[Chapter Four: Judges of the Pharaoh]
Chapter Five: Abraham and the Kingdom of Ugarit
Abram reigned at Damascus,
being a foreigner,
who came with an army out of the land above Babylon,
called the land of the Chaldeans
―Nicolaus of Damascus
Abraham presents an interesting problem in that he falls outside of the 455-year period that, as we have already established, fits relatively well with the facts of Egyptian and Mesopotamian history. However, there is no reason we should not continue our halving of all time periods mentioned in this part of the bible, at least to see where we end up relative to the known chronology of Egypt. After all, what have we to lose? What is most exciting about the half-scale biblical timeline is that it takes individuals who appeared to have been lost forever in the mists of prehistoric time and transports them forward to a point where we may at least entertain the hope that they can be identified with real historical characters. Add to this the coming realization that the complex genealogical trees recorded in the bible are there because their branches link the members of one vast royal household and that possibility becomes almost a certainty. The age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is already a nebulous period, even as we stare back into the formative years of the religion of Moses, and anything that even resembles a clue will be welcome.
Chronology of the Patriarchs from the Birth of Nahor until the Death of Jacob
Age of Abraham
Hyksos conquer Lower Egypt1
Tree ring event
Birth of Nahor ben Serug (Niqmepa II2)
Ya'dur-Addu becomes king of Ugarit
Birth of Terah
Peleg dies at age 69
Reu dies at age 69
Nahor ben Serug dies at age 39. Ibiranu II becomes king of Ugarit
|13th Dynasty ends. 18th Dynasty begins at Thebes||1549|
Birth of Nahor ben Terah (Niqmepa III)
Abram, father of Edna (wife of Terah), dies
Birth of Abraham at "Ur"
Serug dies at age 66
Birth of Sarah
Haran dies at "Ur" in presence of Terah
Terah leaves "Ur"
|Ahmose defeats Hyksos at Avaris (Tell el-Daba). Hyksos retreat to Sharuhen in southern Canaan||1534|
Ahmose defeats Hyksos at Sharuhen
|19||Typhon approaches earth||1526|
|Puzur-Asshur becomes king of Assyria3||ca 1513|
|33||Terah dies in city of Harran at age 68||1512|
|34||Chedorlaomer begins 6-year rule of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar||1511|
Abraham leaves Harran at age 37, enters Canaan under Assyrian domination
Amenhotep dies. Chebron becomes king of Egypt as Thutmosis I
Famine begins. Abraham enters Egypt, marries Sarah, sister of Thutmosis I. 518-year 16th Dynasty of Africanus begins. Plagues occur. 5 kings of the plain rebel. 4 generals of Puzur-Asshur—Amraphel (’Ammurapi I of Ugarit), Arioch of "Ellasar" (Assyria), Chedorlaomer of "Elam," and Tidal (Tergal [Jubilees]) of the "Goiim" (Hittites?)—defeat 5 kings, capture Lot. Abraham, in command of Egyptian land forces, defeats Chedorlaomer, freeing Ugarit from Assyrian domination, rescues Lot. Amraphel dies. Abraham meets Melchizedek, king of Salem (Salim/Shechem). Nahor ben Terah (Niqmepa III) becomes king of Ugarit
|41||Abraham returns to Egypt, teaches astronomy at Heliopolis [Polyhistor]. Destruction of Sodom. Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham||1503|
|43||Birth of Ishmael||1502|
|50||Birth of Isaac (Mempsasthenoth [Artapanus])||1495|
|53||Thutmosis II becomes king of Egypt||1492|
|Enlil-nasir I becomes king of Assyria||ca 1489|
Thutmosis III becomes king of Egypt with Hatshepsut as regent.
|62||Hatshepsut seizes the throne. Abraham leaves Egypt, attempts to sacrifice Isaac||1483|
Isaac marries Rebekah at age 20. Abraham marries Keturah, becomes king of Ugarit as Ibiranu III
|80||Birth of Jacob (Yaqaru) and Esau, fraternal twins||1465|
|Hatshepsut dies. Thutmosis III becomes sole king of Egypt.||1462|
|87||Abraham dies at age 87. Niqmepa IV becomes king of Ugarit||1458|
|Esau marries Judith and Basemath, Hittites, at age 20. Jacob leaves for Harran||1445|
|Jacob marries Leah||ca 1442|
|Jacob marries Rachel||ca 1438|
Ishmael dies at age 68
|Thutmosis III dies. Amenhotep II becomes king of Egypt||1430|
|Birth of Joseph to Rachel. Jacob leaves Harran||1420|
Jacob becomes king of Ugarit
Isaac dies at age 90
Jacob loses throne of Ugarit (due to famine?), enters Egypt
Jacob dies at age 73
|18th Dynasty ends||1301|
|1Red: Egypt. 2Green: Syria. 3Bold: Assyria.|
The Location of Ur
All manner of theories have been developed about the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the city where Abraham was born. With the discovery of inscribed "references to Sumerian Ur" and especially with excavations there by C. Leonard Woolley, as Cyrus H. Gordon points out in his Before the Bible, it became fashionable to identify Abraham's birthplace with the city where,
The Royal Tombs yielded such splendid finds that the success of the expedition gave the illusion of finality to a specious identification. Older books―including many a forgotten tome of the nineteenth century―correctly locate Ur of the Chaldees in the general Haran area.... All of the connections of the Patriarchal Narrative are northern, with no trace of direct contact with Sumer and Akkad.
This "Ur" has never been located convincingly, though Gordon suggests it may have been Orrhai (Edessa).
The most obvious candidate for the northern Ur is Ugarit, as we shall see shortly, the location of a line of kings with major parallels to the ancestral line of Abraham. Ugarit was a major trading center on the Syrian coast that would have been ideal for the importation and dissemination of religious ideas from across the region, and, in fact, the same characters, Abram and Sarai, appear in the form of Brahma and Saraswati, in the Indian pantheon. The Vedas in which they appear were written down towards the middle centuries of the 2nd Millennium BC. This parallel reinforced the notion among Godfrey Higgins and his contemporaries that the patriarchs had been Indian philosophers. The origin of this idea lies in Josephus, who mentions the claim made by Aristotle, as quoted by Clearchos, that the "Jews are derived from the Indian philosophers; they are named by the Indians Calami, and by the Syrians Judaei, and took their name from the country they inhabit ...." Of course "India" originally meant any place that bordered the Indian Ocean, including places as far west as Ethiopia.
No matter in which direction the stories associated with Sarai and Abram, and Brahma and Saraswati, traveled, it is much more likely that there would have been a link between the Indus River Valley and a major trading center like Ugarit than with a town in the interior. The whole notion of diffusion of religious ideas among the great river valley civilizations of the ancient world makes much more sense if we posit a flourishing sea trade among them than if we accept the academic notion of caravan routes plying the desolate wastes and backwaters of the Near East. This sea trade does not necessarily imply a fleet of trading vessels traversing the entire route from China to southern Britain, simply that one trading center would have been in contact with the next, linked together like beads on a wire. From India to Mesopotamia; from there to southern Arabia and Ethiopia and on to Qosir at the eastern end of the valley of Rehanu on the Red Sea; from Qoph at the western end of the same valley (north of Thebes on the Nile) to the cities of Lower Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean; and from there to Crete and Greece and points west; even unto the Pillars of Heracles and beyond, to ports on the western European and African coasts; all along this route people, goods, and ideas would have traveled one stage at a time, diffusing across broad stretches of the civilized world without even seeing the back of a beast of burden except when traveling between the Red Sea and the Nile. An alternative route would have been up the Euphrates to its head waters, then overland to the Halys and into the Black Sea, then west to the Bosporus and southwest into the Mediterranean. The Trojan War and its adjacent battles may have been fought over this alternate route that would have circumvented Egyptian control of a vital link in world trade.
Though, as we shall see shortly, his fourth-great-grandfather Eber was king of Ugarit in Syria, as was his grandfather Nahor, Abraham was but a prince at the time of the death of Sarah in Chapter 23 of Genesis. As the "children of Heth" tell him,
Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us; in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
For what it's worth, the book of Jubilees places Eber and his early descendants at Ur, which either contradicts the following theory or it is an indication that the city of "Ur" was indeed the city of Ugarit itself. As Gordon says, "Ugarit has yielded documents regulating the activities of the merchants of Ur(a)," so they are either one and the same place or Ugarit was under the direct control of nearby Ur.
Abraham in Syria
Godfrey Higgins, in Book VIII, Chapter I, of the Anacalypsis, informs us of "a fact which we learn from Damascenus, that Abraham first reigned at Damascus ...." In Before the Bible, Cyrus Gordon gives the following account of the relationship of Terah's son Abraham with the Hittites in his attempt to identify Ur with the city of Ura near Harran:
The Hittite kings sponsored merchants plying their trade in Canaan. Documents of Hattusili III (ca. 1282–1250 B.C.) have been found at Ugarit, regulating the activities of his merchants there. Complaints had been lodged against the merchants for their undue exploitation of Ugarit. Accordingly, Hattusili forbade his merchants to acquire Ugaritic real-estate, or to remain in Ugarit throughout the year.
Genesis 14 portrays Abraham as the commander of his own company of troops, augmented by those of his Amorite allies. Moreover, he is successful in overtaking and defeating a coalition of invading kings. It is significant that in this chapter, Abraham is called a "Hebrew." This raises an interesting question, because many scholars are inclined to identify "Hebrew" with Apiru .... The Apiru are widely distributed over the Near East throughout the second millennium .... They are regularly outsiders, usually serving in some official capacity. Often they are warriors .... Abraham is an outsider, serving in an official capacity, to judge from Genesis 23: 6, where the members of the Hittite enclave address him as "My Lord" and add "you are an exalted prince in our midst."
Josephus has the original reference to Damascenus, or Nicolaus of Damascus, in The Antiquities of the Jews, as well as other references to Abraham in ancient texts:
Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him, when he says thus: "In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science." But Hecatæus does more than barely mention him; for he composed, and left behind him, a book concerning him. And Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abram reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abram is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abram."
A person about whom entire books and sections of books were written was clearly not a simple wandering shepherd from southern Mesopotamia. At the very least he was a warlord leading a small band of armed men. As Godfrey Higgins so insightfully and insistently pointed out, the myth of the biblical shepherd had more to do with the location of the spring sun in Aries, the Ram, than it did with the actual vocation of its heroes. To the extent that any of these gentlemen were in any real sense shepherds, they were shepherds of men, as Hammurabi calls himself, as did later representatives of the most high Sun God on earth.
It is especially important that Abraham appears in a lost history of the Phoenicians, for, as we shall see shortly, it is in this region that kings named Ibiranu appeared long before Solomon allied himself with Hiram of Tyre. The Antiquities of Josephus is not the only place where indications survive of a literary tradition placing Abraham within a wider non-biblical political and genealogical environment. The book of Jubilees, for example, written sometime around 106 BC, contains references to female ancestors and male relations of Abraham not found in the bible. Among these is one Abram, father-in-law of Terah, whom we will shortly encounter within the context of the kings of Ugarit. Which is not to say that all of the added "data" in Jubilees is accurate. The author gives different wives for Cain and Kenan, whom we will see later are the same person, so we must assume that much of his attempt to fill in the gaps in Genesis was the product of sheer fantasy or, at the very least, assembled from various contradictory sources the way the more canonical books of the bible were. Having had access to legitimate biographical sources on Abraham, however, we can be relatively sure that his data on Terah, his wife, and his father-in-law has some reasonable possibility of being true, though absolute certainty remains out of the question.
Abraham in Egypt
Beyond the cryptic account in the bible, there is little in regard to Abraham's stay in Egypt in ancient literature beyond a few fragments. Higgins continues the above account: "Alexander Polyhistor, who lived about ninety years before Christ, and Eupolemus [Pseudo Eupolemus], who lived about 250 years before Christ, say that [Abraham] came and resided in Egypt at Heliopolis, that is Maturea, and there taught astrology, which he did not profess to have invented, but to have learnt it from his ancestors, of course in the East."
According to Eusebius, quoting from Alexander Polyhistor,
Artapanus, in his Jewish History, says that the Jews were called Ermiuth, which when interpreted after the Greek language means Judaeans, and that they were called Hebrews from Abraham. And he, they say, came with all his household into Egypt, to Pharethothes the king of the Egyptians, and taught him astrology; and after remaining there twenty years, removed back again into the regions of Syria: but that many of those who had come with him remained in Egypt because of the prosperity of the country.
Pharethothes was apparently Pharaoh Thutmosis I, the third king of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom, who ruled for 8 years beginning in 1505, the year before Abraham entered Egypt, and was then replaced by Thutmosis II. Josephus has the following in the same regard:
He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.
It is difficult to imagine that the builders of the pyramids did not have arithmetic before Abraham entered Egypt during the New Kingdom, but his association with astronomy, the province of the Chaldeans, certainly rings true. Perhaps the ancient sources were speaking specifically about the mathematics of astronomy including the prediction of the return of cometary bodies. As we shall see later, the year 1526 would have seen a sudden spike in the general interest in the subject across the world.
It was only after supposedly marrying his wife off to the king of Egypt that Abraham returned to Canaan and proceeded to take on the assembled forces of the Syrians, Hittites, and Assyrians somewhere near Ugarit. Despite the biblical account, this may have been done with the aid of Egyptian ground troops. The Egyptians had removed the Asiatic "Hyksos" from the eastern delta and from the very throne of the pharaohs in 1534 and finally defeated them in 1531. Why not continue the process of bolstering their defences by sending an armed force into Canaan and driving the Assyrians and their Anatolian allies, as well as the remaining Hyksos forces in the area, back across the Orontes while at the same time placing Abraham's brother on the throne of Ugarit? As a matter of fact, Thutmosis I is credited with conquering the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as far north as Syria. As for Abraham's position at the court of the Egyptians, the reader will see from the green table in Chapter Two that Manetho calls Thutmosis I "Chebron." This is significant, for Hebron, to use the biblical spelling, was a term used to refer to Abraham and meant "friend," as in "friend of God," thus suggesting the possibility that Abraham was related to Thutmosis. In either event, the implication of this account of Abraham's visit to Egypt, as intentionally muddied as it is, is that it was primarily a military embassy with secondary dynastic overtones. In short, Abraham entered Egypt just after the rise of Thutmosis I in 1505 BC only to turn around within the year and use his newly acquired Egyptian reinforcements in the service of his battle with their common enemy, the Assyrians.
The Battle with Chedorlaomer
It was Josephus who first noticed a certain dual nature to the history of Manetho. On the one hand there are long and apparently quite factual lists of kings, the lengths of time that they reigned, and so forth. On the other, Manetho embedded what look and read like stories, or tales, or legends, about the more interesting rulers in his lists. There are points in the text of the bible where one notices what look like these same excursions into storytelling and myth making, and the story of Abraham and his exploits is not free from this method of exposition. His battle with Chedorlaomer looks and feels like such a story. Yet it is not impossible to see in it more than a mere bold-faced tall tale.
To set the scene, Chedorlaomer has ruled over the "Cities of the Plain" for six years (in the original, 12). He and three allies,
... 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―the same is Zoar. All these came as allies unto the vale of Siddim―the same is the Salt Sea.
In the seventh, the local kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, and nearby Amorite towns revolt. And in the second half of that year, Chedorlaomer, reinforced by three other kings, marshals his forces to march on those very same Cities of the Plain. The progression of Chedorlaomer as he makes his way south battling one after the other local king is such that one has to wonder if there were other cities and towns in revolt along the way, or whether he has simply taken the opportunity to increase the sphere of his influence. In any event, the locals are wildly outnumbered, or simply employed soldiers of an inferior temperament, and run at the first sign of the combined army. In the process, Abraham's nephew Lot is taken prisoner and placed in danger of spending the rest of his life in slavery, a theme that resonates with later events in 19th Dynasty Egypt. The ancestors of the Jewish people seem continuously to have found themselves in alternating positions of authority and servitude. Abraham, a prince himself, will have nothing of this. He raises a force (of supposedly only 318) from his own men and follows Chedorlaomer northward as he and his cohorts return to their own cities.
Now one can imagine a scene not unlike that of George Washington at the Battle of Trenton, where the victorious forces are sleeping soundly after continuing their celebration of their recent easy and nearly bloodless victory. Abraham pounces, kills the leaders of the foreign forces, snatches Lot, harries them as far as Damascus, then evacuates the scene before the forces of the enemy can regroup and exact vengeance upon him without reversing themselves and traveling southward again.
There is nothing particularly miraculous, or metaphorical, or even apparently exaggerated about this account, even ignoring the possibility that Abraham also had Egyptian troops under his command. To claim so would be equivalent to accusing American historians of telling a Christmas tale about the German mercenary Hessians and he who chopped down the national American world (cherry) tree because Old George was seriously outnumbered, though some who would have Abraham living in an earlier period find it hard to believe that he would have been able to defeat what they believe was the army of Hammurabi or another of the kings of Babylonia with a force numbering just over 300. What bothers historians, and everyone else who views the bible, most, from a standpoint other than that of Sunday school teachers, is that Abraham is normally viewed as a shepherd rather than as a military tactician. But as we shall see in Chapter Six, even the king of Babylon, Hammurabi, referred to himself as "the salvation-bearing shepherd," without necessarily having spent his life herding sheep.
To have any hope of understanding who Chedorlaomer and his compatriots were, and where they came from, we need to look at the route that they took on their way toward their ultimate battle with the kings of the Plain. We are told in the bible that the invaders conquered the following peoples in the following order:
The Rephaim from Ashteroth-karnaim,
The Zuzim from Ham,
The Emim from Shaveh-kiriathaim,
The Horites from Mount Seir and El-paran, then, turning back,
The Amalekites from Kadesh/En-mishpat, and finally,
The Amorites from Hazezon-tamar
The first question that comes to mind, even without attempting to identify these locations, is how the author knows that these events have even occurred. For if this were a novel and not purported to be an historical account, we would recognize immediately what is called the omniscient viewpoint. That is, the author is describing facts that are not likely to have been readily apparent to the characters in the story. The implication here is similar to the one that we noticed earlier in our investigation of the supposed 480- and 430-year periods that define the relations between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. In short, whoever is writing the account may be assumed to have had access to one or another ancient archive. Whether this was Egyptian or Mesopotamian or from somewhere else is not immediately obvious, but the appearance of Abraham in this account suggests that his presence and actions were significant enough to have been recorded in the annals of nearby kingdoms and preserved, possibly for hundreds of years, from the time of the events until the appearance of Hebrew scribes in those kingdoms.
The importance of this realization cannot be overestimated, for once we remove the theologically introduced and thereby suspect notion that the early books of the bible were somehow transmitted directly from the mouth of some Arabian volcano god, the fingerprints of the Scribe may be seen all over this account. We do not yet know who this Scribe was, but we can begin to imagine him sitting at his table with pen (or stylus) in hand mulling over a stack of documents related to the person of Abraham and containing accounts of his actions and ancestors. This Scribe would have been one of several who composed the histories of various periods in the development of the Jewish nation, histories that would later be synthesized into a relatively consistent and unified account that has come down to us in the form of a book called the Bible.
Hence, the omniscient viewpoint we see here is that of the historian, telling us everything he knows and suspects about Abraham and his relatives. As we have already seen, the first thing he does in this portion of his account is set the scene. The formerly obedient vassal states have rebelled, or simply stopped paying taxes. Chedorlaomer moves southward. There is no indication how he got to this point. The Scribe either has no idea or, more likely, it is obvious to him and, he believes, his readers. They started in "Shinar" and traveled there by the usual means. Shinar is usually associated with Mesopotamia, the former land of the Sumerians. Yet there is no one in that Shinar or nearby during the late 16th Century BC who matches Chedorlaomer, or Amraphel, or anyone else at the time with which we have identified these events. Clearly, we are missing something important.
It took me a while to realize what I was actually missing, but it finally occurred to me that I had fallen prey to multiple assumptions that have been made by those who would attempt to understand this portion of Genesis that are, in fact, not in evidence. What finally awakened me to this problem was the passage describing the alignment of the two forces in this little regional battle. As it says in Chapter 14:
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 set the battle in array against them in the vale of Siddim; against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings against the five.
It is commonly assumed that Bela is an alternate name for the city of Zoar and that the name of the king of Zoar is missing from the text. The grammar would tend to support that, but why give two names for a city and not the name of its king? It seems to me more likely that the text is corrupt and that Bela was the name of the king of Zoar, so that the five kings were Bela, Bera, Birsha, Shinab, and Shemeber. The book of Jasher reinforces this suspicion: "...and Bela king of Zoar...." Bela, in fact, appears later on in Genesis as the name of a king of Edom. Edom, or "Jobab," appears in the Table of Nations among the inhabitants of Arabia.
Now those who see the bible as a primarily religious text are in the habit of attributing every peculiar event or even successful military campaign to the intervention of their "supreme being." This allows them to gloss over apparently quite egregious inconsistencies by assigning them to the category of miracles and leaving the matter at that. Thus, it is even possible by this same methodology to see the four foreign kings as rulers of vast empires rather than kings of relatively insignificant city-states or generals in the service of an unseen foreign power. In fact, ever since it was noticed that the names of the four kings bore a superficial resemblance to the names of those who were active on the world stage during the period indicated by the artificially extended biblical timeline, it has been widely held among the more theologically oriented of scholars that Abraham fought and defeated a coalition of mighty rulers of empires and miraculously defeated them. They saw Amraphel and identified him with Hammurabi of Babylon, whom they knew well from their records, and confused Shinar with an ancient name for Babylonia rather than Sanhar in Syria near Ugarit, where ’Ammurapi ruled. They saw Arioch and identified him with Eri-Aku of Assyria, with which they identified Ellasar. They saw Tidal and found in his name an echo of one of the Tudhaliyas of the Hittites, a non-Semitic nation, and saw in them the "Goiim," an identification that may turn out to be correct after all. And finally, they read Chedorlaomer and saw in the name an analogue of the names of the kings of Elam in what would later be called Persia when they were under Babylonian vassalage during the so-called Kudur Dynasty. What are we left with, then? What remains of the story in Genesis after the misidentifications of the scholars have been stripped away are what appear to be four kings of cities located somewhere in or near Syria with a political and economic interest in the region near the Dead Sea, or, as we shall see in a moment, four generals in the employ of a major regional power of the time, named, at least in Hebrew transliteration, Chedorlaomer, Amraphel, Arioch, and Tidal.
As George Goodspeed wrote in the early 20th Century, in A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, about a time only slightly later than that of Abraham,
The fifteenth century B.C., therefore, marks a turning-point in the history of Western Asia. The nations that had hitherto wrought out largely by themselves their contributions to civilization and progress came into direct political relation one with another in that middle zone between the Euphrates and the Nile, which was henceforth to be the battle-ground of their armies and the reward of their victories. From that time forth the politics of the kings was to be a world-politics; the balance of power was to be a burning question; international diplomacy came into being. The three great powers were Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Lesser kingdoms appeared as Egypt advanced into the East,―Mitanni in northwestern Mesopotamia, whose people used the cuneiform script to express a language which cannot yet be understood, Alasia in north-western Syria, and the Hittites just rounding into form in the highlands of northeastern Syria and destined to play so brilliant a part, if at present a puzzling one, in the history of the coming centuries.
At this point in our journey it will be instructive to turn to Josephus, for the Jewish historian has a different take altogether on this entire episode, which intersects with our own conclusions about the characterization of the four "kings" that has come down to us through the Holy Scriptures. Whether Josephus was working from alternate sources or simply working from his own understanding of the political situation at the time of Abraham, he has the following to say about the patriarch's foes:
At this time, when the Assyrians had the dominion over Asia, the people of Sodom were in a flourishing condition, both as to riches and the number of their youth. There were five kings that managed the affairs of this county: Ballas, Barsas, Senabar, and Sumobor, with the king of Bela; and each king led on his own troops: and the Assyrians made war upon them; and, dividing their army into four parts, fought against them. Now every part of the army had its own commander; and when the battle was joined, the Assyrians were conquerors, and imposed a tribute on the kings of the Sodomites, who submitted to this slavery twelve years; and so long they continued to pay their tribute: but on the thirteenth year they rebelled, and then the army of the Assyrians came upon them, under their commanders Amraphel, Arioch, Chodorlaomer, and Tidal. These kings had laid waste all Syria, and overthrown the offspring of the giants. And when they were come over against Sodom, they pitched their camp at the vale called the Slime Pits, for at that time there were pits in that place; but now, upon the destruction of the city of Sodom, that vale became the Lake Asphaltites, as it is called. However, concerning this lake we shall speak more presently. Now when the Sodomites joined battle with the Assyrians, and the fight was very obstinate, many of them were killed, and the rest were carried captive; among which captives was Lot, who had come to assist the Sodomites.
Not only does Josephus give us variants of the names of the kings of four of the five cities attacked, he gives us the identities of the four attackers, all, according to his sources, generals in the army of the Assyrians. Here, finally, we have an explanation of why all of these gentlemen do not appear in bold face type, so to speak, in the records of the Near Eastern kingdoms of the 2nd Millennium BC, for most of them were, as we suspected, kings in name only, rulers of cities under the sway of the Assyrians, or simply generals who were not kings at all, generals who were confused by the author of the 14th chapter of Genesis with the rulers of those cities. That Canaan was under Assyrian domination is supported by the description in Jubilees, written about 107 BC, of Abraham's arrival there:
And Abram journeyed from Haran, and he took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother Haran's son, to the land of Canaan, and he came into Asshur, and proceeded to Shechem, and dwelt near a lofty oak.
The equivalent passage in the bible has stripped away this reference to Asshur and the implied location of Shechem within the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire.
There is another variation of this story that appears in the Genesis Apocryphon found at Qumran. In that document Arioch is identified not as king of Ellasar, purportedly Assyria, but of Cappadocia on the Halys River on the south shore of the Black Sea in what is now Turkey. What are we to make of this seeming inconsistency? It turns out that the inconsistency is only apparent. We find the solution to this puzzle in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius in references to the region around the Halys as "the Assyrian shore" and later as "the delta-land of Assyria." This suggests that toward the end of the 16th Century BC the power of Assyria extended as far north as the Black Sea and as far south as the Dead Sea.
And who was this mysterious Assyrian king under whom these four subordinate kings, or generals, attacked the land of Sodom? As we shall see in Chapter Thirteen, the king of Assyria in 1504 BC was Puzur-Asshur III, and he lived to tell the tale until replaced by Enlil-nasir I in 1489, six years after the birth of Isaac.
Upon attacking Amraphel and his cohorts at Dan and then following them as far as Hobah near Damascus, we are expected to believe that Abraham went to "Jerusalem" far to the south to visit Melchizedek king of Salem. As we shall see in a moment, this was before presumably attending the installation of his brother Nahor on the throne of Ugarit southwest of his earlier home at Harran in what is now Turkey far to the north, a bit of a roundabout route for someone like Abraham who knew the territory like the back of his hand. The implication is that the city of Melchizedek was not the later Jerusalem but an earlier center of Israelite power somewhere near Dan. The obvious candidate for this earlier "Jerusalem" is the city of Salim―the original name for Shechem.
After defeating the Assyrians, Abraham appears to have returned to Egypt. At least one source has him teaching astrology there at the City of the Sun, Heliopolis, for 20 years. Only upon the accession of Thutmosis III under the watchful eye of his aunt, Hatshepsut, did Abraham again leave Egypt.
Return to Syria
There is an even more peculiar variation on the story of Abraham and the rescue of his nephew Lot. According to the so-called Pseudo-Eupolemus, who may in fact have been the real Eupolemus, Abraham spent some time among the Phoenicians, again teaching astrology including "the cycles of the sun and moon" and perhaps arithmetic before visiting Egypt. Eupolemus has the Armenians, the inhabitants of Hul of the Table of Nations, attack the Phoenicians and carry off Lot. In this account, it is from Phoenicia that Abraham attacks, bringing back his nephew and taking captive the women and children of the enemy. He then meets Melchizedek at the temple of "Argarizin," Mount Gerizim near Shechem, the city that we will later identify with Solomon's capital and the location of his Bronze Age tripartite temple. Armenia ruled Syria at about the time that Eupolemus wrote.
No matter which order of events is correct, upon consulting the fragmentary tables of kings of various Syrian cities, we find that Ugarit, which we have previously encountered in the chapter on Moses and his relations as well as in the present one, was ruled by more than one king by the name of Ibiranu, one of whom reigned after a king named Niqmepa who followed a king named ’Ammurapi. The following extract is from a couple of years ago in the German version of Wikipedia. It has since been altered and the kings have been rearranged:
Niqmepa II (ca 1600)
Niqmepa IV (ca 1500)
This is quite a suggestive list, though it is only one possible reconstruction of the available data. The following, therefore, should be taken as speculation rather than fact. What it does emphasize is that the names that appear in the bible are similar to the names of real kings who ruled Ugarit over a period of several centuries.
If we are to take the events of Genesis 14 at all seriously, we have to wonder if ’Ammurapi I (Hammurabi I) isn't Amraphel and Ibiranu III, Abraham; Niqmepa III having ruled after the death of Amraphel and before Abraham. As we have seen in Chapter Three, the names assigned to the various Jewish monarchs and other royalty in the biblical records tend to parallel their throne names and not their native "Syrian" names. Also of note, when Moses (Ramses Khamenteru) requested aid from Ugarit, it was to ’Ammurapi III, the last king of Ugarit before its fall to the Sea People, to whom he appealed. The identification of Abraham with one of the Ibiranus of Ugarit would tend to explain the remark attributed to Artapanus that the Judaeans "were called Hebrews from Abraham," not because he invented the term as some have suggested, but because the word Hebrew is related, linguistically, to the word Ibiranu. Hence, it appears that the Hebrews were not just the Apiru taken as a whole, but were a single tribe of Apiru that fell under the leadership of Abraham. As we shall see later, the "House of Heber," as one translation has it, appear in the Keret Legend found on three tablets at Ugarit, and were ruled by King Keret, or Kerit, as he appears on the Phaistos Disc, placing their ruler as far back as 2600 BC on the island of Crete.
The following is a preliminary attempt to align the data from Ugarit with the biblical account, with added data from the book of Jubilees. The ages of the patriarchs are based on the table "Decryption and Correction of the Ages and Lifespans of the Patriarchs" in Chapter Six.
Preliminary Alignment of the Kings of Ugarit with the Hebrew Patriarchs
|King of Ugarit||Biblical Name
|Reign Dates BC||Lived|
|Niqmepa II||Nahor ben Serug||?–1555||1594–1555|
|Ibiranu II||[Abram, husband of Nahor's sister]||1555–?|
|Niqmepa III||Nahor ben Terah||1504–ca 1475||?|
|Ibiranu III||Abram ben Terah||ca 1475–1458||1545–1458|
As for the second Ibiranu, who does not appear in the bible, we have already mentioned Abram, the father-in-law of Terah, who appears in Jubilees. At this point we are almost ready to construct a complete family tree containing the earliest kings of Ugarit and the biblical patriarchs from Eber onward. It is becoming clear that this was not a patriarchal system.
It is interesting, though not evidential, that the city of Uz is identified by Josephus with Damascus, as Damascus is identified with Abraham by Damascenus, rather than with Ugarit, to which it bears rather more of a similarity than does the Dammasek or Darmesek of ancient times. As we shall see in Chapter Eleven, Josephus does so by identifying Uz, the "son" of Aram, with Damascus in his interpretation of the Table of Nations, so that we may suspect that this apparent misidentification goes back at least to him and we can see how later authors might have confused the royal intrigues at Ugarit with events at the lately more prominent city of Damascus, the latter serving as a kind of catchall for all of the cities of Aram or Syria.
Justin (Marcus Junianus Justinus), in his History of the World, Book 36, Chapter 2, extends the identification of the patriarchs with the kings of Damascus, though commentators like William Whiston and John Selby Watson, from the latter of whom the following translation is taken, insist on "correcting" it from the Old Testament and Josephus:
The origin of the Jews was from Damascus, a most famous city of Syria, whence also the Assyrian kings and queen Semiramis sprung. The name of the city was given it from King Damascus, in honour of whom the Syrians consecrated the sepulchre of his wife Arathis as a temple, and regard her as a goddess worthy of the most sacred worship. After Damascus, Azelus, and then Adores, Abraham, and Israhel [Israel=Jacob] were kings. But a prosperous family of ten sons made Israhel more famous than any of his ancestors. Having divided his kingdom, in consequence, into ten governments, he committed them to his sons, and called the whole people Jews from Judas, who died soon after the division, and ordered his memory to be held in veneration by them all, as his portion was shared among them. The youngest of the brothers was Joseph, whom the others, fearing his extraordinary abilities, secretly made a prisoner, and sold to some foreign merchants.
Justin has Joseph as the father of Moses, an obvious telescoping of the story, and has Moses returning to Syria after the Exodus, an assertion not totally out of line with the call for help to the king of Ugarit by Ramses Khamenteru. The important part of this account is that it places Jacob on the same throne as Abraham, which is in accordance with our identification of Jacob with Yaqaru of Ugarit and Abraham with Ibiranu III.
One might ask how it is that there would be no direct mention in the bible of the ascension of Abraham to the throne of Ugarit. Not surprisingly, this is not the only place where such ellipsis occurs. As we have already seen, there is little data in that same work concerning the position of Moses at the court of the Egyptians, nor any indication of the full importance of Aaron or his sister Miriam. Neither is there any mention of Akhnaton and the rest of the Amarna period nor of their descent from Joseph. As we shall see later, there is no mention of the battle of Karkar in which Ahab, along with the rest of a coalition of kings under Ben Haddad II, fought Shalmaneser III of Assyria to a standstill. Even further on, we will see that the entire Ebla period is missing from the biblical record. The story of the Flood, which is synchronous with the reign of Menes in Egypt, immediately precedes the rise of the Babylonian Empire under "Ham" in that document. Apparently, any time an event can be attributed to divine intervention or simply right action in the eyes of the later priestly editors, that event appears in the biblical record. But let the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews accomplish something on their own without the intervention of one or another proper-named god hiding under the disingenuously translated singular words Lord or God, or let them rise above their neighbors in the secular world before the time of Solomon, who supposedly transferred the alter of Yahweh to Jerusalem, or more likely to Shechem, and that accomplishment is expunged from the written record, often with the exception of the most obscure of hints, on occasion with no clue at all that anything has been left out. Beyond this need to edit out any reference to the secular Hebrew nation, it has been noticed by more than one scholar that there is an overarching tendency in the bible to deny the position of king to any true or purported follower of Yahweh, the recognized "king" of the Jews being, in theological terms, that very same deity. This removal of historical material is far and away more disturbing than the presence of anything of a legendary or larger than life nature. For if it weren't for this level of radical editing, there would be no need for the current work. The place of the Hebrews in ancient history would be obvious. And, more importantly, the down-to-earth nature of even the most hallowed of Old Testament heroes, even including Yahweh himself, would be laid out for all to see.
This goes as well for later Church authorities and accounts of external events that were synchronous with events actually reported in the bible. Try to find a coherent Greek history of the Trojan War. Beyond the fictionalized account of Homer in the Iliad there is nothing. Diodorus, for example, gives the names and lengths of reign of the kings of Latium beginning three years after the war, but his description of the events that led up to it and the roles played by the Egyptians and Assyrians in that conflict are almost completely lost, amounting to little more than a cryptic paragraph or two scattered about his surviving books, and those would not exist if the censors had understood the true identities of people like Sethosis and their connections with the biblical characters. This was not accidental. In this case it had to do with the relationship of the events at Troy with those surrounding the Exodus, a sacred event even to the later Christians, and the importance of the former for an accurate understanding of the latter.
The Religion of Ugarit
And what of Ugarit? Is there anything particularly significant about that city near the Mediterranean Sea that would explain our identification of it with the adopted homeland of the Hebrew patriarchs and the later target of pleas for aid and comfort from Moses and his relations in their battle with Setnakhte? This is the key question and its answer tends to illuminate the entire question of the origin of Hebrew religion and civilization and the peculiar relationship between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. And the answer to this question is that Ugarit, above all else, was a Canaanite city, though it certainly had a cosmopolitan population. The Canaanites are virtually indistinguishable from the Phoenicians, so that, in a quite real sense, Abraham was a king of the Phoenicians.
The gods of Ugarit were numerous, including El (Ilu), who was the "Bull"; the father of time, of the gods, and of humanity; and the husband of Asherah―the queen of heaven and a goddess in her own right. Among the other gods at Ugarit were Yam, the Sea God, lord of Chaos, and member of the Elohim―the family of El that included the progenitors of the 70 nations of the earth. This notion survives in the original reading of the 32nd chapter of Deuteronomy as it appears in the Greek Septuagint version of the bible. De Moor identifies Yam with Yahweh, so that Yahweh was a son of El, as Zeus was a son of Kronos. Others of the Elohim included Ba'al (Hadad), Mot, and Dagon. Merlin Stone, in When God Was a Woman, points out that "the texts there continually refer to [El] as Thor-El, suggesting his ties to the Indo-European Storm God as well." The tablets found at Ras Shamra have been used to solve many a mystery found in the Old Testament and some passages from the psalms have been lifted almost intact from the texts of Ugarit. Again, the city was cosmopolitan. Tablets have been found in four languages and seven scripts. Thus, it is not surprising that the bible contains elements with parallels that range across the entire Near East from Greece to Egypt to Sumer; represented by the presence of the Ugaritic, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hurrian languages; the Egyptian and Hittite hieroglyphic scripts; and the Ugaritic, Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Cypro-Minoan cuneiform scripts at Ugarit. Neither is it surprising how difficult it is to locate the primary sources of the legends, stories, and historical documents found among the biblical materials. The central location of the city allowed not only for the importation of religious elements from the far reaches of the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamian worlds but their (earlier and) later diffusion to those very same locales, for syncretism has as much to do with opportunity as it does with intention. We can even see here an early source of the notion of a world religion not limited to the inhabitants of a single city or country that first appeared on the world stage among the followers of Yahweh, or Yam.
Isaac in Egypt
Christine El Mahdi, in Tutankhamen, tells us that under Thutmosis III―as a means of maintaining stability in the empire―subject kings were required to send their sons to Egypt to study in the palace school, and Artapanus tells us that Isaac, or Mempsasthenoth, was a priest at Heliopolis. Whether these two data are directly related is unclear at present. Abraham left Egypt just as Thutmosis was taking the throne.
The story of the life of Isaac (born: Egypt, 1495) as told in the bible is spotty at best. The entire period, from a single incident at about the age of twelve when Abraham supposedly tried to make a burnt offering of him in the manner of the Phoenicians until he had grown old enough to take a wife, is completely missing, a period during which his affiliation with the priesthood of Heliopolis mentioned by Artapanus may have begun. Upon returning to Canaan, his father retrieved a wife for him from the land of Aram-naharaim, "Mesopotamia" according to the Masoretic Text, though Nahor was already king of Ugarit if this reconstruction is to be taken seriously, so we can surmise that the term actually referred to all the lands in the region where the Arameans had settled including Syria. Later, Jacob would travel to Paddan-Aram in search of a wife and wind up in Harran, where again in "Mesopotamia," he would visit his mother's brother Laban, the son of "Bethuel the Syrian" according to Jubilees. The bible has them both as Arameans. Some have placed Harran at Harran-el-'Awamid east of Damascus and not in northern Mesopotamia.
At the age of thirty Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob, and then, upon the occurrence of another famine, the book of Genesis is adamant that Isaac did not, at that time, return to Egypt. The Lord specifically said to him, "Go not down into Egypt ..."! This is strange, and there follows the tale of his migration to Gerar in the land of the Philistines and an exact duplicate of the story of Abraham's attempt to fob off his wife as his sister, as well as a series of folk etymologies of the names of various places in the region. This appears to be another of those backhanded clues the bible likes to throw at us to see if we are paying attention, for the Gerar episode is directly followed by the marriage of Esau to Judith, a Hittite woman, at the age of twenty, so, again, between the marriage of Esau when Isaac was fifty and the transmission of his blessing to Jacob when he was nearly ninety, there is a missing period, this time of almost forty years, when he could very easily have returned to Egypt and again taken up the position of priest at Heliopolis. In this manner, the later editors of the bible have again tipped their hands in their overzealous attempt to hide the less theologically acceptable Egyptian affiliations of the Hebrew patriarchs. The presence of Isaac at Heliopolis sometime after 1465 also agrees with his absence from the throne of Ugarit after his father died in 1458, a position that only returned to this branch of the family with his son Jacob.
[Chapter Six: Ham, Shem, and the First Dynasty of Babylon]
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