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Cosmic ASOR: Suppose a Supernatural Event Occurs in Historical Time

Sodom and Gomorrah by John Martin (Wikipedia)

This blog marks the final one [YAY!] on the ASOR and SBL conferences in 2018.

Suppose a supernatural event occurs in historical time. By supernatural, I am referring to a natural but infrequent event that does not lend itself to daily, weekly, monthly, annual, or even Sothic cycles. These are events in historic time which are unique to the individuals experiencing them. Neither they nor anyone they know has ever experienced the event before. However similar events may have been remembered in the oral tradition from a long time ago.

A classic example would be the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. That event had an immediate impact on the people at that time. It also became part of the cultural legacy of the people. If a storyteller sets a story in Pompeii (or on the Titanic or in Atlantis), it is not too difficult to figure out that the ending will not go well for the people living there.

There were two such papers at ASOR both with biblical implications.

Environmental Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

“The 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor Event: Catastrophic Termination of a Bronze Age Civilization”

Phillip J. Silvia (Trinity Southwest University), A. Victor Adedeji (Elizabeth City State University), Ted E. Bunch (Northern Arizona University), T. David Burleigh (New Mexico Tech), Robert Hermes (Los Alamos National Laboratory), George Howard (Restoration Systems), Malcolm A. LeCompte (Comet Research Group), Charles Mooney (NC State University), E. Clay Swindel (Comet Research Group), Allen West (Comet Research Group), Tim Witwer (Comet Research Group), James H. Wittke (Northern Arizona University), Wendy S. Wolback (DePaul University), and Dale Batchelor (EAG Laboratories),

This paper surveys the multiple lines of evidence that collectively suggest a Tunguska-like, cosmic airburst event that obliterated civilization—including the Middle Bronze Age city-state anchored by Tall el-Hammam—in the Middle Ghor (the 25 km diameter circular plain immediately north of the Dead Sea) ca. 1700 B.C.E., or 3700 years before present (3.7kaBP). Analyses of samples taken over twelve seasons of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project have been and are being performed by a team of scientists from New Mexico Tech, Northern Arizona University, NC State University, Elizabeth City (NC) State University, DePaul University, Trinity Southwest University, the Comet Research Group, and Los Alamos National Laboratories, with remarkable results. Commensurate with these results are the archaeological data collected from across the entire occupational footprint (36 ha) of Tall el-Hammam, demonstrating a directionality pattern for the high-heat, explosive 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor Event that, in an instant, devastated approximately 500 km2 immediately north of the Dead Sea, not only wiping out 100% of the Middle Bronze Age cities and towns, but also stripping agricultural soils from once-fertile fields and covering the eastern Middle Ghor with a super-heated brine of Dead Sea anhydride salts pushed over the landscape by the Event’s frontal shockwaves. Based upon the archaeological evidence, it took at least 600 years to recover sufficiently from the soil destruction and contamination before civilization could again become established in the eastern Middle Ghor.

I am not qualified to discuss the science of this presentation which I did not see. What I do note is that it was of one two papers to garner some media attention. The other one was the session on changing the name of ASOR to delete the word “Oriental.” While I did download the papers from that session, so far I have not decided to write about it and instead am confining myself to archaeological and biblical papers.

The reason for the media attention for this presentation was due to a word not mentioned in the abstract and as far as I know not mentioned in the session. The word is “Sodom.” Here are some examples courtesy of Joseph Lauer.

Evidence of Sodom? Meteor blast cause of biblical destruction, say scientists

Bible’s Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by an exploding asteroid, says archaeologists

Fire and Brimstone’ that Destroyed Biblical Sodom Matches Findings of Cosmic Catastrophe 3,700 Years Ago

Bible’s Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by 10 MEGATON asteroid explosion, archaeologists say

Biblical City of Sodom Was Blasted to Smithereens by a Massive Asteroid Explosion

Scientists Admit Biblical Account of Sodom is Accurate.

According to Lauer, the ASOR presentation was not the first one on the subject. Silvia and Steven Collins presented the paper “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications” to the Near East Archaeological Society in November 2015. The paper had been available at Silvia’s Academia page, This event is in accord with Collins view that Tall el-Hammam at the northern side of the Dead Sea is a strong candidate for the biblical city of Sodom.

The biblical implications of the cosmic event are not that it proves the Hebrew Bible is true. It is  that the memory of the event survived for centuries and could be used by a biblical storyteller just as stories today can be set at Pompeii, on the Titanic, on in Atlantis. The application of the political template I have been using works for the original core story in Gen. 19 as well.

1. The story was composed as a standalone story. It was not yet part of a Lot or Abram cycle yet alone the Book of Genesis.
2. The author took for granted that the audience knew the legacy of the destruction of Sodom. As soon as the story was set there everyone knew what the ending would be.
3. The author took for granted that the audience knew what Israelite city the city of Sodom stood for in the political polemic or allegory (Gibeah).
4. The author took for granted that the audience knew who the weak king of the city was (Ishbaal).
5. The story was composed after the following event had occurred:

2 Samuel 3:7 Now Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ishbosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” 8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ishbosheth, and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? This day I keep showing loyalty to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. 9 God do so to Abner, and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 And Ishbosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.

This text had not yet been written but the breakdown in the social order implied by the text had already occurred. Ishbaal had become a figurehead king who had lost control of his military.

6. The author took for granted that the audience knew who the two messengers of Yahweh were (David and Joab).

In other words, according to this story, David offered amnesty or sanctuary to Ishbaal if he abandoned his capital city before it was destroyed. Ishbaal chose not to accept this offer. However Abner did abandon ship as he recognized that David was the superior warrior who could save Israel from the hand of the Philistines, but that’s another story.

The second cosmic story is my own presentation at ASOR.

“What Happened on October 30, 1207 B.C.E. in the Valley of Aijalon?”
Peter Feinman (Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education)

The suggestion has been made that on October 30, 1207 B.C.E. in the late afternoon in the Valley of Aijalon an annular eclipse occurred. The suggestion further has been made that this astronomical event is connected to the poem in the Book of Jashar recounted in Joshua 10. The astronomy and physics in the calculation of the annular eclipse are not the subject of this paper. Given the validity of those calculations, what historical reconstruction, if any, can be proposed that takes into account the relevant archaeological and biblical information including the Merneptah Stele, the Iron Age I hill-country settlements, Iron Age I geopolitics, the poem, and the narrative biblical texts?

I propose that the emergence of Israel as an anti-Egyptian entity generated a reaction among the Canaanite cities. Some cities shared Israel’s antipathy to Egyptian hegemony and welcomed the new entity while others were good vassals of Egypt and opposed the Canaanite cities and Israel that disrupted the Egyptian order. In other words, there is a story to be told of real-world power politics that has been lost amidst the cosmic imagery and the fight to determine whether the Bible is true. Applying the same techniques an American historian would use to understand the American Revolution may provide a more fruitful resolution of these issues.

The second cosmic story differs from the Sodom story in that Israelites, in particular Benjaminites, directly experienced it. The victory and cosmic sign became part of the Benjaminite tribal legacy, an alternative cosmic event to those of the Songs of Miriam and Deborah presumably part of the Book of the Wars of Yahweh controlled by the Levites.

What the paper only briefly alluded to is something frequently minimized in biblical scholarship: the precarious hold of Jerusalem as the capital city after the death of David. It is easy to overlook this situation if you think David and/or Solomon never existed or were at most chieftains. It also is easy to overlook if one’s focus is the temple. But it is important to realize that Jerusalem did not have a dominant position in the land of Canaan over either other Canaanite cities or Israel except for David. Then he died. So did presumably Jebusites Bathsheba and Zadok. Now what?

The questioning of the centrality of Jerusalem to Israel can be observed textually.

Jerusalem was not part of Israel:

Judges 19:10 and arrived opposite Jebus. He had with him a couple of saddled asses, and his concubine was with him. 11 When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.” 12 And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will pass on to Gibeah.”

Jerusalem was an enemy of Israel:

Joshua 10:1 When Adonizedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 3 So Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.”

Bethel was a better cosmic center than Jerusalem:

Various supplements to the story of Jacob (Day 3 of the King David Bible).

By Persian times, the rivalry between Bethel and Jerusalem was déjà vue all over again.

To counter this opposition, Jerusalem relied on its old standby protector Egypt. Pharaoh’s daughter replaced Bathsheba as the dominant person in Solomon’s life. Pharaoh Solomon mimicked the ways of Egypt to the point of even building in the same locations Egypt had used to control the local populations. It is during the reign of Solomon when the rivalry among Zadokites, Aaronids, and Levites really heated up in the politics and in the stories.

The 11th-10th centuries BCE were quite active archaeologically, historically, and textually for the shifting Israelite people and polities. There still is a lot of work to do to historically reconstruct this period and to understand the formation of the Hebrew Bible. And with that thought, this review of the ASOR and SBL conferences in 2018 comes to an end.

All the World’s a Stage: Performing the Hebrew Bible

In the previous post (Is Morgan Freeman God? What Do Biblical Scholars Think?) , I suggested that a missing ingredient in the analysis of many biblical stories was that some of them were written to be performed. Specifically I cited the frequently assumed and completely wrong pronouncement that early Israelite religion was primitive. According to this view, the ancient Israelites first worshiped an anthropomorphic deity. Israel expressed this belief through stories that seemingly contained a physical presence of the deity in male human form. Only centuries later would Israel evolve to the higher order thinking of a cosmic deity.

Biblical scholars are correct to note the anthropomorphic presence of the deity in some biblical stories. The reasons for this appearance are twofold.

1. In stories originally communicated through oral storytelling, the physical presence is that of the male storyteller. For example, in the Tower of Babel story addressed in the previous post it is the storyteller using the voice of God who engages the audience in this story about the temple in Jerusalem. In the story of Jacob’s nocturnal wrestling, it is the storyteller wrestling with the meaning of the identity of Israel that is vigorously displayed (at the threshing floor?) to the audience.

2. Other stories were staged in the Israelite version of royal performances known in Egypt and especially Mesopotamia with the akitu. These stagings involved multiple people, primarily the king, queen or high priestess, and high priest. They could include physical objects such as a statue or an ark. They could involve processions. They typically were concerned about the prosperity of the kingdom for the coming year or under the new king. In other words, they expressed the resolution of the battle between cosmos and chaos, between order and disorder, between all is right with the universe and it isn’t. Each culture addressed these issues in its own way based on its own landscape and history. Israel was not excluded from the process. While there is some awareness of an Israelite king performing in a restoration of order ritual, David installing the ark of Yahweh at Zion, the actual performance extended far beyond that one scene.

A single post is inadequate to present and explain the entirety of the royal performance, so I will confine myself to two examples involving the physical presence of Yahweh:

1. Yahweh’s blessing at the conclusion of the flood story
2. Yahweh and Abraham’s walk and discussion prior to the destruction of Sodom.


Genesis 8:21 And when Yahweh smelled the pleasing odor, Yahweh said in his heart,… 22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

The idea that this blessing concluded the original sequence of stories identified as “primal” is not new. This understanding is correct but the full significance of the ending has not been appreciated.

First, in the performance, the priest of Yahweh is blessing the earth (adamah) to the king performing as Noah. To repeat the point first made in the previous post, the human voicing the words of Yahweh is not thought to be Yahweh; nor is Yahweh thought to be in human form. Instead, the person performing as Yahweh who utters this blessing is accepted by the king and the audience as having the legitimacy to pronounce the words of the Lord.

Second, the blessing is fairly audacious to say the least. Normally, one would expect a blessing for the coming year with a renewed blessing to be offered during the following New Year festival. Instead, the blessing is one in perpetuity.  It is reasonable to conclude that the climate at the time was an excellent one such that a king could support a blessing for all time. Obviously such a condition would not be true in the 9th century when Elijah faced off with Baal to make it rain (I Kings 18).

Third, speaking of Baal, this blessing may be the single most anti-Baal statement in the entire Bible. Based on this blessing, the need for Baal is negated. The blessing does not express the triumph of the stronger Yahweh over Baal. Nor does it express monotheism as we would define it. Rather it denies the relevance of Baal. Why have an annual ceremony to Baal for prosperity for the coming year if Yahweh has already promised good times for perpetuity? As the high priest of Yahweh intones this blessing to the king as Noah, he also is delivering a message about Baal.

Fourth, the message about Baal has political ramifications. In the kingdom of Israel, the petty kings of the individual Canaanite cities were no more. You could probably compile a list of all those kings who bit the dust. However, the demise of the political figures of authority still left the Baal industrial complex intact. Were people still expected to bring tithings to the local Baal priests? The answer according to this blessing was “No.” The denial of the validity of Baal served to eliminate an onerous burden of the Canaanite people now in the kingdom of Israel. The rule of Yahweh meant no taxes in the kingdom just as it had for the centuries of Israelite existence prior to the monarchy.

Fifth, the blessing by the priest of Yahweh on behalf of the kingdom forms an inclusio with the blessing of the sacred marriage at the beginning of the first cycle. In the garden story, the same high priest voicing the word of God had blessed the marriage of the man and the woman, the king and the queen, in words that ae still used to this very day in declarations of love.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

One should note that in the biblical narrative, Jacob is the first male to actually fulfill this vow. That development demonstrates a link between the first and third cycles augmented by the king performing in the lead human male role in both of them.

We have recently had the opportunity to witness the appeal of a royal marriage by two people who will never be king and queen. We would be wrong to ignore the appeal and power of the publicly-pronounced and witnessed sacred marriage between the king and queen in ancient Israel…especially if there were any questions regarding the appropriateness of the marriage.

Sixth, the two blessings provide a cosmos and chaos framework to the first cycle of the performance. From the garden through the murder and deluge to the new creation, there is a story of cosmos, chaos, and cosmos restored. The cycle ends by setting the stage for a new world order to come in the second cycle when the warrior shepherd-meaning-king of Hebron takes the stage. Regardless of the origin of the stories of the first cycle, they have been resequenced, repurposed, and revised to exclaim a mini-Israelite akitu that promises a bright future and prepares for the coming of the king from Hebron.

Seventh, since the blessing by the priest of Yahweh open and closes the first cycle, this means that the subsequent stories prior to the start of the second cycle are all supplemental.  The stories of the sons of Noah, the son of Cush (Nimrod), and the sons of men (Tower of Babel) were not part of the original cycle. I call these supplemental stories “son” stories and analyze them in my book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Biblical Stories after the Death of David. In these stories and other supplemental writings to the original royal narrative, one may observe the three major political parties, the Levites, the Aaronids, and the Zadokites, battling for power using the alphabet prose narrative. The new endings eclipsed the blessing by the priest of Yahweh and also provide a new stage for the introduction for the warrior shepherd-meaning king from Hebron. As should be obvious, there were strong feelings about the presence of the Canaanite Jebusites and Jerusalem temple in the kingdom of Israel as well as which priesthood should be the voice of God in the kingdom.


Genesis 18:16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way…. 22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before Yahweh. 23 Then Abraham drew near, and said, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 26 And Yahweh said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him, and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And Yahweh went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Notice that the human male performer does not pronounce the name of the deity. The king refers to him as “Lord.” By contrast, the author does use the name. This usage is consistent with the perception of Moses as being the first to know the name and in contrast to the supplemental son stories of Seth (Gen. 4:26) and Nimrod (Gen. 10:9). One may posit that the three priesthoods differed on when the name of Yahweh became known.

This second example seems to be an uplifting story. Isn’t it wonderful how Abraham and Yahweh are able to walk together and debate the pending destruction of a city? This dialogue between human and deity has achieved some measure of identity beyond biblical circles. Here we have a situation where it seems as if the words of the human being are sufficient to sway the actions of the Almighty. Don’t we want a God who will hear us, who will listen to us, and who will change his actions based on what we have said? Shouldn’t all figures of authority be like that?

While these sentiments are perfectly valid, they have nothing to do the original intent. Instead, imagine the two figures are the king and the high priest. Instead recognize that the audience already knows the fate of Sodom. Instead pay to attention to how many righteous people there are in Sodom. The subject of the dialog is not the willingness of the Lord to listen to the plea of a human. The message of the story is that there are no righteous people in the wicked city about to be destroyed. The various reductions in number from 50 to 10 highlight the reality that the city about to be destroyed truly deserves its fate. Only the weak king or ruler at the city gate who can’t control his people is to be allowed to escape along with his unnamed wife and daughters.

Once again we have a political polemic and not a philosophical discourse about the nature of God. This is a story about a weak king represented by Lot, his destroyed capital city represented by Sodom, and his rotten to the core people. As many commentators have noted, there are many links between this story and the story of the unnamed woman from Bethlehem, the city of David (Judges 19). In that instance, the city of the violation of the woman is identified as Gibeah, the capital of Saul in the land of Benjamin. Scholars debate which story came first. For purposes here, what is of paramount importance is that neither city in the land of Benjamin contained any worthy people. One wonders how this story of Sodom would have been understood at the time the story was written especially if it had been by Abiathar, Levite survivor of a Benjaminite perpetrated massacre. Biblical stories can have a personal aspect which is easy to ignore without knowing who the performers represent. Again, the story if not about a magnanimous deity, it is about a wicked people within Israel who deserve to be destroyed.

The Bible as theater presents a different view than the current biblical paradigms. If your goal is to determine what a biblical story means to you now in the 21st century, then you certainly have the right to so. If you goal is to understand a story in its original context, then it may be necessary to know how it was staged and who were the performers. After all, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard and when it comes to the biblical stories composed to be performed, biblical scholars are lacking the scorecard.

Next, we examine the processions which also differentiated Israel from its neighbors.