Lekh Lekha & Vayeira: Hints of Jerusalem

October 19, 2015 at 8:07 pm | Posted in Lekh Lekha, Vayeira | Leave a comment
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by Melissa Carpenter, maggidah

No place called Jerusalem appears in the “Torah” proper, the first five books of the Bible.  The Torah only drops two hints about Jerusalem, both in the book of Genesis/Bereishit.

In the Torah portion Lekh Lekha (“Get yourself going”), Abraham is blessed by the king of “Shaleim”.  And in the next portion, Vayeira (“And he saw”), Abraham almost slaughters his son as an offering on Mount Moriyah, later identified as the temple mount. map Jerusalem hills

A place called “Jerusalem” (Yerushalam or Yerushalayim) does not show up in the Bible until the book of Joshua:

When Adoni-Tzedek, king of Yerushalam, heard that Joshua had captured the Ai… (Joshua 10:1)

Adoni-Tzedek (אֲדֹנִי־צֶדֶק) = My-Lord-of-Righteousness.

Yerushalam (יְרוּשָׁלַם) = Jerusalem (in English).

But thanks to Egyptian archaeology, we have older records of a place in the central hills of Canaan called something like Yerushalam.  The oldest reference found so far appears on Egyptian potsherds from the 19th century BCE, where Rushalimum is one of 19 Canaanite cities.

Rushalimum = uru (city of, founded by) + shaleim (the Canaanite god of the evening star, in the Semetic language of the Jebusites).

In the Amarna letters of the 14th century B.C.E., the king of the land of Rishalimum complains to the pharaoh of Egypt about how the Egyptian soldiers treated his capital city, “Beit-Shulmani”—a Semetic name meaning “House of Shaleim”.

Shaleim (שָׁלֵם) = the Canaanite god of the evening star (in the Jebusite language); completeness, safety, peace (in Hebrew, another Semitic language).

In the book of Joshua, Jerusalem is one more Canaanite city-state that Joshua and the Israelites defeat in battle.  Joshua puts its king to death, but he cannot defeat the city itself.  We can tell because he does not subject the city to either of the two standard treatments for a defeated city: making it a vassal-state of the conqueror, or plundering all the goods and enslaving or killing all the residents.

But the children of Judah were not able to take over the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Yerushalam, as their possession, so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah to this day.  (Joshua 15:63)

Joshua sets up the Israelites’ portable tent-sanctuary in Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, and it remains there for centuries, acquiring stone walls and becoming the main temple of the Israelites.

Solomon's Temple, artist's rendering

Solomon’s Temple, artist’s rendering

The city-state of Jerusalem remains an independent enclave until King David conquers its citadel and makes it his capital in the second book of Samuel.  Instead of enslaving or subjugating the native Jebusites, David integrates them into his kingdom.  He brings the ark and the tent-sanctuary to Jerusalem, and his son Solomon builds the first temple there.

Back in the book of Genesis, Shaleim (in Lekh Lekha) and “Mount of the Moriyah” (in Vayeira) seem to refer to locations in Jerusalem, long before the time of King David.  These two references also provide hints that this area is destined to someday become the city of the God of Israel.

A blessing in the city of Shaleim concludes Abraham’s only recorded military campaign.  Five kings at southern end of the Dead Sea lose a battle against four northern kings, who then head north with all the southerners they can round up as slaves, along with their wealth and food. One of the kidnapped families is Abraham’s nephew Lot and his women. map Shechem to Zoar

Abraham and his 318 men chase the northerners beyond Damascus, defeat them, and head south with all the captured people and goods.  Before they even reach Abraham’s encampment in Hebron, on the way to the cities of the five defeated kings farther south, the king of Sodom meets Abraham and his men in the Valley of Shaveh.

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after he returned from striking Kedarlaomer and the kings who were with him, to the Valley of Shaveh, which is the valley of the king.  But Malki-Tzedek, king of Shaleim, brought out bread and wine; and he was a priest to Eil Elyon.  (Genesis/Bereishit 14:17-18)

shaveh (שָׁוֵה) = level, made level, made equal.

Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֵק) = My-King-of-Righteousness.

Eil Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) = the High God.

Malki-Tzedek, the king of Shaleim, has a name similar to Adoni-Tzedek, the king of Yerushalam in the book of Joshua.

Malki-Tzedek is also a priest, but rather than serving a local god called Shaleim, he serves Eil Elyon, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, and later a secondary name for the god of Israel.

This king-priest comes down to the Valley of Shaveh with bread and wine.  Below the Jebusite citadel that became the City of David is a broad, level area where the Kidron Valley meets the Valley of Ben-hinnom.  Commentators have speculated that this was the Valley of Shaveh—though Shaveh would also be a good name for a place where Abraham, the king of Shaleim, and the king of Sodom meet as equals.

Malki-Tzedek not only gives bread and wine to Abraham and his men upon their return from battle (a gesture that did not occur to the king of Sodom); he also gives Abraham a blessing.

And he blessed him and he said: Blessed be Avram to Eil Elyon, owner of heaven and earth.  And blessed be Eil Elyon, Who delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him a tithe of everything. (Genesis 14:19)

Probably it is Abraham who gives a tithe of the booty to Malki-Tzedek, prefiguring the tithes that Israelites brought to the high priest in the temple in Jerusalem centuries later.

prophet 2Abraham adds the name Eil Elyon to the four-letter name of God when he swears to the King of Sodom that he will not keep any of the people or goods that he won in battle. (See my blog post Lekh Lekha: Names for God.) Abraham’s use of Eil Elyon may be diplomatic, but it also implies that Malki-Tzedek and Abraham recognize the same god as supreme.

So the stage is set for the Jebusite city of Shaleim to become the capital and holy city of the Israelites someday. The site is associated with a name of God, with priesthood, with blessings, and with tithes.

The next Torah portion, Vayeira, hints at the future site of the temple through a very different story.

Abraham and his people live in Beersheba at this point in the Torah, and Isaac, Abraham’s son by his wife Sarah, is a young man.  God speaks to Abraham in the night.

And [God] said:  Take, please, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself going to the land of the Moriyah.  And lead him up there for an olah on one of the mountains, which I will say to you. (Genesis 22:2)

Moriyah (מֹרִיָּה) = Mor of God.  Mor (מֹר) = myrrh.  Mor could also be a shortened form of moreh (מוֹרֶה) = throwing or teaching; or a homonym for mareh (מַרְאָה) = seeing, appearance, vision, apparition, mirror.

olah (עֹלָה) = rising-offering: an animal offering completely burned up into smoke.

“The Moriyah” might originally have been the name for an area where myrrh grew.  The fragrant resin of these small thorn-trees was collected for incense, which was in general use for religious ceremonies in the ancient Near East.

After a three-day walk from Beersheba, Abraham sees the place.  The Torah does not say how he knows this particular hilltop is the one God chooses, but he climbs up with Isaac, firewood, a fire-box, and a knife.

Beersheba is 44 miles from Jerusalem.  If the Moriyah is Jerusalem,  then Abraham, Isaac, and the two servants and donkey they leave at the bottom of the hill would have to walk 14 to 15 miles a day—a reasonable distance, especially if the servants carry the firewood and the donkey carries Abraham, age 117.

14th century Icelandic manuscript

14th century Icelandic manuscript: an angel stops Abraham

Just as Abraham lifts his knife to kill his son at the top of the hill, another voice from God calls to him and tells him to stop.  Abraham sacrifices a ram caught by its horns in the thicket in place of Isaac.  (The Torah does not say whether it is a thicket of myrrh.)

And Abraham called the name of that place “God Yireh”, as it is said to this day:  On the mountain of God yeira-eih. (Genesis 22:14)

yireh (יִראֶה) = sees, will see, perceive, look at, consider.

yeira-eih (יֵרֶָאֶה) = he/it will be seen, become visible, appear.

Abraham’s name for the hilltop plays on the word Moriyah, which sounds like another form of the verb “to see”:  mareh (מַרְאָה) = seeing, appearance, vision.  The only other occurrence of the name Moriyah in the Hebrew Bible is in a book written 300 to 650 years later:

Then Solomon began to build the house of God in Jerusalem on the hill of the Moriyah, where [God] had appeared to his father David, where David had appointed the place on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”  (2 Chronicles 3:1)

The house, or temple, of God in Jerusalem became the place where all Israelite men were required to appear—and be seen—three times a year, on the three pilgrimage festivals.

The first allusion to Jerusalem in Genesis, the story of Malki-Tzedek, mentions priests, blessing, and tithing. The second allusion to Jerusalem, the story of the binding of Isaac, changes the acceptable form of worship from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, and also explores the idea of seeing and being seen—of perceiving what God really wants, and of being seen by God.

Three of the hints in these two stories—the tithe for the priest, burnt offerings of animals only, and presenting oneself at the holy place—all prefigure the practical religious instructions given later in the Bible for the holy temple of the Israelites.

But the hints about blessing and being blessed by God, and seeing and being seen by God, imply that Jerusalem will become such a holy city that humans will continually meet God there—perhaps not as equals, the way Abraham and the two kings do in the Valley of Shaveh, but as beings who exchange the same currency of blessing and acknowledgement.

Over the centuries, Jerusalem has occasionally lived up to the promise of its name under Malki-Tzedek, which is the same as the Hebrew word shaleim = wholeness, peace, and safety.  At other times, too many of the human beings in Jerusalem have been unable to bless or to see each other—and therefore unable to truly bless or perceive the divine.

May the promises of a holy, whole, peaceful, and safe Jerusalem in Lekh Lekha and Vayeira finally come true, speedily and in our time.


Note:  This post covers two weeks of Torah readings.  Look for my next post, on the portion Chayyei Sarah, in the first week of November. By then I will be settled in my new home on the Oregon coast!


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