Amraphel, King of Sennaar (Shinar), or Babylonia, one of the four Mesopotamian kings—the other three being Arioch, King of Pontus (Ellasar); Chodorlahomor, King of Elam, and Thadal (Tedal), King of Nations (Goyim)—who, according to the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, jointly invaded Chanaan and defeated the five kings of the Plains, capturing Lot and his family, together with a rich booty. On their way home they were assailed and routed in a single night by Abraham and his 318 men in the vale of Save (Siddim), near the Dead Sea. Among the rescued prisoners were Lot and his family. Abraham, furthermore, while on his way back from his victorious attack, was met by Melchisedech, the High-Priest of El-Elion, at Jerusalem, who celebrated Abraham’s victory by a thanksgiving offering of bread and wine, taking from him, as his sacerdotal share, the tenth part of the booty. To Biblical scholars and theologians the personality of Amraphel is of considerable interest, owing to the fact that he has been long ago identified by the majority of Assyriologists and Biblical critics with the great Babylonian king, Hammurabi, the sixth monarch of the first Babylonian dynasty, who reigned about 2250 B.C. This ruler’s famous Code of Laws, the oldest code of laws in the world, was discovered in 1901-2, in Susa, the ancient capital of Elam, by the French archaeological expedition, and was for the first time deciphered and translated by the French Dominican scholar, Father Scheil, of Paris.
The identity of Amraphel and Hammurabi is now unanimously accepted by Assyriologists and Biblical critics. Phonetically, the two names are identical. The variants of the second form are Ammi-rabi, Ammurapi, and Hammum-rabi, etc. Hammu, or Ammu, was in all probability the name of a god, as it is found in many compound names such as Sumuhammu, Jasdi-hammu, and Zimri-hammu. The element rabi is very common in Babylonia, and it means “great”; the full name, consequently, means “The god Ammu is great”, on the same analogy as names like Sin-rabi, Samas-rabi, and many others. According to Dr. Lindle, followed by Sayce and others, the name was also pronounced Ammurabi, and, as Dr. Pinches was the first to point out, the form Ammu-rapi is also met with by the side of Hammurabi, and like many of the Babylonian kings of that period he was deified, being addressed as ilu-Ammurabi or Ammurabi-ilu, i.e. “Ammurabi the god”, ilu being the equivalent of the Hebrew El, which means “god”. Now Ammurabi-ilu or Ammurapilu is letter for letter the Amraphel, or Amrapel, of Genesis. According to another hypothesis, suggested by Dr. Husing, the 1 at the end of the form “Amraphel” is superfluous, for he would join it to the next word, and read: “And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel, as Arioch king of Ellasar was over Shinar, that Chodorlahomer…” Another, and according to Dr. Pinches perhaps more likely, explanation is that this additional letter 1 is due to a faulty reading of a variant writing of the name, with a polyphonous character having the value of pil, as well as bi, which form may, in fact, still be found. But whichever hypothesis we adopt, the identity of Amraphel and Hammurabi is phonetically beyond dispute.
The political situation presupposed in Gen., xiv, reflects, furthermore, with a remarkable degree of probability, the condition of the times of Hammurabi’s reign. The leader of the force and the suzerain to whom the Chanaanitish princes were subject, was a king of Elam. Elam, therefore, must have been the predominant power at the time, and the Babylonian king must have been its vassal. The narrative, nevertheless, is dated in the reign of the Babylonian king, and not in that of the King of Elam, and it is to the reign of the Babylonian king that the events described in it are attached. Babylonia, however, was not a united country; there was another king, Arioch of Ellasar, who divided with the Amraphel of Sennaar the government of it, and, like Amraphel, acknowledged the supremacy of Elam. Finally, the “nations” (goyim), whoever they were, were also subject to Elam, as well as the distant province of Chanaan. If we turn our glance to the political condition of Hammurabi’s times and period, we shall find that the contemporary monuments of Babylonia are in perfect accord with the situation presupposed by Gen., xiv.