According to the Bible, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in a fiery cataclysm (Genesis 19:23–25). This occurred during the life of Abraham (Genesis 19:27–29). As with many such stories, Scripture only gives a basic outline, not detailed information. In this case, scholars speculate whether Sodom’s annihilation came via direct supernatural action or whether God orchestrated a natural disaster.
Debates such as these flare up when archaeologists claim to “solve” some biblical passage. Ironically, evidence suggesting a biblical miracle corresponds to an actual event from history is often held up as proof the Bible is untrustworthy. This flawed logic suggests that explaining how
a thing happened explains away why
it happened or who
made it occur. More reasonably, such discoveries further demonstrate that Scripture is uniquely connected to truth and should be taken seriously.
So far as Sodom is concerned, two closely related questions must be answered. First, what was Sodom’s precise location? Second, what was the mechanism of its destruction? Neither has a definitive answer, though recent discoveries raise interesting possibilities.
Scripture itself gives only a generic location for Sodom. Genesis 10:19 suggests it was near the southern part of Canaan. Genesis 13:1–12 offers additional clues, but nothing clear. The typical scholarly view is that Sodom was located close to the modern location of the Dead Sea. Consensus leans toward the northern side. However, others have implied it might be just south of—or at the bottom of—the Dead Sea. Biblical records don’t provide enough context to firmly establish where the city was.
A possible site for the ancient city of Sodom is Tall el-Hammam, in modern-day Jordan. This is about 8 miles, or 13 kilometers, from the northeast edge of the Dead Sea. The city had been known, and known to have been destroyed, for years before a few researchers posited the site was obliterated by a meteor strike. Evidence consistent with extreme heat, blast pressures, and such were found in artifacts at the site. The area also exhibits unusually high concentrations of salt. Similar meteoric “airbursts” have been documented in other areas of the world. The catastrophic reside at the site is dated to around 1650 BC, consistent with some interpretations of the timeline of Genesis.
Others disagree with this assessment, offering both secular and scriptural objections. Traditional Genesis timelines place Sodom’s destruction closer to 2000 BC. Some archaeologists claim that what appears to be evidence of a meteor strike is consistent with military actions of the era. There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical about whether Tall el-Hammam is the site of Sodom; few researchers are firmly convinced it’s the right spot. Of course, objections to Tall el-Hammam can also be entirely prejudicial. Some researchers refuse any possibility the Bible might be accurate. Some refuse any possibility their preferred interpretation of other Scriptures might be in question.
Other potential mechanisms for God’s obliteration of Sodom have been put forward. An especially common suggestion is an earthquake forcing natural gases to the surface, which would ignite and create a raining storm of fiery destruction. All theories, including the meteor strike at Tall el-Hammam, are based in some combination of speculation and limited evidence.
There are no objectively confirmed answers to Sodom’s location or the exact means by which it was destroyed. Archaeology and science provide a range of possibilities, each consistent with observed evidence and the text of the Bible. The overall reliability of the Bible is enhanced by these supportive discoveries. That gives us every reason to trust Scripture, even if we can’t verify the tiniest of details.
Helpful articles for further research:BiblicalArchaeology.orgChristianityToday.comAnswersResearchJournal.org