The Second Coming of Saturn Part 9: The Well of Souls

We can only speculate, because it’s not explicit in the Bible, but the Hurrians’ worship of netherworld gods at Urkesh may be the reason Abraham insisted that Isaac not go back there:

And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” (Genesis 24:2–8, emphasis added)

The route from Urkesh to Harran to Canaan was well-known to the Hurrians, so it’s not surprising at all that would Abraham follow it. The Bible (and archaeology) reveals that Hurrians were scattered all over the lands of the Bible. We first encounter them in Genesis 14:1–16, where we read of a military expedition led by Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam (western Iran), against enemies in the Transjordan and around the Dead Sea. The king and his Mesopotamian allies defeated a coalition led by the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, who’d rebelled against Chedorlaomer’s rule after serving him for twelve years. The battle was probably fought just north of the Dead Sea, possibly on the plain between Mount Nebo and Jericho.[1]

 Route of the army of Chedorlaomer (Gen. 14:1-16). Note the battle with the Horites (Hurrians) somewhere in the area of Mount Sinai

This appears to have been what modern politicians might call a “police action” by the kings of the east to assert their control over the profitable trade route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. The King’s Highway crossed the Sinai Peninsula, turned northward at Aqaba, continued through the Arabah past Petra, then up the Transjordan to Damascus, and from there to the Euphrates by way of Tadmor (Palmyra). In the days of Abraham and Lot, Sodom, almost certainly the ruins called “Tall el-Hammam” about eight and a half miles northeast of the Dead Sea, dominated the south end of the Jordan valley. The city’s massive walls enclosed about eighty-five acres, and the occupied zone outside the walls included about 240 acres.[2] Sodom was the largest city in the southern Levant behind only Hazor and Ashkelon. For comparison, at that time, Jerusalem and Jericho covered only twelve and ten acres, respectively.[3]

We’ve covered the spiritual significance of Sodom elsewhere.[4] It’s our belief that the city was the center of worship devoted to Baal Peor, the lord of the entrance to the underworld (about whom more later). The relevant point here is that the kings of the east fought a series of battles against tribal groups either identified as Rephaim or linked to the giants before confronting troops from the cities of the plain in the valley across the Jordan River from Jericho. This is the most logical place for the battle, given that Sodom holds a commanding defensive position on a spur overlooking the plain.

Chedorlaomer’s army moved south along the King’s Highway as far south as the Red Sea, and then marched north through the Arabah and along the west side of the Dead Sea. Its first battle was against the Rephaim at Ashteroth-karnaim, one of the cities named as the center of Bashan, the kingdom ruled by Og, last “of the remnant of the Rephaim.”[5] The Mesopotamian force likewise had to deal with tribes of Emim and Zamzummim, whom we learn in Deuteronomy were as “tall as the Anakim,” and like the Anakim, linked to the Rephaim. Other battles were fought with the Amalekites at En-mishpat, another name for Kadesh, where the Israelites spent many years during their wanderings in the wilderness, and against the Amorites at Hazazon-tamar, identified as Ein Gedi on the west side of the Dead Sea.[6]

There was one other battle, and it’s this one that attracts our interest: Before turning north to face the Amalekites and Amorites, the army from the east encountered “the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness.”[7] This verse places the Horites in the vicinity of Mount Sinai in the time of Abraham. “Paran” was an alternate name for Sinai,[8] and “Seir” generally refers to the land of Edom, where the Shara mountains rise along the east side of the Arabah valley that connects the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.

Many believe that Mount Sinai is the mountain called Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia. We’ll address that in a future book, but for now, the important detail is the link between Sinai, Seir, Paran, and the Horites. Why is this significant? Because the Horites, as you’ve probably guessed from the similarity of the names, were Hurrians.[9] And that establishes the presence of this people, their culture, and their religion in the Holy Land centuries before Moses and the Israelites escaped from Egypt. Indeed, the Bible tells us that the inhabitants of the land descended from Seir the Horite,[10] who apparently gave his name to the region south of the Dead Sea. To this day, Mount Hor, where Moses’ brother Aaron died and was buried, is identified as Jabal Hārūn, one of the peaks overlooking Petra in Jordan.[11]

The Hurrians in the Transjordan during Abraham’s day were pushed out by the descendants of Esau.[12] But they remained in control of two important cities in Israel down to the time of David: Shechem and Jerusalem.

Chapter 34 of the book of Genesis describes an unpleasant encounter between the family of Jacob and the citizens of Shechem, which was ruled by “Hamor the Hivite.” However, the Septuagint translation of the verse uses the Greek word Chorraios, which means the Jewish translators probably worked with an older Hebrew text that described Hamor as ḥōrî rather than ḥivî—in other words, Hurrian and not Hivite.[13] Scholars have pointed out that the practice of a married couple living with or near the husband’s father’s group, while not typical Israelite practice, is attested in Hurrian texts found at Nuzi,[14] an ancient Mesopotamian city located near modern Kirkuk, Iraq.

Quick sidebar: Believe it or not, the Hivites of the Old Testament were actually Greeks. The Hebrew ḥivî probably derives from Hiyawa,[15] a Luwian (south Anatolian) form of Ahhiyawa, the Hittites’ name for the Achaeans, who were the Mycenaean Greeks in Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. Short form equation: Hivite = Hiyawa = Ahhiyawa = Achaean = Greek.

This in turn helps to explain the presence of Anakim in Canaan in the days of Joshua, about two hundred years before the Trojan War: The name Anakim derives from anax, a Greek noun with four meanings: “the gods, Homeric heroes, the master of the house and ship masters).”[16] The Anakim, who were probably mentioned in Egyptian texts about five hundred years before Joshua and the Israelites chased them out of the hill country of Canaan,[17] were a hereditary ruling class, a proto-Greek aristocracy in Canaan.[18] Not surprisingly, pottery and DNA[19] evidence shows that the Philistines, a thorn in the side of the Israelites from the time of the judges through the reign of David, were originally Mycenaean Greeks from Crete and mainland Greece.[20]

But back to Shechem: Scholars note that Hamor’s name, which means “donkey,” probably wasn’t included in the Genesis account by an Israelite scribe as an insult, as we might suspect, but as a reference to the Near Eastern practice of sacrificing a donkey to confirm a treaty.[21] The prospect of a deal with Jacob’s family is what induced the men of Shechem to agree to be circumcised. “Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.”[22]

By the time of Jacob in the nineteenth century BC, an influx of proto-Indo-Aryans into the Near East brought new gods and a ruling elite class to the Hurrian homeland in the Khabur River region, and eventually to all of the lands of the Bible. The Hurrians emerged as a regional power with a kingdom based in northern Mesopotamia called Mitanni. Between the seventeenth and fourteenth centuries BC, Mitanni rivaled Egypt and the Hittite empire in size and power, struggling with both for control over what would become the Holy Land. The relevant point here is that the Hurrians introduced worship of the treaty-god Mitra to the Levant,[23] and it appears that Shechem was an important cult center for this god for centuries.

More than four hundred years later, the city of Shechem rebelled against the family of Gideon. Despite ridding the land of marauding Midianites with his valiant band of three hundred, the people of Shechem, who still identified as sons of Hamor,[24] backed a play by Abimelech, Gideon’s son by his Shechemite concubine, to kill his half-brothers and prevent the establishment of a ruling dynasty—something that was hinted at by Abimelech’s name, which means “My Father the King.”

The book of Judges records that “as soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.”[25] “Baal-berith” means “lord of the covenant,” a descriptive term for the Hurrian treaty-god, Mitra. And money from the temple of Baal-berith paid the assassins of Gideon’s sons:

And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. (Judges 9:4–5a)

The spiritual significance of Shechem, attested in texts written a thousand years before the Exodus, is too big a story to tell in a few paragraphs, but we can highlight several important events that occurred at the city:

  • God appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Moreh, on a hill overlooking Shechem (probably Mount Gerizim), to confirm that He would give the land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:6–7).
  • Jacob buried the teraphim stolen by Rachel from her father under that oak (Genesis 35:4).
  • God told Moses and Joshua to designate Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, which overlook the city, the mountains of the blessing and the curse, respectively (Deuteronomy 11:29).
  • Joshua renewed the covenant with God at Shechem (Joshua 24:1–28), presumably on Mount Ebal (v. 26: “The sanctuary of the LORD”).
  • The Samaritans live to this day on Mount Gerizim (which is not the same mountain as the mountain of the blessing in Joshua’s day, but that’s a topic for another time), and believe that the Jews are descendants of a faction that followed the high priest Eli to Shiloh in the eleventh century, thus usurping the priesthood from the sons of Aaron’s grandson Phinehas.[26]

The idolatry of the Israelites just a couple of centuries later must have seemed like a victory to the rebellious small-ggods of the pagans. To this day, Shechem (modern Nablus) is a point of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians—and, of course, between rebellious principalities and powers and the God who created them.

Likewise, the struggle for the city where God has placed His Name, Jerusalem, is ancient. God signaled His intention to claim it almost four thousand years ago when He directed Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah. Based on 2 Chronicles 3:1, we can identify this as the location of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, purchased by David on the orders of the angel of YHWH, delivered by the prophet Gad. This piece of ground is where Solomon built the Temple.[27] As you know, those thirty-seven acres of real estate are hotly contested by Jews, Muslims, and various denominations of Christians to this day.

Here’s the bit that connects the story to this chapter: It’s accepted by scholars that the name “Araunah” in 2 Samuel 24 (“Ornan” in 1 Chronicles 21) is probably not a proper name, but a title based on the Hurrian word ewri-, which means “lord” or “ruler.”[28] In other words, Araunah was probably the king of the Jebusites at Jerusalem. He may even have been a priest-king because there is evidence from the ancient world that threshing floors were considered portals—points of contact between this world and the spirit realm.[29]

 Well of Souls beneath the Temple Mount (1881 illustration)

Interestingly, there is a cave underneath the Dome of the Rock, directly below the Foundation Stone, that’s believed to be where David offered his sacrifice after buying Araunah’s threshing floor. The cave is attested as early as AD 333 by an anonymous pilgrim from near Bordeaux, France,[30] but since the Middle Ages it’s been called the Well of Souls, based on an Islamic legend that one can hear the spirits of the dead awaiting Judgment Day—similar to the souls who’d been slain for the word of God crying out from under the altar in heaven at the opening of the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9–11.

Can we connect this cave under the Temple Mount to the Hurrians of three thousand years ago? No, not yet. We don’t know anything about the early use of the cave. As you can guess, archaeology underneath the Dome of the Rock, especially work that might confirm an Israelite presence on the Temple Mount prior to 1967, would be met with violent resistance.

But that possibility does point our way to the next article, where we’ll see just why this Hurrian connection between the Caucasus and the Holy Land is important.

Next: Ritual pits and Rephaim


[1] For the location of Sodom at Tall el-Hammam, Jordan, about 8.5 miles northeast of the Dead Sea, see Steven Collins and Latayne C. Scott, Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament’s Most Infamous City (New York: Howard Books, 2013).

[2] Collins & Scott, op.cit., p. 157.

[3] Leen Ritmeyer, “Chart Showing Relative Sizes of Major Cities in the Levant.” Steven Collins, Carroll M. Kobs, and Michael C. Luddeni, The Tall Al-Hammam Excavations: An Introduction to Tall al-Hammam with Seven Seasons (2005–2011) of Ceramics and Eight Seasons (2005–2012) of Artifacts, Vol. 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015), pp. 173, 174.

[4] Gilbert & Gilbert (2019), op.cit., pp. 51–72.

[5] Deuteronomy 3:11.

[6] 2 Chronicles 2:20.

[7] Genesis 14:6.

[8] Deuteronomy 33:2, Habakkuk 3.

[9] Nicolas Wyatt, “A Ritual Response to a Natural Disaster: KTU 1.119.31 = RS 24.266.31 Revisited.” Ugarit-Forschungen 50 (2019), p. 454.

[10] Genesis 36:20.

[11] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4.4.7.

[12] Deuteronomy 2:12, 22.

[13] Nicolas Wyatt, “The Story of Dinah and Shechem.” In The Archaeology of Myth (London: Equinox, 2010), p. 20.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Billie Jean Collins, “The Bible, the Hittites, and the Construction of the ‘Other’.” In Tabularia Hethaeorum: Hethitologische Beiträge Silvin Košak zum 65. Geburtstag. Dresdner Beiträgezur Hethitologie 25 (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 2007), p. 154.

[16] E. C. B. MacLaurin, “Anak/ʾανξ.” Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 15, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1965), p. 472.

[17] “The Execration of Asiatic Princes.” In J. B. Pritchard (Ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 328.

[18] MacLaurin, op. cit., pp. 469–470, 474.

[19] Feldman et al, “Ancient DNA Sheds Light on the Genetic Origins of Early Iron Age Philistines.” Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 7 (2019)., retrieved 2/20/21.

[20] “The Philistines in Canaan and Palestine.” Luwian Studies., retrieved 2/20/21.

[21] Martin Noth, “Old Testament Covenant-making in the Light of a Text from Mari.” In The Laws of the Pentateuch and other Essays (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1966), pp. 108–17.

[22] Genesis 34:23.

[23] Wyatt (2010), op. cit., p. 21.

[24] Judges 9:28.

[25] Judges 8:33.

[26] Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, The Keepers: An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2002), pp. 10–12.

[27] See 2 Samuel 24:18–25 and 1 Chronicles 21:18–30.

[28] Michael T. Winger, The “God of the Fathers” and Self-Identification in the Hebrew Bible (PhD dissertation: UCLA, 2017), p. 81.

[29] We discuss threshing floors as portals in Veneration, especially pp. 109–126.

[30] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, 5th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 97.

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