Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cuneiform Clay Tablet Gives Key to Sodom and Gomorrah Story

The biblical story relating the destruction of the town of Sodom and Gomorrah is often sited by religious people as an indication of the Christian god's displeasure at homosexual acts. Indeed one of the cities even gave its name to the "sin" of sodomy.

A group of scientists from the University of Bristol might have just put pay to the theory of a divine intervention. A cuneiform clay tablet that has puzzled scholars for over 150 years has been translated for the first time. The tablet is now known to be a contemporary Sumerian observation of an asteroid impact at Köfels, Austria. The tablet was found by Henry Layard in the remains of the library in the Royal Palace at Nineveh, and was made by an Assyrian scribe around 700 BC.

With modern computer programmes that can simulate trajectories and reconstruct the night sky thousands of years ago the researchers have established what the Planisphere tablet refers to. It is a copy of the night notebook of a Sumerian astronomer as he records the events in the sky before dawn on the 29 June 3123 BC (Julian calendar).

Although the impact took place in Austria, the trajectory of the asteroid meant that the back plume from the explosion (the mushroom cloud) would be bent over the Mediterranean Sea re-entering the atmosphere over the Levant, Sinai, and Northern Egypt. Mark Hempsell, Senior Lecturer in Astronautics at Bristol University, explains that “The ground heating, though very short, would be enough to ignite any flammable material – including human hair and clothes. It is probable more people died under the plume than in the Alps due to the impact blast.“

Dr Hempsall add that dozens of ancient myths record devastation that would tally with the asteroid’s impact. This includes the Old Testament tale of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Ancient Greek myth of how Phaeton, son of Helios, fell into the River Eridanus after losing control of his father’s sun chariot.

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
Contrary to many Christian, classical Jewish texts do not stress the homosexual aspect of the attitude of the inhabitants of Sodom but rather focus on their cruelty and lack of hospitality to the "stranger" as the reason for the destruction of the city. The people of Sodom were seen as guilty of many other significant sins. Rabbinic writings affirm that the Sodomites also committed economic crimes, blasphemy and bloodshed.

The press release from the University of Bristol giving details on asteroid impact and the translation process of the tablet and the is available here.
Clay tablet identified as asteroid that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah - The Times
Sodom and Gomorrah - Wikipedia

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hempsell's explanation of the tablet is not peer-reviewed. Why would they do a press release before publishing in standard, scientific journals? This post points out some of the many problems with Hempsell's theory: