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Battle of the Vale of Siddim

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Battle of Siddim
Date 2000s B.C.
Location Siddim and nearby areas in Canaan
Result Victory of Abram
Five Kings of the Cities of the Plain Four Kings of Northern Mesopotamia
*Lot *Chedorlaomer
318 in Abram's camp[1]

The Battle of the Vale of Siddim is an event in Genesis, Chapter 14, in which an alliance of four kings from Northern Mesopotamia made war with the five kings of the Cities of the Plain. Abraham's nephew Lot is captured by the Four Kings, but is rescued by Abraham, who is then blessed by the mysterious figure of Melchizedek.[2]


According to Genesis 14, four kings of the North - Chedorlaomer, Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, and Tidal, 'king of nations(Goyim)' - made war against the five cities in the Vale of Siddim, (the Salt Sea). The Cities of the Plain were made to pay tribute for twelve years, but rebelled in the thirteenth.

The following year Chedorlaomer led his coalition back into the region, defeating and subduing many of the surrounding kingdoms. An allied force from the Cities of the Plain, listed as Shinab, king of Admah; an unnamed king of Bala (Zoar); Birsha, king of Gomorrah; Bera, king of Sodom; and Shemeber, king of Zeboyim, went out to meet Chedorlaomer's force and a battle ensued in the plain of the Salt Sea. Chedorlaomer was victorious and took away "all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals". Among those taken captive was Abraham's nephew, Lot.

Upon hearing this, Abraham assembled a force of 318 people and pursued Chedorlaomer's forces, finally engaging them in battle near Damascus, where Abraham was victorious. Melchizedek, king of Salem, then blessed Abraham, and the king of Sodom offered the recovered goods in return for his people, but Abraham refused to take any reward.

Identifying the kings

Genesis 14:1 gives a list of four names: "It was in the time of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedor-laomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of the Goiim..." Traditionally these have been taken as four separate kings:[3]

Amraphel has been thought by some scholars such as the writers of the catholic Encyclopedia and the Jewish Encyclopedia to be a corruption of the name of the famed Hammurabi. The name is also associated with Ibal Pi-El II of Esnunna.[4][5]

Arioch has been thought to have been a king of Larsa (Ellasar being a corruption of this.) It has also been suggested that it is URU KI, meaning "this place here".

Following the discovery of documents written in the Elamite language and Babylonian language, it was thought that Chedorlaomer is a transliteration of the Elamite compound Kudur-Lagamar, meaning servant of Lagamaru - a reference to Lagamaru, an Elamite deity whose existence was mentioned by Assurbanipal. However, no mention of an individual named Kudur Lagamar has yet been found; inscriptions that were thought to contain this name are now known to have different names (the confusion arose due to similar lettering).[6][7] David Rohl identifies Chedorlaomer with an Elamite king named Kutir-Lagamar.

Tidal[8][9][10] has been considered to be a corruption or transliteration of Tudhaliya - either referring to the first king of the Hittite New Kingdom (Tudhaliya I) or the proto-Hittite king named Tudhaliya. With the former, the title king of Nations would refer to the allies of the Hittite kingdom such as the Ammurru and Mittani; with the latter the term "goyiim" has the sense of "them, those people". al ("their power") gives the sense of a people or tribe rather than a kingdom. Hence td goyim ("those people have created a state and stretched their power").

Geopolitical context

It was common practise for vassals/allies to accompany a powerful king during their conquests. For example, in a letter from about 1770 BC[5] reporting a speech aimed at persuading the nomadic tribes to acknowledge the authority of Zimri-Lim of Mari:

There is no king who can be mighty alone. Ten or fifteen kings follow Hammurabi the man of Babylon; as many follow Rim-Sin the man of Larsa, Ibal-pi-El the man of Eshnunna, and Amut-pi-El the man of Quatna and twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim the man of Yamhad.

The alliance of four states would have ruled over cities/countries that were spread over a wide area: from Elam at the extreme eastern end of the Fertile Crescent to Anatolia at the western edge of this region. Because of this, there is a limited range of time periods that match the Geopolitical context of Genesis 14. In this account, Chedorlaomer is described as the king to whom the cities of the plain pay tribute. Thus, Elam must be a dominant force in the region and the other three kings would therefore be vassals of Elam and/or trading partners.[5]

There were periods when Elam was allied with Mari through trade.[11] Mari also had connections to Syria and Anatolia, who, in turn, had political, cultural, linguistic and military connections to Canaan.[12] The earliest recorded empire was that of Sargon, which lasted until his grandson, Naram Sin.[5]

According to Kenneth Kitchen,[13] a better agreement with the conditions in the time of Chedorlaomer is provided by Ur Nammu. Mari had had links to the rest of Mesopotamia by Gulf trade as early as the Jemdet Nasr but an expansion of political connections to Assyria did not occur until the time of Isbi-Erra.[5] The Amorites or MARTU were also linked to the Hittites of Anatolia by trade.[5]

Trade between the Harappan culture of India and the Jemdet Nasr flourished between c 2000-1700BC. As Isin declined, the fortunes of Larsa - located between Eshnunna and Elam - rose until Larsa was defeated by Hammurabi. Between 1880 and 1820 BC there was Assyrian trade with Anatolia, in particular in annakum or tin.[11][14][15] The main trade route between Ashur and Kanesh running between the Tigris and Euphrates passed through Haran. The empire of Shamshi-Adad I and Rim-Sin I included most of northern Mesopotamia. Thus, Kitchen concludes that this is the period in which the narrative of Genesis 14 falls into a close match with the events of the time of Shamsi Adad and Chedorlaomer[5] The relevant rulers in the region at this time were:

  • The last king of Isin, Damiq-ilishu, ruled 1816-1794 BC.[5]
  • Rim Sin I of Larsa ruled 1822-1763[5]
  • The last king of Uruk, Nabiilishu, ruled 1802[5]
  • In Babylon, Hammurabi ruled 1792-1750[5]
  • In Eshnunna Ibal Pi-El II ruled c 1762[5]
  • In Elam there was a king Kuduzulush[5]
  • In Ashur, Shamsi Adad I ruled c 1813-1781[5]
  • In Mari, Yasmah-Adad ruled 1796-1780 followed by Zimri-Lin 1779-1757.[5]

Linguistic origins

There are a number of languages which have been proposed as the origin of the name Chedorlaomer. The Persian, Assyrian and Akkadian provide the simplest linguistic agreement, but there are other possibilities.

  • Persian: Kĕdorla`omer Pronunciation ked·or·lä·o'·mer[5]
  • Assyrian: Kudurlagamar. Kudur-Mabuk was a ruler in Larsa from 1770 BC to 1754 BC.[5] His sons Warad-Sin and Rim-Sin I were also kings of Larsa

Dating of the events

Dating the events of Genesis 14 is dependent upon the identification of the four kings. Whilst the identification of the four kings by name remains a matter of debate, it may be possible to date the events using the geo-political context.

Up until the 1970s, the scholarly opinion held that the story of the battle of the kings was at least founded in truth and sincere attempts to identify the kings, and thus date the events, were made. Tidal was seen as equivalent to the Hittite name Tudhaliya, but there have been several kings with that name. Of these, two were seen as likely candidates. If he was the proto-Hittite Tudhaliya, it would place the events of the narrative in the 18th century BC, shortly prior to the rise of the Hyksos Empire. The other candidate was Tudhaliya IV, which would place the events at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

In the 1970s, John Van Seters, in Abraham in History and Tradition, asserted that Genesis was a late construction (c 5th century) designed to serve the political needs of that time. In this scheme, Genesis 14 could not be considered historical, and all attempts to fit the story into an actual period were futile.[16]

More recently, Kenneth Kitchen ("The Patriarchal Age"), using what he terms "textual artifacts", re-evaluated the story. He asserts that the only known historical period in which a king of Elam, whilst allied with Larsa, was able to enlist a Hittite king and a King of Eshunna as partners and allies in a war against Canaanite cities is in the time of Old Babylon c 1822-1764 BC. This is when Babylon is under Hammurabi and Rim Sin I controls Mari, which is linked through trade to the Hittites and other allies along the length of the Euphrates. This trade is mentioned in the Mari letters, a source which documents a geo-political relationship back to when the ships of Dilmun, Makkan and Meluhha docked at the quays of Agade in the time of Sargon. In the period of Old Babylon, c 1822-1764 BC, Rim Sin I brought together kings of Syro-Anatolia whose kingdoms were located on the Euphrates in a coalition focused on Mari whose king was Shamsi Adad.

Kenneth Kitchen uses the geo-political context, the price of slaves and the nature of the covenants entered into by Abraham to date the events he encounters. He sees the covenants, between Abraham and the other characters encountered at various points in Abraham's journeys, as datable textual artifacts having the form of legal documents which can be compared to the form of legal documents from different periods.[13] Of particular interest is the relationship between Abraham and his wife, Sarah. When Sarah proves to be barren, she offers her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham to provide an heir. This arrangement, along with other aspects of the covenants of Abraham, lead Kitchen to a relatively narrow date range that aligns well with the time of Hammurabi.[13]


  1. Genesis 14:14
  2. Genesis 14 at BibleGateway
  3. The possibility also exists that its a single title for one king who has unified several states. Amraphel king of Shinar (ruler of Eshnunna),Chedor-laomer (king of Elam), Ellasar (the Power of Larsa) Arioch (URU KI: in charge of this place here)Tidal goiim (those people have created a state and stretched the extent of their power)
  4. Amraphael
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 Micael Roaf "Cambridge Atlas of Archaeology - king lists p 111 and pp 108-123
  6. 'Chedorlaomer' at
  7. Kudur-Lagamar from History of Egypt by G. Maspero
  8. Akkadian tD ("have stretched themselves")
  9. (Akkadian verbal stem intensive, reflexive expressing the bringing about of a state)
  10. tD
  11. 11.0 11.1 Shaika Haya Ali Al Khalifa and Michael Rice, Bahrain through the Ages. 1986. ISBN 071030112-x. 
  12. The Mari letters
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Kenneth Kitchen "The Patriarchal Age"
  14. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. 1990. ISBN. 
  15. Michael Roaf Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. Equinox. 1990. ISBN 0-8160-2218-6. 
  16. Collaborating examples from other books of the Penteteuch would include the use of the Phoenician names for Elim and Elat in the crossing of the Red Sea mentioned in Exodus. In Phoenician both are plural forms of the word El meaning power. In particular they refer to the tall powerful Terebinth trees used as Asherah poles or masts by the Phoenicians. In 600 BC the Pharoah Neco I contracted with the Phoenicians to buiild a fleet in the Red Sea to circumnavigate Libya and return through the Pillars of Hercules which they did three years later. Clearly if the Penteteuch were written by Moses he would have no means of knowing about the Phoenicians. The Documentary Hypothesis assumes edits were made c 900 BC, but even this is too early to incorporate the Phoenician language for Red Sea toponyms.


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