SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 9 Genesis 14-15

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 14-15. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13

Genesis 14:
Translation from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Abram Rescues Lot

14 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). 3 All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). 4 For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

5 In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim 6 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 7 Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

8 Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim 9 against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

Genesis 15
Translation from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Sorry to be late with this: I had Columbus Day off from work, but the power went out at home.

The Battle of the Vale of Siddim is remarkable in that there appears to be little to remark about it. Aside from the scriptures above, there isn’t much beyond linguistic and geographical notes.

Melchizedek, though, is another matter. The NT Letter to the Hebrews, as well as Josephus and Philo, all indicate his name means “King of Righteousness”, and, as a king-priest, is pretty remarkable in and of that itself. He’s called the King of Salem, which probably refers to Jerusalem. Some scholars think that this section is neither J nor P, but an informal insertion of another tradition altogether. It is noteworthy that Abram honors Melchizedek with a tithe, rather than the other way around.

The other OT mention of Melchizedek is in Psalm 110.4: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.’.” (JPS) The Letter to the Hebrews refers to this repeatedly, and mentions that Jesus Christ is a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.

11Q13 (11QMelch) is a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls (that can be dated to the end of the 2nd or start of the 1st century BC) of a text about Melchizedek found in Cave 11 at Qumran in the Israeli Dead Sea area and which comprises part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this eschatological text, Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the “Day of Atonement” and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.

Josephus calls him a “Canaanite chief” in War of the Jews, but as a priest in Antiquities of the Jews.
Philo identifies Melchizedek with the Logos as priest of God, and honored as an untutored priesthood. A collection of early Gnostic scripts dating on or before the 4th century, discovered in 1945 and known as the Nag Hammadi Library, contains a tractate pertaining to Melchizedek. Here it is proposed that Melchizedek is Jesus Christ.

The Second Book of Enoch (also called “Slavonic Enoch”) is apparently a Jewish sectarian work of the 1st century AD.[71] The last section of the work, the Exaltation of Melchizedek, tells how Melchizedek was born of a virgin, Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah. The child came out from his mother after she had died and sat on the bed beside her corpse, already physically developed, clothed, speaking and blessing the Lord, and marked with the badge of priesthood. Forty days later, Melchizedek was taken by the archangel Gabriel (Michael in some manuscripts) to the Garden of Eden and was thus preserved from the Deluge without having to be in Noah’s Ark.

I’ll have more on God’s promise to Abram later.

Christian theology goes so far as to assert that all appearances of the LORD in the OT (as Melky here, or as “the Angel of the LORD”, or in the Garden of Eden, etc.) is that of Jesus Christ, the Son and second person of God.

I can’t be the only one who has started reading Genesis a few times and wandered away well before the end of chapter 14. I see things pick up a bit in chapter 16.
My annotated bible says that it was ancient practice to make covenants using slaughtered animals, swearing that they would become like those animals if they broke the agreement. While rituals like that have faded away from the law, it persists within children’s culture (“Cross my heart and hope to die”).

I agree (as usual) with Prof P, there’s not much to say about Chapter 14. The re are some general overview themes:
(1) Abram fights battles, wins wealth, and lives in the world. It’s sort of the sanctity of normalcy; he does NOT go off into the wilderness to be with God (as many later religious leaders/founders do), but instead he lives in the real world.
(2) Family is important (14:12, Abram rescues Lot.) The text transitions from the “history of the world” to the history of one family, and so family connections are important.
(3) In 14:13, he is called “Abram the Hebrew.” This term is not applied to the later Israelites by themselves, only by outsiders. There is thus some speculation that this section of the text was neither J nor E nor P, but some outsider (non-Israelite) author. If so, of course, that would imply that Abram was a real person attested to by non-Israelite sources.
The term “Hebrew” is possibly a word-play on ever meaning “the other side” of the river. Perhaps signifying that Abram came from the other side of the Euphrates, perhaps that his religious belief was “other-ness.”

In 14:19 - 20, the three phrases uttered by Melchizedek have become part of the Jewish daily prayer (the Amidah): God Most High (El Elyon), creator of heaven and earth, and shield of Abraham [the text translated as “delivered”]

In 14:18, bread and wine are mentioned. The first mention of bread was Gen 3:14, the curse on Adam. The first mention of wine (Gen 4) is Noah getting drunk. The mention of bread and wine here implies civilization rather than nomadic life (both bread and wine require agriculture)

Chapter 15, the Covenant of the Pieces, I’ll try to get to later.

One big question I have is whether the various warring kings listed were Jewish or … some other religion that sprang up (presumably) after the Tower of Babel incident. I guess to me it frames the story differently - is this a tale of in-fighting, or fighting outsiders?

It also cracks me up that “Bela” is clarified to be “that is, Zoar.” As opposed to all the other references that are left without explanation (for the modern reader). There is a spectacularly beautiful hiking area near us called Zoar Valley, and for the first time ever, I wondered if it was named specifically to refer to a Biblical location.

Why is Eliezer of Damascus going to inherit, and is this someone that we are supposed to know who he is? Why wouldn’t Lot be the named heir? He’s a relative, and Abram appears to like him.

First question: Were the warring kings Jewish?
No, Amraphel was king of Shinar (that’s Babylon), Arioch king of Ellasar (between Ur and Erech), Kedorlaomer king of Elam (now southwest Iraq) and Tidal king of Goyim (meaning “many nations”, 2 these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah (unknown location), Shemeber king of Zeboyim (also unknown location), and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). Bela is a small city that shelters Lot after he leaves Sodom. It is mentioned by Josephus; Ptolemy (V, xvi, 4); and by Eusebius and Saint Jerome in the Onomasticon.

Judaism actually doesn’t begin until we get to Abraham. Melchizedek’s unusual in many ways, and one is that he shares Abram’s faith. We have a number of kings here, many of whom were pretty much chieftains of tribes.

Next: Eliezer of Damascus. He was (probably) the head steward of Abram’s estate. Since Abram foresees no offspring himself, he figures Eliezer would be the one to take over, since he has care of the estate to a large degree anyway. Lot isn’t in line because they’ve separated, and Lot has already received his share, twice.

delphica: I’m traveling, so don’t have access to my library or resources. I can try to get back to you in the next few days when I’m home, if someone else doesn’t step in. [EDITED: Nemmine, Prof P beat me to it.]

On Chapter 15: Covenant of the Pieces

If there were multiple authors, they all agree that there is a covenant between God and Abram, but there are different versions of exactly what it is and what happened. Chapter 15 is usually attributed to the J-source (with a few bits from elsewhere.) The P-version will occur in Chapter 17. (Those who think there is a single Author, then there are just multiple times that God restated the covenenant.)

Some of the “elsewhere” bits are interesting:

  • In verse 5, Abram sees stars – lots of them – but in verse 12, the sun is about to set, so verse 5 is arguably the E source.
    – The prediction in verses 13 – 16 has hints of J, E, and P and could be a separate piece. The ultimate Redactor has then knit these different pieces together, unifying the different sources and implying a continuity with the book of Exodus.)

Covenants are important to biblical society, are basically contractual agreements. We do have examples of covenants between individuals, between kings/tribal leaders, etc. The typical form is to start by identifying the parties (In this case: “I am the Lord…”), setting forth terms and conditions, and including the penalties if one side defaults. The main terms of this covenant are that Abram shall found a great nation, have many children, receive the land, and obtain great wealth.

15:7 says, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans…” and prefigures the Decalog in Exodus, “I am the the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt. This is also the identification of one of the parties to the contract/covenant.

The covenant is usually “sealed” with blood in some form. The cut-up animals in verse 10 are arguably symbolic: Fail to obey, and you will be torn apart as are these animals.

The land that Abram’s offspring will receive goes “from the river of Egypt” which is not the Nile, but the Wadi El Arish.

Neat little literary motif: The “smoking oven” of verse 17 is an image that will later occurs at Sinai, in Exodus 19:18.

I know what you meant, but that sentence will be confusing to anyone not familiar with the subject. I think that most people would say that Judaism in a recognizable form, as opposed to Yahweh-based henotheism, began after the Exile, many centuries after Abraham. Of course Judaism traces its roots to Abraham and beyond, but so does Islam.

Anyone not clear on the distinction between Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews should read up on it. Here’s a short summary that was at the top of my google results:

I think this is a great point, although I will add that my main confusion is in what came before Abraham.

It’s my understanding in the story that the same God “character” (given that we’re discussing the Bible as literature) who created Adam and Eve, and gave Noah boat building instructions, is the same character who is talking to Abraham. If I’m understanding it correctly, Melchizedek is also on board.

The other kings, Kedorlaomer, Amraphel, who were they viewing as god(s)? I think their religion would have been what we now call Babylonian. Would they have seen Abraham’s God as a non-entity? A god, but one who was lesser than their own gods?

I’m still not really clear on when the “everyone’s related, because we all got off the same ark after the Flood” would have changed to “that tribe over there, they’re the Other Guys” in the eyes of the culture of the people who first created the OT.

There may be something in a midrash about those other kings, but I think all that the Bible says about them is what we’ve already seen.

The famous phrase, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” tells you that Moses is certainly worshipping the same God as Abraham, and by extension, of Noah, and of Adam. But it’s not the best strategy to try to sort out people by whom they worship. According to Exodus, the Israelites only took a few days to forget Yahweh and make a golden calf to worship, even though they had just lived through a whole series of stupendous miracles. On the other hand, the book of Daniel tells of various pagan kings acknowledging the power of Yahweh.

Noah is remarkable in that he’s considered a significant figure in Judaism … but he’s not himself Jewish (as Judaism itself arose, within its own mythology, after Noah). Within Judaism, the division between the tribes that eventually became Jews and the rest of the world is traced to Abraham.

This has actual importance within Judaism, because it leads to the logical conclusion that it is possible for a non-Jew to be just as “righteous” as a Jew - because, as everyone knows from the story, Noah was a righteous man.

So, those who follow the laws as stated by God to Noah in the story can be just as “righteous” as the most observant Jew, according to Judaism. Those laws are known as the “Noahide laws” after Noah.

Remember that under a polytheistic culture (such as the Babylonians), there are lots of gods – some of them are primary to the culture, others are small local or even household gods. Thus, the kings under consideration would have considered the God of Abraham to be just another local, household-type god. Presumably, lesser than their major gods in general, but possible more powerful in some local situation. (Think of the well-known Greek mythologies, where some local river god can thwart the Olympians, at least on a short-term basis as long as there’s no direct confrontation.)

This will come into play later in the Exodus story, where the simple reading of the text is that the God of the Israelites overpowers the gods of Egypt. (Later interpretation, of course, treats these as “things worshipped as gods” that are non-existent.)

In the much later Greek and Roman worlds, polytheism allowed the conquerers to just blend smoothly with local religions – oh, your sky-god, that’s the same as our Zeus under a different name. Only Judaism denied the existence of the Olympians.

On your last point: there’s two different answers. Within the text, the world is united after Noah, but the Tower of Babel story is where humankind divides into tribes and nations speaking different languages and with different cultures. In the historical world, of course, the Pentateuch author(s) (and certainly the Redactor) had many many centuries of thinking their tribe was different from the others.

New thread link to Genesis 16

The practice of “translating gods” (along the lines of “oh, your sky-god, that’s the same as our Zeus under a different name,” as you write) is much older than the Greeks and the Romans.

Prof. Jan Assmann has written about how the Babylonians treated Sumerian and Akkadian gods exactly so, through a form of “theological onomasiology.”

It went even further “in the late Bronze Age […] in the Cassite period,” when the practice was extended to include “divine names” in “Amoritic, Hurritic, Elamic, and Cassitic as well as Sumerian and Akkadian.”

As an example, Assmann takes up a list of god-names from Ugarit (in present-day Syria), which “translates,” or tries to “translate,” between god-names from three different religious cultures: Sumerian-Akkadian, Hurritic (Indo-European) and Ugaritic (west Semitic). Not always an easy task:

And so on. It’s an excellent essay. Read it here.