilized, used oddly similar graphics, and gave his video a similar title to the text of the thumbnail of my video. On top of this, he claimed that apologists are dishonest and bend the facts to suit their needs to get Tall el-Hammam to be Sodom. Well, as you will see, there is a lot of projection in his statements. There are many arguments in favor of Tall el-Hammam that he takes out of context, and Biblical verses he bends to suit his needs. I’ll respond to his arguments in sections by his chapter markers.
The first argument is an unnecessary series of personal attacks against Steven Collins who has been leading excavations at Tall el-Hammam. All of this does nothing to discredit the Tall el-Hammam site and really only says more about the level TBS is willing to stoop to. There is not much more to say about this and I will move on to his actual arguments. Just remember that atheist apologists, like TBS, love to attack the integrity of apologists while employing low-level personal attacks like this.
NOT A More Northern Location
TBS says the Bible doesn’t necessarily support a northern location because some of the evidence used to support a northern location can also correlate with other potential areas. This is true, but TBS fails to show how a proponent of the Tall el-Hammam has ever said otherwise.
For example, TBS agrees the region north of the Dead Sea is a kikar, meaning round or oval-shaped, but he says other areas around the Dead Sea can be described as a kikar as well. No one would disagree with this. When Collins and myself note this correlation, we are not claiming this is the only area that matches this description.
This is the first place we see TBS’s projection of dishonesty. At 16:55 he says it is the apologists who are “dishonest and self-serving” for claiming it can “only” be north of the Dead Sea. Most proponents of the Tall el-Hammam have not said such a thing, and I did not say it could only be north of the Dead Sea because it is the only kikar in the region.
We obviously need actual geographic correlations that align with the biblical description, regardless of if one could find those elsewhere. The real evidence is the site itself, which does show evidence of destruction by a meteoritic airburst, which would result in fire raining down. If those other potential ‘kikar’ locations around the Dead Sea do not have evidence of a massive site destroyed by fire, then that hardly matters. The initial correlations, like looking for a place in a kikar, only helped Collins find the site. If there was no Tall el-Hammam north of the Dead Sea, the initial correlations would not amount to much.
TBS’s next argument is to claim that Genesis 13 only says Lot traveled east and moved “as far as Sodom.” Proponents of the southern location have used this very reasoning to say that Genesis 13 does not necessarily mean Sodom was east of Bethel and Ai. At 17:36 of TBS’s video, we hear:
“One can begin one’s journey to the east and then move off in any direction. One does not of necessity have to remain traveling east. The biblical text is not a detailed itinerary of Lot’s journey.”
Right, but this is an odd interpretation of Genesis 13:11-13, which does list one important part of Lot’s jounrey. The text implies Sodom was east of Bethel and Ai because Lot started around Bethel and Ai and then moved East, which is where Sodom is. If I were to tell you I was in Los Angeles and was moving east as far as Dallas, you would not get the impression I moved east and then randomly went off in some other direction, and therefore, have no clue where Dallas was in relation to Los Angeles. You would think I was moving east until I got to Dallas.
Likewise, Genesis 13 strongly implies Sodom was off to the east of Bethel and Ai. Lot headed east and kept going as far as Sodom. Nothing in this passage suggests he changed direction to get to Sodom. TBS is really stretching things to make it sound like Sodom does not necessarily have to be in the east. Now it is possible that Lot continued to move around the area after that to keep his flocks fed, but Genesis 13:11-12 doesn’t suggest he broke off the eastward route until he got to Sodom. TBS’s reading of this passage does not make sense and he has to stretch the meaning of the passage to make it sound like something it does not say.
TBS tries to argue Ez. 16:46 really must mean Sodom is south of Jerusalem. The verse reads as:
“And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters.”
One thing I noted in my video is that the Hebrew word for south (יָמִין) actually means ‘to the right of.’ See verses like Genesis 13:9; 24:49; 48:13-18; Ezekiel 1:10; 21:22; 39:3. In no place when the word ‘יָמִין’ shows up in Ezekiel does it necessarily means ‘south’. In fact, in other places throughout Ezekiel we see other words used that more definitively mean south (Ez. 20:46-48; 21:4; 40:2, 24-28, 40, 41; 41:10-13, 18; 46:9; 47:1-2, 19; 48:10). Now, the word ‘יָמִין’ can mean south if the direction of south is off to the right of the speaker, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. So when Ez. 16:46 says Sodom was ‘יָמִין’ of Jerusalem, it could mean to the east, southeast, or south. There is a wide area that could mean off to the right.
TBS notes the word for north (שְׂמֹאול) in the verse means ‘to the left.’ But Samaria is indisputably north of Jerusalem. So when the verse says Samaria if off to the left, it must mean north, which means ‘off to the right’ must mean south:
Once again, TBS is forcing the verse to say something it does not say. Here is another analogy. If I am giving directions from Houston and looking north, I could say you would get to Dallas if you headed left and get to New Orleans if you headed right:
TBS wants us to believe that if someone says something is to the left, then whatever is to the right can only be 180 degrees in the opposite direction. But Dallas is north of Houston and New Orleans is east of Houston, not south of Houston. Yet there is nothing intuitively wrong with saying Dallas is to the right of Houston and New Orleans is to the left (if I was facing north). Why, in TBS’s view, can something only be 180 degrees in the opposite direction for it to be left and right? Can I not point to two things with an angle of 90 or 60 degrees apart and say they are to the right and left of me? TBS is not being charitable in his interpretation of the text. Sodom can be east and off the right, while Samaria can be off to the left and be north.
When I published my video, I didn’t mention that the word for ‘north’ in Ez. 16:46 means ‘off to the left’ because I thought once we understand the verse is not saying literally the direction of south, but ‘off to the right’, most people’s intuition would take over. They would understand these are not concrete directions of north, east, west, and south, but simply left and right. Apparently this was not the case for everyone.
Where Was Zoar?
I didn’t mention the location of Zoar in my video because we are not sure where Zoar was. TBS notes that Zoar has to be close to Sodom because Genesis 19:30 says Lot and his daughters got there by the morning after the destruction, so it would have to be less than a half day’s walk. TBS then cites Deuteronomy 34:1-3, which describes the geographic makers for the land that God was going to give Israel:
“Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.“
TBS highlights that the passage only mentions 3 cities, Dan, Jericho, and Zoar. TBS says:
“Dan is near the extreme north of the land promised to the Israelites, while Jericho sits near its center Zoar. Therefore, it is most likely to be associated with the extreme south of the land.”
TBS then places Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea, as it must represent the area of the extreme south of Israel’s territory. But the problem is if Zoar was all the way at the other end of the Dead Sea, that would take roughly a 28-hour walk, not enough time for Lot and his daughter to walk there overnight.
So according to TBS the three cities of Deut. 34:1-3 are meant to represent the extent of Israel’s land from north to south. Zoar is implied to be in the south, at the other end of the Dead Sea, since it is less than a day’s journey from Sodom (Gen. 19:30), so Sodom must be in that area as well.
The problem is that TBS is reading too much into Deut. 34:1-3. This passage does not claim to be giving the city associated with the furthest northern extent of Israel’s territory. Nor does the passage claim to be listing the city associated with the area furthest to the south. If that was the case, it would list Sidon in the north, not Dan (Joshua 11:8). For the southern boundary, it would list Kadesh (Joshua 15:3). Moreover, if Zoar was at the southern end of the dead sea it makes no sense to list it a boundary marker for Israel. The area was in the region of Edom and not part of Israel’s territorial boundries. Israel’s territorial boundaries were supposed to extend further southwest and did not include the southern end of the Dead Sea. So this is probably not what Deut. 34:1-3 is aiming to do. See this map:
Also, remember Moses is on Mount Nebo, which is on the eastern side of the Jordan. If this was about territorial boundaries, then the text is more likely stating the territorial boundary markers on the eastern side of Israel’s land. Looking to the north that would be Dan, but to the south, the territorial boundaries of Israel on the eastern side of the Dead Sea do not extend all the way to the southern end of the Dead Sea. They only go so far and then you enter the land of Moab. If Zoar was a geographical marker for Israel’s territory (which Deut. 34:1-3 does not necessarily say), then you would not expect it to be found at the southern end of the Dead Sea, but rather where the territory of Rueben ends. But again, Deut. 34:1-3 is not necessarily saying this. TBS has read this into the text.
Also, there is no evidence that Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Steven Collins has written an article noting it makes more sense to place Zoar at the eastern side of the Dead Sea at “the southeast corner of the deep north basin.”
This is only speculation. We still do not know for sure, but TBS’s claim that it must be at the southern end of the Dead Sea because of Deut 34:1-3 is not a convincing argument. It does not appear he put a lot of thought into section of his video.
Altering Biblical Chronology
This is the longest section of TBS’s video and is more of a rant than a scholarly response. TBS notes that Christians, like myself and Collins, do not believe the biblical ages are literal. So he accuses us of changing what the Bible records. He says:
“Apologists pick and choose when the Bible is making a literal recording and when it is speaking metaphorically… The apologist must assert that the plain ages given in the biblical text for the patriarchs are not plain at all but are mythological ages, not meant to be taken literally.”
Wow, where to begin…
TBS really displays a lack of knowledge of the scholarship on this issue. Apologists are not “picking and choosing” when something is literal. There are good reasons from the ancient cultural context that suggest ancient authors were not attempting to establish a chronology with personal ages or dates, I cited several scholarly sources in my video on Genesis 5, and will add a hyperlink to that video so I don’t have to repeat myself. It is not apologists claiming the ages were never meant to be literal, it is scholars, like Lloyd Bailey, Richard Hess, Craig Olson, Nahum Sarna, Kenneth Kitchen, and Meir Bar-Ilan. TBS seems to be totally unaware of the scholarly research on this issue (sources are given through the video on Genesis 5). Dr. David Falk also has a good video explaining how this is a flawed and fundamentalist reading of the Bible and is thrusting modern views of chronology onto the Bible.
If TBS did some scholarly work on this issue, he might have uncovered this is not an apologist tactic, but a scholarly argument that the ages of Genesis are not literal. We are not picking and choosing when something is literal or not. The text of Genesis records events in a historical manner, so we take things like the destruction of Sodom as a historical event because a proper exegesis of the text indicates that. However, a study of the cultural context and an evaluation of the internal evidence of the ages listed in Genesis indicate the ages are not meant to be literal.
Finally, long before Tall el-Hammam was discovered, Kenneth Kitchen was already claiming that Abraham lived in the Middle Bronze Age II (sometime between 1850–1700 BC). Apologists didn’t scramble and frantically re-date Abraham after Tall el-Hammam was discovered. Kitchen, in “On The Reliaiblity of the Old Testament,” had already placed Abraham in this exact time period (Kitchen 2003: 313-72). Interestingly, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam coincidentally aligned with this period of time. This section of TBS’ video does more harm for his overall argument, as it shows how poor his research was for his video. He is obviosuly not aware of the scholarly dates for Abraham.
Never To Be Inhabited Again
TBS claims Tall el-Hammam cannot be Sodom because the Bible says Sodom was never supposed to be inhabited again, but archaeological evidence indicates the area was habited again during the Iron age. He cites places like Isaiah 13:19-20, Jeremiah 49:17-18, 50:39-40, and Zephaniah 2:9.
First, this is easily addressed by noting that the prophets often use hyperbole; such prophetic statements were never meant to be taken literally. Take Isaiah 60:19-20:
The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
For this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above be dark;
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”
Second, let’s just give TBS what he wants and say the prophets were being literal when they spoke of no one living in Sodom anymore. If we want to be hyper-literal, these verses are technically talking about the actual cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, not the whole region where Sodom was. No one ever lived in the city of Sodom because it was utterly destroyed. People could live in the general region of Sodom, but technically no one has ever lived in the cities again because they were destroyed. Some people, merely inhabiting the region, is not the same as living in the actual cities. TBS wants us to take passages like Isaiah 13:19-20 literally, but not too literal, as that would undermine his argument.
As for Matthew 11:23, nothing in the verse suggests what TBS thinks he sees. It reads:
“And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”
TBS then says about this verse:
“Clearly, in Jesus’ day Sodom did not remain, Tall el-Hammam, however, did.”
So if ruins remain that means the city has remained? TBS has an odd definition of what constitutes a city. I wonder if TBS cites the city of Uruk is still around because we have ruins. Are dinosaurs still around because we find their fossils, and technically, all the organic matter that made dinosaurs is still around? The truth is the verse is speaking of how Sodom was destroyed and did not remain. Ruins remaining after a city’s destruction is not the same as the city remaining.
TBS then ends with a rant generalizing about how all apologists think, which is ripe with insults and character attacks. But a simple examination of his arguments shows how uncharitable and dishonest his arguments actually are. His attempts to discredit the Tall el-Hammam site as the location of the destruction of the Biblical Sodom are not successful.
I am dumbfounded as to why some atheists, like TBS, are so uncharitable with the Bible that they cannot even allow it to obtain any accurate information. Why does TBS care so much to argue that Tall el-Hammam cannot correlate to the Biblical destruction of Sodom? If an ancient city mentioned in the Avesta was found and Zoroastrian followers became excited about it, I would hardly care. Archaeological sites can only strengthen the reliability of a religious text, not prove the truth of the religion. TBS also says little about the Tall el-Hammam and how it was suddenly destroyed by fire and extreme heat, which correlates well with the Genesis account. It amazes me how much energy some atheists put into attempting to argue the Bible cannot get anything right. Why are they bothered by the Bible recording accurate historical details?
Response to “No, Tall el-Hammam is NOT Sodom: A Reply to IP“
It appears I struck a nerve. So TBS decided to respond to this blog (and in a very immature way I might add), complete with all sorts of disrespectful jokes and rude comments. As I said above, “Just remember that atheist apologists, like TBS, love to attack the integrity of apologists while employing low-level personal attacks like this.” The emotionally-driven attacks throughout his video are not a good sign he is being unbiased and fair with the data. Rather it is a red flag he is being driven by his emotions. Constantly insulting your opponent doesn’t make you look unbiased or not emotionally invested.
But putting this aside, does he successfully respond to this blog and show Tall el-Hammam is not the Biblical Sodom? Not really, and you will see why. Most of his arguments are nit-picky and do not show that Tall el-Hammam does not fit the site of Sodom. In fact, the main thrust of his argument is to only show the Bible could place Sodom in a different location, which is missing the point entirely.
Before getting to his main errors, he takes issue with when I called him out for attacking Steven Collins. He spent a section of his original video attacking Collins for not having the proper credentials and adhering to a statement of faith. He suggests I may be embarrassed by this. Well, I am not and I do not care, which is why I barely mentioned it. I prefer to focus on the evidence, not commit the fallacy known as “poisoning the well”, which is all TBS’s attack on Collins is. It still does nothing to refute the case for Tall el-Hammam and is still a low-level personal attack.
In his second video, TBS says that I may not like the fact that my source (Collins) is exposed. He is merely speculating without evidence. Again, my point, as was before, is that this is all irrelevant information. Collins is not the only archaeologist who works on the site. Phil Silvia also does and has a Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biblical History, and he has co-authored papers with Collins. But again, what is convincing is the evidence they offer, not who they are personally. So why not focus on the evidence? “Exposing Collins” does nothing to discredit the case for Tall el-Hammam. It is only a distraction from the data and is poisoning the well. There are more fallacies in TBS’s video.
Not a More Northern Location
TBS starts by, once again, taking things out of context. He tries to defend his claim that he was right to attack proponents of Tall el-Hammam when he said apologists claim the kikkar north of the Dead Sea can be the only oval-shaped area. He first brings up Norman Giesler says in his book,
“…the kikkar of the Jordan can only refer to the disk-shaped alluvial plain north of the Dead Sea…” (p. 384)
I am not really a fan of Giesler, so I would have no problem brushing this aside, but I noticed this is a brief quote TBS pulled, so I was very curious to see the full context, and of course, TBS is taking things out of context. Remember in TBS’s original video, TBS tried to argue there were other oval-shaped areas around the Dead Sea, which is true, but Giesler is not saying there is only one oval-shaped area around the Dead Sea (not even in the quote mine from TBS). He is specifically referring to the “kikkar of the Jordan” River. Geisler never claims there is only one kikkar around the area. He is talking about where the Jordan flows through. You can see for yourself on page 384 of the book linked here. Giesler even says on the same page there are “13 rare geographical uses of kikkar, found exclusively in the Old Testament…” Giesler then focuses on the Kikkar of the Jordan, and that there is only one place around the Dead Sea where the Jordan flows, which is a kikkar.
The ironic part is that up until this part of the video, TBS has been suggesting I do not want my audience to know the full truth about certain issues, yet here he is quote-mining Geisler.
Next, TBS takes Collins out of context. He cites this article where Collins says:
“When the Bible uses the term ‘the Kikkar’, it is only referring to the roughly circular area immediately north of the Dead Sea.”
But even in this quote, Collins is not saying there are no other kikkar areas around the Dead Sea. Collins is referencing all the evidence that implies Sodom is around the kikkar of the Jordan. Nowhere in this short quote is Collins saying there are no other oval-shaped areas around the Dead Sea.
Like Giesler, Collins is referring to the kikkar of the Jordan. Just before this in the article, it reads:
“The geographical point at issue, according to Collins, is how the text in Genesis describes the region of the Kikkar, understood as “the disk of the Jordan,” usually mistranslated “plain of the Jordan.”
So oddly enough, in TBS’s attempt to show he was not being dishonest, he quote-mines, giving us more evidence of his dishonest tactics.
TBS then clarifies himself from his original video, “I just said apologists, like Jones, carefully make it seem as though only the northern region fits the description.”
I find it odd that the words I spoke do not mean what I actually said, and TBS knows that (without evidence) the real meaning of something I said is a clever trick. In reality, he is taking things out of context. We argue for the northern location from a collection of verses given to us in the Bible, not just where it says Sodom was in the region of the kikkar. I even said above:
“We obviously need actual geographic correlations to align with the Biblical description, regardless of if one could find those elsewhere.”
Given the data, I say the Northern location is more likely, but unlike TBS, I am not closed to the possibility of other sites. If the data archaeological data suggests Sodom is somewhere else I have no problem changing my view.
TBS attempts to cite my original video on Sodom to show I am being dishonest because he says I only highlighted the kikkar of the Jordan and didn’t note there could be other oval-shaped areas. But TBS is quote-mining me as well. I never argued from just the description of a kikkar. I opened my video with a bunch of northern correlations. Just because someone could find a kikkar in another region, that doesn’t threaten a cumulative case. TBS really needs to stop quote-mining.
Moving on, if you read my analogy above of someone who moved east from Los Angeles and traveled as far as Dallas, you likely understand it is an analogy. TBS thinks I picked two cities that fit my agenda. Well, yes…. That is what one does when they use an analogy. One provides an example to help explain or clarify the case one is making. What on earth are analogies for if not that? Focusing too much on the analogy misses the point. If I say I am traveling east and stop at a place, you likely would assume it is due east of where I started, not too far south or too far north.
“What if someone said they traveled east of Los Angeles and then settled as far as Houston, or Corpus Christi, or Laredo? Would that place these Texas cities directly east of L.A.? They aren’t.”
Yeah, but they are roughly east, unlike Mexico City, which is much further southeast. Remember, above I only said, “Genesis 13 strongly implies Sodom was off in the east of Bethel and Ai.” I never said it could not be southeast or northeast. My point is that the latter stretches the text. The simplest reading is “in the direction of the east from Bethel you will find Sodom, without going too far north or south”. The idea that Genesis 13 says Lot moved east and settled all the way at the southern end of the Dead Sea doesn’t fit with the simplest reading of Genesis 13. Is it possible? Sure, but one has to stretch the text.
This is an bad section of his response because it has little substance. I thought he would do better here and I was expecting more. He provides no additional data to support his reading. He really only doubles down on his odd interpretation of what ‘right’ and ‘left’ mean. TBS is insistent that this verse can only mean Sodom is to the south of Jerusalem. He begins by restating his main argument. If you face east from the standpoint of Jerusalem, what is off to the left (Samaria) would be to the north, and then what is off to the right would have to be in the south, which must be where Sodom was.
TBS then takes issue with my analogy above of Dallas being off to the left of Houston and New Orleans being off to the right. He says Dallas would have to be west of Houston if it was off to the left, but this is intuitively wrong. If I came to a fork in the road with one direction going north and the other going east, it would not be unreasonable to say one direction is ‘off to the left’ and the other is ‘off to right.’ Right and left directions do not just have to be a 180-degree difference (as I explained above). TBS is straining a common sense understanding of ‘right’ and ‘left’ to make Ezekiel 16:36 say what he wants. Ironically, he accuses me of making passages fit my interpretation.
So despite TBS’s protest, he adds no evidence to support his odd interpretation of what ‘right’ and ‘left’ can mean. His argument reduces to him just exclaiming ‘it can only mean a 180-degree difference!’
Furthermore, Biblical words are often not cardinal directions, like we see in English translations. In 1 Samuel 26:1 we read:
“Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, ‘Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?’”
But Hachilah is actually west of Jeshimon. The word that translates to ‘east’ in English does not mean the cardinal direction of east. The word “paneh” means ‘opposite’ or ‘facing.’
The point being made is simple, biblical directions are not always exactly what they are as translated in an English Bible. They often are rough estimates. Saying Sodom was off to the right is not a cardinal direction as TBS wants his audience to think. It often just means off to the right in some way. Ezekiel is also mentioning Sodom to make a theological point, not to give you an exact location. Genesis 13 is providing more geographical details on the location of Sodom, and I noted that in my original video. I never once argued from one correlation alone, but a collection of data points suggesting a northern location.
Where was Zoar?
This is one of the worst sections of TBS’ video because he ignored my main arguments on this point. Odd, considering he claims I do not want to present the full truth. TBS doesn’t really provide much data to support his claim that Zoar should be at the southern end of the Dead Sea, and he seems to have missed the entire point of my response. As I said above:
“TBS is reading too much into Deut. 34:1-3. This passage does not claim to be giving the city associated with the furthest northern region that Israel territory was supposed to extend to. Nor does the passage claim to be listing the city associated with the area furthest to the south.”
So again, Deuteronomy is not claiming to give geographical markers for the extent of Israel’s territory. TBS has read this into the text to fit his interpretation. His response now is that it is reasonable to conclude Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea as it would at least represent a city in the southern region of Israel’s territory. So in other words, the three cities (Dan, Jericho, and Zoar) give a general estimate of the length of Israel’s territory from north to south.
But again, this would not make sense if this is indeed what the verse means, as Israel’s territory extended much further to the region of Kadesh. More importantly, the southern end of the Dead Sea is also not even part of Israel’s territory, but part of Edom. Why list a city, supposedly at the southern end of the Dead Sea, to give an estimate of the extent of Israel’s territory if Israel did not even control that region? If they are geographical markers, it makes more sense to place Zoar more towards the north of the Dead Sea at the end of the tribe of Rueben’s territory, and represent the edge of Israel’s territory east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea (like Dan is to the north). All this was explained above and TBS ignored this section and didn’t even make this aware to his audience. Ironically, he says multiple times I am ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit my view. In reality, since the southern end of the Dead Sea is part of Edom and not Israel, it would make zero sense to use a city in this area as a general marker of Israel’s territory.
As for his reference that Josephus clams Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea, Josephus is likely just wrong on this issue. He is not infallible and I have noted in some of my videos other errors Josephus has made.
Altering Biblical Chronology
TBS takes issue with me presenting the scholarship on Biblical dating, which suggests that dates are rarely exact and that we have misunderstood the cultural context on biblical dates and ages. He claims:
“I know new chronologies have been invented to fix biblical problems by shortening or elongating dates and ages in the text.”
This is a very uncharitable representation of what is going on. Biblical scholars have studied the context and found that the dates and ages in their cultural background are unlikely to be literal, and I covered this extensively in my video on Genesis 5. For TBS to represent this subject this way shows how uncharitable he can be to anyone who disagrees with him.
He cites others who claim the ages and dates are literal, which is irrelevant to the evidence. I don’t care what they say unless they offer good evidence that ages are literal, and TBS cites none of this. Oddly enough, he even uses arguments for the literal ages young-earth creationists have used, and have been addressed here.
TBS then takes issue with me pointing out that long before Tall el-Hammam was discovered, Kenneth Kitchen had already placed Abraham around the time of Sodom’s destruction. Instead of exposing me, he only proves my point. Above I wrote:
“Kenneth Kitchen was already claiming that Abraham lived in the Middle Bronze Age II (sometime between 1850–1700 BC).”
To be fair, I meant to write “1850–1550 BC” for the Middle Bronze Age II. I think I mentally slipped and wrote the middle-range estimate for the destruction of Tall El-Hammam of 1700 BC. But nonetheless, TBS only supports my point, by noting that Kitchen did indeed believe Abraham would have lived in the Middle Bronze Age II. Yes, Kitchen does place him further back in time from the destruction of Sodom around 1700 BC. But Kitchen also says on page 358 of the book TBS quotes from:
“Can we date the Patriarchs? In light of the total evidence, in general terms at least, the answer is a clear yes.”
Again, Kitchen’s dates are “general terms” by his own admission. Kitchen also notes prior to this, on page 351, that Joseph’s age of 110 is likely an idealized age, not his literal age. So this is hardly an issue with moving them around in the general range. Remember, I said Kitchen claims Abragam lived in the MBII, and TBS only supports my point on this. He is being delusional if he thought this was a good point for his argument.
The timing Kitchen gives us is much later than around 2150 BC, the rough time Abraham would need to have been born if the ages were literal. So again, as I said above, “Apologists didn’t scramble and frantically re-date Abraham after Tall el-Hammam was discovered. Kitchen had already placed Abraham in this exact time period.” TBS only supported my point in his response.
TBS then moves on and tries to argue it doesn’t make sense that I would argue the ages of the patriarchs are figurative, but then also argue the patriarchs were real historical people. It seems he is implying that special pleading is going on when really he is committing a fallacy of composition. First, he clearly didn’t pay attention in my video on Genesis 5, where I cited people like Sargon II who gave himself a figurative number (16,283). I can believe the number he assigns to his name to be a symbolic number but still think Sargon II was a real person. What is true for this figurative number of Sargon II is not true for the whole of Sargon. Once again, this is a cultural context issue. Just because we can show ages were used for symbolic purposes, that doesn’t mean the people and their stories were not historical. This is a composition fallacy. What is true of a part is not necessarily true of the whole.
TBS really devolves into dishonesty after thisshows his dishonesty and uncharitably when he says:
“If apologists, like Jones, could fit Tall el-Hammam into the biblical narrative without assigning the given ages to myth, they’d do it in a heartbeat. You know it, I know it, and they know it. Don’t let them kid you.”
Wow, TBS is really resorting to Donald Trump-level reasoning here. You know it, and everyone knows it! Never mind evidence, or what people actually state they believe based on the evidence. TBS just knows what we would do if the circumstances were different. Do you wonder why I have stated numerous times he is dishonest? Never mind all the scholarly evidence, TBS just knows what apologists are thinking and then he says on his channel that we believe in things without evidence.
TBS then goes on to quote Collins, who admits he changed his mind on the dating of Sodom and the ages of the patriarchs because the evidence suggested it. Only TBS could turn this into a bad thing. I thought it was a good thing when people changed their views based on evidence instead of holding dogmatically to prior beliefs.
Ironically, TBS does a disfavor to his case and contradicts himself. Throughout his videos, he has constantly been saying apologists make the data fit their preconceived notions, but now, TBS cites Collins admitting he changed his view based on new evidence. So which is it? Do apologists change the data to fit their views or do they update their views based on new evidence? TBS has shot himself in the foot once again.
Never to be Inhabited Again
TBS really stoops to low levels here with his personal attacks. He says:
“Michael waves his magic apologetic wand stating these passages can be easily addressed by noting that the prophets often use hyperbole. So now we have a historical Sodom, mythic ages for otherwise historical patriarchs, and prophetic hyperbole. Whatever an apologist can find to cook their apologetic gets thrown into the pot when they’re in the kitchen.”
TBS is being incredibly uncharitable. Books often contain facts and hyperbole in the same breath. For example, if I said “I saw a car flying down the road,” are you going to lose your mind if I clarified and said the road and the car are literal things, but by ‘flying’ I meant it figuratively to mean it was going very fast? Anyone with common sense would understand this statement. But apparently, the Bible cannot write about history and use figurative and hyperbolic statements as well. When I say atheists are never charitable with the Bible, this is a good example.
TBS then tries to note that the prophecies still say Sodom and Gomorrah became a wasteland and could not be inhabited, but there were villages in the area during the Iron Age. But I already addressed this above, and he does nothing to deal with my examples of how prophetic language is often hyperbolic. He just ignored them as he did my arguments against his location of Zoar.
The prophets rarely give geographical information, as that is not the point of their writings. They are making theological claims. When I read the passages TBS originally cited, they read like hyperbolic comparisons for theological messaging. The prophets likely read about the destruction of Sodom in the Pentateuch and said these other cities will be destroyed and made into wastelands like what happened in this account from Genesis. TBS is forcing uncharitable readings to fit his conclusion.
TBS then says something dumbfounding:
“If there was no evidence of later habitation of Tell el-Hammam, would apologists, like Jones, read the prophetic passages as hyperbole? You bet your last dollar they wouldn’t. The prophetic passages would be clear descriptions of the everlasting devastation that laid Tell el-Hammam bear. Remember folks. Jones is the one saying I demonstrate dishonesty here.”
It is odd to see him claim that he is being called dishonest while making such a dishonest statement. He is able to magically know what I would say or believe in a hypothetical universe because of the feelings he has about apologists. It is not because of evidence, but because of his hatred for apologists. TBS’s evidence is often just the way he feels, not a proper exegesis of the text, or actual concrete evidence he can cite. I am starting to think his constant cries of dishonesty are instances of projection.
TBS makes claims that simply are not true. He says:
“When an apologist, like Jones, makes a video and blog post announcing that Sodom has been found, he isn’t merely reporting about an interesting archaeological or scientific discovery. He’s using these discoveries, disingenuously, to bolster a particular brand of religious faith, and frankly, to try to bash skeptics over the head with them.”
Where is the evidence I have done this? Merely reporting that Genesis gets the destruction of a city right is not bashing skeptics over the head. Is TBS so emotionally driven that he thinks a biblical discovery is an attack on his skeptic identity? I never even hinted in my video that I thought this one find refutes biblical skepticism. I merely noted the archaeological correlation strengthening one aspect of biblical reliability. If arguing Tall el-Hammam is Sodom translates in TBS’s mind to mean apologists are attacking his skepticism, then it is a red flag he is emotionally invested in the Bible being wrong (ironic, once again).
I also love how he implies I am doing all this for donations after he opens his video asking people to check out his Patreon account (again, ironic). But when you’re emotion-charged in your response, these types of double standards often come out.
TBS then ends his video with more disrespectful assertions and claims about my motives and beliefs that he could never substantiate. For example, he says:
“You see, the apologist doesn’t approach the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah with the question ‘Is this fact or fiction?’ They assume from the start that the story is a historical fact.”
This is not true, for example, I do not think the book of Job is historical. I think it is an Ancient Israelite Epic about fictional characters. I also do not think Genesis 1 is about a literal 6-day creation. If the evidence suggests the stories of the patriarchs were fiction as well, I would have no problem taking such a view, but the evidence does not suggest that. I am accusing him of being dishonest because he is being dishonest, and also I might add, very disrespectful and biased against Christians.
Ultimately, his argument is that the story of the destruction of Sodom could have come from oral traditions and legends about the destruction of Tall el-Hammam, but that the account in Genesis is still a legend. But this is being uncharitable with the evidence and with the case we have made. No one said this proves the whole account in Genesis. If the evidence is accurate, it is merely a correlation that helps to strengthen Genesis’ reliability. We add this along with all the other correlations we have and we have a strong historical case for the accounts in Genesis, as it would be strange for the authors to get so much right about the time period of MBII if they were just writing fiction or legends. TBS seems to think unless the archaeological evidence confirms every detail of the account in Genesis it cannot be the real Sodom, but this is such an uncharitable standard it is hard to even take seriously.
- TBS’s arguments against Tell el-Hammam being Sodom boil down to the claim that some verses could suggest a different area (if we interpret them the way he demands). We have shown this is based on flimsy arguments and ignoring the primary data we laid in in the original video. Just because oddly interpreted verses could possibly mean another location that does nothing to threaten the case from the primary evidence.
- TBS spends a lot of time arguing that this doesn’t confirm every detail in the Genesis account. This is true and I never denied this, but I did note it is a good correlation supporting the reliability of Genesis. History doesn’t work on proof, it works on probability, and we have given several other data points that support the reliability of the account of Abraham. None of this proves the account, but it does strengthen the reliability of the account, as it would for any other historical source.
- TBS rants endlessly about how dishonest apologists are, while quote-mining, committing logical fallacies, telling his audience what he knows I am thinking (without evidence), and what would happen in a hypothetical universe. I guess it is okay to believe things without evidence when you are not a Christian.
- TBS takes a jab that I only do this for money while asking for people to donate on his Patreon account.
- TBS says apologists will do anything to confirm the Bible while doing everything he can, in an incredibly biased and emotional way, to show the Biblical Sodom could not be real. Remember, he has made two graphic-driving videos arguing Tall el-Hammam cannot be the Biblical Sodom. He should not accuse others of being invested after he has invested so much time in being right about the Bible being wrong.
In TBS’s attempt to show he is being fair with the data, he only solidifies he cannot be. He cannot even be charitable when it comes to the hyperbole in the prophets or with the meaning of the words in Ezekiel 16:46. If this is the best TBS can do, and he cannot even do it without being incredibly rude and dishonest, then I only feel more confident in Christianity.
Again, let me reiterate, if new data comes out showing Tell el-Hammam doesn’t fit the Biblical city of Sodom then I can update my view, despite TBS saying I am biased and force the evidence to fit my conclusions. The problem is his case against Sodom is riddled with problems.