BABEL to AVRAM
Tuesday June 19:
Genesis Chapter 14
Don’t get lost in all the proper names of the ‘kings’. This account of tribal war among neighbours is hard to hear in terms of our nation-states and monarchies. Imagine something closer to Mario Puzo’s Godfather trilogy, where dons figure out who will pay tribute to whom.
You might visualize an alliance of 5 sheiks rising up against Chedorlaomer who has been busy subduing a wider region, making room for these clients of 13 years standing to rise up. Foolish Lot joins up with his neighbours, the insurrectionists. In a battle in the Valley of Siddim, Lot’s allies from Sodom and Gomorrah are mired in the bitumen or tar pits, unable to fight or escape.
Avram comes to rescue his cousin, far up north in Damascus. Avram beats Cherdolaomer, and comes back south down the major trade route, the Kings’ Highway. In the Kings’ Valley, the King of Sodom comes out to greet Avram. So does the King of Salem, who is also a priest, Melchizedek, who shares a ritual meal of bread and wine with Avram.
Just as the myths of prehistory placed the earliest worship of Yahweh in the days of Noah, so now the earliest priesthood that is not idolatrous is identified, along with religious ritual. Jewish Passover and Christian Communion trace origins to this event. Melchizedek offers Avram blessing, and Avram tithes from his booty to Melchizedek, the roots of a religious cult financed by tithes.
The King of Sodom, however, proposes to take back the hostages of his city, which Avram has freed from Damascus, while granting Avram the booty. Avram refuses the booty, though he takes reimbursement for his actual campaign costs, and the normal booty share for his subordinate commanders. He himself
prohibits Sodom from claiming to have enriched Avram, whose motives are higher in saving his nephew Lot, in the name of the one God.
The polemic about those eastern tribes, on the plain, in the Transjordan, is told from the perspective of the hills of Judah and Israel. The ethnic slurs and prejudice of Judah and Israel, against those on the east bank, are rationalized. Can we never affirm an ‘us’ without demeaning ‘them’, or assert pride for ourselves without projecting shame upon others?
What motivates warriors? Honour, valour, or utilitarian calculus of profit? What motivates citizens? Loyalty to group, or utilitarian calculus of class? Coriolanus is playing in Stratford this season, with a contemporary take on this tragedy.