Exploring the wonders of geology in response to young-Earth claims...

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Attempt to correlate ancient sediment core to Abraham's journey "dead in the water"

Several weeks ago, Brian Thomas of ICR offered the curious claim that a Dead Sea Sediment Core Confirms Genesis. "According to the Bible, in around 2000 B.C. what is now the Dead Sea used to be a plain that probably served as farmland for people of the nearby debauched city of Sodom," writes Thomas. After the Dead Sea Deep Drilling Project reported evidence that the Dead Sea once completely dried up in the past, Mr. Thomas drew an immediate connection. He continues, "This research demonstrating that the Dead Sea was indeed once a dry region supports the Bible as a trustworthy historical record."

No one can blame Mr. Thomas for his enthusiasm, but we should immediately question why the presumed connection was not reported rather in biblical archaeology news. The Science Magazine report gives one important clue: the sediment layer to which Mr. Thomas is referring was buried 235 meters below the surface and is 120,000 years old—not ~4,000.

Of course, Mr. Thomas and others would object to the dating methods used to construct an age model for the Dead Sea sediments, but several factors make the objection irrelevant. First, for the Dead Sea basin to have dried up (leaving a layer of pebbled beach deposits), the region must have been extremely arid—more so than today. Since lake levels are controlled by the balance between evaporation and precipitation, higher temperatures and lower annual rainfall are required to dry out the deep, elongated basin. Such climatic conditions would have rendered the region inhospitable to large populations, and farming would have been simply out of the question.

Secondly, more than 200 meters of sediment that have accumulated since the lake dried up defy Mr. Thomas's fantastic timeline. These sediments are comprised of alternating organic-rich silts (winter deposition) and evaporites (mostly calcium carbonate). In other words, not the sort of laminae consistently laid down in multiple cycles per year—totaling more than 5 cm thickness per year—in a semi-arid environment. Moreover, isotopic analysis can be used to verify independently that these laminae result from seasonal transitions, contra Mr. Thomas's unspoken, gratuitous assertion that even stratigraphic dating methods are unreliable.

That being said, multiple independent dating methods (radiometric and stratigraphic; i.e. counting of annual layers) are both internally consistent and place the drying event during the last interglacial, which was more arid for the Levant than the current epoch, according to numerous paleoclimatic records. The preponderance of evidence thus supports the conventional investigative methods, as well as current interpretations of the climate history on a local and global scale.

But what about Abraham?

Unfortunately, Mr. Thomas's take on the evidence would seem to cast doubt on the biblical record, if he were correct. I would propose, however, that he has misused the Abrahamic narrative, whose purpose was to exegete Israel's mission among the nations while warning them of immanent judgement should they fall into temptation as Lot. The fate of Lot's wife even foreshadows that of the Israelites who desired that they could return to Egypt despite the exodus promises. It also highlights the faithfulness of the covenant God, who heard the cries of the oppressed in Sodom as he did in Egypt and acted in their behalf. The Pentateuchal parallels are numerous, and sufficient to conclude that the reference to the "Salt Sea" more likely originated as a tangible referent to explain the gravity of Israel's wavering in the faith.

As an aside, one may argue that the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah is recounted intertextually by Matthew 10 and 18—both in the nature of the apostolic mission and in the parables regarding "lost ones" and "little ones" of Israel. I would go so far as to say that the parable of the 'Rich Young Ruler' (Matt. 19) echoes the predicament of Lot, who was blessed by excess wealth and became a rich man for whom it was extremely difficult to escape the coming destruction ("camel through the eye of a needle"), but with God working through his messengers (the angels of Gen. 19; apostles in Matthew's account) it became possible (Matt. 19:26). I'll leave it to you to judge the merits of my literary analysis. In the meantime, do not fail to miss the scathing moral and cultural critique that follows from Sodom's fate, which should resonate eerily with our own generation:

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." Ezekiel 16:49


  1. Fantastic post. It is so frustrating that so many people miss the larger narrative of Genesis, especially when it comes to the story of Lot. Have you ever noticed that Lot had a promised land? He also had an Exodus, complete with a meal of unleavened bread, eaten in haste before judgment came? Also, his descendants were given the prophecy of a coming "Messiah" in the star prophecy!

    Land = Israel, Sea = Gentiles motif of Creation! But you'll miss the beauty of it if you want to read Genesis like AIG tells you to.

    Here is a lecture regarding "The promised land of Lot."

    or for those who like to read:

    Thanks again for a great post. I really have enjoyed your perspective.


  2. Interesting read, although I'm not too surprised about the verdict. Sure is hard to know what exactly happened over 2000 years ago!
    -Jackie @ Sediment Control