Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Don't know much about history

Genesis 14 is presented as a historical chronicle. It begins:

 At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, 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). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
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 and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. 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.
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 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.
In the first place, you may be wondering about Tidal who was "king of Goyim." Today, "goy" means a non-Jewish person; goyim is the plural. But in Biblical Hebrew, "goy" means nation. So tidal is the kind of nations that, for some reason, are unnamed. As for the other kings, they do not correspond to any known facts in the archaeological record. Indeed, attempts to map them onto known entities have resulted in historical impossibilities since the dates don't match up. The Wikipedia discussion of the battle of Siddim is interesting because it shows how biblical scholarship eventually managed to demonstrate only that this is almost certainly not a record of actual historical events. So what is it? According to one hypothesis (see the Wikipedia entry):

One modern interpretation of Genesis 14 is summed up by Michael Astour in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (s.v. "Amraphel", "Arioch" and "Chedorlaomer"), who explains the story as a product of anti-Babylonian propaganda during the 6th century Babylonian captivity of the Jews:
After Böhl's widely accepted, but wrong, identification of  Tu-ud-hul-a with one of the Hittite kings named Tudhaliyas, Tadmor found the correct solution by equating him with the Assyrian king Sennacherib (see Tidal). Astour (1966) identified the remaining two kings of the Chedorlaomer texts with Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (see Arioch) and with the Chaldean Merodach-baladan (see Amraphel). The common denominator between these four rulers is that each of them, independently, occupied Babylon, oppressed it to a greater or lesser degree, and took away its sacred divine images, including the statue of its chief god Marduk; furthermore, all of them came to a tragic end ... All attempts to reconstruct the link between the Chedorlaomer texts and Genesis 14 remain speculative. However, the available evidence seems consistent with the following hypothesis: A Jew in Babylon, versed in Akkadian language and cuneiform script, found in an early version of the Chedorlaomer texts certain things consistent with his anti-Babylonian feelings.
Anyhow, to continue:

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.
The New International Version is dissembling here. The "318 trained men born in his household" are slaves. (The KJV calls them "menservants.") Remember Genesis 12, when "Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels." The people are his possessions, mentioned among the livestock. 

Note further proof of anachronism. Abram caught up with Kedorlaemer and the gang in Dan; but the city of Dan did not exist until the time of the Judges; and the person for whom it is named is not yet born. 

We'll do the rest of this chapter next week.  But once again think about this. Why is this text sacred? What moral or spiritual message might it convey to believers? Why would we want to read this?

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