Digging up dirt on the Bible

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

Dr. Steven Collins literally digs the Bible.

Collins believes he has found the site of the infamous city of Sodom and plans to share his findings Sunday with the congregation of the First Baptist Church.

According to Genesis, Sodom is one of two cities God destroyed because of the wickedness of the people residing within its walls.

Collins, dean of the College of Archaeology and Biblical History at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, has been an educator for 30 years. The Biblical scholar has spent much of his career proving the historical authenticity of the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Isaac and other Biblical patriarchs.

The professor said he wanted to authenticate the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah because many scholars before him considered the destruction of the cities to be fiction.

His quest began in 1996 after leading an archaeological study tour through legitimate excavation sites in the Holy Land. His research led him to think the site previously believed to be Sodom was wrong.

“It bothered me that I might be taking them (students) to a wrong site,” Collins said.

The professor said he began reacquainting himself with the story of the doomed cities by conducting a year-long intensive research of the Biblical text.

“I chewed it (text) down to the last molecule,” Collins said.

What he predicted from his textual research was solidified when he traveled to Jordan and began excavating. The Near Eastern ceramics expert confirmed the presence of Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age pottery by reading pottery sherds, or pieces.

“We read thousands and thousands of sherds,” Collins said.

The excavation also uncovered mortars, pestles, grinders and fragments of alabaster vessels. But the most amazing discovery so far has been a large, unique piece of pottery that looks to have been “flash heated” on the outside. Collins described the piece as “looking like glass.” This discovery alone could support the portion of the story where God rained fire and brimstone to destroy Sodom.

“It is intriguing,” Collins said, “but continued excavation is needed.”

Collins described the excavation site as beautiful and scenic.

“We are way below sea level and surrounded by banana plantations,” Collins said. “You can see the heart of the Bible land.”

The archaeologist said he is pretty confident the mystery of the whereabouts of the destroyed city of Sodom has been solved.

“It’s in the right place, right time and has the right stuff,” Collins said. “It’s pretty clean and clear.”

Collins said because of its size and magnitude, the excavation site will probably become permanently open and a major tourist place in Jordan.

The Biblical scholar will be in Clovis on Sunday with his wife, Danette, whom he calls “a heck of a digger.” He will present slides and a digital presentation on the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project.

JoLene Fox, First Baptist Church member, said she is looking forward to hearing the presentation.

“Our pastor always invites diversified people to speak to our congregation,” Fox said. “It should be very interesting.”

Fox said she believes the work Collins does to “prove” the Bible is important.

“I don’t have to have it proven to me,” Fox said. “I believe it, but those with a scientific mind need to have it shown to them.”

The extensive excavation project is expected to continue for the next seven years.