Genesis 14

CONTEXT: This chapter stands out as separate from the rest of the patriarchal narrative. It is barely a story, more a string of spare but interesting episodes, none integral to the overall epic.  Here are some of the distinguishing flags:
·       Style: dry, annalistic–none of the writerly flair of J or E; poor Hebrew syntax, to the point of clumsy sentences; different vocabulary. All would characterize translation from an Akkadian original.
·       Avram is identified as “the Hebrew,” ha’ivri, העברי, appellative for “foreigner, outsider” (from Öavr, עבר, someone who crossed from the other side, of the river–Euphrates).
·       The four kings and their countries are either identifiable or plausibly locatable in early history.  The five kings names are otherwise unknown and sound artificial.
·       Avram is depicted as warrior chieftain.
            Critical reading allows a hypothesis that this chapter is a Hebrew rendition of an Akkadian/Cuneiform original dating from as early as the 18th century BCE, the period–of Hamurabi–when the patriarchs are said to have lived. “If Abraham was cited in a historical or quasi-historical narrative that was written not by Israelites but by outsiders, it necessarily follows that Abraham was not a nebulous literary figure but a real person who was attested in contemporary sources.”(E. Speiser, Genesis, 1964, p.108).
            This speculative argument makes good sense of the data and opens a fresh perspective. Of course, finding the name in an outside source does not assure historicity of a story. This particular invasion is nowhere corroborated–other forays, both from the east and from Egypt, are documented in 2nd millennium sources. This string of battles won by an invading army covers a long and circuitous route, raising the question whether the trip was taken primarily to punish a rebellious coalition of towns at the end of the trip. Avram’s posse of 318 is a viable small army, but pursuit of the much larger enemy from Hevron to far north of Damesek sounds implausible. The original writer seems out of touch with the subject because he lived well after the events. Our version would likely be from a still later hand.
            Shin’ar is another name for Babylonia. Elasar cannot be identified. Arioch looks like the name of a ruler in Mari, Syria, a contemporary of Hamurabi.  Elam lies just east of Babylonia and the name of its king has elements of the Elamite language. Tid’al is the name of several Hittite kings. Goyim might reflect an Akkadian name associated with Anatolia.
            The kings of S’dom and Amora have names that look like wordplays: Bera –“by evil,” Birsha–“by wickedness.”
            Siddim, from a root meaning “lime, whitewash,” appears to be the name of a valley that submerged in historical time to become the shallow southern tip of the Dead Sea–YamHamelach. It is dry again because of the drop in water level. But it may also be an alternative name for the Dead Sea. 3“Valley of Siddim, that is Yam Hamelach” is one of four so formatted in this passage: 2Bela/Tso’ar, 7EynMishpat/Kadesh, 17Shaveh Valley/the valley of the king
            A tar pit, more accurately called “asphalt pit” or “asphalt lake”, is a geological occurrence where subterranean bitumen leaks to the surface, creating a large area of natural asphalt. (Wikipedia)  The Greek name for YamHamelach is “Lake Asphaltitis.” To locate the action I have inserted geographical glosses, parenthesized and in Times font.
            Shalem is an early name for Y’rushalayim. El (“strength, power, god”) and Elyon (“highest”) are names of deities worshiped in the area and specifically by MalkiTsedek. The text combines the names, and Avram speaks them in apposition to Yahh, either as modifiers or as a theological statement that Yahh is ElElyon. Both are common names for God in Tanach but the two together appear only in rabbinic liturgy, the G’vurot prayer.  Koneh, קֹנֵה, is frequently translated “creator” when God is the subject. But the word means “own by means of purchase.” I think the relatively few uses in Tanach of the root in connection with God can better be understood as metaphor suggesting ultimate relationship.

            1It happened in the days of Amrafel, king of Shin’ar, Aryoch, king of Elasar, K’dorla’omer, king of Elam, and Tid’al, king of Goyim. 2They made war with Bera, king of S’dom, Birsha, king of Amorah, Shin’av, king of Admah, Shemever, king of Ts’voyim, and the king of Bela/Tso’ar, 3all of whom joined forces at Sidim Valley/YamHamelach.
            4For 12 years they, (the five,) had served K’dorla’omer and in the 13th year they rebelled. 5In the 14th year K’darla’omer, and the kings who were with him, came and struck the R’fayim at AshtarotKarnayim, (in the mountains 25 miles east of the Kineret,) the Zuzim at Ham, (18 miles south,) the Eymim at ShavehKiryatayim, (a few miles east of Y’richo,) 6and the Chori at Se’ir in their mountains, (east of the Aravah,) as far as ElParan by the wilderness (at Yam Suf.) 7Then they returned and arrived at EynMishpat/Kadesh–(bordering the Sinai wilderness,) where they struck every field of the Amaleki and they also struck the Emori dwelling in Chats’tsonTamar.

            8The kings of S’dom, Amorah, Admah, Ts’voyim, and Bela/Tso’ar– went out and arranged themselves against them for battle at Sidim Valley. 9Against K’dorla’omer, king of Elam, Tid’al, king of Goyim, Amrafel, king of Shin’ar, Aryoch, king of Elasar. Four kings against the five.
            10The Sidim Valley being dotted with tar pits, the kings of S’dom and Amorah fled and fell into refuge there. The rest fled to the mountains. 11(The four) took all the possessions of S’dom and Amorah and all of their food and went off. 12They took Lot–son of Avram’s brother–and his possessions and went off. He lived in S’dom.
            13The one escapee came and told Avram the Ivri. He dwelled at the Oaks of Mamre the Emori, brother of Eshkol and Aner–they were brit masters with Avram. 14When Avram heard his brother had been captured, he summoned his posse: 318, born in his house. He pursued the five to Dan. 15At night he and his servants split up and struck them. He pursued them to Chovah, to the left of Damesek. 16He retrieved all the possessions and also his brother Lot and his possessions. And also the women and the people.
            17The king of S’dom came out to meet him after his return from striking K’dorla’omer and the kings with him at Shaveh Valley/the valley of the king.
            18And MalkiTsedek, king of Shalem brought out bread and wine. He was kohen of ElElyon and he 19blessed him:
            Blessed is Avram to ElElyon–owner of sky and earth.
            20And blessed is ElElyon, who delivered your adversaries into your hand.
            (Avram) gave him a tithe of everything.
            21The king of S’dom said to Avram: “Give me the persons. Take the possessions for yourself.”
            22Avram said to the king of S’dom: “I have raised my hand to Yahh, ElElyon, owner of sky and earth: 23lest I take anything of yours, from a thread to a shoelace. You shall not say, ‘I enriched Avram.’ 24Nothing for me but that which the young men have consumed, and a portion for the people who went with me. Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre will take their portion.”

© Rabbi David L. Kline            http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/

No comments: