In Genesis 14:18, Mechizedek is introduced as the king of Salem (מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵם). HALOT gives several possible interpretations, citing Josephus (1:181) in support of its identification with Jerusalem:

τὴν μέντοι Σολυμᾶ ὕστερον ἐκάλεσεν Ἱεροσόλυμα
But afterward they called Soluma* Jerusalem

Also, Psalm 76:2/3 seems to equate a place called Salem with Zion:

וַיְהִ֣י בְשָׁלֵ֣ם סֻכּ֑וֹ וּמְע֖וֹנָת֣וֹ בְצִיּֽוֹן׃
His abode has been established in Salem | his dwelling place in Zion.

However, the author of Hebrews (7:2) translates it as if it were not a proper name (sort of) and doesn’t mention any association with Jerusalem:

βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ, ὅ ἐστιν βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης

BDAG also doesn’t say anything about Σαλήμ (used in the NT only in Hebrews 7) meaning Jerusalem.

  • Is Salem in Genesis 14 referring to the city we know as Jerusalem?
  • If so, what is the meaning of the first part of that word (- יְרוּ) that dropped off?**

*The context makes it clear that this is referring to Gen 14:18, but I’m not following why Σαλημ (LXX, where it appears to be an indeclinable genitive) is now Σολυμᾶ (also apparently indeclinable, used both as gen. and acc. there). Ἱεροσόλυμα and Ἰερουσαλήμ also seem to be interchangeable in the NT.

**I ask because in Greek, I want to associate it with ἱερός, but it’s obviously a Hebrew word — perhaps that derivation goes the other way?

  • I just took a look at the faq for this site and it listed questons about Greek and Hebrew off topic (i.e. questions not to ask) but I find questions like that being asked and answered. What do I not understand? Thanks. Commented May 6, 2015 at 20:14
  • @C.StirlingBartholomew Thank you for reading the FAQ! Such questions are off if they are not seeking to understand a specific biblical text. Please feel free to participate in Meta discussions on the matter if you have thoughts about how this should be implemented.
    – Susan
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 22:27
  • @Susan See Smith, George Adam. "THE NAME JERUSALEM AND ITS HISTORY", Jerusalem. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. pp. 250-265. [PDF]. Commented May 9, 2015 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


Yes, though ‘Jerusalem’ is not a Hebrew word we can properly parse because it’s a transliteration of an older Semitic word. As a city name Jerusalem predates the Hebrew language by at least a millennium; its first known appearance is in Egyptian execration texts in the 20th century BCE. According to Yisrael Shalem, the exact pronunciation of the hieroglyph is uncertain but probably sounded like ‘rushalimum’. The name also appears in the 14th century BCE Amarna letters, and later Akkadian texts refer to the city as Urusilimu. The original Hebrew pronunciation probably sounded like ‘Yerushalem’. Jerusalem is therefore the English transliteration of the Hebrew transliteration of the city's original Canaanite name.

Given its Canaanite origins, Jerusalem likely means ‘the city of Shalem’ or ‘foundation of Shalem’, Shalem being the Canaanite god of dusk (or the evening star) in the Semitic pantheon. Jerusalem is therefore a theophoric name, containing within it the name of its tutelary deity. Shalem may also have lent his name to the city of Salim near Shechem (Gen.33:18, Jn.3:23).

Gen.14:18 calls Melchizedek the king of Shalem (שָׁלֵם, H8004), which most scholars equate with Jerusalem. The only other biblical occurrence of this word is Ps.76:2 where Shalem parallels Zion, making the association with Jerusalem clear.

At some point, though, ‘shalem’ lost its cultural connection to the Canaanite divinity and instead came to connote peace, as reflected in the Hebrew root word שָׁלַם (shalam, H7999). The Christian writer of Hebrews 7:2 can therefore write, “First, the name Melchi-zedek means 'king of righteousness'; then also, 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace'” (NIV). The old Canaanite gods Tzedek and Shalem live on, but now only as the godly virtues of ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’, respectively, and Jerusalem is the hoped for City of Peace.

  • 1
    You are presuming hyperbolic-monotheism did not exist 5000 years ago. You are presuming those who received Tzedek and Shalem, were not hyperbolic-monotheists. We do read, and many Chinese Christians' linguistic paleontology and cultural history points to their having a history of hyperbolic-monotheism. To allow the idea that Chinese had monotheistic urges, but not the ancestors of Jews, is quite ... unnerving.
    – Cynthia
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 8:29
  • Thanks, @BlessedGeek. This may be of interest: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canaanite_religion
    – Schuh
    Commented May 12, 2015 at 17:21

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