BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

First Person: From Shalem to Jerusalem

As published in BAR, November/December 2019

I recently published a book titled Melchizedek, King of Sodom: How Scribes Invented the Biblical Priest-King. A highly technical book, it contains much textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible. It specifically examines Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek and the king of Sodom in Genesis 14, the notoriously difficult-to-translate Psalm 110, and a discussion of the origin of the toponym Mt. Moriah in Genesis 22. Controversially, I argue that Melchizedek was the king of Sodom.

In two of the chapters, however, I found my research leading me to an equally controversial topic involving Jerusalem. As readers of BAR know, anything concerning Jerusalem is bound to incite controversy.

Simply put, contrary to what the Genesis Apocryphon, Josephus, the Aramaic Targums, and other interpretive traditions of the late Second Temple period say, I argue that Shalem (or Salem as it often appears in the Bible) was never an early or alternate name for Jerusalem. That is to say, despite the prevalence of this popular tradition based on the recognizable presence of the syllables “shalem/salem” in the name “Jerusalem,” I suggest that Shalem was never an early name for Jerusalem. And because of this, I contend that prior to the Second Temple period, Shalem was not understood to be Jerusalem.

If Shalem was not Jerusalem, then where was it? My research led me to conclude that Shalem was actually a city in Samaria near Shechem. And here you can see the controversy begin to brew. Not only was Shalem not identified with the ancient capital of Judah, it was actually associated with the capital of its rebellious Israelite rival, Shechem.

I offer archaeological and textual evidence to support this claim. First, I point out that several inscriptions refer to Jerusalem by name prior to the establishment of ancient Israel. An Egyptian execration (curse) text, dating to around 1800 B.C.E., lists Jerusalem’s name as Ru-ša-li-mum. Likewise, multiple Egyptian Amarna letters, dating to about 1400 B.C.E., spell Jerusalem variably as U-ru-ša-lim and U-ru-sa-lim. Thus, it is clear that the “early” name for Jerusalem (Hebrew: ירושלם or Yerushalayim) was still a polysyllabic word much longer than “Shalem.”

Some scholars have countered that the “URU” prefix on these early names, which became the “Yeru-” beginning of Yerushalayim, was simply the vestige of the Akkadian determinative—a symbol used before a personal name to indicate that it was the name of a city and not of a people or deity. The problem with this argument is that the Akkadian determinative prefix “URU” is not affixed directly to the name “Shalem,” but appears in addition to the signs for Ú-Ru-Sa-Lim, rendering a lengthy, polysyllabic name URUÚ-Ru-Sa-Lim. Thus Jerusalem’s name was never simply Shalem; it was always longer.

As far as textual evidence is concerned, I spend much time discussing Psalm 76:1-2 and Genesis 33:18. I translate Psalm 76:2 as, “His tent was in Shalem, but his residence is in Zion,” and argue that the poem is not synonymous parallelism, with Shalem and Zion referring to the same location. Instead, I argue that Psalm 76:2 is a chronological reference to the progress made by the Ark of the Covenant from its northern Samaritan locale in Shiloh near Shalem, where it resided in a tabernacle under the supervision of the priest Eli and his family, to Jerusalem, where it ultimately resided within the Temple. This same chronological relocation of God’s dwelling place is found in Psalm 78:56-68 and Psalm 87:1-2.

I then discuss the explicit claim in Genesis 33:18 that states, “And Jacob came to Shalem, a city (within the jurisdiction) of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan.” I also explain that most subsequent ancient translations of this verse substituted the word “safely” in place of the name “Shalem” in an effort to obscure the reference to Shalem near Shechem—a trend that grew throughout the Jewish interpretative tradition of the Second Temple period.

So, if you are interested in a highly technical discussion of how Shalem came to be associated with Jerusalem in the third century B.C.E., there’s a new book out there for you to read. And I certainly welcome your comments and queries.—B.C.



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Previous First Person Columns:

 

First Person: The Gender Divide

First Person: Who Owns History?

First Person: A Little Jot on a Jerusalem Column

First Person: The American Bible Society’s Electronic Inquisition

First Person: Festschrift: A Celebration of Hershel Shanks

First Person: A New Chapter



4 Responses

  1. wes says:

    Sounds like an interesting investigative work with some footsteps worth following whether or not one reaches the same conclusions. I regret that I do not have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew or related Semitic languages to be of much help, but I did note a couple of interesting things aside from that in your introduction to your book..

    Indicating that there is an argument for Melchezidek being the King of a city other than Salem, and that being Sodom, I often wonder what the archeological evidence is for Sodom, the other side of the BAR coin. If not the site, then what about Akkadian or Sumerian records of trade circa the era that Abram lived, ( 3rd millenium BC)?

    Secondly, I am more familiar with discussions of glosses in the New Testament based on comparisons with manuscripts from of, say, 3rd or 4th century AD. But it is interesting to hear that, say 2nd Temple period, that “Salem” and “safely” could be substituted or interpreted from text. How is this identified? Is it that we have variational texts Masoretic and Qumrum to compare? Or is it that commentators of the period quoted the text and
    we see differences there? Not to mention, that arriving safely to somewhere and arriving at at a particular destination are results distinctive enough to note.

  2. Dennis says:

    This is also covered in the Wikipedia article on Jerusalem under “Etymology”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem#Etymology The cited references are in footnotes 76 through 81

  3. Edward A Pritchard Jr. says:

    Salem means peace, Melchizedek the King of Peace is the Hole Spirit ! When the Holy Spirit came upon Mary she had a child called Jesus, which Isaiah said he shall be called the Prince of Peace. Why? Because when a King of a country has a child, they are called Prince of that country. When God called Abraham, he chose the best human being he could find in the whole world. Paul said: that the less paid tithes to the greater. When David became King he called the Jebusite city Jerusalem because it was the city that was suppose to represent Heaven here on earth. When Salomon became King he place the Temple on Mount Moriah, which was where Abraham was going to sacrifice Issac. So there was no city there or he would not or taken the wood with him or the way to make fire. Study the Bible before you teach false doctrine.

  4. Ben says:

    Fascinating. Wasn’t Jerusalem (Yerushalaim) known as Jebus (Yevus) which David conquered and renamed ‘Yerushalaim’? If it were Shalem, it would have been named in the Bible rather than Yevus.

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4 Responses

  1. wes says:

    Sounds like an interesting investigative work with some footsteps worth following whether or not one reaches the same conclusions. I regret that I do not have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew or related Semitic languages to be of much help, but I did note a couple of interesting things aside from that in your introduction to your book..

    Indicating that there is an argument for Melchezidek being the King of a city other than Salem, and that being Sodom, I often wonder what the archeological evidence is for Sodom, the other side of the BAR coin. If not the site, then what about Akkadian or Sumerian records of trade circa the era that Abram lived, ( 3rd millenium BC)?

    Secondly, I am more familiar with discussions of glosses in the New Testament based on comparisons with manuscripts from of, say, 3rd or 4th century AD. But it is interesting to hear that, say 2nd Temple period, that “Salem” and “safely” could be substituted or interpreted from text. How is this identified? Is it that we have variational texts Masoretic and Qumrum to compare? Or is it that commentators of the period quoted the text and
    we see differences there? Not to mention, that arriving safely to somewhere and arriving at at a particular destination are results distinctive enough to note.

  2. Dennis says:

    This is also covered in the Wikipedia article on Jerusalem under “Etymology”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem#Etymology The cited references are in footnotes 76 through 81

  3. Edward A Pritchard Jr. says:

    Salem means peace, Melchizedek the King of Peace is the Hole Spirit ! When the Holy Spirit came upon Mary she had a child called Jesus, which Isaiah said he shall be called the Prince of Peace. Why? Because when a King of a country has a child, they are called Prince of that country. When God called Abraham, he chose the best human being he could find in the whole world. Paul said: that the less paid tithes to the greater. When David became King he called the Jebusite city Jerusalem because it was the city that was suppose to represent Heaven here on earth. When Salomon became King he place the Temple on Mount Moriah, which was where Abraham was going to sacrifice Issac. So there was no city there or he would not or taken the wood with him or the way to make fire. Study the Bible before you teach false doctrine.

  4. Ben says:

    Fascinating. Wasn’t Jerusalem (Yerushalaim) known as Jebus (Yevus) which David conquered and renamed ‘Yerushalaim’? If it were Shalem, it would have been named in the Bible rather than Yevus.

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