Genesis 14 describes Abram and the Battle of the Nine Kings / Battle of Siddim. We want to use both archaeology and Biblical information to explain these events and place them in a larger historical context.
Follow the facts. We gather information from a variety of sources, including archaeology and the Bible. Although the Bible is not a history book, it accurately describes historical events. Through this discussion of Genesis 14, we will demonstrate that the Battle of Siddim did take place as described somewhere during the 21st Century BC, and we will briefly describe the political and cultural climate at the time. Then we will discuss why Malchizedek, king of Salem, makes an appearance at the end of the chapter. Let’s start with the Bible verses being discussed: Genesis 14:1-24.
Genesis 14:1-24 (NASB)
1: It came about in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim,
2: that they 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 (that is, Zoar).
3: All these came as allies to the valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea).
4: Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5: In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim and the Zuzim in Ham and the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim,
6: and the Horites in their Mount Seir, as far as El-paran, which is by the wilderness.
7: Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and conquered all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, who lived in Hazazon-tamar.
8: And the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah and the king of Admah and the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) came out; and they arrayed for battle against them in the valley of Siddim,
9: against Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim and 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 the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell into them. But those who survived fled to the hill country.
11: Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed.
12: They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
13 Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.
14: When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
15: He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.
16: He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.
17: Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).
18: And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.
19 He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20: And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
He gave him a tenth of all.
21: The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.”
22: Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth,
23: that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’
24: I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”
When Did Abram / Abraham Live?
There is a lot of information within the Bible that can help us identify a date for the Battle of the Valley of Siddim. We will use the Bible to establish the date in which these events occurred and then use archaeology and other sources to substantiate it.
Genesis 12:4 – Abraham 75 years old when promised a child.
Genesis 16:16 – Abraham 86 years old when Ishmael was born.
Genesis 21:5 – Abraham 100 years old when Isaac was born.
Genesis 25:26 – Isaac 60 years old when Jacob was born.
Genesis 47:9 – Jacob was 130 at start of pilgrimage to Egypt.
1 Kings 6:1 – Temple started in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and 480 years after Jacob entered Egypt.
Based on a significant amount of data, Solomon became king in 970 BC and started building the temple in 966 BC. Working backwards, we can determine the year of the following events:
Solomon Started Building Temple: 966 BC
Jacob Entered Egypt: 1876 BC
Jacob Birth: 2006 BC
Isaac Birth: 2066 BC
Ishmael Birth: 2080 BC
Abraham Covenant: 2091 BC
Abraham Birth: 2166 BC
According to the Bible, the Battle of the Nine Kings in Genesis 14 occurred after Abram met the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 12:18) and before Ishmael was born. Abram was between the ages of 75 and 86 years old. This would place the battle between 2091 and 2080 BC. Now, in Genesis 12, Abram moved his entire estate from Haran (which is near the border of Syria and Turkey) to Shechem (which is southeast of the Sea of Galilee). This entire trip was approximately 450 miles. It would have taken time to move, set up a homestead in Canaan, travel to Egypt, and return back to Canaan. Let’s approximate that at a minimum of two years. Also, there was some time between the Battle of Siddim and the time Ishmael was conceived and born. Let’s also approximate that at two years. So, based on information from the Bible, and setting the date of the construction of Solomon’s temple at 966 BC, the Battle of the Nine Kings occurred between 2089 BC and 2082 BC.
Abram Born in Ur Kasdim (Ur of the Chaldees)
How reasonable is it to place the Battle of Siddim in the 2080’s BC? According to Genesis 11:28, Abram’s family was from Ur Kasdim or Ur of the Chaldees.
Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia. Many scholars believe that Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governorate near Nasiriyah is the remnant of this ancient city.
The city’s patron deity was the moon god Nanna (Sumerian) or Sin (Akkadian). The site is marked by the Great Ziggurat of Ur. It was constructed in the 21st Century BC during the reign of Ur-Nammu (founder of Ur III Dynasty).
The city, said to have been planned by Ur-Nammu, seemed to be divided into distinct neighborhoods, with merchants living in one quarter and artisans in another. Houses were constructed from mud bricks and mud plaster. In major buildings, the masonry was strengthened with asphalt and reeds.
Ur was a major urban center. Royal tombs have been discovered, and the city’s wealth was based on trade. This wealth, unparalleled at that time, is a testimony to Ur’s economic importance. Ur controlled much of the trade into Mesopotamia. Ur may have had a stratified social system including slaves, farmers, artisans, doctors, scribes, and priests. Tens of thousands of cuneiform texts, including contracts, business records, and court documents, record the city’s complex economic and legal systems.
Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III Dynasty)
The Third Dynasty of Ur was founded by Ur-Nammu (~2112 BC) after the collapse of the Akkadian Empire. Utu-hengal was a native king of Sumer. His daughter married Ur-Nammu (a military general) and gave birth to Shulgi. The kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur were Utu-hengal, Ur-Nammu, Shulgi, Amar-Sin, Shu-Sin, and Ibbi-Sin.
Shulgi centralized and standardized processes and procedures within the empire, including administrative processes, archival documentation, tax system, and national calendar. He captured the city of Susa, toppling Elamite king Kutik-Inshushinak, as the rest of Elam fell under control of the Shimashki Dynasty.
At its height, Ur III controlled much of the territory from Ashur and Nineveh in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south; from the Dead Sea in the west to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in the east. There are hundreds of artifacts that describe how treasures were seized by the Ur III armies and brought back to the kingdom after many victories. Around 2004 BC the Elamites invaded and conquered Sumeria. It was at this time the Sumerian language died out.
Five Kings of the Valley of Siddim
Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar) were all cities located in the Valley of Siddim. This valley is also known as the Great Salt Sea or the Dead Sea.
All five of these cities were located on the western side of the Dead Sea. Zeboiim and Admah were in the north. Gomorrah was in the west. Sodom and Zoar were in the south. These kings (Bera, Birsha, Shinab, Shemeber) were leaders of local communities within the valley. Based on this passage, it is not clear who the leader of Bela / Zoar was.
It is possible that the king of Bela was named Bela. Genesis 36:32 lists Bela as the son of Beor. Both Bela and Beor were descendants of Esau. The land of Edom was controlled by the descendants of Esau and located south of the Dead Sea. Also, certain regions and jurisdictions have been named based on who founded them: Israel, Edom, Moab, etc. This is circumstantial, but it is possible that the king of Bela is Bela (but not the same Bela described in Genesis 36:32).
These five kings were paying a forced tribute (aka taxes) to Chedorlaomer for twelve years. They had enough and rebelled in the thirteenth year. In the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer rallied his allies and attacked the five kings of the valley. The rebellion was eventually subdued. As a side note, if the battle started around 2086 BC, tribute would have started fourteen years earlier around 2100 BC.
How many men were in each of the two alliances? This is all speculation for there is no real data to support. That being said, we can make an educated guess. The cities of the valley, including Sodom, were viable croplands and on trade routes. There would have been a fairly substantial population in the Dead Sea valley region. A modern comparison would be similar to the Coachella / Salton Sea area of California today. It has an agricultural base with some towns and cities, like Palm Springs, Indio, Brawley, and El Centro. The population of Palm Spring is about 48,000. The population of Brawley is about 26,000. Sodom and Gomorrah were the larger cities at the time, and the populations would have been substantially smaller in the other cities and towns in the area. Let’s assume that the population of Sodom was 50,000 with a regional population around 500,000 people. What percentage of this population were able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 40 who would be part of the army? Perhaps 5%? This would correspond to an army of 25,000 untrained farmers. Let’s continue the comparison. The four kings of the east were in control of vast amounts of people, land, and resources. Populations would have been in the millions. In a sense, it would be like Los Angeles, which has a population of 4 million. The armies of the four kings were well-trained seasoned veterans. Let’s assume that they had a standing army of 1% of the population. This would be about 40,000.
Think back to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. A US-led coalition of 177,000 troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland attacked military targets in Iraq. Where the Iraqi’s were conscripted soldiers with little training armed with machine guns and missiles, the coalition forces were well-trained veterans armed with fighter jets, stealth bombers, remote launch missiles, and tanks. Hostilities lasted for a few weeks before Iraq was subdued.
Amraphel: King of Shinar
Who was Amraphel, king of Shinar? Genesis 10:10 mentions Babel, Erech (Uruk), Accad (Akkad), and Calneh in the land of Shinar. Shinar is a region, not a location. Shinar may be a corruption of the Hebrew “Shene Neharot”, which means “two rivers.” Shinar is most likely reference to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It has also been called Sumer, Babylon, and Iraq.
Who Amraphel actually was depends on when this battle occurred. Some want to place this battle around 1800 BC and correlate Amraphel to Hammurabi. David Rohl, a British Egyptologist, has suggested that this battle took place during the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (~2112-2004 BC). We agree with this. As stated earlier, we have concluded that the Battle of Siddim occurred in the 2080’s BC.
Where Ur-Nammu reigned for about 17 years (~2112-2095 BC), his son Shulgi reigned for 48 years (~2095-2047 BC). He completed the Great Ziggurat of Ur started by his father. He engaged in wars against the Gutian people of the Zagros Mountains, completely revised the scribal school’s curriculum, and named himself a god in the 23rd year of his reign (~2072 BC). He was healthy, athletic, and could run long distances.
Arioch: King of Ellasar
Who was Arioch, and where was Ellasar? Many want to correlate Arioch of Ellasar with Eri-aku (Warad-Sin) of Larsa. Warad-Sin lived during the time of Hammurabi. Also, the kingdom of Larsa was not established until after the Sumerian civilization fell apart around 2004 BC. Moreover, Naplanum ruled about 100 years before Warad-Sin, and Naplanum was a contemporary of Ibbi-Sin – the last ruler of the Ur III Dynasty.
If the Battle of Siddim occurred during the Ur III Dynasty, Warad-Sin of Larsa could not be Arioch of Ellasar. A likely candidate would be a leader from a city-state east of the Dead Sea, since the kings of the valley were attacked from the east.
Larsa is an ancient city-state located near Ur, Eridu, and Uruk. Although Larsa did not come into prominence until after the fall of the Ur III Dynasty, it was a city-state as early as ~2500 BC. Ellasar may very well be Larsa, and Arioch may have been its leader at the time of the battle, but Arioch of Ellasar is not Warad-Sin. It is possible that another person by a similar name was the king at the time.
Chedorlaomer: King of Elam
Who was Chedorlaomer? Many want to correlate him to Hammurabi, since he was the victorious leader in the battle. It could not be Hammurabi because he ruled over 200 years after the fall of the Sumerian civilization.
Kutik-Inshushinak, the last ruler of the Awan Dynasty of Elam, lived at the same time as Ur-Nammu, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur. The Awan Dynasty was replaced by the Simashki Dynasty. Kindattu of the Simashki Dynasty led the army that destroyed the Ur III Dynasty ~2004 BC.
Chedorlaomer had to be a leader from the remnant of the Awan Dynasty or an early leader of the Simashki Dynasty. It is more likely, because of the victorious nature of the battle, that Chedorlaomer was a member of the Simashki Dynasty because its power was increasing as the Awan Dynasty’s power was decreasing.
Chedorlaomer is probably not the name of a person, but rather, of position. Chedorlaomer is associated with common Elamite language components, such as kudur (servant) and lagamar (high goddess of the underworld). Gir-Namme I and Tazitta I are early leaders of the Simashki Dynasty. Chedorlaomer probably refers to one of these two men.
Tidal: King of Goiim (Nations)
The Akkadian Empire was founded by Sargon the Great ~2334 BC and dissolved ~2154 BC. The Gutian people were nomads of the Zagros Mountains. As the Akkadian Empire went into decline, the Gutians increased hit-and-run tactics that reduced trade and weakened both the Akkadian and Sumerian empires. From approximately 2150 to 2050 BC, the Gutian people had a strong presence in the Mesopotamian region. It is possible that Goiim is reference to the unorganized group of people in the Zagros Mountains and Tidal is the name of one of their leaders.
Some want to correlate Tidal to Tudhaliya I – an early ruler of the Hittite Empire who lived about 500 years after the collapse of the Sumerian civilization. This is not a reasonable explanation. The Hittites were based in Anatolia (Turkey) and were of no military or political consequence until after 1600 BC.
The alliance of four kings attacked from the east. Shulgi was from Ur. Eri-aku was from Larsa. Gir-Namme and Tazitta I were from Elam. They were all based near the northeastern edge of the Persian Gulf. It is more likely that Tidal from Goiim is from the east than from the north. The people of the Zagros Mountains, the Gutians, were involved militarily and politically in the 2080’s BC. It is quite possible that Tidal was a leader of the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains.
Genesis 14 Battle and Rescue Map
The Battle of Siddim started near Ashteroth Karnaim, which was about 55 miles due east of the Sea of Galilee. It continued on toward El-paran, which was about 250 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Then they turned back toward En-mishpat (Kadesh) and Hazazon-tamar (Tamar), which is on the south side of the Dead Sea. This is when the armies of the four kings looted and ransacked Sodom and Gomorrah. In the process, they took Lot, his family, and his possessions. Abram traveled from Hebron, defeated them in the to Hobah for a distance of about 275 miles in order to get Lot back.
Valley of Siddim Tar Pits
Genesis 14:10 mentions tar pits in the Valley of Siddim. The Dead Sea is about 1400 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea fault system runs from the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aqaba, through the Dead Sea, through the Sea of Galilee, and on to the southern border of Turkey. This area is active with earthquakes. Also, there is much oil and petroleum beneath the ground in the Middle East. Finding oil seeps, natural asphalt, and tar pits would not be uncommon.
Genesis 14:14 As Far As Dan
Genesis 14:14 mentions the phrase… “as far as Dan.” There is much discussion related to the use of the word Dan. Dan is the great-grandson of Abraham. Also, the tribal lands of Dan were not established until the time of the Judges (Judges 18:29). Is this an anachronism? Is it an edited translation? Is it an error? How could Genesis 14:14 reference a location that would not exist for at least another 700 years. There is a reasonable answer to this dilemma. Tel Dan is a spring associated with the Jordan River. The Dan Spring emerges at the base of Mt Hermon next to Tel Dan. It flows for four miles before it joins with the Banias Spring. Damascus is about 50 km or about 30 miles northeast of Mt Hermon.
Melchizedek King of Salem
Who was Melchizedek, king of Salem, and why was he mentioned? We have provided some information related to the identities of the kings, when the Battle of the Nine Kings took place, and where these events took place. What does it all mean?
As stated earlier, the Bible is not a book of history, even though it contains accurate information of events, places, and people. It has a purpose. Everything about the Bible is about Jeshua the Messiah (aka Jesus the Christ).
With 318 men from his own household, Abram defeated the armies of the five kings and rescued Lot, his family, and his family’s possessions. Upon his return, he passed through the future site of the city of Jerusalem. The Valley of Shaveh (the King’s Valley) is probably reference to one of the three valleys in the region of modern Jerusalem: Gehenna, Kidron, and Tyropoean. Tyropoean Valley (aka Central Valley) runs north-south through the middle of modern Jerusalem. Kidron Valley runs north-south just east of Jerusalem. Gehenna Valley (aka Hinnom Valley) runs east-west along the south side of Jerusalem.
Two kings approach Abram in the Valley of Shaveh: Melchizedek, king of Salem, and Bera, king of Sodom. Melchizedek offers bread, wine, and praise to God for their victory. Bera offers a temptation.
These two kings represent one of two decisions that Abram must make. The name “Melchizedek” is a transliteration of the Hebrew מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק (malki-tzedek), “my king is righteousness,” and “Salem” means peace. The name Bera – בֶּ-רַע means “with evil” or “son of evil”. Abram had to choose between righteousness and evil. Abram gave a tenth of what he had to Melchizedek. He gave the remainder to Bera to demonstrate that he did not want to be a part of Bera’s plans.
Abrahamic Covenant: Genesis 15
It is important to remember that the original books of the Bible were written in scrolls. There were no chapters and verses. Those were added much later. Genesis 15:1 states, “After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision…” This links chapters 14 and 15 together into a more unified story. The Abrahamic Covenant is a direct result of the faith Abram demonstrated in Genesis 14.
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional unilateral covenant that God made with Abraham. In this case, God was the only one who was required to act. In the ancient world, a covenant would be made official by cutting open animals and placing them on the ground so that both parties involved in the covenant could walk between the pieces. According to Genesis 15, God caused Abraham to go into a deep sleep around sunset. God took on the form of a smoking furnace and burning lamp and passed between the pieces alone. This meant that the full weight of responsibility in the covenant was God’s and His alone. God did, and continues to, fulfill these promises made to Abraham thousands of years ago.