My readers have read the speculations I make from time to time about "the rest of the story," as a famous radio announcer used to say. I have opined about the kernel of truth behind the story of Lot and his daughters, and the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, that story is now no longer in the realm of legend; as I wrote some time ago, the two cities of Zoar and Bab edh-Dra have been found and identified as the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
A story from 2008 gives us quite a bit of background on the discovery of the cities and the reason for their destruction. It is from the London Times and the title is Asteroid Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. It starts out:
"A clay tablet that has baffled scientists for 150 years has been identified as a witness's account of the asteroid suspected of being behind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
"Researchers who cracked the cuneiform symbols on the Planisphere tablet believe that it recorded an asteroid thought to have been more than half a mile across.
"The tablet, found by Henry Layard in the remains of the library in the royal place at Nineveh in the mid-19th century, is thought to be a 700 B.C. copy of notes made by a Sumerian astronomer watching the night sky. He referred to the asteroid as a white stone bowl approaching, and recorded it as it vigorously swept along."
Scientists have researched the information on this piece of history from Sumeria, and it has been dated to an event that took place shortly before dawn on June 29 in the year 3123 B.C. The television special about this discovery prompted me to write an article that I entitled, Have you ever wondered what happened on June 29, 3123 B. C.? I am complimented that Examiner.com has re-published this article a few times, and the importance of the discovery bears on the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the date of three-thousand-years-plus before the common era. This is too early to have been observed by the early Hebrews--period, end of story. What happened was that the ancient wandering Hebrew tribes came across the ruins of two cities. No one who participated in the history of the Hebrews observed the destruction. Lot and his family were not there.
It appears to me that the story of Lot, which seems to have some basis in fact, was very disturbing to the Jews of Late Antiquity. But it can be analyzed quite apart from the actual story of the two cities being destroyed by an asteroid. The London Times story goes on:
"Mark Hempsell, one of the researchers from Bristol University who cracked the tablet's code, said: 'It's a wonderful piece of observation, an absolutely perfect piece of science.'
"He said the size and route of the asteroid meant that it was likely to have crashed into the Austrian Alps at Köfels. As it traveled close to the ground it would have left a trail of destruction from supersonic shock waves and then slammed into the Earth with a cataclysmic impact.
"Debris consisting of up to two-thirds of the asteroid would have been hurled back along its route and a flash reaching temperatures of 400 Centigrade (752 Fahrenheit) would have been created, killing anyone in its path."
This was indeed a horrendous event. The problem, as I noted above, comes from this passage of the Book of Genesis:
"Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and he overthrew those cities and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities ... [Abraham] looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and beheld, and lo, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace." [Genesis 19:24-28]
Well, that didn't happen. It is hard for us to look at that passage and say that it is not true, but the fact is that the asteroid went over Zoar and Bab edh-Dra long before Abraham walked the earth. The cities existed; the asteroid happened. We now have a date for that event. But that event simply did not coincide with the life and death of Abraham.
So why was this written? It seems to me that the answer is simple (don't over-think it). The Hebrew people came across the ruins as they wandered through the Middle East, and in their characteristic way they attributed the destruction to a punishment from God. I say this was characteristically Hebrew because of their constant attribution of good and bad fortunes to God's will. If they had a good year, they congratulated themselves for deserving God's favor and reward. If they fell afoul of bad times, it must have been because they had failed. This idea absolutely permeates the Old Testament, and as Jewish theologians have pointed out (quite without any help from me), it leads to the reprehensible conclusion that the Jewish people themselves must have done something to bring the Holocaust upon themselves. This is morally impossible, even apart from the rejection of the idea that God punishes the innocent and the guilty alike.
If God punishes everyone anytime someone, somewhere displeases him, how can we worship this monster? In fact, this is Jesus' message to the Jewish mindset that produced the bottomless pit of divine wrath: the people who think this way are mistaken about God. Christianity is in a position to choose a loving and compassionate God and leave the theology of Judaism to evolve in its own directions, which it is doing. As I pointed out in my last article, the beliefs that underlie the Book of Leviticus are now obsolete in Jewish thought and practice, though some Christians do not yet realize this.
If you think that you can move to Israel and be treated to the spectacle of public executions, you are wrong. Israeli civil law is the same as American civil law, and no ideas from Leviticus will be invoked to stage a stoning. It isn't going to happen. It isn't happening right now.
Christian theology has to sort this out. Someday the great minds of the Church will take up this task, building on the thought of such theologians as Bishop John Shelby Spong and W. H. Vanstone. Meanwhile, those who advance the ideas of Old-Testament Christianity will continue to destroy the Church.
As we go through all this, I become increasingly annoyed at the pseudo-science of popular television series like "Ancient Aliens," which begins with the foregone conclusion that everything in antiquity can be attributed to the influence of alien civilizations. They have aired programs in which the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah is taken at face value, with no research and no mention of the Sumerian relic. They simply rephrase the story as aliens nuking Sodom and Gomorrah and presume that the Old-Testament account is factual.
I wish they would not do this, because if pseudo-science is going to get anywhere with the scientific establishment, they will have to do their research. Anyone--like me--who watches television programs devoted to historical research, will be exposed to the story of the Sumerian asteroid observation. Remember, the asteroid's progress across the sky, in a certain year and time of night, was recorded by eyewitnesses. Later the scientific research retraced the trajectory of the celestial body, and its terminal point over Europe. This is something that "ancient alien theorists" ought to know. There is no excuse for the fact that they do not, apparently, know it.
If you want to go out on a limb, don't cut it off behind you so that you crash to the ground.