[b-hebrew] The Name "Chedorlaomer" in Ugaritic, Part I

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jan 31 09:55:36 EST 2008

The Name “Chedorlaomer” in Ugaritic, Part I
We previously saw that the name “Chedorlaomer”/KDR+L+AoMR can easily be 
broken down into three Hebrew words:  KDR, and L, and AoMR.  That strongly 
suggests that Chedorlaomer may be conceptualized by the author of chapter 14 of 
Genesis as being a west Semitic-speaking person.  For if Chedorlaomer was supposed 
to be a king from the far-off non-Semitic predecessor of Persia, as is usually 
argued, it would be quite peculiar for the name of such a non-Semitic person 
to work so easily and effortlessly as being composed of three regular Hebrew 
words, without a single change in any spelling being needed for any of those 
three Hebrew words.  In this connection, note that the names “Arioch” and “Tidal
” cannot be analyzed as being composed of Hebrew words.  “Arioch” is a 
princely Hurrian name, and “Tidal” is the Hebrew version of the Hittite kingly 
name “Tudhaliya”.  Likewise, the name “Phicol” in chapters 21 and 26 of Genesis 
cannot be analyzed as being composed of Hebrew words, as it comes from the 
southwestern coast of Anatolia, indicating that Abimelech’s military commander 
Phicol is a foreign mercenary.  By contrast, the name “Abimelech” is a classic 
west Semitic name, indicating that princeling ruler Abimelech, unlike the 
foreign mercenary Phicol, is a native west Semitic speaker.  With every other 
name in the Patriarchal narratives seeming to make complete sense as accurately 
indicating whether or not a person is a native west Semitic speaker, why would 
we think that the name “Chedorlaomer”, which so easily and effortlessly can 
be analyzed as being composed of three Hebrew words (with no spelling changes 
whatsoever being needed), was intended to portray a non-Semitic king from the 
far-off non-Semitic predecessor of Persia?
If in addition to being a west Semitic-speaking person, Chedorlaomer is 
viewed by the author of chapter 14 of Genesis as being from Ugarit, then we would 
expect the name “Chedorlaomer” to work in Ugaritic as well.  Conversely, if 
the name “Chedorlaomer” works perfectly in both Hebrew and Ugaritic, that would 
cast grave doubt on the traditional view that Chedorlaomer is being presented 
in the text as being a (fictional) ruler of the non-Semitic predecessor of 
Persia, Hatamtu, located east of the far-off lower Euphrates River.  So it is 
quite important to determine whether “Chedorlaomer” works as being a 
combination of three words attested in Ugaritic.
As we shall now see, each Hebrew word in the name "Chedorlaomer" is also a 
Ugaritic word.  And just as the Hebrew words aptly provide a profoundly negative 
view of Chedorlaomer, so also do the Ugaritic words.
As previously noted, the beginning of "Chedorlaomer" is K-D-R/kaf-dalet-resh.
K-D-R/kdr is a prominent word in Ugaritic, and is also prominent as being the 
first element in several Ugaritic names.  K-D-R/kdr has a wide range of 
meanings in Ugaritic.  Unfortunately, scholars do not agree as to the precise range 
of meanings of kdr in Ugaritic.  But as we shall see, it appears that the 
broad range of meanings of kdr in Ugaritic largely, if not completely, parallels 
the broad range of meanings of the Hebrew word K-D-R.  The one meaning of 
K-D-R/kdr in Ugaritic as to which scholars do agree is that kdr in Ugaritic 
sometimes means “ball”.  Though somewhat more controversial, it is often asserted 
that kdr in Ugaritic sometimes means "vulture".  Kdr in Ugaritic also is 
something connected to a sacrifice, and it is even associated in some way with the 
"destruction of mankind".  (K-D-U-R means “ball” in Hebrew, though such word 
does not appear in the Hebrew Bible.  We saw that one key Hebrew meaning of 
K-D-R is, per BDB, “shoot or rush down (of hawk, star, etc.;  also of an 
attacking force)”, and such a concept could also apply to a vulture.)  In Ugaritic, 
though perhaps only post-dating the 14th century BCE, and apparently unlike 
Hebrew, kdr can also mean "basket" or “trough”, per Akkadian kudurru.  These 
various aspects of the prominent Ugaritic word K-D-R/kdr are seen in the following 
two scholarly comments:
(i)  “Line 3 and 10)  Dijkstra (1986), 121, and Dietrich and Loretz (1988), 
189, translate kdr ‘ball’ apparently from Hebrew d k and Aramaic d k.   …An 
Ugaritic word with this spelling occurs in KTU 1.50:10 (some part of a 
sacrifice), KTU 4.275:8 (context unclear)….  Gordon, 1965, 418, #1201, took this word 
to mean ‘vulture’.  Also, see kdrn in KTU 4.33:22, 4.55:26, 4.350:1 (also the 
personal name bn kdr).  Note also kdrt in KTU 1.3 II:9 where the context seems 
to support something like 'balls' as a translation of the Ugaritic, but other 
interpretations could well fit this context.  I suggest, alternatively, that 
in our [very late] text the word could well come from Akkadian kudurru meaning 
'basket'.”  Duane E. Smith, 2005, “A School Text:  KTU 5.22”, at 
(http://www.telecomtally.com/blog/ugarit/KTU5.22.pdf) .  
(ii)  "kdr is in the mythological text, KTU 1.3, tablet II, line 9.
 Here is the context:
                tsmt . adm . sat . shpsh
                thth . k kdrt . ri[sh] (=head)
 Notice the phrase 'tsmt adm', the destruction of mankind…. 
 KTU 1.7 also has the word. 
 RS 1.023 has the word.
 It is a name in RS 10.109
           'bn . kdrn'"
Personal E-mail to me from Steve Rives on 12/14/06.
As noted above, kdr in Ugaritic can mean “ball”.  A ball bouncing or rolling 
haphazardly could be connected to “tumult”, or “tumult of war”, which is a 
key concept in the Biblical Hebrew word K-I-D-U-R at Job 15: 24.  K-D-R/kdr in 
Ugaritic is often thought to mean “vulture”.  A vulture could easily reflect 
the dark side of war.  The connection of K-D-R/kdr in Ugaritic to "the 
destruction of mankind" seems to complete the picture as to at least one set of 
meanings of this Ugaritic word.  In both languages, Hebrew and Ugaritic, K-D-R/kdr 
can be associated with dark, turbulent warfare.  (We must also remember that 
the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives likely did not know Ugaritic 
very well.  Even if the people of Ugarit themselves did not usually use kdr in 
the figurative sense of meaning “dark tumult of war”, the Hebrew author of 
chapter 14 of Genesis might logically have thought that Ugaritic had this same 
figurative meaning as in Hebrew, since the literal meanings of kdr in the two 
languages seem quite similar.  It should be no surprise if the dark Hebrew 
overtones of kdr overshadow the arguably more neutral Ugaritic overtones of kdr in 
a nickname created by a Hebrew author for a hated foreign ruler.) 
The prominence of the word kdr in Ugaritic cannot be denied, and kdr was 
often used as the beginning part of a person’s name in Ugaritic.  Note that there 
is no Hebrew name in the Bible that starts with KDR, so the name “Chedorlaomer”
 works well for a foreign, west Semitic-speaking ruler from Ugarit.  By 
creating the nickname "Chedorlaomer" that begins with K-D-R, the Hebrew author has 
neatly imported a Ugaritic flavor into this name.  K-D-R/kdr may possibly have 
had roughly similar meanings in the two languages (though this contention is 
not as clear in Ugaritic as it is in Hebrew):  a negative image of “dark, 
turbulent warfare”.
In the next post, we will look at L and Ao-M-R as the remaining Ugaritic 
words in “Chedorlaomer”.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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