February 25, 2007
Desperately seeking Sodom
Pseudo-scientists use a mythological map to search for a make-believe city of sin. In other words, just another day for America’s modern medievals:
Dennis Addington, a retired California construction worker with a bad back, splurged this winter on his first foreign vacation. He spent $5,000 to dig himself into a deep hole. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said, crouching 12 feet down in a pit more than 7,000 miles from home.
Mr. Addington and scores of others paid good money to come to Jordan and get to the bottom of some-
thing seriously bad: the world’s most infamous city of sin.
They’re looking for Sodom, a place so wicked that, according to Scripture, God obliterated it and sister settlement Gomorrah in a cataclysm of “brimstone and fire.” Its sinful-
ness is one of the few things Jews, Christians and Muslims agree on. The Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran all slam Sodom.
“This is ground zero for wickedness,” says Steven Collins, a New Mexico college professor who is leading this archaeological dig for the long-vanished—and, say skeptics, fictional—city of vice. A devout Christian, he believes the place will one day make “a great tourist destination with a great big sign, ‘Welcome to Sodom,’ perhaps in pink neon.”
… Mr. Collins is dean of the College of Archaeology and Biblical History at Trinity Southwest University, a small evangelical academy in Albuquerque. It embraces the Bible “as the basis of all learning.”
And therein lies a minor problem:
The remains of Sodom, Mr. Collins posits, lie buried here in a huge earthen mound in the Jordan Valley. He identified the site by following clues in the Bible and hopes to prove that it really is biblical Sodom by excavating and analyzing pottery shards, old bones and other remains.
Confirming Scripture through science, he wrote in one fund-raising pitch, will help counter “insidious little vermin of gnawing doubt about the credibility of the Bible.” He explains: “Christianity is lost in Europe because it lost faith in the biblical text. Post-Christian America is very, very close.”
Mainstream archaeologists scoff at the project. Many believe the Scriptures are useless as treasure maps. Others say the Bible contains strands of historical fact, but that proving the existence of Sodom is near impossible—unless Mr. Collins unearths written evidence, highly unlikely because writing barely existed in the area at the time. Many experts think that if Sodom existed at all, it is buried under the Dead Sea or hidden somewhere else.
But as ever, it’s been easy to persuade crazed evangelicals to sink their savings:
Mr. Addington, a former alcoholic who credits Christianity with saving him from ruin, came with his pastor from Woodland, Calif., and stayed the full five weeks of this year’s dig, which ended in January. Unearthing Sodom to prove the Bible correct, he says, “won’t help people who are too far gone, but it will help those sitting on the fence to go in the right direction.”
Loretta Worthington from Ruidoso, N.M., paid more than $8,000 to bring her son and a friend’s daughter for a two-week stint. She decided to come after seeing Mr. Collins on a Christian broadcasting channel. “People don’t fear God anymore,” she says. “Maybe if they see what happened to Sodom, they will say we should watch out.”
The rest of us should simply watch out for charlatans like Collins:
In recent decades, attempts to prove the Bible true have met with scorn from most archaeologists. “No responsible scholar goes out with a trowel in one hand and a Bible in the other,” says Williams Dever, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and an authority on Holy Land sites. Mr. Dever says his work in archaeology and biblical studies caused him to surrender his early belief in the literal truth of the Bible.
Mr. Collins first focused on Sodom a decade ago while leading a group of Americans on a tour of biblical sites in Israel and Jordan.
… After years of discussion, he got permission to dig from Jordan’s Department of Antiquities. In December 2005, work started with a few holes and the printing of T-shirts bearing the motto: “What Happens in Sodom, Stays in Sodom”—a play on an advertising slogan for Las Vegas, often reviled as the modern Sodom and Gomorrah.
This winter about 100 people took part. They found remains of an ancient rampart, much pottery, a few bones, some ash and something an excited digger thought was part of the meteor some believers speculate God hurled at Sodom to destroy it.
Wow, real biblical science. Pity that most of the finds so far date to the first millennium B.C.—nowhere near old enough for Sodom.
LOL. The full story, alas, is available only to Wall Street Journal subscribers.
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