On Genesis, Part 23: The Wild West

Christogenea is reader supported. If you find value in our work, please help to keep it going! See our Contact Page for more information or DONATE HERE!

  • Christogenea Internet Radio
CHR20230728-Genesis23.mp3 — Downloaded 9446 times


On Genesis, Part 23: The Wild West

In our last presentation of this Genesis commentary we discussed The Sojourn of Abram, who had departed from Haran and travelled through Bethel, or ancient Luz, even as far as Egypt, upon which leaving he had returned to Bethel. Doing this, we also speculated as to why he may have been settled in the land of Canaan, apparently because at least most of the city-states of the region were subject to the Egyptians. So Abraham and his descendants would remain under the Egyptian sphere of influence, if not directly under Egyptian control, until the time of the Exodus. Ostensibly, that would shelter them from the turmoil of the rise and fall of the Canaanite empires to the north and east which was about to transpire over the subsequent centuries, namely those of the Hittites, the Hurrian Mitanni Kingdom, and the Babylonian empire of the Amorites.

As the Akkadian empire of the 3rd millennium BC had weakened, a host of contenders sought to take its place, such as the dynasty of the Gutians, and the so-called fifth dynasty of Uruk, and the so-called third dynasty of Ur, which came to the end of its rule shortly before the birth of Abram. But these aspiring empires were all short-lived, and as the Hittite and Hurrian kingdoms began to rise to the status of empire, the Amorites had exploited the opportunity of a power vacuum to become influential in Mesopotamia, where they established themselves in Babylon and rose to assume the so-called First Babylonian Empire. That is how academics refer to the Babylonian empire of the Amorites, and although in the past we ourselves have preferred to use that designation for the empire of Nimrod, here in this Genesis commentary that would only cause confusion. The later Babylonian empire of Nebuchadnezzar was at least mostly Chaldaean in substance, and during the time of the Amorite dominance even most of Babylonia had apparently remained ethnically Kassite, or more commonly in English, Chaldaean.

Going back to the time of Abram, there were yet other city-states which had acted as minor contenders to assume the empire of the Akkadians, including the Elamites to the east of Mesopotamia. However these three Canaanite empires eventually became predominant among them. This situation would persist until the Kassites came to rule Babylon again, after the beginning of the 16th century BC, and the Hittites prevailed in war over the rival Hurrians, giving the Assyrians an opportunity to gain their liberty, as they had been subjected to the Mitanni kingdom for several centuries until the 14th century BC. Thereafter Assyria began to consolidate power and to become an empire of its own, from near the end of that century. So the Canaanite empires dominated most of the Near East for over 400 years throughout the time of the lives of the patriarchs of Israel. From that time and until the fall of Assyria at the end of the 7th century BC, Akkadian would remain the lingua franca of the Near East, although it gradually began to be eclipsed by Aramaic several centuries earlier. Of course, the rise and fall of the kingdom of Israel had also coincided with those 700 years of the empire of Assyria. Towards the end of that period, Assyria and Israel first began to conflict in the reign of Ahab, as far as can be told from Assyrian inscriptions, in the first half of the 9th century BC.

This is a digression here, since it is much later in history, but it seems relevant to understand how slowly empires evolved in ancient times, and also the fact that Israel had been engaged in activities which are unrecorded in Scripture, ostensibly because they were outside of the scope of its purpose. In the inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, who ruled Assyria from about 858 to 824 BC, we read in part from a chronicle of his 6th year, after a point where it describes the burning of Argana, a royal residence of Adad the king of Aleppo: “I departed from Argana and approached Karkara. I destroyed, tore down and burned down Karkara, his royal residence. He brought along to help him 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalrymen, 20,000 foot soldiers of Adad-'idri (Hadadezer) of Damascus, 700 chariots, 700 cavalrymen, 10,000 foot soldiers of Irhuleni from Hamath, 2,000 chariots, 10,000 foot soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite…” and then there were troops from several other kingdoms mentioned, Judah not being among them, which had contributed to a collective defence against the military conquests of the Assyrians. A little later in the inscription, Shalmaneser boasts of his victory, and said in part that “I slew 14,000 of their soldiers with the sword…” Even later, another battle with what is evidently the same consortium is described, where Shalmaneser claimed to have killed “25,000 … experienced soldiers”, but even with that it would be another 100 or so years before the Assyrians had finally subjected and began taking Israel into captivity. [1]

Over the century which followed, Israel would have a temporary recovery in the time of Jeroboam II. With this we may also see that there are many historical events relating to the Biblical narrative which, for one reason or another, were not considered significant or relevant enough to be included in our Biblical records. The Assyrians did not simply march into a peaceful, bucolic Israel and begin taking captives, but rather, a protracted war was fought for well over a century before Assyria finally prevailed. The coasts as far as Hamath had been held by Judah until they were taken by the Assyrians, and then Jeroboam II temporarily retook them for Israel. [2] But Ahab’s contributions of troops to defend the northern portions of Aram and the coasts of Phoenicia against the encroachments of the Assyrians is not mentioned in Scripture, it is very likely that other kings, such as Jeroboam, had made similar contributions, and without the inscriptions we would not know how Judah lost control of those coasts in the first place, as they had maintained control of them from the time of David. [3]

[1 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, pp. 278-279; 2 2 Kings 14:23-28; 3 2 Samuel 8:7-11, 1 Kings 8:65.]

At the end of our last presentation, where we had discussed only the first few verses of Genesis chapter 13 and the end of Abram’s initial sojourn, we had left him near Bethel, “3 … where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beth-el and Hai; 4 Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.” There it was explained that “2 ... Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” Now as we proceed with this chapter, we read likewise of his nephew, Lot:

5 And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.

Ostensibly, Lot also must have had some share of his grandfather’s estate after Terah had died in Haran, and that is first made apparent here. So at some point it seems to have been inevitable that the affairs of managing their own estates would cause the two men to separate, and this is described where it continues:

6 And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. 7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.

When we discussed the sojourn of Abram, we estimated that if Abram could assemble and arm over three hundred men of his own household, which is described later in Genesis chapter 14, then his house must have consisted of a thousand to twelve hundred servants. But doing that, we did not also consider Lot’s possessions, so the number in the combined entourage may have been significantly greater. However later, Lot is seen dwelling in the city in Sodom. While there were men in early times who held estates outside of a city while they themselves dwelt within, something which was common in ancient Athens and also in Rome, whether or not Lot continued to keep his flocks and herdsmen and tents is not explicitly apparent in subsequent chapters. But he must have had some means of sustenance, since he was able to procure a house in Sodom, and also support his wife and daughters.

In ancient times, where land was not used, it could be used by anyone who had the ability to hold onto it. If a king of one city or another was powerful enough, he could exert control of land and allow his subjects to use it. The land would be held at the whims of that king unless or until another more powerful king came along and took it. If a man began to use idle land that nobody else was using for agriculture or husbandry, then apparently it was of no concern. But the ancient world in those respects was very much like the “Wild West” period of American expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries, where a man only had a right to keep what he had the ability to hold, and unless one could appeal to some local king for relief, there were no authorities to which to appeal, and no sheriff or police to call when wrong was done to him by others. A man had to be able to enforce his own right, and we shall see Abram do that very thing on behalf of Lot later in this chapter.

So Abram and Lot, having been strangers in the land of Canaan, were at the mercy of local tribes and the kings of local or nearby city-states, and they only had the ability to resist losing their property if they could defend it effectively by force. Once having been separated, their situation would be even more difficult to maintain as their resources were divided.

The catalyst for their separation is explained as a dispute among their herdsmen. There are many reasons why herdsmen of different herds grazing the same fields may have contention between them, and we hesitate to speculate here, except to wonder whether it may have had anything to do with the Canaanites and Perizzites, for which reason they are mentioned here in an otherwise unrelated and seemingly out-of-place statement. We can only wonder whether they were being pillaged, and blaming one another rather than the actual culprits.

We must further note here that the Perizzites are distinguished from the Canaanites, as they also are in later chapters of Genesis. Strong’s defines a Perizzite as “an inhabitant of the open country” from a word which means village (# 6521, 6522). More recent sources define the term as villager. However Canaanites also lived in villages and in the open country, something which is evident throughout later Scripture (i.e. Joshua 9:1), so the definition makes little sense, and the fact that the two groups are distinguished makes no sense at all if the definition is valid. In Joshua chapters 11, 12 and 17, there are Perizzites who are described as living among the Canaanites, and among the Rephaim, who are a branch of the Nephilim, in the wilderness, in the mountains and in the forests. We shall discuss the Perizzites further where all the tribes of Canaan are listed in Genesis chapter 15, and for now leave only the assertion that we disagree with the general definition of villager. However, Gesenius agrees with Strong, while insisting that “their dwelling in the mountains need not set aside the etymology proposed, as their ancient abodes may have been in the plains.” [4] That insistence is nevertheless ridiculous, since if they were still Perizzites after moving to the mountains and forests, then the term cannot simply describe where they live, and the passages certainly do prove that the Perizzites must have been a race of people distinct from the Canaanites.

[4 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 689.]

Now Abram advises that he and Lot separate, so that they would have no enmity with one another:

8 And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.

The Hebrew word אחים or achim, which is plural, is brethren here. Literally אח or ach means brother, but it also describes more distant male relations. As we have seen, Lot is actually Abram’s nephew. Furthermore, it is predicated on this fact, that they are brethren, that Abram had beseeched Lot not to have strife with him. Now Abram treats him accordingly, making him a quite generous offer, since Lot is apparently his junior:

9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.

Abram, in his humility, had offered Lot the first choice of which portion of the land he would prefer to inhabit, from what is evidently arable and available land in their immediate area. So Lot then chose what was apparently the choicest portion, where it continues:

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

This portion of the land of Canaan is outside of the bounds of the Garden of Eden as it was described by Moses in Genesis chapter 2, being to its west. The westernmost limit of Eden was apparently what is now known to geologists as the Kuwait River, a now-extinct and dried up river which had its sources in the mountains of western Arabia, and ran in an easterly direction to empty into the Persian Gulf, apparently at or very near to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. So apparently, the western edge of Eden was not far east of the Jordan River, and at the time, the land around the Dead Sea and the River Jordan was just as fertile, although at this early time it was apparently still a frontier wilderness, with the exception of the cities of the plain that were apparently lawless frontier towns.

Notice that Sodom and Gomorrah, which are esteemed to have been on or near, or perhaps in, what is now known as the Dead Sea, are described as having been on the “plain of Jordan” at this time. Here Jordan was not a place name, but the plain was only named for the adjacent river. Perhaps the river had an earlier name, and like Bethel, Moses is only using the name given it by the Israelites. The Dead Sea is not mentioned by that name in Scripture, but is instead called the “salt sea” and sometimes also the “sea of Arabia”. [5] Perhaps what is now the Dead Sea may have in Abram’s time only been considered a part of the Jordan River, and perhaps it was not much wider than the river itself, or at least, not as wide as it is in more recent times. Evidently, Sodom, Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain must have been close to the northern portion of what is now the Dead Sea, on the plain adjacent to the river. We may also speculate that the event which destroyed those cities may have widened the river, increasing the size of the sea, and sent at least some of them to the bottom of what had become that Dead Sea. This is partly confirmed in Genesis chapter 14 where we read of the armies from the east which would attack Sodom and the nearby cities that “3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.” A vale, or valley, cannot be a sea, but it may have become a sea – especially since the valley of Siddim is not mentioned again after Genesis chapter 14. In his Septuagint translation, Brenton must have realized this implication, since although there is no Greek word for now in the text, he translated the verse to read: “3 All these met with one consent at the salt valley; this is now the sea of salt.”

Furthermore, here the plain adjacent to the River Jordan is described as a veritable paradise, well-watered and certainly containing more than sufficient vegetation for Lot to graze his flocks. But today, and even in more recent antiquity, the entire area throughout that portion of the Jordan River Valley and around the Dead Sea is a complete desert, and practically uninhabitable. The so-called “Fertile Crescent” is a myth, since it was obviously not always a mere crescent, but in fact, a much wider area was at one time even much more fertile. Furthermore, in the time of Abram and Lot, the land around the Valley of Siddim through which ran the Jordan River must also have been far more appealing than Bethel. If the site of ancient Bethel is correctly associated with the modern village of Beitin, which seems appropriate, then Bethel was on a broad ridge with an elevation of 861 meters, which is over 2,800 feet. [6] Yet Sodom was on a comparatively level plain situated by a river. Another aspect of the geography of the area which should not be overlooked here, is that salt seems to have been plentiful in this area, and salt was a very valuable commodity in the ancient world.

[5 i.e. Deuteronomy 3:17, Joshua 3:16; 6 Burj Beitin, Mapcarta.com, https://mapcarta.com/12914074, accessed July 27th, 2023.]

Here we must digress once again to say that now, when women wash themselves in Dead Sea Soap, or bathe in Dead Sea Salt, products which Jews sell in markets throughout the West today, they are actually lathering and immersing themselves in the remains of 3,800-year-old dead Sodomites, and they pay dearly for the privilege.

So rather unwittingly, Lot had chosen for himself to live in this area, a lawless frontier wilderness, which shall soon suffer the wrath of Yahweh:

11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

The Jordan River is about 16 or 17 miles east of Bethel, and the northern coast of the Dead Sea is perhaps almost 20 miles southeast. But the site which is esteemed by modern Palestinian Jews to have been that of ancient Sodom is nearly 60 miles southeast, where today there is a hill called Mount Sodom and a pillar which is claimed to be Lot’s wife near the southernmost portion of the Dead Sea. [6] The ancient Greek geographer, Strabo of Cappadocia, placed ancient Sodom on the western coast of the Dead Sea near Masada, perhaps about 30 miles southeast of Bethel. But the text here, and also the description of Josephus [7], both seem to place Sodom near the Jordan River to the east of Bethel, and that seems to identify with another archaeological candidate for the location of ancient Sodom, found at Tall el-Hammam just east of the River Jordan near the north coast of the Dead Sea. Excavations at Tall el-Hammam are said to have revealed a city which was burned by fire in the Middle Bronze Age, a period dating from about 2000 to 1600 BC. [8] While we would assert that this site was not that of Sodom itself, it certainly may have been one of the cities of the plain near Sodom, which were destroyed along with it. Until stronger evidence is discovered we would infer from Scripture and archaeological evidence that Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain were located near and around the northwestern rim of the so-called salt valley, which is now a part of the Dead Sea. This will continue to become evident as this chapter continues.

[6 Mount Sodom, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Sodom, accessed July 27th, 2023; 7 Antiquities of the Judaeans, Flavius Josephus, Book 1 paragraphs 174-175; 8 Where is Sodom?, Steven Collins, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April, 2013, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/where-is-sodom/ accessed July 27th, 2023.]

12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. 13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.

Here it seems that the “cities of the plain” were not really considered to be a part of the land of Canaan. But the border of Canaan was said to extend to them, in Genesis chapter 10 where we read: “19 And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.” most of these last cities are among the five “cities of the plain” which had apparently all been destroyed together in the day of Sodom. Then, while the cities of the plain certainly seem to have been cosmopolitan in nature, and inhabited by people of various nations, perhaps they had been built by others who were not of Canaan. In any event, it is quite clear here that they were indeed lawless frontier towns, and from a Mesopotamian perspective, this area being about 600 miles almost directly west of the so-called Great Ziggurat of ancient Ur, the building of which is esteemed to have been finished only a few decades before the birth of Abram [9], this certainly does seem to have been the Wild West.

The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners: These men had no law, from a Biblical perspective, and therefore, according to Paul of Tarsus in Romans chapter 5, where there is no law, sin is not imputed. [10] In Genesis chapter 19, as the account goes in that chapter, the sin for which they were held liable was Sodomy, or what we now call by the euphemism of homosexuality. But in the epistle of Jude, it is further explained that they had been committing fornication, which the apostle had then described as the pursuit of strange, which is different, flesh. In that case, these men ostensibly having descended from Adam, they did have a law, which was not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and therefore they could rightly be judged according to that law. It is race-mixing miscegenation which that sole commandment given to Adam had proscribed, and that is why Adam and Eve, and later all of Adam’s descendants in the flood of Noah, had also been punished.

But whether they had the law or not is immaterial to a proper Christian perspective, since they could still be described as sinners whether the sin is imputed or not. According to Paul, with the law comes the acknowledgment of sin, in Romans chapter 7 where he made an example and said in part: “7 … Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Knowing the law, the Christian perceives sin, which is transgression of the law, even when it is committed by others who are outside of the covenants of Yahweh. [11] So once they received the law, the ancient Israelites invading the land of Canaan were also commanded to destroy all of the Canaanites, on the basis of their many sins which they had committed.

In any event, the descriptions of Sodom and Gomorrah are indeed reminiscent of the manner in which we use the term today, to describe the wild west, a lawless frontier area which, if it were on a smaller version of the salt sea, may also have functioned as a resort area, as well as a place of unrestrained sexual license and other sins, very much like most modern resort towns.

[9 Ziggurat of Ur, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziggurat_of_Ur, accessed July 28th, 2023; 10 Romans 5:13; 11 1 John 3:4.]

Now, in stark contrast to the suffering which Lot was about to face in Sodom, Abram receives yet another promise from Yahweh:

14 And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: 15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

Here we must note that Abraham is not burdened to do anything in order to see the fulfillment of these promises. They are made without condition, and being unconditional, only Yahweh God is burdened with their fulfillment. When the children of Israel sinned, Christ died to release them from the penalties of the law, so that He could keep these promises which He had made without condition. While man fails to keep his own promises, Yahweh God is always able to keep His.

Standing on a mountain ridge over 2,800 feet above sea level, the horizon would have extended as far as 65 miles, and, barring obstructions or higher peaks, Abraham could have seen the Mediterranean to the west and far across the River Jordan in the East, and of course, just as far in nearly every direction. The Sea of Galilee is nearly 60 miles to the north and slightly east. But later, the promises to Abraham, all of which Yahweh must have known from the beginning, would far transcend even these. Here their full scope is only hinted at where we next read:

16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

If Abraham had a horizon of 65 miles, then he was able to see about 13,273 square miles of the area of the land [12], although ostensibly a large portion of that was covered by water. That is smaller than Connecticut, and less than half the size of Belgium or Albania. Seed as numerous as the dust of the earth, which could not be numbered, would need a much larger area than that in which to live. So as the apostles of Christ had also interpreted, while the immediate promise of land was significant, it is becoming evident that Abraham’s seed were indeed destined to inherit the entire earth. As Paul of Tarsus had later written, in Romans chapter 4: “13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” That is fully evident here, because as Paul had also written, in Galatians chapter 3, the law would not be given for another 430 years, approximately.

[12 Area of a Circle Calculator, Ł. Zaborowska, https://www.omnicalculator.com/math/area-of-a-circle, accessed 27 July 2023.]

The promise continues, and Abraham acts on it, but perhaps the full extent of his action is not recorded:

17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. 18 Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.

So at first, at least, Abraham apparently only travelled a short distance from Bethel to Hebron, which on a straight line is about 30 miles to the south. In that same manner, ancient Bethel was about ten miles north of Jerusalem, and Hebron was about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. The route between them runs along a mountain ridge which actually extends from a location near the ancient site of Megiddo in the northern portion of the land of Manasseh, passes through Bethel, Shechem, Jerusalem and Hebron, and goes as far south as Beersheba in the southern portion of Judah. Christ Himself may have travelled this route at times, in his journeys from Galilee to Jerusalem. As we have already described, from certain points of this ridge, at least, Abraham must have been able to see practically all of the southern portion of Canaan, as far as Gaza and Beersheba and points beyond.

Of course, the fact that Abram travelled this route may lead one to wonder how he settled in a plain, the so-called “plain of Mamre” here. But once again, as it is with the oak of Moreh in Genesis chapter 12, the word which the King James Version has translated as plain is אלון or alown, and it actually describes an oak or some similarly strong tree (# 436, 437). Here the Hebrew word for oak is plural, so Abram must have settled near or among the oaks of Mamre, not the plains of Mamre, since he is still in the mountains.

We must acknowledge here the possibility that the cities of the plain may have been situated down the western coast of the Valley of Salt which was later known as the Salt Sea, rather than all of them having been concentrated on or near the northern coast. If that is the case, Hebron is much closer to Masada, which Strabo had said was near to ancient Sodom. Later, in Genesis chapter 18, Abram is still near the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, and from the context there it also appears to be not very far from the location of Sodom. Hebron is about 18 miles west of the current coast of the Dead Sea, at a latitude which is about 16 miles south of the latitude of the northern edge of that sea, which is very close to Jerusalem. Masada is near the Dead Sea, at a latitude about 10 miles south of the latitude of Hebron. It is reasonable that the cities of the plain were situated along that coast, and in that manner both the Genesis account here and the statement by Strabo would be somewhat accurate.

Now we shall commence with Genesis chapter 14, and the plight of Lot in Sodom:

1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;

The name Shinar is from the Hebrew spelling for ancient Sumer. This period of Sumerian history, since this is not long after the call of Abram in 1880 BC, is in the middle of what archaeologists call the Isin-Larsa period, Isin and Larsa being the names of two prominent Sumerian cities. After Elam toppled the Third Dynasty of Ur in the late 21st century BC, Isin is said to have dominated southern Mesopotamia for the first hundred years of that period, from 2025 to 1924 BC, and Larsa for the balance, until the Amorites who were established at Babylon had formed their own empire in the time of Hammurabi, who was evidently the sixth Amorite king of Babylon who ruled from about 1792 to 1750 BC. Hammurabi defeated Larsa in about 1763 BC, as he united the entire region under his rule. That situation endured until the Kassites sacked Babylon at the beginning of the 16th century BC. [13]

[13 Isin-Larsa period, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isin-Larsa_period, accessed July 28th, 2023.]

Many commentators associate Amraphel here with Hammurabi of Babylon, but that is not at all correct. With all certainty, this is nearly a century too early for Hammurabi. Rather, this name Amraphel seems to be a Hebrew name for one of the kings of Isin, and Ellasar seems to be a Hebrew name for Larsa. Some newer sources claim that Ellasar means “God is chastener”, however neither the original Strong’s Concordance, nor Gesenius or the Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicons had even ventured to define the term (# 495), so the modern definition certainly is an innovation. Lists of the ancient rulers of both Isin and Larsa during this period have been constructed from surviving inscriptions, however none of the names are similar to the ones provided here. However it is evident in many places in Scripture, that the names by which the Hebrews had identified foreign rulers are frequently quite different from their native names. Although our identities can only be tentative, Amraphel seems to have been a Hebrew or Akkadian appellation for some king of Isin early in this period, since Isin was the dominant city of Shinar, or ancient Sumer, at that time, and Arioch for some king of Larsa. The given name Arioch occurs once again, where it is the name for the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s guard in chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel, who must have been a Kassite, or Chaldaean.

During this same period of history, Elam was often involved in the affairs of Mesopotamia. As we had explained in part 18 of this commentary, titled The Hebrews, Elam was once a subject state of the Akkadian empire, and continued to be oppressed by the Third Dynasty of Ur. In the early 21st century BC, Ur had taken Susa and toppled the king of Elam, and Elam had in turn sacked Ur and toppled that dynasty near the end of that same century, although some chronologies differ by nearly fifty years. However in the time of Abram, which was during the time of the Sukkalmah Dynasty of Elam, although the history is sketchy, both Isin and Larsa had also attempted to take Susa, the capital city of Elam. So it is possible here, that Elam was a subject state to Isin at this time, as was Larsa, since it certainly is evident that both states had been hostile to Elam throughout the entire period. But as we shall see later in this chapter, even if the king of Isin is mentioned first here in this verse , and from this verse alone it seems like the king of Elam may be his subject, later in the chapter the king of Elam is apparently the overall ruler, and perhaps, although it is not recorded in history, Elam ruled over Sumer at this time. It is known that after this time, from around 1850 BC, Elam entered into various military coalitions against Isin and Larsa. [14]

Over a hundred years before the famous but later Code of Hammurabi, who was a Canaanite, a king of Isin known as Lipit-Ishtar (or Eshtar), who is esteemed to have ruled, by one chronology, from about 1859-1848 BC, and who was not a Canaanite, authored a code of laws which has been discovered by archaeologists but which has only survived in part. The portion which survived is the second half of the code, which mostly pertained to property, inheritance, marriage, slaves and taxes. [15] With this it is evident that these kings lived under the rule of law, and here they are about to render judgment on Sodom, which was a lawless city in the wild west. However the actual motive of the king of Isin, or Shinar here, was to subject other city-states to himself in order to increase his own power, in yet another attempt to recreate the former Akkadian empire.

Finally, the reference to “Tidal king of nations” here is completely ambiguous, and even a tentative identity cannot honestly be attempted. Names similar to תדעל or Tidal (# 8413) appear in ancient inscriptions, where there is a reference to a Mount Tudhaliya in Hittite inscriptions [16], a name which later belonged to various Hittite kings, and also to a very early Assyrian king named Tudiya, the first king listed in the Assyrian King List of which various copies have been discovered by archaeologists [17]. In any event, this Tidal may have been a minor king of some regional collection of tribes in Arabia or Syria, which had also been subject to Elam, or Isin, at this time. Some recent commentators interpret the word גוים or goyim (# 1471) here as a place name, however the clear meaning of the term is peoples or nations.

[14 Elam, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elam, accessed July 28th, 2023; 15 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 159; 16 ibid., p. 358 17 ibid., p. 564.]

Now, the kings of the cities of the plain are listed, with whom this Mesopotamian coalition had come to make war:

2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.

Neither the original Strong’s Concordance nor the Brown, Driver Briggs Hebrew lexicons offer a definition for the name ברע or Bera (# 1298), however Gesenius defines it as gift from a contraction of a Hebrew phrase [18], which is highly dubious. But as Strong’s offers a probable definition of ברשע or Birsha (# 1306) as with wickedness, since רשע or resha is iniquity (# 7562) and the ב as a prefix means with, and with that we must agree. The name Shinab (# 8134) is defined in Strong’s as “a father has turned”, or perhaps changed, Shemeber (# 8038) as “name of a pinion, i.e. illustrious”, and the king of Bela is unnamed. But it is described here and later in this chapter that Bela was also named Zoar. Bela must have been the southernmost of these cities, as Zoar is described as having been close to Egypt where we read in Genesis chapter 13 of how fertile the land in which these cities were found “before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.”

Here once again it is apparent that the names of these kings are probably not their native names, at least in the case of Birsha, and the Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon does not offer definitions for Bera, Shinab or Shemeber, while it is apparent that interpretations other than those offered by Strong’s are possible. Gesenius defined Shinab as “father’s tooth” [19] and Shemeber as “soaring on high” [20].

3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.

As we have said, in agreement with Brenton who seems to have been correct in his Septuagint translation where he added the word now, a valley is not a sea, but a valley may become a sea. So it is apparent that when calamity came upon these cities as they were judged for their sins, the Valley of Siddim became the Dead Sea. This valley is not mentioned again after this chapter. Most certainly because it was no longer a valley, but a sea.

4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

Here it is evident that Elam had ruled over Isin and Larsa, the dominant cities in Shinar during this period, rather than having been subject to Isin at this time, and that rule must have lasted for at least 14 years, and probably longer. As we had admitted, the history of the period as it may be determined from inscriptions is incomplete and imperfectly understood. There are inscriptions titled A Sumerian Lamentation which lament the destruction of Ur at the end of the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur [21], probably around 2004 BC, but apparently there is little from this period, which is nearly 150 years later.

At least much of what we know as Arabia must have at one time been considered to be a part of the land of Cush, and of course the founder of the first Adamic empire in Mesopotamia was Nimrod, a son of Cush. Later, after the Kassites had overthrown the Amorites and destroyed Babylon, Moses went to Arabia where he found a wife, in a place which was called the “land of Midian”, but later his wife was disparaged as a woman of Cush [22], as Midian was in the land of Cush in Arabia. It is evident in many later Scriptures that Midian was indeed in Arabia, notably in Judges chapters 6 through 9. So it is also evident, that the cities of the plain were subject to the Akkadian Empire, and that the subsequent aspiring empires sought to keep them subjected. Perhaps more of the people of the other tribes of Ham had lived in this region than Canaanites, but there is no way to determine that with certainty.

[18 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, p. 144; 19 ibid., p. 839; 20 ibid., p. 833; 21 ibid., pp. 459, 611; 22 Exodus 2:15, Numbers 12:1.]

5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim,

As we have said, here the king of Elam seems to be at the head of these armies, and therefore Isin and Larsa have been subjects of Elam for at least these 14 years leading up to this event.

The Rephaims, or properly Rephaim, as the suffix is already plural in Hebrew, are a particular family of the Nephilim descended from one of the so-called giants. In 1 Chronicles chapter 20 we read: “5 And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam. 6 And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant. 7 But when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea David's brother slew him. 8 These were born unto the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.” There, each occurrence of the word giant is from the Hebrew word רפא or rapha, the plural form of which is רפאים or rephaim (# 7497).

Ashteroth Karnaim means “Asteroth of the two horns”, or peaks, and of course Ashteroth is a reference to the Canaanite idol called Ishtar in Mesopotamia. The word Zuzims, זוזים or Zuzim, is defined by Strong’s to mean prominent (# 2104), however we do not agree. Strong’s gave its etymology as having been from זיז or ziyz (# 2123), which he defines as a verb meaning “to be conspicuous… also a moving creature”, as it is clearly used in the 50th Psalm (50:11). Neither Brown, Driver and Briggs nor Gesenius offer a definition for the word, but the former source admits that they are “otherwise unknown” [23] and therefore can hardly have been prominent. Here we would rather agree with newer sources, which define the term as “roving creatures”, having been conspicuous for that reason. The online Blue Letter Bible defines the term in that manner, and says that they were “an ancient people of uncertain origin, perhaps, inhabitants of ancient Ammon east of the Jordan.” [24] If they did not live in the later territory of ancient Ammon, as Ammon was not even yet born here, they did live in that vicinity.

In any event, these Zuzim or “roving creatures” were not identified with a patronym or a proper tribal name, and therefore they could not have descended from the sons of Noah. Here they are said to be “in Ham”, and several of the sons of Ham occupied various portions of what was later known as Arabia. So the reference to Ham is certainly a reference to the patriarch, however geography alone does not distinguish the Zuzim as having been of Ham. Rather, they were also most likely of the Nephilim. They are, however, sometimes identified with a group of Rephaim later found in Ammon and called Zamzummims, in Deuteronomy chapter 2 (2:20). I would agree with that identification. Strong’s also defined that word in a positive light, as intriguing, where more recent sources define it as plotters. Perhaps these definitions are an indication of the general altruism of James Strong. It is nearly certain that Zuzim and Zamzummim are indeed the same group of Rephaim.

The Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim were also Nephilim, and according to Deuteronomy chapter 2 (2:10-11). Emims was only another name for the Anakim, the Nephilim who descended from Anak. The name Emim is a plural form of a word which means terror (# 368), so Emims are terrors. Shaveh is from a word which means plain, and Kiriathaim is a plural form of a word which means city, but which is interpreted as a dual form, “plain of the two cities”, but that is not a necessary interpretation and it may just mean “plain of the cities”. The dual form of nouns in Hebrew is often marked only by rabbinical vowel points which are a medieval Talmudic innovation on the language of Scripture.

[23 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, F. Brown, S. Driver and C. Briggs, Hendrickson Publishers, 2021, p. 265; 24 זוזים, The Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h2104/kjv/wlc/0-1/, accessed July 28th, 2023.]

6 And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness.

The Horites are the Hurrians of secular history and archaeology, but these particular Horites lived far south of the Mitanni kingdom, which was also evidently Hurrian. Later in Genesis, these Horites would become mingled together with the descendants of Esau, as he had settled in Mount Seir, and they were incorporated into his genealogy, as it appears in Genesis chapter 36.

The site which today is generally presumed to be Mount Seir is about 10 miles east of the Jordan River, and about 55 miles south of the southernmost extreme of the Dead Sea. We would rather identify Mount Seir with what is now known as Petra, and ancient city of building facades cut into the sides of the mountains, which is 12 miles northeast of the mountain which is currently identified as Mount Seir.

7 And they returned, and came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezon-tamar.

Evidently, En-mishpat was an ancient name for Kadesh, a city in the south of Judah. It is called Kadeshbarnea in the King James Version of Joshua chapter 15 (15:3).

This also helps to further establish that Amraphel was not Hammurabi, because Hammurabi was an Amorite king, so why would he engage in an attack the people of his own tribe? Many Amorites lived to the west of Sumer in the Arabian desert. Later in history, they would take the land of Ammon from the descendants of Moab, where they were found when Israel had invaded Canaan.

8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim; 9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five.

Here we can only wonder if this ancient incursion had aroused the interest of the Egyptians, since at least some of this territory, and especially Kadesh, which is near to Gaza, was well within the Egyptian sphere of influence.

10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. 11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.

These slime pits must be the phenomenon which produced the asphalt which was later described by Greek writers as floating to the surface of Lake Asphaltites, the Greek name for the Dead Sea. The word for slime here, חמר or chemar (# 2564), refers to pitch, asphalt or bitumen. Here the Hebrew phrase בארת חמר is slimepits, but barith chemar is literally a well or a pit of pitch or asphalt.

While Strabo, in the 16th book of his Geography, had mistakenly confused it with the name of another lake, he said of the Dead Sea, in part, that “It abounds with asphaltus, which rises, not however at any regular seasons, in bubbles, like boiling water, from the middle of the deepest part.” [25] In his Antiquities, in Books 1 and 15, Flavius Josephus had referred to the Dead Sea by the name Lake Asphaltites, which it earned from the plentiful asphalt which rose to the surface was harvested there. [26]

So the cavalry of the so-called “good guys”, who represent the empire and the greater civilization in Mesopotamia to the east, prevailed over the “bad guys” of the Wild West, who represent licentiousness and lawlessness. But the “good guys” really were not so good, and a few years later, the much harsher and more lasting judgment of Yahweh God would come upon the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the meantime, the “good guys” would be overcome by Abram, and not even 320 men, as he sought to recover what had been taken unjustly.

[25 Geography, Strabo, 16.2.42; 26 Antiquities of the Judaeans, Flavius Josephus, 1:174 and 15:168.]

Because of extenuating circumstances, such as a prolonged blackout here in the back woods of north Florida this evening, I was simply not able to finish this chapter as I wanted, but this is sufficient, and perhaps better, as we shall discuss the victories of Abraham, Yahweh willing, when we return next week.

CHR20230728-Genesis23.odt — Downloaded 44 times