“Amraphel King of Shinar” was not King Hammurabi
Amraphel can be Nimrod, not Hammurabi
Damien F. Mackey
“Thus, scholars identify Hammurabi with Amraphel, and the sages identify
Amraphel with Nimrod. This leads us to the conclusion that, based on midrashic tradition, Amraphel, Nimrod and Hammurabi are all the same person”.
David S. Farkas
King Hammurabi of Babylon (c. 1810 – c. 1750 BC, conventional dating), whose memorable Law Code – or however historians would choose to describe the document – is thought to have influenced Mosaïc Law itself, is the sort of king for whom historians go searching in the Bible.
Thus David S. Farkas has written just such a paper:
IN SEARCH OF THE BIBLICAL HAMMURABI
The problem with an effort like Farkas’ is that, with King Hammurabi so seriously mis-dated, as he has been, a historian will always be looking at a biblical phase almost a millennium of centuries too early for King Hammurabi of Babylon.
I have often quoted Dr. Donovan Courville’s wonderful description of the conventional Hammurabi, as “floating about in a liquid chronology of Chaldea”. See e.g. my article:
“Mention of “Jabin of Hazor” in one of the Mari letters has led even some astute revisionists, such as Drs. Courville and Osgood, seeking more solid ground for the Hammurabic era, to bind Hammurabi and Zimri-Lim to the era of Joshua and his foe, Jabin of Hazor”.
While David S. Farkas may be right on track when linking Amraphel with Nimrod, his further push for a trifecta (Amraphel = Nimrod = Hammurabi) is a chronological ‘bridge too far’.
Farkas has written, adhering to the old view that biblical “Shinar” was Sumer:
AND IT CAME TO PASS IN THE DAYS OF AMRAPHEL KING OF SHINAR, ARIOCH KING
OF ELLASAR, CHEDORLAOMER KING OF ELAM…
In Genesis we learn of a major battle that took place near the Dead Sea.
The first of the kings mentioned is Amraphel, king of Shinar. Who exactly was this king? Ever since the days of the famed Assyriologist, Eberhard Schrader (1836-1908), scholars have identified this king with none other than Hammurabi. Many points have been observed in support of this. The assonance of names, for example, is striking. According to many scholars the two names are extremely close phonetically, if not actually identical.4 The connection between the two names becomes clearer when we consider that the familiar English spellings of the names as we know them are really approximations of Ammi-rabi or Ammurapi or Hammum-rabi, some of which are close to Amraphel. Moreover, Amraphel’s kingdom, Shinar, has long been identified with the Sumerian/Babylonian Empire where Hammurabi held sway.5 Thus, there is some degree of evidence that enables us to identify one with the other.6
This alone, then, might appear to have resolved our question. Hammurabi is mentioned in the Bible, only he is mentioned by the name of Amraphel. Yet this answer, by itself, is unsatisfying. For we know Hammurabi to have been a famous potentate, one of the first great rulers of recorded civilization.
Amraphel, by contrast, is barely known today outside of the Bible, if at all.
It seems very unusual that the great and mighty Hammurabi should be identified
with so anonymous a figure as Amraphel.
Here is where the rabbinic sages enter the picture. According to our sages, as shown below, Amraphel is none other than the famous Nimrod. Nimrod, of course, was hardly a run-of-the-mill ruler. Genesis describes him as the first man to amass power.7 There are many extant rabbinical legends and traditions concerning Nimrod. Perhaps the most famous speaks of him having Abraham thrown into a fiery furnace in Ur Kasdim.8 Another legend holds that Nimrod came into possession of Adam’s hunting garments (which gave him control over the wild beasts) until it was forcefully wrested away from him by Esau.9 The description of him as a “powerful” ruler, and the legends that sprang up around him, show that he was seen already in ancient times as an important figure.
These legends are critically important to our investigation. Nimrod, our sages say, is named such because he brought “rebellion” to the world against God, a play on the word mered which forms the root of the name Nimrod.10
Nimrod is identified with Amraphel, because he told (amar) Abraham to fall ([na]fal) into the furnace, in the above-mentioned legendary incident in Ur Kasdim.11 Still another midrash holds that Nimrod is also called Amraphel because his words caused “darkness”, a notarikon-type play on the words amarah (“statement”) and afelah (“darkness”).12
Thus, scholars identify Hammurabi with Amraphel, and the sages identify Amraphel with Nimrod. This leads us to the conclusion that, based on midrashic tradition, Amraphel, Nimrod and Hammurabi are all the same person. Indeed, the name Hammurabi might actually mean “Ham the Great”, for Nimrod was the grandson of Ham, son of Noah. Thus, Hammurabi is indeed mentioned in the Torah. The same man portrayed in the Bible as the mighty king Nimrod is known today to the world at large as the mighty king Hammurabi.
While the Midrash is not an historical source, this identification fits both the biblical narrative and what we know of the history of the ancient Near East in the relevant time frame. For in the epic Dead Sea battle described in the Bible, Amraphel is portrayed as subservient to the neighboring Elamite king, Chedorlaomer. The “five kings” of ancient Canaan rebelled against this Elamite king after twelve years of subservience, causing Chedorlaomer to take up arms to quell the rebellion. This description accords with what we know of Hammurabi’s exploits against the Elamite enemies of Babylon.13
Yet something still nags at the reader. Why would Hammurabi, if our hypothesis is correct, be described in Genesis 10:9 as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”? This seems like a strange description for a king. Moreover, Nimrod was depicted by the sages as someone who caused the world to rebel against God. Nimrod brought “darkness” to the world. Hammurabi, on the other hand, is known to the world as a great king, as one who introduced the rule of law into an uncivilized society through his civil code. So who was he – a despotic tyrant – or a wise leader devoted to the rule of law? Can these two diametrically opposing viewpoints be reconciled?14
Jewish tradition holds that the ideal law is God’s law, as expressed in His Torah. Man might be obligated to establish legal codes for temporal life, codes with which man is expected to abide. But no man-made legal system could ever supplant God’s Torah as the ideal legal system. The very suggestion of it is ludicrous, in the eyes of tradition, for no mere mortal could ever match the divine wisdom contained in the Torah.
With the emergence of Hammurabi/Nimrod, though, we can imagine that men began to look at things differently. No longer was God the final arbiter on what was right or wrong. Instead, man was. The Torah had yet to be given in Nimrod’s time, but according to rabbinic tradition, the Noahide laws were already known. With the enactment and acceptance of Hammurabi’s Code, man began to emerge from his complete dependence upon God as the source of all law. Hammurabi’s Code gave mankind the gift of self-government. Although Hammurabi pays lip service to the god of justice as the originator of the Code, and on the top of the stone stele is a carved relief of Hammurabi receiving the law from the sun god Shamash,15 in the preamble and epilogue he himself claims to be the wise author of the laws.16 This code taught man that God alone was no longer the source of the law. Rather, the law was to come from man, using the human faculties endowed within him. ….
[End of quote]
The tortuous chronology of King Hammurabi of Babylon, of which Dr. Courville had written, is further considered by Anne Habermehl, in “Where in the World Is the Tower of Babel?” (2011), “it is possible that no other ancient king has been assigned such widely varying dates in history”:
A theory that enjoyed a long period of popularity was that Amraphel of Genesis 14 was the same person as Hammurabi, sixth king of the first dynasty of the Old Babylonian Kingdom (see Pinches 2010, for example). Those who accepted that these two men were the same person could therefore say that, because Amraphel was king of Shinar, therefore Shinar had to be Babylon. (They do not question why the Bible would say “king of Shinar” rather than “king of Babylon.) However, there were persistent problems with this identification. Albright (1924) argued that, although both Amraphel and Hammurabi were names that clearly were of Amorite origin, attempts to make the two names equivalent required linguistic manipulation that was not really possible. Another difficulty was inherent in attempts to work out the necessary chronology that could put these two men in the same time frame. According to the biblical narrative, Amraphel lived in the time of Abraham; the events of Genesis 14 would therefore have taken place around 1900 BC by the biblical timeline of Jones (2007, p. 24) (this was some time after Abraham’s migration into Canaan). Determining when Hammurabi reigned has been the subject of considerable disagreement among scholars, and it is possible that no other ancient king has been assigned such widely varying dates in history. Goodspeed (1902, p. 109) gave Hammurabi a date of about 2300 BC for the beginning of his reign, but that has been reduced; most scholars currently put him somewhere around 1700–1900 BC (Oates 1979, p. 24). However, these dates are based on the inflated standard Egyptian chronology (the subject of revision of this Egyptian timeline will be discussed further on in this paper). Velikovsky (1999) makes a good case for putting Hammurabi somewhere in the sixteenth century BC; this is supported by archaeological finds in Crete that place Hammurabi in the time of the twelfth dynasty (Nilsson 1928, p. 385; Pendlebury 1930, p. 4).5 Hammurabi therefore would have reigned about 350 years after Amraphel. ….
[End of quote]
Unfortunately, Habermehl will dismiss as “rather unlikely” the very revised era of the Babylonian king (Dean Hickman’s) that makes the most sense (at least in my opinion), the era of David and Solomon. Se e.g. my multi-part series:
Far from Hammurabi influencing Moses, the great King of Babylon was heavily influenced by the culture and writings of David and Solomon (Ecclesiastes, for instance, shaping the Epilogue to the pagan Law Code). I have previously written on this:
There are also some interesting speculations showing some parallels between the Bible and the life and laws of Hammurabi. One theme concept in both the Levitical law and the Code of Hammurabi that repeat … again and again are, namely: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”. (Exodus 21:24-25). Although Hammurabi did not know it, the principles in his laws reflected the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping as found in Galatians 6:78 and Proverbs 22:8: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”. (Galatians 6:7) .
“He who sows wickedness reaps trouble”. (Proverbs 22:8a).
Likewise we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes of king Solomon (12:9-14):
Besides being wise, the Teacher [Qoheleth] also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs.  The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. ….
Now Hammurabi’s Code too, just like Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, starts with a Preface (similarly the Book of Proverbs has a Prologue) and ends with an Epilogue, in which we find an echo of many of Solomon’s above sentiments, and others, beginning with Hammurabi as wise, as a teacher, and as a protecting shepherd king. Let us consider firstly Hammurabi’s Epilogue, in relation to Solomon’s (Ecclesiastes’) Epilogue above (buzz words given in italics):
HAMMURABI’S CODE OF LAWS
Translated by L. W. King
LAWS of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land. Hammurabi, the protecting king am I. I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. I expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them. … I am the salvation-bearing shepherd .. . .
Wisdom 1:1: “Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth …”.
Ecclesiastes 9:1: “ … how the righteous and the wise … are in the hand of God”.
1 Kings 4:29: “God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding, as vast as the sand on the seashore”.
As we are going to find, Solomon was not shy about broadcasting his wisdom and the fact that he had exceeded all others in it.
For example (Ecclesiastes 1:16): “I said to myself, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has great experience of wisdom and knowledge’.”
Similarly, Knight writes of Hammurabi: “The conclusion of the inscription sounds like a hymn of high-keyed self-praise”. Indeed, that Hammurabi had no doubt in his own mind that he was the wisest of all is evident from this next statement (Epilogue): “… there is no wisdom like unto mine …”.
However, just as Solomon, in his ‘Prayer for Wisdom’ (Book of Wisdom 7:15-17), had attributed his wisdom to God:
“May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received; for He is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise. For both we and our words are in His hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts. For it is He who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists …”.
So did the by now polytheistic Hammurabi attribute his wisdom to the Babylonian gods (Epilogue):
“… with the keen vision with which Ea endowed me, with the wisdom that Marduk gave me, I have … subdued the earth, brought prosperity to the land, guaranteed security to the inhabitants in their homes; a disturber was not permitted. The great gods have called me …”.
“I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem applied my mind to seek and search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven …”. Eccl. 1:12.
“I turned my mind to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things, and to know that wickedness is folly and that foolishness is madness”. Eccl. 7:25.
Solomon too, like Hammurabi, exhorted other kings and officials to follow his way. Compare for instance Wisdom 6:1-9:
Listen therefore, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth. Give ear you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations. For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places. For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested. For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike. But a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty. To you then, O monarchs, my words are directed, so that you may learn wisdom and not transgress.
with these parts of Hammurabi’s Epilogue:
In future time, through all coming generations, let the king, who may be in the land, observe the words of righteousness which I have written on my monument; let him not alter the law of the land which I have given, the edicts which I have enacted; my monument let him not mar. If such a ruler have wisdom, and be able to keep his land in order, he shall observe the words which I have written in this inscription; the rule, statute, and law of the land which I have given; the decisions which I have made will this inscription show him; let him rule his subjects accordingly, speak justice to them, give right decisions, root out the miscreants and criminals from this land, and grant prosperity to his subjects.
And, more threateningly:
If a succeeding ruler considers my words, which I have written in this my inscription, if he do not annul my law, nor corrupt my words, nor change my monument, then may Shamash lengthen that king’s reign, as he has that of me, the king of righteousness, that he may reign in righteousness over his subjects. If this ruler do not esteem my words, which I have written in my inscription, if he despise my curses, and fear not the curse of God, if he destroy the law which I have given, corrupt my words, change my monument, efface my name, write his name there, or on account of the curses commission another so to do, that man, whether king or ruler, patesi, or commoner, no matter what he be, may the great God (Anu), the Father of the gods, who has ordered my rule, withdraw from him the glory of royalty, break his scepter, curse his destiny. May Bel, the lord, who fixeth destiny, whose command cannot be altered, who has made my kingdom great, order a rebellion which his hand cannot control; may he let the wind of the overthrow of his habitation blow, may he ordain the years of his rule in groaning, years of scarcity, years of famine, darkness without light, death with seeing eyes be fated to him; may he (Bel) order with his potent mouth the destruction of his city, the dispersion of his subjects, the cutting off of his rule, the removal of his name and memory from the land. May Belit, the great Mother, whose command is potent in E-Kur (the Babylonian Olympus), the Mistress, who harkens graciously to my petitions, in the seat of judgment and decision (where Bel fixes destiny), turn his affairs evil before Bel, and put the devastation of his land, the destruction of his subjects, the pouring out of his life like water into the mouth of King Bel.
And in the same fashion Hammurabi goes on and on, before similarly concluding:
May he lament the loss of his life-power, and may the great gods of heaven and earth, the Anunaki, altogether inflict a curse and evil upon the confines of the temple, the walls of this E-barra (the Sun temple of Sippara), upon his dominion, his land, his warriors, his subjects, and his troops. May Bel curse him with the potent curses of his mouth that cannot be altered, and may they come upon him forthwith.
[End of quotes]
But, according to Habermehl:
There are some who have attempted to bring Hammurabi all the way down to the tenth century BC to make him contemporary with David and Solomon (as argued by Hickman 1986), but this author considers this drastic reduction rather unlikely. In any case, the conclusion is that there is little likelihood that Amraphel could have lived at the same time as Hammurabi.
Some early voices had dissented from the idea that Shinar was in the south. Fraser (1834, pp. 216–217) opined that putting the Tower of Babel in the same place as Babylon (Fraser refers to Beke 1834, pp. 24–26) was a novel idea and “an erroneous notion” because then Ararat would have been north of Babel and not east of it.
Later on, Albright (1924) wrote a paper to show that Shinar was basically the ancient kingdom of Hanna, a territory in Northern Syria, bordered by the Euphrates on the west. Gemser (1968, pp. 35–36) thought that “Sanhara . . . seems to have been one of the four major powers in Northern Syria after the fall of the state of Mari.” We will further discuss locating Shinar in this northern area later on in this paper. ….
[End of quote]
One finds, when building upon Dean Hickman’s marvellous foundational work in his article, “The Dating of Hammurabi” (Proceedings of the 3rd Seminar of Catastrophism and Ancient History, Uni. of Toronto, 1985), there arise irresistible biblico-historical correspondences.