Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dating Hammurabi?

As historians and archaeologists sift through the piles of cuneiform tablets (some clay, some stone) from the Ancient Near East, establishing dates for various events is a priority. Some events can be fixed very precisely: we know that Sennacherib was murdered in January of 681 BC, for example.

We likewise have clear information about the years of kings like Cyrus, Darius, David, Saul, Solomon, and Xerxes. We have only approximate information concerning the years of Abraham and Moses.

Other events have so far eluded exact dating: there is no doubt the Hammurabi was politically active in the 1700's, but we lack a clear consensus about the years his reign began and ended. Some scholars place his coronation prior to 1750 BC, others after.

Given that these data have been both translated and transliterated, alternate spellings should not surprise us: Hammurabi can also be Hammurapi. An interesting, but unproven, hypothesis identifies Hammurabi with Amraphel in Genesis 14:1; Amraphel is there identified as the ruler of Babylonia. If this were true, Abraham would thus have come into personal contact (or conflict!) with Hammurabi.