Chapter 14

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2019-12-12 16:34.

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Josephus (Antiquities, I, ix) and The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen, thought to date from the late first century BCE or the early first century CE) indicate that the servitude of the rulers Bera (Balla or Bara [LXX]; Balas [Josephus]), Birsha (Barsa [LXX]; Balaias [Josephus]), Shinab (Sennaar [LXX]; Synabanes [Josephus]), Shemeber (Symobor [LXX]; Symmoboros [Josephus]) and the king of Bela (Balak or Bala [LXX]; Balenoi [Josephus]; a place also known as Zoar [Segor, LXX]) began when they suffered defeat. For twelve years, these five rulers had served Chedorlaomer, paying him, according to Josephus and 1QapGen, the required tribute. In the thirteenth year, they rebelled, which signified that they refused to pay tribute. It was then, in the fourteenth year, that Chedorlaomer (Chodollogomor [LXX]; Chodolamoros [Josephus]) the king of Elam, with the support of Amraphel (Amarphal [LXX]; Amarapsides [Josephus]) the king of Shinar, Arioch (Ariochos [Josephus]) the king of Ellasar and Tidal (Thargal [LXX]; Thadalos [Josephus]) the king of Goiim (or king of nations [LXX]), undertook punitive war against Bera the king of Sodom, Birsha the king of Gomorrah, Shinab the king of Admah, Shemeber the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela. (14:1-5)

With the forces of each of these rulers and his own, Chedorlaomer first engaged in a military campaign that began east of the Jordan River at Ashteroth-karnaim (a site thought to have been located east of the Sea of Galilee). There they triumphed over the Rephaim (the “giants” [LXX]). The invading forces also defeated the Zuzim in Ham (likely a city some distance to the south of Ashteroth-karnaim), the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim (a plain near Kiriathaim, east of the Dead Sea), the Horites in the mountainous region of Seir (the region that the descendants of Abram’s [Abraham’s] grandson Esau or Edom many years later inhabited). It appears that the most southerly location that the victorious forces reached was El-paran on the border of the wilderness (possibly at the most easterly section of the “wilderness of Paran” [Genesis 21:21]). The invaders then appear to have headed westward, reaching En-mishpat (also known as Kadesh), a city on the western extremity of the region that later became Edomite territory, and defeated the Amalekites in the region and also the Amorites who were occupying Hazazon-tamar, probably a site near the valley of Siddim. (14:5-7)

Apparently Bera the ruler of Sodom with his force headed the alliance with Birsha, Shinab, Shemeber, and the “king of Bela” with their respective warriors. They assembled in the valley of Siddim, “that [is] the Salt Sea.” This may mean that the valley no longer existed but was covered by the water of the Dead Sea. A number of modern translations make this meaning explicit in their renderings. “These kings joined forces in the valley of Siddim, which is now the Dead Sea.” (REB) The “kings rebelled and came together in Siddim Valley, which is now covered by the southern part of the Dead Sea.” ([CEV] 14:3, 8)

In the ensuing conflict the warriors under the command of Bera the king of Sodom, Birsha the king of Gomorrah, Shinab the king of Admah, Shemeber the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela faced the warriors of Chedorlaomer the king of Elam and those of his allies — Tidal the king of Goiim, Amraphel the king of Shinar, and Arioch the king of Ellasar. The defending alliance of five kings fought with the invading alliance of four kings. (14:8, 9)

The invading warriors triumphed, and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled. Their falling into the bitumen pits in the valley of Siddim is to be understood as indicating that their fighters fell into them during their flight from the enemy. Other defending warriors made their escape to the mountainous region. A number of modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the Hebrew text. “When the troops from Sodom and Gomorrah started running away, some of them fell into the pits. Others escaped to the hill country.” (CEV) “And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains.” (NLT) “When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of their men fell into [the bitumen pits], but the rest made their escape to the hills.” (REB) From Sodom and Gomorrah, the enemy warriors and their four kings seized all the property, probably including flocks and herds, and all the provisions or food supplies. They also captured Lot and plundered his property, which would have included his flocks and herds. Josephus (Antiquities, I, ix) attributed Lot’s capture to his assisting the men of Sodom. (14:10-12)

An escapee of the military campaign made his way to Abram and told him about what had happened. The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) identifies this man as a shepherd whom Abram had given to Lot and who had escaped from captivity. At the time, Abram was tenting by the big trees of Mamre (the “oak of Mamre” [LXX]) the Amorite chieftain. The trees that belonged to Mamre were near Hebron, situated about 19 miles (c. 30 kilometers) south of Jerusalem and at an elevation of about 3,000 feet (c. 900 meters) above sea level. Mamre and his two brothers Eshcol and Aner had a covenant or agreement with Abram, but the terms of this agreement are not included in the Genesis account. Possibly because he was a resident alien, Abram had an agreement with the three men to be able to pasture and water his flocks and herds in the area. (13:18; 14:13)

Both the Antiquities (I, x, 1) of Josephus and The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) mention Abram’s emotional reaction to the news that his “brother” or kinsman Lot had been captured. Josephus wrote that Abram feared for Lot and pitied the people of Sodom, Lot’s friends and neighbors. The Genesis Apocryphon says that Abram “wept” on account of Lot.

With 318 men who had been born in his household, Abram set out to rescue Lot. The Hebrew word chaník, which designates these men, is often rendered “retainers” in modern translations, but its meaning is uncertain. This word does not appear elsewhere in the Hebrew text of the Holy Scriptures. The 318 men must have been trustworthy and doubtless had experience in carrying out collective defensive action to protect Abram’s flocks and herds and the members of his household. From their location near Hebron, Abram and his men, accompanied by Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner (likely with their own dependable strong men) hastily went in pursuit of the enemy warriors, catching up with them in the vicinity of Dan. The distance from Hebron to Dan is about 120 miles (over 190 kilometers). (14:14)

According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, x, 1), Abram launched his attack on the fifth night after the departure with his men. The surprise attack made it impossible for the enemy warriors to arm themselves. Some were asleep and were killed. The others were too intoxicated to fight and fled. Abram and his men pursued the warriors who had fled and, on the second day thereafter, “drove them in a body into Hoba (Hobah).

The biblical account indicates that Abram divided his servants, apparently to enable them to approach the encampment of the enemy from different directions, and made the attack at night. After routing the enemy warriors, Abram and his men pursued the enemy to Hobah, a place north of Damascus and well over 40 miles (over 60 kilometers) northeast of Dan. Abram succeeded in recovering all the property the enemy had seized, freeing his nephew Lot and recovering his property, and liberating the women and other people who had been captured. (14:15, 16)

After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the three other “kings,” the king of Sodom traveled to meet Abram at the valley of Shaveh or the valley of the King, apparently a location not far from Salem (or ancient Jerusalem). The king of Sodom requested that Abram give him the “souls” (the people who were subject to him as ruler) and keep all the property he had recovered. Abram refused to retain any part of the property, declaring with a solemn oath to YHWH, the Most High God, the Maker of heaven and earth, that he would not take anything, not a thread nor a sandal strap. He depended solely on the blessing of God, making certain that the king of Sodom would be unable to say that he had made Abram rich. There was to be nothing for Abram aside from what the men who were with him had eaten, and he considered it right for his allies Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre to take their share. (14:17, 21-24)

It was also at the valley of Shaveh that Melchizedek the king of Salem met Abram, bringing with him bread and wine. Besides being king, he was a priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blessed Abram and said: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, and blessed [or praised] be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram then gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything (apparently of the booty taken from the enemy but nothing from the property belonging to the king of Sodom). (14:18-20) Commenting regarding Melchizedek, Josephus (Antiquities, I, x, 2) wrote: His “name signifies the righteous king; and such he was without dispute, insomuch that, on this account,he was made the priest of God … Now this Melchizedek supplied Abram’s army in a hospitable manner and gave them provisions in abundance.” … While they were eating, Melchizedek praised Abram and “blessed God for subduing his enemies under him.” When Abram gave him a tenth part of the spoils, Melchizedek accepted the gift.


At this early period of history, the “kings” were rulers over cities and surrounding areas or over comparatively small geographical regions and not over realms with sizable populations. Josephus, in his Antiquities (I, xi), did not draw a distinction between the realm of Chedorlaomer (Chodorlaomer) and those allied with him but referred to all of them as “Assyrians.”

Regarding verse 14, there is a question about whether the name Dan was associated with the site in the time of Abram. It was not until centuries later that his descendants changed the name of the site called Leshem or Laish to Dan, the name of their ancestor. (Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:7, 27-29) Possibly the name Dan reflects the name of the location at the time the Genesis account came to be in its final form.

Targum Jonathan identifies Melchizedek (14:18) as Shem the son of Noah.

Regarding the application made in the book of Hebrews concerning Melchizedek, see the Commentary section for Hebrews 7:1-28; also see Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:4-10; 6:20.

The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) is specific in identifying the tenth given to Melchizedek (14:20) to have been from all the possessions of the king of Elam (Chedorlaomer) and his allies.