Large Meteor Impact: Descriptions in Genesis 19?

By Tom Slattery The August 8, 2006, Jordan Times (Amman, Kingdom of Jordan) published an article announcing the discovery of a large meteor crater near the Jordan-Saudi border. The location might be significant to archaeologists and biblical historians. The crater is in Jordan just short of the Saudi border. And it is directly east of the Dead Sea. The article cites two Jordanian scientists and one German scientist associated with reputable institutions. Several minor news organizations picked it up. You can find their articles if you Google something like "meteor crater Jordan." The Jordan Times account, though, seems to have been superseded by another news story. According to the newspaper article, there is a dual concentric crater. One ring is about 2.5 km in diameter. The other is 5.5 km. Thus it was caused by a chunk of space debris of considerable size and mass. It was quite literally a breaking news story. Some of the Jordanian government institutions seemed to be in the process of yet being notified. So it would seem to be a while before a careful studied scientific appraisal gets into science journals. The most interesting thing in the article is the claim that the meteorite impacted so recently. It cited the scientists as saying it struck the earth between 10,000 years ago and 7500 years ago. That is to say, it may have impacted as recently as 5500 BC and thus possibly into the modern age of written records. And that fact might set a good to average mind to wondering. Could there be a record of this impact? After wondering for a day about ancient clay tablets and possibly ancient papyri and thinking about what story material about the awful event might have gotten into the modern world, I took a look at the Sodom and Gomorrah story of Genesis 19. There are two Sodom and Gomorrah stories. The first one is probably about a real historical battle between city states. The second one, Genesis 19, is the mythical metaphorical morality tale of the destruction of the two corrupt cities that we all know and love. It almost seems like a modern science fiction or fantasy story with a twisted morality plot. But the inspired author or series of ancient authors may have taken a very old and very significant story and used elements of it to cobble together the now famous morality tale for the obvious intended religious teaching purposes. Let's consider that possible more ancient story. Take, for instance, the story element of the angels blinding those who were attacking Lot's house, apparently with a bright light of Genesis 19:11. If angels would go so far as to blind people, they might reasonably break their legs, or make them deathly ill, or even smite them with death. But they blinded the attackers. So might the blinding have been an important and integral part of a more ancient story? If a meteorite large enough to make a 5.5 km diameter crater impacted it would have exploded in an enormous flash of blinding light, not unlike an A-bomb. So let's look at a possible remnant of what appears to have been several eyewitness accounts. To illustrate this I am using an old worn King James Bible,

but the chapters and verses are the same in most Christian or Jewish holy books. If you go deeper into the yarn, especially between Genesis 19:23 and Genesis 19:30 you get to the meat of what might be some ancient eyewitness accounts of the impact. First, there would seem to be a clear report of the time of day. People did not wear digital watches, but day and night would have been noted. And, as if it had been made an integral part of the original eyewitness story, important in such a way that taking it out may have spoiled the story, we see that the terrifying event took place in daylight, apparently in the morning. Genesis 19:23 says: "The sun was risen on the earth when Lot entered unto Zoar" (apparently at the southern tip of the Dead Sea). Continuing on, we might suspect that the probable cause of what must have resulted in enormous unprecedented destruction was known to have come from above. We have all seen televised images of meteors captured by amateur videographers. And we are aware that sometimes those meteors go for hundreds of miles and are seen by thousands and maybe millions of people. Just the awe into to be in remnants mere huge fireball zooming overhead in the daytime sky would have struck ancient observers. Not all, of course, would have happened to look up or a position to see the heavenly fireball. So there are actually two of eyewitness accounts.

We get the viewpoint of those ancient people who actually saw what must have been a spectacular meteor in the daytime (morning) sky in the form of Lot's observation. Genesis 19:24 says "Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven." Brimstone, as you know, is an early-English term for the sulfur of the crest (brim) of a volcano. Brimstone means sulfur. As one who has dabbled in ceramics I know that heating any earthen material to a kiln temperature produces a sulfur vapor. In fact, the kiln rooms of ceramics courses stink of sulfur. A meteorite impact would have done the same. Enormous heat generated by the impact would have fused earthen material and released sulfur vapors. The air probably would have smelled of sulfur for a while. That this is in the Genesis account would seem to betray links back in time to people who had actually experienced the sulfur smell. They made a slight understandable error in believing that the sulfur-brimstone came from above. It was the high-temperature baking earth from the impact energy that really would have caused it. And it would have seemed as likely as not that the foul brimstone odor had come from above with the fireball that some may have seen impact the earth. If the ancient author or eyewitness had seen the impact and smelled the brimstone odor, and even possibly known that there were no active volcanoes in the area, he or she may have drawn the natural but not quite correct conclusion. In other words, what we may be seeing in Genesis 19:24 could be a very accurate description of a large meteorite impact event, a rendering that is too detailed for just some simple morality tale author to bother about. But everyone would not have seen the actual meteor as it zoomed through the daytime sky. Some may not have been looking up. Some may have been distant and

behind hills or mountains. So we have another viewpoint, represented in the story as that of Abraham. Abraham in the Genesis 19 story was living some significant distance from his relative Lot. Abraham, perhaps the arch religious person of history, would have been known by ancient audiences to have a shrine at the top of a hill. Outstanding and maybe no so outstanding hills and mountains had a religious aura and nomenclature in those days. Genesis 19:27 says, "And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD." What we might infer from the story is that Abraham, and so many others, saw the bright flash hundreds of km away. He was either performing religious duties at the top of the hill or went up to the top of the hill to see what the enormous bright flash and subsequent blast and earthquake might have been. And what Abraham and all of those other would have seen was something that we are familiar with in the nuclear age, a rising mushroom cloud. That would surely have been what the hot gasses and debris from a large meteorite impact would have looked like. Genesis 19:28 then says this of Abraham -- Abraham possibly representing many ancient people who say and told of the same view. "And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and towards all of the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as smoke from a furnace." There follows the famous incest story. It may reveal two things here. One may note that Lot (as representing so many others who were closer than Abraham) may have been living in a cave prior to the impact. That is what could have saved him and his daughters. His wife may have been up doing the chores, or, like so many who had been known to perish, unable to run as fast toward the cave as Lot and his daughters. It may be stretching this hypothesis to say that Mrs. Lot may have been struck by the hot debris and covered with it, like so many others, the gray-brown dust giving them an appearance of pillars of salt. But bodies that appeared like downed pillars of salt must have been numerous after the meteor impact cataclysm. The incest segment may also represent the appalling depopulation of the region and represent desperate measures subsequently taken. Of course, the biblical account is meant to put down the neighboring Moabites and the Ammonites. But it may be a token of the massive depopulation. But it may also identify the Moabites and the Ammonites as two of the few tribes that survived the awful catastrophe partially intact. Their historical geographical location would seem to have been on the fringes of the area of total destruction. One interesting thing is that clay tablets that are somewhat in question found at the ancient Ebla site in present Syria have the four Cities of the Plain, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim. These tablets would appear to predate the Bible story. Sodom means "burnt" in Hebrew. Gomorrah means "a ruined heap." The Semitic language of the Ebla tablets is similar to Hebrew so Sodom and Gomorrah probably mean the same in that language. "Burnt" and "A Ruined Heap" would not seem likely names for two corrupt ancient cities. The ancient cities probably had different names. The names given in the

story seem to have been concocted after the real names had been forgotten, perhaps after generations of traders and travelers crossed the desert there with some anxiety after hearing hand-me-down tales of what had happened and seeing the burned and ruined evidence of it. But in addition to the Bible, there is another reference in the ancient Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh. On Tablet IV, as translated by William Ellery Leonard, Viking, 1934, Gilgamesh says: My friend, I saw a third dream And the dream which I saw was horrible. The heavens shrieked, The earth bellowed, A storm gathered, Darkness came forth, A flash flamed, A fire shot up, The clouds thickened, It rained death. Then the brightness vanished, The fire went out, The blaze that had fallen Turned to ashes. The crater is real. It would surely have generated stories. This conjecture may be way off, but it may initiate some inspired digging into the archaeology and lore of the ancient powerful event. Tom Slattery