Saturday, 10 September 2022

The Biblical Myth of the Destruction of the Cities of the Plain Could Be Based on a Real Event

BIBLICAL BURNING - Ancient city could have been destroyed by cosmic airburst | News Services | ECU

Professor Mitra examining sample
Professor Mitra's analysis of soot samples from Tall el-Hammam supports the research team’s theory that the city was destroyed by a high-temperature fire that the civilization at the time did not have the capability to generate.
It is common for ancient myths and legends to be based on a real event, embroidered over time and give a mystical spin, especially in oral traditions, to play to the beliefs and prejudices of the time. However, when that real events is discovered, just like the filling of all the other gaps in knowledge on which religions depend, the cause is invariably something natural and not requiring magic or supernatural entities in the explanation.
Map showing location of Tall el-Hammam
Location of Tall el-Hammam. (a) Photo of the southern Levant, looking north, showing the Dead Sea, the site location (TeH), and nearby countries. The Dead Sea Rift, the fault line marking a major tectonic plate boundary, runs through the area. Source of base image: NASA, Space Shuttle. “The Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea Rift”. Photo: sts109-708-024, taken 12/16/2009. From the NASA Langley Research Center Atmospheric Science Data Center (nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/astronauts_eyes/sts109-708-024.html). Modified by the authors using Adobe Photoshop CC2014 (adobe.com/products/photoshop.html). (b) West-southwest-facing view of the upper tall showing locations of the palace and temple behind the curve of the upper tall. The Dead Sea is in the background to the left.

This could well be the case with the tales of the destruction of the 'Cities of the Plain', Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, which may have been flattened, not by a god raining down fire and brimstone, but by a natural, though thankfully uncommon, cosmological event - a meteorite strike.

A meteorite strike is the conclusion of an international research team which included Professor Siddhartha Mitra, professor of geological sciences at East Carolina University, North Carolina, USA, to explain the origins of the biblical myth. The team carried out extensive excavations at a Middle Bronze Age city called Tall el-Hammam, located in the Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. There, they found evidence of a citywide 1.5-meter-thick destruction layer of carbon and ash, containing shocked quartz, melted pottery and mudbricks, diamond-like carbon, soot, remnants of melted plaster, and melted minerals including heavy the metals platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite and quartz - all evidence of the destruction of the city by the extreme heat a meteorite strike would have produced, bringing the heavy metals with it. The layer dates to about 1650 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago)

The strange story of the destruction of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is so implausible it's difficult to know where to start, can be found in Genesis 19 and, according to two Israeli archaeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman of Tel Aviv University, was a ham-fisted attempt by Israelite and Judahite propagandists to discredit two neighbouring rival tribes, the Moabites and the Ammonites or Ben-Ammites as being descended from the children conceived incestuously by Lot's daughter as they fled from the destruction and had a drunken orgy in a cave, Lot's wife having been turned into a pillar of salt.
The relationships of Israel and Judah with their eastern neighbors are also clearly reflected in the patriarchal narratives. Through the eighth and seventh centuries BCE their contacts with the kingdoms of Ammon and Moab had often been hostile; Israel, in fact, dominated Moab in the early ninth century BCE. It is therefore highly significant — and amusing—how the neighbors to the east are disparaged in the patriarchal genealogies. Genesis 19:30–38 (significantly , a J text*) informs us that those nations were born from an incestuous union. After God overthrew the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah , Lot and his two daughters sought shelter in a cave in the hills. The daughters, unable to find proper husbands in their isolated situation— and desperate to have children— served wine to their father until he became drunk. They then lay with him and eventually gave birth to two sons : Moab and Ammon. No seventh century Judahite looking across the Dead Sea toward the rival kingdoms would have been able to suppress a smile of contempt at a story of such a disreputable ancestry.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2002-03-06).
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts
(Kindle Locations 702-711). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

*J texts are Bible stories which mostly refer to God as Yahweh (YHWH) and attributed to the Yahwists (Jahwist in German) as opposed to E text stories written by the Elohists which use the name Elohim or El. The J texts are mostly associated with the southern kingdom of Judah while the E texts tend to be associated with the northern kingdom of Israel. The two strands of stories and 'histories' have later been woven together into a single narrative, often not very successfully.
It would have been perfectly natural in the fearful infancy of our species, as Christopher Hitchins described the Bronze Age, when gods lived above the sky, the world ran on magic and angels could be expected to fly back and forth between Heaven and Earth, to attribute a sudden destruction such as this to the supernatural. It's a simple matter then to graft another story, such as the incestuous origins of rival tribes onto such a myth and write it up as real history, much in the way the Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans did.
Tall Hamman before and after
Catastrophic leveling of the palace at TeH. (a) Artist’s evidence-based reconstruction of the 4-to-5-story palace that was ~ 52 m long and 27 m wide before its destruction. (b) Artist’s evidence-based reconstruction of palace site on upper tall, along with modern excavation. “MB II” marks the top of 1650-BCE Middle Bronze rubble. Note that the field around the excavation is essentially flat, unlike the view in panel ‘a’. Originally, parts of the 4-story palace were ~ 12 + m tall, but afterward, only a few courses of mudbricks remain on stone foundations, labeled as “wall remnants”. Part of the foundation of the massive wall around the palace is at the bottom. Debris from between sheared walls has been removed by excavation. A comparison of panel ‘a’ to panel ‘b’ shows that millions of mudbricks from the upper parts of the palace and other buildings are missing.

The discovery by the archaeologists that shows the entirely non-supernatural cause of the destruction, was described in an East Carolina University new release:
Archaeological excavation of the site began in 2005, Mitra said, and researchers have been particularly interested in a citywide 1.5-meter-thick destruction layer of carbon and ash. The layer, which dates to about 1650 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago), contains shocked quartz, melted pottery and mudbricks, diamond-like carbon, soot, remnants of melted plaster, and melted minerals including platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite and quartz.

They found all this evidence of high-temperature burning throughout the entire site, and the technology didn’t exist at that time, in the Middle Bronze Age, for people to be able to generate fires of that kind of temperature.

So we analyzed the soot at this site, and saw that a large fraction of the organic carbon is soot, and you just can’t have that unless you have really high temperatures. So that’s what led us to provide support to the story that this was a very high-temperature fire. … And that then supported the idea that this was an external source of energy such as a meteor.

So some of the oral traditions talk about the walls of Jericho (about 13 1/2 miles away) falling down, as well as the fires if they’re associated with Sodom. Again it’s science; you look at your observations, and in this case it’s the historical record, and you see what you hypothesize and if it fits the data, and the data seem to fit.

Professor Siddhartha Mitra, co-author
Department of Geological Sciences
East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA.
The site includes a massive palace complex with thick walls and a monumental gateway, much of which was destroyed.

What the site and the blast would have looked like.
This rendering shows what the site and the blast would have looked like.
(contributed image)
The researchers developed a hypothesis that there had been a meteorite impact or bolide — a meteor that explodes in the atmosphere. The researchers compared the airburst to a 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a 50-meter-wide bolide detonated, generating 1,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Researchers in a variety of fields were called upon to analyze evidence from the site, including Mitra, whose lab focuses on the analysis of soot.

Tunguska blast overlaid on Jordan site
This map illustrates the reach of a blast similar to the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, overlaid on the Jordan site.
(contributed image)
Other research that supported the hypothesis included the presence of diamond-like carbon, melted pottery, mudbricks and roofing clay; the directionality of the debris; high-pressure shock metamorphism of quartz; high-temperature melted minerals; and human bones in the destruction layer. There is also a high concentration of salt in the destruction layer, which could have ruined agriculture in the area, explaining the abandonment of more than a dozen towns and cities in the lower Jordan Valley in the following centuries.

The researchers considered and dismissed other potential processes that could explain the destruction, including volcanic or earthquake activity, wildfire, warfare and lightning, but none provided an explanation for the various lines of evidence as well as a cosmic impact or airburst.

The paper, titled “A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea,” also speculates that “a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis.”

Genesis 19:24 describes sulfur raining down out of the heavens and the destruction of the cities and all those living in them, as well as the vegetation in the land.

The study does not attempt to prove or disprove that possibility, but its explanation of the destruction of the city could be consistent with the biblical accounts.

Mitra said it was rewarding to work with other researchers who were approaching the question from different angles. Most of them he had never worked with before, he said.
“That type of approach tends to be a robust study,” he said. “If someone comes along and says you didn’t do this right or there’s no way that this could have happened, you can still fall back on [all these] other things that support the same argument.”
Copyright: © 2021 The authors.
Published by Springer Nature Ltd. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
The team's findings were published open access in Scientific Reports:
Abstract

We present evidence that in ~ 1650 BCE (~ 3600 years ago), a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a ~ 50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A city-wide ~ 1.5-m-thick carbon-and-ash-rich destruction layer contains peak concentrations of shocked quartz (~ 5–10 GPa); melted pottery and mudbricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; Fe- and Si-rich spherules; CaCO3 spherules from melted plaster; and melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz. Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. Amid city-side devastation, the airburst demolished 12+ m of the 4-to-5-story palace complex and the massive 4-m-thick mudbrick rampart, while causing extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans. An airburst-related influx of salt (~ 4 wt.%) produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture, and caused a ~ 300–600-year-long abandonment of ~ 120 regional settlements within a > 25-km radius. Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis). Tunguska-scale airbursts can devastate entire cities/regions and thus, pose a severe modern-day hazard.

Once again, in refutation of the often repeated fundamentalist Christian claim that the Bible contains real history, verified by extra-biblical sources like archaeology, as this work shows, these extra-biblical sources like archaeology confirm that many of the events described in the Bible are in fact highly embroidered accounts of perfectly natural events which no gods or supernatural agencies were needed to explain. The fact that the biblical account is so at variance with the actual event refutes the nonsense of the Bible being the inerrant word of an omniscient god, and therefore actual history, rather than a collection of myths, morality tales and made up genealogies, intended to unify and control disparate tribes in Bronze Age Canaan and justify the right of their rulers to rule.

The Cities of the Plain were not destroyed by an angry god to punish the inhabitants for their wicked ways, any more so than hurricane Katrina destroyed Central New Orleans to punish Americans. It was a random strike by a meteorite, like the one that destroyed nothing but trees and wild animals at remote Tunguska in 1908 and the one that created the 'Meteor Crater' in the desert in Arizona, USA.

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