Biblical Archaeology Review 45:6, November/December 2019

First Person: From Shalem to Jerusalem

By Robert R. Cargill

I recently published a book titled Melchizedek, King of Sodom: How Scribes Invented the Biblical Priest-King.1 A highly technical book, it contains much textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible. It specifically examines Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek and the king of Sodom in Genesis 14, the notoriously difficult-to-translate Psalm 110, and a discussion of the origin of the toponym Mt. Moriah in Genesis 22. Controversially, I argue that Melchizedek was the king of Sodom.

In two of the chapters, however, I found my research leading me to an equally controversial topic involving Jerusalem. As readers of BAR know, anything concerning Jerusalem is bound to incite controversy.

Simply put, contrary to what the Genesis Apocryphon, Josephus, the Aramaic Targums, and other interpretive traditions of the late Second Temple period say, I argue that Shalem (or Salem as it often appears in the Bible) was never an early or alternate name for Jerusalem. That is to say, despite the prevalence of this popular tradition based on the recognizable presence of the syllables “shalem/salem” in the name “Jerusalem,” I suggest that Shalem was never an early name for Jerusalem. And because of this, I contend that prior to the Second Temple period, Shalem was not understood to be Jerusalem.

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