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Four Empires

In the life of the patriarch Avraham as found Parashat Lech Lecha (Gen.12:1–17:27)

we encounter a prophetic mode expressed as Ma'asei Avot siman la-banim or “the experiences of the Patriarchs foreshadow the experiences of their descendants.” The phrase, Lech Lecha or “go for yourself” speaks of a path and a destination: “A land I will show you,” This path is the model that permeates the history of the Jewish People. Individually and collectively they have continually responded to a delicate circuitry etched into their consciousness by the powerful experiences of Avraham. This idea does not negate Free Will. it reveals a mysterious process that allows the Chosen People to navigate their path through history.

In the year 2018, on the evening of the 15th of Nissan, Avraham asks HaShem how will he know that his offspring will inherit The Land he has been told to go to. God’s response is to tell the patriarch to offer five kosher animals. He experiences a deep sleep filled with panoramic vision of history, troubled by thick darkness. This darkness is symbolic of a future filled with oppression under Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

Five years later, in 2023, Avraham will battle the Four Kings who are the founders of the aforementioned empires. This was much more than a military skirmish — it was a turning point in the history of the world.

One of the four monarchs was called Amraphel—another name for Nimrod. There is an enlightening discussion, in the Talmud, between Rabbi Abba Arikha (known simply as Rav) and Rabbi Samuel Yahina’ah (Shmuel). Rav argued that Nimrod was the actual name of the tyrant while Shmuel countered by pointing out that the name is only evocative since it is derived from merod, meaning “to rebel,” and therefore it was not his real name. If Nimrod is a corruption of his real name, it would be in keeping with the commandment not to utter or write the name of an idol. There is much evidence to suggest that Nimrod may have been known to modern scholars by another name or title. Amraphel could be a corruption or pun derived from Hammurabi. Famous for the Code of Hammurabi, this ancient ruler is thought to have arrived much later than the era of Abraham. The name could have been bestowed on successive heirs who took his throne. Though Hammurabi is famous for establishing some of the first laws in history, their very harshness suggests a Nimrod-like ruler. Infractions such as harboring a runaway slave, refusing military service or theft were all punishable by death.

Hammurabi was actually called Ammurapi. H. W. F. Sagg, author of The Babylonians, notes that Ammurapi “was probably pronounced Khammurapi.”

If Nimrod and Khammurapi are one and the same, then the latter appellation is surely incorporates and honors Kham, known to most English readers as Ham, the grandfather of Nimrod. Saggs states that Khammurapi was the greatest ruler of Babylon’s First Dynasty and created a realm larger than modern Iraq.

There is an additional linguistic connection between Ammurapi and Amraphel allowed by exchangeable “p” sound and “f” sound as found in the Semitic tongue. It is quite plausible that the Torah is denying this rogue any honor by altering Ammurapi into a pun, calling him Amraphel, literally “he caused the people to fall.” It was Nimrod/Amraphel who organized the people at Shinar, or Sumer, the very foundation of the Babylonian Empire and its first dynasty.

Another of the Four Kings, Chedorlaomer was the head of the Elamite mountain clans that later developed into the Persian Empire. Prior to the building of the Tower, he was a prince serving under the leadership of Nimrod. After the dispersion from the Babel, Chedorlaomer rebelled against Nimrod and led a contingent to settle the land between what is now Iraq and Iran. It is likely, that he is known to us in historical accounts as Kudurmabuk of Larsa.

The king called Arioch was the leader of Ellasar. The name suggests Elishah, the son of Javan and ancestor of the Ionians or Greeks. A son of Javan, Elishah could be another form of Ellasar. Elishah is progenitor of the Hellenes, another name for the Greeks. Elisha is probably the source for the name of the place called the Elysian Fields. These linguistic clues link Arioch to the earliest beginnings of ancient Greece.

Finally, Tidal was called king of Goiim and is thought to be the ruler that historians call Tudhalia, a Hittite king. According to the lengthy Torah commentary known as MeAm Lo’Ez, Tidal led a collective of nations. This source also notes that Goiim was a site located on the Italian Peninsula. This suggests that the culture that would eventually be a component of the Roman Empire.

Note how this account of Abraham’s clash with these four titans reveals a marvelous foreshadowing of world events. One man, the progenitor of the Jewish nation, and his small army of faithful take on the founders of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome and defeated them. Abraham’s experience with the four kings is more evidence that the lives of the forefathers foreshadow the experiences of their descendants. Abraham’s bold move against the four monarchs is a prophetical vision of how his descendants, the nation of Israel (the smallest of people) would survive and outlast enormous empires that attempted to absorb and erase them.

As we shall see, there will be continued references to these four empires throughout the Bible and in commentaries from the Jewish Sages.

This is a struggle that shapes the character of Avraham’s descendants via the rigors of history. But God shows Avraham that even before those empires emerge, his descendants will endure varying levels of servitude culminating in the miracles and emancipation of the Exodus. The monumental “Covenant Between the Pieces” made the night of 15th Nissan, takes place exactly 430 years prior to the Exodus from Egypt.

The Exodus experience indelibly marks Israel as the inheritors of the land shown to Avraham. This covenant is a binding agreement by which the Creator bequeaths the Promised Land to Avraham’s descendants.

Today, Avraham’s heirs, the Jewish People are defending their right to possess that Land. The current war, waged by proxies of those same empires, want to dispossess the Jews of their land and wipe out the Jewish nation of Israel. But just as Avraham emerged victorious against the four kings, the Jewish People will prevail and eventually fulfill the ultimate mission that began with Avraham: To bring the entire world to belief in the one true God of Avraham.


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