🔼The name Amraphel in the Bible
The name Amraphel occurs twice in the Bible, both times in the report of the War of Four Against Five Kings (Genesis 14:1, 14:9). Amraphel, king of Shinar, joined king Arioch of Ellasar, king Chedorlaomer of Elam and king Tidal of Goiim in their war against king Bera of Sodom, king Birsha of Gomorrah, king Shinab of Admah, king Shemeber of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (a.k.a. Zoar). They assembled in the valley of Siddim and the tetrad alliance defeated the pentad alliance, and looted their properties.
We know about this war because they also abducted Abraham's nephew Lot from Sodom, and Abraham wasn't going to let that stand. Abraham assembled a mere 318 of his men and gave chase to the tetrad alliance, attacked it and defeated it (something very similar occurred when Gideon defeated the vast army of the Midianites with a 300 member Mariachi band). After the liberation of Lot, Abraham met Melchizedek of Salem (Genesis 14:18), and all this is an obvious reflection of the Jews' prevalence of the Babylonian powers and subsequent reinstitution of the worship of YHWH in Jerusalem.
Commentators commonly equate king Amraphel of Shinar with the well-known king Hammurabi of Babylon, the sixth king in the first dynasty, best known for his unprecedented legal code and skirmishes with surrounding nations.
🔼Etymology of the name Amraphel
The name Amraphel is possibly a Hebraized version of the name חמרבי (Hammurabi), which comes from:
- The Akkadian word ammu, meaning paternal kinsman, which is comparable to the Hebrew word עם ('am), meaning just that. This Hebrew word appears in a long list of Hebrew names: Amram, Adullam, Amalek, and so on.
- The Akkadian word rapi, meaning healer. The Hebrew equivalent can be found in the verb רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal. This verb shows up in names such as Beth-rapha, Raphael and Rephaiah.
In other words: the Hebrews would have had no trouble to perfectly transliterate the name Hammurabi and preserve its meaning in Hebrew, and the question this provokes is: why did they call him Amraphel?
The obvious answer is that Amraphel and Hammurabi (or Hammurapi) aren't the same at all. The Oxford Companion to the Bible states, "In the past, Hammurapi has been identified with Amraphel, king of Shinar, but current knowledge does not support this". But still, the Hebrew authors were governed by different literary rules than we are today and the literary figure of Amraphel may not even represent one single Babylonian ruler, but rather the general Babylonian phenomenon of the time of Abraham. And on top of that, it appears that the Hebrew authors took it upon themselves to rename pretty much every great king of Assyria and Babylon (such as those commonly known as Nebuchadnezzar and Tiglath-pileser). If the Hebrews gave the name Amraphel to Hammurabi or even Hammurabi-ism , they must have had a reason for that, and the name Amraphel should reflect this.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the German orientalist Eberhard Schrader was the first to suggest that Hammurabi and Amraphel were the same in his book Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament. Schrader, however, does nothing of the sort and admits: "It has not been possible hitherto to point out this name [Amraphel] in the inscriptions or to give any other explanation of it" (page 120, under Genesis XIV). The Jewish Encyclopedia cheerfully continues: "This is now the prevailing view among both Assyriologists and Old Testament scholars. The transformation of the name Hammurabi into the Hebrew form Amraphel is difficult of explanation, though a partial clue is perhaps furnished by the explanation of the name in a cuneiform letter as equivalent to Kimta-rapashtu (great people or family), on this basis: "'am" = "Kimta" and "raphel" = "rapaltu" = "rapashtu"."
The afore-mentioned word עם ('am) is indeed also the word for people, but the word רפל (rpl) doesn't exist in Hebrew. The regular word for great is רב (rab), which comes close, but doesn't explain the final ל (lamed).
The long revered onomatologists Matthew Hillerus and Johann Simonis proposed that our name is a compound of three words:
- The adjective אים (ayom), meaning terrible. This word is also the base of the name of the gigantic Emim, which occurs in suspiciously close vicinity to the name Amraphel (Genesis 14:5).
- The noun רפא, which is said to represent a "spirit of Hades," but which is in fact a spawn of the above mentioned root רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal.
- The noun נפל, better known in the form נפיל, assumed to mean giant. The plural occurs in the Bible as the name of the enigmatic giants the Nephilim, and is assumed to be derived from the verb נפל (napal), meaning to fall; see for the details of this verb the excerpt from Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary below.
And so, Hillerus and Simonis felt they were dealing with one of the giants that the Bible mentions, and translated Amraphel with Terrific Giant (horendus gigas in Latin for Hillerus and τριγιγας, trigigas; triple giant = very great giant in Greek for Simonis). This view is largely abandoned by modern scholars, but here at Abarim Publications we figured we should endow Amraphel with a little red smiley for nostalgic reasons and a respectful salute to those superseded scholars upon whose shoulders we stand.
The renowned (and scarcely supersedable) theologian Gesenius gave the name Amraphel his own twist. He figured it was constructed from the verb אמר ('amar), meaning to speak:
The second part of our name, Gesenius derived from the root אפל ('pl), meaning to be dark:
Since the battle of Israel against Babylon was predominantly an intellectual one (Israel stood no chance militarily), the great law-giver of Babylon could certainly have been known to the Jews as "one who darkens counsel". Apparently this phrase was common in the Hebraic expressive jargon. In Job 38:2, the Lord answers Job out of a whirlwind and says, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (also see Numbers 12:8 and Psalm 78:2).
The name Amraphel can mean One That Darkens Counsel, or in the words of Gesenius (endorsed by Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names): One That Speaks Of Dark Things.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List appears to go with the good old Powerful People, but that explanation is difficult to defend. BDB Theological Dictionary refrains from trying to explain the name Amraphel.