The Covenant offers a beam of evidence suggesting that the Mesopotamian overlord with whom Abraham made a covenant was the great law giver of Babylon, king Hammurabi (1790-1752 BCE). And although the case is already pretty strong, there is no direct evidence linking “Hammurabi” to the biblical text… or at least that’s what I thought until now.
I believe that Chapter 34 of Genesis tells a far more important story than it appears on the surface. This Chapter initially drew my attention because it talks of the people of Shechem as the “sons of the ass”. I was curious about this expression, especially in light of the fact that it is in this city that we find the remains of the temple of Baal Berith (“Lord of Covenant”), the chief deity of Shechem during most of the Bronze Age. I have also always assumed that the relationship between king Hammurabi, Baal Berith and Yahweh was lost a long, long time ago. However, I now suspect that Genesis 34 could have been written to preserve the vestiges of this relationship.
Let me warn you. Those who have read my book will benefit from the proper background to fully appreciate this suggestion. For instance, they will understand why Baal Berith should not be regarded as a traditional deity, but rather as the epithet given to king Hammurabi. They will also understand how Hammurabi’s memory was first celebrated through the cult of the dead before being elevated to the rank of deity and eventually taking on the name of Yahweh.
The story of Genesis 34 is rather gore. It tells of Shechem, son of Hamor, who falls in love with Dina and sleeps with her. Dina’s brothers are so outraged that they end up slewing Shechem and his father, Hamor, but only after leading them into believing that if they were to circumcise, they would agree to become one people and intermarry…
This story is understood by many to be a metaphor that revolves around the city of Shechem. Given I believe that Abraham made his covenant with king Hammurabi, I somehow felt that the key lied in the expression “sons of the ass”. In the Bible, this expression refers to the people of Shechem who have entered into a special covenant. Unfortunately, it appears no one knows the origin of this expression. Some believe a ritual for the affirmation of a covenant involve the slaughtering of an “ass”. This might be the case, but the following excerpt from the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, links it with Baal Berith:
“Those who were bound under the covenant having participated in this ritual became ‘sons of Hamor’ (‘sons of the ass’). The covenant of Hamor ‘was almost certainly related to Baal-Berith, who was the chief god of the city’…”
To make sense of this expression, I went back to the Masoretic Hebrew text, which proved a critical move. I was both stunned and excited when I realized that the hebraic text contained a very rich play on word that had gone unnoticed for the longest time because it can only be understood by someone who is aware of the role that Hammurabi played in the Abrahamic covenant. It took me a little while to understand the true meaning of the story, so bear with me while I share what I have found with you.
But first, and in order to fully appreciate the deeper meaning of this story, it helps to be familiarized with the following Hebrew words: Abi (אבי) “my father” or “father of”, Hamor (חמור) “ass” or “donkey”, Shechem (שכם) “shoulder”, Berith (ברית) “Covenant” and Baal (בעל) “Lord”.
Next, one needs to understand that the expression “son of the ass”, which can also be rendered in English as “son of Hamor” (בן חמור) is totally meaningless, but that the alternate expression “Hamor, father of” (חמור אבי ), which is also found in the text, expresses the same idea, but could hold the key to the solution.
Indeed, as there was no space between letters in ancient Hebrew, there is no difference in the spelling of “Hamor, father of” (חמור אבי) and that of “Hammurabi” (חמוראבי). This expression therefore makes for a perfect play on word, as the non-initiates will always read and understand it as “Hamor, father of Shechem”. The fact that the author carefully used the alternate expression “Shechem son of Hamor” here and there adds to the confusion.
And given Shechem (שכם) means “shoulder”, the expression “Hamor, father of Shechem”(חמור אבי שכם), can also be read “Hammurabi’s shoulder” (חמוראבי שכם). This expression therefore suggests that Shechem was the ally of Babylon when it formed a covenant with king Hammurabi. In fact, standing “shoulder to shoulder” is something one does in times of a deadly threat and against an enemy. And I do explain in the book how Hammurabi was motivated to make a covenant with Abraham in order to secure control over the remote Valley of Siddim. Finally, the name Dinah (דינה) is the feminine of “din” (דין), which means “law” in reference to the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, which includes the Torah (i.e. the original five books of the Old Testament).
With all the right clues in hand, Genesis 34 reveals itself to recount one of the most tragic and long lasting struggle of the Samaritans to be recognized by their Israelites brethren as legitimate heirs to the Covenant. This struggle originated in the 9th or 8th century BCE and continues to this day.
Indeed, and despite the fact that they share the Torah, the Samaritans have always been in conflicts with the Israelites because they reject the later prophets. The Samaritans only recognize the Torah as the true word of God.
In Genesis 34, the fact that Jacob’s son (i.e. Israel) request that the Shechemites (i.e. Samaritans) get circumcised (a sign of the covenant) implies that by adopting their standards, the Shechemites would be accepted as equals. However, the Israelites tricked the Shechemites. They felt that the idolatry of the Shechemites was corrupting their divine “laws”. So when the author of Genesis 34 writes that Jacob’s sons slew Hamor and his son Shechem, he indicates that the Israelites put an end to this idolatry by eradicating the cult of Baal Berith. As for the sons of Shechem, the author is likely referring to the massacre related in Judge 9 which recounts how a thousand Shechemites were mercilessly slain by king Abimelech after they had found refuge in the tower of Baal Berith. There is no doubt that the Shechemites payed the heavy price for holding on to their original beliefs. Incidentally, the only other significant reference to Hamor in the Bible is in Judge.
Judge 9:28 “Who is Abimelek, and why should we Shechemites be subject to him? … Serve the family of Hamor, Shechem’s father! Why should we serve Abimelek?”
Clearly, the Shechemites wanted to continue serving the family of “Hamor, Shechem’s father” or “Hammurabi’s shoulder” (חמוראבי שכם), which presumably could be referring to the legitimate descendants of Abraham, Hammurabi’s ally, and still referred to as the “father” of the faith to this day.
The fact that Jacob, in the story, expresses his anger and fears retaliation, suggests that this metaphor was composed by an Israelite priest who found the situation unjust and sought to record this tragic incident by discretely integrating it as part of the story of the Patriarchs. Was this priest aware of the connection linking the Covenant with king Hammurabi, or had it simply become customary at that time to refer to the Shechemites as the “sons of the ass”? I believe he was aware otherwise he would not have repeated ad nauseam the expression “Hamor, father of Shechem”, as if the reader would not get who Hamor was, on the first mention of his relationship with his son. This constant repetition was more likely a clever literary device meant to be understood as “Hammurabi’s shoulder” by the initiates. If the Shechemites were referred to as “sons of Hamor” because they made a covenant with Baal Berith, then Baal Berith clearly refers to Hammurabi.
Of course, only those aware of this connection can decipher the true meaning of this story… No wonder Genesis 34 has kept everyone in the dark for so long!
To summarize, I believe that Genesis 34 is a real gem as it offers an amazing play on word that reveals itself as an efficient metaphor. It records the enduring conflict between the sons of Jacob (i.e. Israel) and the Shechemites (i.e. the Samaritans) over the adoption of Dina (i.e. the Hebrew Bible) and the eradication of Hamor and Shechem (i.e. the worship of Baal Berith/Hammurabi by the inhabitant of Shechem). The period of history when the early-Israelites sought to purge the Shechemites because they were still practicing idolatry and wanted to remain true to the original cult of Baal Berith might represent the most tragic and shameful past of Israel. The fact that this story is unlikely to have been written prior to the 9th century BCE suggests that some members of the priesthood were still aware that their covenant had been made with king Hammurabi almost a thousand year before. As such, Genesis 34 might have been written to preserve their memory…
I’ve never been a fan of conspiracy theories and I have always assumed that the connection between Hammurabi, Baal Berith, and Yahweh had been lost a long, long time ago. However, given this text must be a relatively late composition, and given the level of care with which the Israelites have preserved their knowledge and heritage throughout history, one is left wondering if anyone else knows…
PS: If you haven’t read my book, it is likely that you will find the link between “Hamor, father of” and “Hammurabi” weak. That’s expected as you are missing the critical background information already linking Abraham’s Covenant to Hammurabi. This said, you should still be able to appreciate the fact that this interpretation does offer an excellent explanation as to why the people of Shechem would be referred to as “sons of the ass”. You should also wonder why Shechem’s father happens to be named “Hamor”, a very unique name in the Bible…
This post is dedicated to Mark S. Smith, Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature & Exegesis at Princeton University for his remarkable contribution to the field of biblical research.
 Toorn, K. Van Der, Bob Becking and Pieter Willem Van Der Horst. 1999. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids: Brill ; Eerdmans. p.143
34 And Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.
2 And when Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her.
3 And his soul fastened on Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the maiden, and spoke consolingly to the maiden.
4 And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, Take me this girl as wife.
5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his cattle in the fields, and Jacob said nothing until they came.
6 And Hamor the father of Shechem came out to Jacob, to speak to him.
7 And the sons of Jacob came from the fields when they heard [it]; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry, because he had wrought what was disgraceful in Israel, in lying with Jacob’s daughter, which thing ought not to be done.
8 And Hamor spoke to them, saying, My son Shechem’s soul cleaves to your daughter: I pray you, give her to him as wife.
9 And make marriages with us: give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to you.
10 And dwell with us, and the land shall be before you: dwell and trade in it, and get yourselves possessions in it.
11 And Shechem said to her father and to her brethren, Let me find favour in your eyes; and what ye shall say to me I will give.
12 Impose on me very much as dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say to me; but give me the maiden as wife.
13 And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and spoke—because he had defiled Dinah their sister—
14 and said to them, We cannot do this, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that [were] a reproach to us.
15 But only in this will we consent to you, if ye will be as we, that every male of you be circumcised;
16 then will we give our daughters to you, and take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and be one people.
17 But if ye do not hearken to us, to be circumcised, then will we take our daughter and go away.
18 And their words were good in the eyes of Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son.
19 And the youth did not delay to do this, because he had delight in Jacob’s daughter. And he was honourable above all in the house of his father.
20 And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke to the men of their city, saying,
21 These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade in it. And the land—behold, it is of wide extent before them. We will take their daughters as wives, and give them our daughters.
22 But only in this will the men consent to us to dwell with us, to be one people—if every male among us be circumcised, just as they are circumcised.
23 Their cattle, and their possessions, and every beast of theirs, shall they not be ours? only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.
24 And all that went out at the gate of his city hearkened to Hamor and to Shechem his son; and every male was circumcised—all that went out at the gate of his city.
25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.
26 And Hamor and Shechem his son they slew with the edge of the sword; and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house; and went out.
27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister.
28 Their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and what [was] in the city, and what [was] in the field they took;
29 and all their goods, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and plundered them, and all that was in the houses.
30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me, in that ye make me odious among the inhabitants of the land—among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and I am few men in number, and they will gather themselves against me and smite me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.
31 And they said, Should people deal with our sister as with a harlot?