[b-hebrew] What Does "salt sea" Mean at Genesis 14: 3?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Dec 2 09:39:43 EST 2008


Karl:
 
 
1.  You wrote:  “The present division into chapters came relatively recently 
(when compared to the total time period the text talks about to the present). 
Therefore it
 must be read in context of chapter 13, where the area is clearly listed as 
being to the east. So, within the context, it is clear that the Dead Sea is 
meant.”
 
>From a mountaintop east of Beth-el, one can see the Jordan River to the east 
and northeast, and Mount Hermon to the far northeast.  One cannot see the 
southeast coast of the Dead Sea.  In fact, all view of the Dead Sea is cut off by 
the hill country south of Beth-el.  In looking at the Jordan River and Mt. 
Hermon, Lot naturally thought of the M$QH (the marvelous fields of grain in what 
we today would call the eastern Jezreel Valley) that Lot and Abraham had 
passed by in coming from Harran when they were close to Beth Shan.  Lot goes east 
to the Jordan River because that is the quickest way to get to the Jordan 
River.  Lot then in effect claims the entire Jordan River Valley, including the 
wealthy northwest corner of the Jordan River Valley (which we today refer to as 
the eastern half of the Jezreel Valley), as against Abraham’s claims to the 
land of Canaan.  Abraham will not be able to go to the Jezreel Valley, or north 
of the Jezreel Valley, until Lot has forfeited all of Lot’s claims to the 
Jordan River Valley and is reduced to living in a cave in the Transjordan.  The 
minute Lot forfeits his claims to Canaan proper, and literally even before the 
smoke has cleared from the destruction of Sodom in chapter 19 of Genesis, 
Abraham is promptly on his way at Genesis 20: 1 to 
Garar/KRR/GRR/Gariree/GLyL/Galilee.  Abraham thereby perfects his claim to all of Canaan, no longer being 
confined to the Patriarchs’ Hebron at the Aijalon Valley.  And with YHWH fulfilling 
at last the divine promise to Abraham of all of the land of Canaan by means 
of the dramatic destruction of Sodom, that also means that Sarah now will get 
pregnant with Isaac about 30 days hence, as twice recently divinely promised.  
Abraham knows exactly what he is doing, and why he is doing it.  We can see 
it, too, if only we could get the local geography right that underlies the 
Patriarchal narratives.
 
Note that the words “Jordan” and “east” are so notably absent in chapter 14 
of Genesis.  Those are the words that the author would have used, in addition 
to “salt sea”, if he was intending to reference the Dead Sea.  Lot has gone 
northeast to Beth Shan/Sodom, and is nowhere near the Dead Sea at Genesis 14: 
3.  The author wants to let us know that the big battle for Canaan, involving 
five defending rulers, does not occur near Sodom, on the east end of the 
Jezreel Valley.  No, the big battle for Canaan occurs near one of the other five 
cities in the valley, in the ideal place for such a battle:  at Megiddo, on the 
west end of the Jezreel Valley.  That’s why Genesis 14: 3 reads the way it 
does, which I paraphrase as follows:  “All these came together unto the Jezreel 
Valley, that is (to the west end thereof near) the Mediterranean Sea.”
 
2.  You wrote:  “%DYM can come from the root %YD, to whitewash, which is what 
salt encrusted objects look like when taken from the lake.”
 
Let’s investigate that.  
 
(a)  Strong’s says as to the meaning of &DYM:  “plur. from the same as 7704….
”  #7704 is &DH, which Strong’s defines as “country, field, ground, land, 
soil”.  So per Strong’s, &DYM is the plural of “field”, and means “fields”.
 
(b)  Gesenius says:  “plur (from the singular &D &DH a plain, field….”  So 
per Gesenius, &DYM is the plural of “field”, and means “fields”.  True, 
Gesenius then goes on to give the following traditional, non-historical gloss:  “
the plain of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha, from the sinking of which, the 
Dead Sea has come into existence”. 
 
(c)  BDB:  “vale of Siddim…=vale of furrows…or…of fields”.  So per BDB, 
&DYM is the plural of “field”, and means “fields”.
 
As to your theory, &YD means “lime”, but there is no plural form.  And why 
on earth would a force of four mighty invading rulers attack a “valley of lime”
?  That makes no sense.
 
SDM looks and sounds a lot like &DYM.  Is SDM/“Sodom” the “lime city”?  
What sense would that make?  Who would want to attack and loot a “lime city”?  
The clever Hebrew wordplay here makes much more sense if both SDM and &DYM are 
plays on the word “field”.  In that case, Sodom is the “fields city”, that 
is, the Egyptian garrison at Beth Shan that guarded the rich grain-growing “
fields” in the Jezreel Valley/Valley of “Fields”. 
 
&DYM sure looks like an archaic plural of “field” to me.  Even those 
authorities who go with your traditional Dead Sea analysis nevertheless agree that 
&DYM means “fields”.  
 
Why would you think that a big battle for Canaan would be fought in a “valley 
of lime”?  That does not make sense.  Historically, the big battles for 
Canaan were often fought at the western end of the “valley of fields”, the Jezreel 
Valley, at Megiddo.
 
3.  You wrote:  “Your connection with "fields" is very tenuous at best, as 
the plural of
 "fields" is %DWT, not %DYM.  In fact, the plural of fields is never elsewhere
 written as %DYM.”
 
I made that point myself in an earlier post.  &DYM is an archaic plural of “
field”, not seen elsewhere in the Bible.  Because &DYM appeared to be part of a 
proper name, the copy-editors of the Bible never updated this proper name.  
About the only true archaic grammatical and spelling elements of the truly 
ancient Patriarchal narratives are in the proper names, which were the only part 
of the text that was not updated to reflect later grammatical and spelling 
conventions.  The substantive content of the Patriarchal narratives was never 
changed, but the grammar and spelling of the non-proper names in the text were 
updated on several occasions over the centuries.
 
4.  You wrote:  “Just because you are ignorant of any battle there [at the 
Dead Sea] does not mean that none was ever fought there, especially when we take 
into account all history back to the early bronze age.”
 
I have tried to read all the scholarly articles I can find on the “four 
rulers against the five”, and a fair number of traditional accounts as well.  No 
one has offered an historical battle at the Dead Sea as the basis for that story.
 
Of course, it would be child’s play to document major battles for Canaan 
taking place at Megiddo.  In particular, Megiddo was where Egyptian pharaoh 
Thutmosis III defeated the princeling ruler of Qadesh on the Orontes to re-establish 
Egypt’s sphere of influence in Canaan in the mid-15th century BCE.  About 
3,300 years later, Napoleon grandly announced that Megiddo was the best place in 
the world to have a big battle.
 
I will address your informative comments about Beth Shan in a separate post.  
Let me just note here that we know from the archaeological evidence that Beth 
Shan was a wealthy place in the Late Bronze Age, complete with “temples” and 
“governors’ residencies”, and even a ritual bath.  Beth Shan was not a mere 
army barracks.  No, Beth Shan was the most logical first target for any group 
of serious invaders of Canaan.  Egypt’s small garrison at Beth Shan would have 
to be taken out first.  In addition to strategic considerations, that would 
also generate plenty of nice looting opportunities there as well.  Then it 
would be on to the “final battle” for control of Canaan at Megiddo.  Meanwhile, 
no invader of Canaan in his right mind would have gone down to the totally 
irrelevant southeast coast of the Dead Sea.
 
You’re missing the pinpoint historical accuracy of the Patriarchal narratives 
by dreaming, with Gesenius, that the Dead Sea came into existence from the 
sinking of Sodom and Gomorrah.  That age-old traditional theory of the case has 
no historical backing.  Nor does it follow what the text of Genesis says.  
Genesis 19: 21-22, 30 expressly states that Zoar, a town in the same valley as 
Sodom that was located close to Sodom, is spared by the angels.  That does not 
fit a theory of the Dead Sea being formed when Sodom and Gomorrah sank.
 
If you will go with what the text of the Patriarchal narratives actually 
says, and compare it to the well-documented secular history of the Late Bronze 
Age, you will find a very tight fit.  But the 2,500-year-old traditional 
misunderstanding of the local geography of Canaan involved here will have to be 
jettisoned, if we are going to restore the much-maligned historicity of the 
Patriarchal narratives.  
 
Nothing in chapter 14 of Genesis has anything to do with the Dead Sea.  There’
s no there there.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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