An Overlooked (or Ignored?) Situation in Bible Scholarship
Authored by: Tov Rose
Copyright © 2000-2013
I was working on a chapter about Abraham and thought I'd see if anyone had ideas about the subject. The following is based on the responses. You can take it as tongue in cheek, or as serious, depending on your trust in the accuracy of formal scholarship. Was this topic something people would be interested in hearing more about? Did they have ideas about what direction I should take it? Here are some of the issues that came up, but first my initial thoughts:
- Where exactly was Father Abraham from and who were his people?
- What was the culture of that area like?
- What Empire(s) controlled the area where he grew up?
- Were they a democracy, Did they have a caste system, like in India, were they are nation of sorcerers (etc)?
- Father Abraham had many sons, but just how many “sons” did this prophet of the One True God have?
- Is Abraham recorded in the histories of other cultures besides that of Israel?
- How many followers did the man have in his lifetime?
- Did his message, in his own lifetime, actually travel worldwide?
- Was Abraham a powerful king known all over the world?
Assuming that his message did not travel the world is just one more "small world" view that Bible Scholars seem to have when it comes to the Bible Characters. It seems they regularly make the case that people from that time period simply stayed in their own relatively small geographic location, despite archaeological evidence around the world to the contrary.
Have we grown so used to the orthodox ecclesiastically accepted stories that we’ve completely overlooked the facts in the Bible story itself, such as that the Biblical Abraham was in fact a very powerful man? Josephus, the first century Jewish historian says of Abraham:
Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt at the time, descended on this land with an immense army and seized Sarah the Princess, mother of our nation. And what did our forefather Abraham do? Did he avenge the insult by force of arms? Yet he had three hundred and eighteen officers under him, with unlimited manpower at his disposal!
Three hundred and eighteen officers, not men, under his command! This brings the story of Genesis 22 into perspective. How else could Abraham have confronted such a large army and then had considerable possessions claimed in the battle of which he offered 10% to Melchezidek. This was a man with an army powerful enough to conquer Egypt to take back his wife! It was obviously quite a sizable army that Abraham and might well have been made up of tens of thousands of men. If this is the case, then what I am proposing not so absurd at all. At the worst it is just an embellishment on what the texts say. The texts don’t explain from what lands the soldiers came from, nor over which people Abraham was such a great leader. Here’s a fact, when confronted by both the Biblcial text and the witness of Josephus (which has been confirmed accurate with each passing decade), how many options do we really have, but to consider Abraham as a powerful king-like leader who could amass a considerable army in a short time to protect what he cares about?
This then leads to the next logical question, how many nations in his era would have such a powerful army?
Making this observation leads you to conclude that that some fundamentals of modern theology might well be far removed from the truth of the Bible. The Christmas card images we’re used to seeing do not reflect the real-world historical facts recorded for us. Here’s the next logical leap—why on earth would a the whole Western world be suddenly transfixed by the philosophy of a family of nomadic sheep-herders wandering around the Negev desert?
Even if this were true, a family who had held their traditions through thousands of years it would make the case against them being illiterate vagabonds. The fact that we have archaeological evidence from thousdands of miles away specifically noting the name of Abraham and Essau scream to us from their graves that they were more than a small band of simple-minded men.
The truth is rather different and rather more believable - Abraham, was an important well-known religious and king-like leader in his day. He was the master of all he surveyed, the most powerful man in the world, who for some reason was called of God and told that one rather smallish section on the Middle East was off limits to him, but would be conquered by his children after 400 years of sorrow in Egypt.
Abraham could have conquered that land easily with his military might, and as seen by other interractions with the inhabitants, they were willing to give it to him out of shear intimidation of his might! (Reference, Shechem, grave for Sarah: Genesis 23:1-20).
Now this would be a real story to set the scribes of multiple cultures in the ancient world to scribbling—and in fact they did. The story of this man’s sons and forefathers, his mighty deeds and works were recorded in more than just the Bible. They were recorded in various cultures from India to Egypt, and his name is revered as “Holy” in many other cultures from ancient India to the Mayans of South America.
Unlike the tales of a simply nomadic sheepherding family, each and every schoolchild and descendent of many cultures would be forced to learn by rote the names and accomplishments of this significant family. And in their own culture the stories would be ingrained into the national psyche. This is the kind of family that can trace their history through 70 generations!
As with Jesus, one of the greatest members of this same family, this dynasty spawned an uncountable number books and tales all over the world. Jesus' nation, the Jewish people, have always had an overriding fascination with genealogy. This leads to the important question of why?
The reason is now clear, with their aristocracy perhaps descended from a line of divinely-touched kings ancient kings known as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I think we have all the explanation needed. Royal dynasties to this day have the same fascination for their family history, because the family's entire existence depends solely on proving their legitimacy.
Here are some additional interesting thoughts which may or may not be appropriate for this discussion:
- Abraham was born 3 years after Noah died. Did Abraham then know some of Noah’s children and grandchildren? How about Great Grand Children, such as Nimrod?
- At least one of Noah's sons was still alive and in fact he lived until after Abraham died. That son was Shem, who lived in the region we now know as Egypt.
- According to Rabbinic sources, Shem was in charge of the counsel that sentenced Nimrod to death for his rebellion against God. On an esoteric level you have to wonder if Abraham and Shem ever met...?
- There is a river in India named after Abraham and another named after Sarah! How could this be, if the story of Abraham and Sarah are only to have affected a small part of the Near East?
- The name of Abraham was revered as far away as South America, by the Mayans! Again, the previous question applies, does it not?
I guess this is one of those things that makes me who I am. I can't help but ask the questions no one else (or a small number of people), seem to be asking. Perhaps it is just the Bible scholars who are not asking the questions, or maybe they are, but they can’t report on their findings because “academia” will not allow such questions to be properly raised and debated in polite conversations and conferences. It conflicts with accepted views and Darwinian influenced theology. I say this because it is true. This is the reason the average person doesn’t seem to hear about such facts very often, and when they are heard such are greeted with suspission.
There has been a silencing of truth by “the powers that be” in the accepted academic world. There are topics that are not allowed to be broached or and denied wide public discourse. The subjects inevitably have to do with the truth of the Bible and the stories contained in it.
Just how many “overlooked (or ignored?) Situations are there in Biblical Scholarship?
Far too many, I’m sorry to say. This chapter is just one very small example.
I thought I would just start this chapter off with a bang. I hope you’re still along for the ride?
I figure that by now you realize that I’m not one to shy away from a controversial subject if there happens to be some grain of truth to it.
This one has more than a few grains of truth…
The Ebla Tablets
Dr. Paolo Matthiae, Director of the Italian Archeological Mission in Syria, "hit an archeological jackpot" in 1975. He discovered "the greatest third-millennium [B.C.] archive ever unearthed." It included "more than 15,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments" and unveiled a Semitic empire that dominated the Middle East more than four thousand years ago. Its hub was Ebla, where educated scribes filled ancient libraries with written records of history, people, places and commerce.
"These early tablets display an ease of expression, an elegance that indicates complete mastery of the cuneiform system by the scribes," said Dr. Giovanni Pettinato, former epigraphist of the Italian Mission, who worked closely with Dr. Matthiae. "One can only conclude that writing had been in use at Ebla for a long time before 2500 B.C."
The Ebla tablets verified the worship of pagan gods such as Baal, Dagan and Asherah "known previously only from the Bible." They mention the name "Abraham" and "Ur of Chaldees" (the Biblical Abraham's birthplace) as well as other familiar cities and places:
"The names of cities thought to have been founded much later, such as Beirut and Byblos, leap from the tablets. Damascus and Gaza are mentioned, as well as two of the Biblical cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. ... Most intriguing of all are the personal names found on the Ebla tablets. They include Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau)...."
Destroyed and rebuilt several times, Ebla began its final decline around 1800 B.C. Since new generations settled on top of the old ruins, it left behind a many-layered "TEL" (Looks like a flat-topped hill. Capitalized for emphasis) which archeologists will continue to explore for years to come.
Centuries later, Moses was trained "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). Raised at Pharaoh's court, he would have learned to write on fragile papyrus as well as clay tablets. The 1988 discovery of the TEL el Amarna letters shows us that written messages were an important part of Moses' culture:
"...there were about 400 cuneiform tablets discovered at this site which were part of the royal archives of Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) who reigned about 1400 BC. Among them were letters written in Babylonian cuneiform script to these Pharaohs of Egypt by various kings dwelling in the land of Canaan and Syria... written during the time of Moses [and Joshua]. They provide the first evidence of the Hebrew tribesentering into the land of Canaan in ancient times."
That last sentence points to the completion of the Biblical Exodus -- the Israelite journey, led by Moses, out of bondage in Egypt toward the land God had promised them. Perhaps the "scholars" behind the PBS "documentary" simply chose to ignore the evidence. After all, politically correct deceptions are far more acceptable than facts to a world that no longer tolerates Truth. But that's all the more reason to be ready with answers to those who question our faith. The following archeological finds should help prepare us for the challenges ahead.
The Mari Tablets
Then you have the Mari Tablets, which also confirm the story of Abraham, his father and other figures. It also gives more of the background story, the political and social tensions surrounding Abraham’s leaving Ur.
“Among these artifacts are some 20,000 clay tablets found deep inside in the ruins of the city of Mari in today's Syria. According to The Biblical World, Mari was located on the Euphrates River some 30 miles north of the border between Syria and Iraq. In its time, Mari was a key center on the trade routes between Babylon, Egypt and Persia (today's Iran).
Mari was the capital of King Zimri-Lim in the 18th century B.C. until it was conquered and destroyed by King Hammurabi. In the late 20th century A.D., French archaeologists looking for Mari dug through centuries of sand to uncover Zimri-Lim's former palace. Deep within the ruins, they discovered tablets written in an ancient cuneiform script, one of the first forms of writing.
Some of the tablets have been dated back 200 years before Zimri-Lim's time, which would place them around the same time that the Bible says Abraham's family departed Ur. Information translated from the Mari tablets would seem to indicate that the Sumerian Ur, not Ur of the Chaldeans, is more likely the place where Abraham and his family started their journey.
Genesis 11:31-32 gives no indication why Abraham's father, Terah, would suddenly uproot his large extended family and head toward the city of Haran, which was some 500 miles north of the Sumerian Ur. However, the Mari tablets offer information about political and cultural strife around Abraham's time that scholars think offers clues to their migration.
The Biblical World notes that some of the Mari tablets use words from the Amorite tribes that are also found in Abraham's story, such as his father's name, Terah, and his brothers' names, Nahor and Haran (also ironically the name for their destination). From these artifacts and others, some scholars have concluded that Abraham's family may have been Amorites, a Semitic tribe that began to migrate out of Mesopotamia around 2100 B.C. The Amorites' migration destabilized Ur, which scholars estimate collapsed around 1900 B.C.
As a result of these findings, archaeologists now surmise that those who wanted to escape the era's civil strife had only one direction to go for safety: north. South of Mesopotamia was the sea known now as the Persian Gulf. Nothing but open desert lay to the west. To the east, refugees from Ur would have encountered Elamites, another tribal group from Persia whose influx also hastened Ur's downfall.
Thus archaeologists and biblical historians conclude that it would have been logical for Terah and his family to head north toward Haran to save their lives and livelihoods. Their migration was the first stage in the journey that led Terah's son, Abram, to become the patriarch Abraham whom God in Genesis 17:4 terms ‘the father of a multitude of nations.’”
Physical Confirmation of the Biblcial Story
Abram had a keen business brain, he promoted trade between the Babylonians and the Hittites, becoming wealthy enough to purchase land in Canaan, command his own private army, and even defeated a coalition of Kings. According to Josephus Flavious, 'Antiquities 1-8', later in Egypt, Abram and his wife were honored by Pharaoh himself, a place where he is said to have taught the Egyptian Court mathematics and astronomy which he had learned from the Chaldeans.
Eventually Abram led his people to the land of Canaan, still some of their religious ideas did not eradicate the ancient traditional forms. The city formed was Haran (presently in southern Turkey) and archaeologists havefound that most of the names of his ancestors of his genealogy were names of cities.
In the region of Haran there is unmistakable evidence of the extended Hebrew residence in the vicinity of the Balikh and Habur Rivers, two tributaries of the Euphrates east of the great bend south of ancient Carchemish.
The town of Haran (Gen. 11:31; 12:5) is still in existence on the Balikh River sixty miles west of Tell Halaf. It was flourishing in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries B.C., as is known from in its cuneiform sources. The name appears in Assyrian documents as Harranu ("road") because of the trade route (Damascus-Nineveh-Carchemish). Terah may have chosen Haran because of its idolatry and worship of the moon god.
Town names of Nahor, Serug, and Terah
- The city of Nahor, which was Rebekah’s home (Gen. 24:10) which Abraham sent his servant to bring her for his son Isaac’s wife, occurs often as Nakhur in the Mari tablets, discovered in 1935 and belonging to theeighteenth century B.C. The Mari references and Assyrian records of the seventh century B.C., where Nahor occurs as Til-Nakhiri ("the Mound of Nahor"), located in the Balikh Valley below Haran.
- Serug (Assyrian Sarugi).
- Terah (Til Turakhi, the "Mound of Terah," in Assyrian times).
- Others listed in Genesis 11:10-30 have left traces in this territory, called Paddan-Aram (Aramaic paddana, "field or plain" of Aram) in Genesis (25:20; 26:6, 7; etc.).
- Reu corresponds to later names of towns in the Middle-Euphrates valley.
- Peleg recalls later Paliga on the Euphrates just above the mouth of the Habur.
- Abram + -im or ‘am, father of the multitude or many nations, and the people of God.
 5. Howard LaFay, "Ebla: Splendor of an unknown Empire," National Geographic, December 1978, pp. 735. "The people of the ancient Near East erected their cities on strategic sites with plentiful water. As a result, after destruction at the hands of pillaging armies--and to weaker cities this came as often a once a generation-- the population tended to rebuild on the ruins. Excavating a TEL is like slicing a stack of pancakes; each stratum, with its embedded trove of artifacts, encapsulates history from one catastrophe to the next." (735-736, 740, 754)
 Most of what is told about Terah is recorded in Genesis 11:26-28. Terah's father was Nahor, son of Serug, descendants of Shem.[v.10] They and many of their ancestors were polytheistic. Regarding his children, Terah had three sons: Abram, Haran, and Nahor II.[v.26] He also had a daughter-in-law Sarai, wife of Abram. The entire family, including grandchildren, Terah lived in Ur of the Chaldees.[v.31] One of his grandchildren was Lot, whose father Haran, Terah's son, died while living in Ur.[v.28]
Terah's son, Abram, had an encounter with God who directed him to take the entire family and leave Haran to the land of Canaan. Terah coordinated the journey intending to go to this new land, however, he ended up staying in Haran (biblical place),[v.31] a city that was along the way. He died in Haran at 205 years of age.[v.32] According the Jewish sources, Terah was a wicked  idolatrous priest who manufactured idols. In Jewish tradition, Abram is considered to be the eldest of three sons who was opposed to his father’s idol shop. After Abram smashed his father’s idols and chased customers away, Terah brought his unruly son before Nimrod, who threw him into a fiery furnace, yet Abram miraculously escaped. The Zohar says that when God saved Abram from the furnace, Terah repented  and Rabbi Abba B. Kahana said that God assured Abram that his father Terah had a portion in the World to Come.
In Jewish tradition, Terah was a close confidant and follower of Nimdrod who had betrayed his family. All of his ancestors were still living, including Shem himself, but Terah left his ancestral home and became attached to Nimrod. Terah, who should have been the master and Nimrod his slave, became the slave of Nimrod. Like the other people in that country, Terah believed that Nimrod received his kingdom as a gift from the "gods," and was himself a "god." Terah was prepared to serve Nimrod with all his heart. Indeed, he proved himself a very loyal and useful servant. Nimrod entrusted into his hands the command of his armies and made Terah the highest minister in his land. Nimrod’s concern was that one of Terah’s heirs would appose him for the throne, since they were the rightful heirs to Shem, Noah’s son considered to be royalty. Upon Abram’s birth, Terah hid the boy away. For three years little Abraham remained in the cave, where he did not know day from night. Then he came out of the cave and saw the bright sun in the sky, and thought that it was G-d, who had created the heaven and the earth, and him, too. But in the evening the sun went down, and the moon rose in the sky, surrounded by myriads of stars. "This must be G-d," Abraham decided. But the moon, too, disappeared, and the sun reappeared, and Abraham decided that there must be a G-d Who rules over the sun and the moon and the stars, and the whole world.
And so, from the age of three years and on, Abraham knew that there was only one G-d, and he was resolved to pray to Him and worship Him alone. A life full of many and great adventures began for Abraham, some of which we have already related to you in our Talks of past years.
Rabbi Hiyya's relates this account:
Terah left Abram to mind the store while he departed. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abram then took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol’s hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abram explain what he'd done. Abram told his father that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick. “Why do you make sport of me?” Terah cried, “Do they have any knowledge?” Abram replied, “Listen to what you are saying!”
 The Oxford Annotated Bible with The Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version (1994), The Biblical World: An Illustrated Atlas (National Geographic 2007), http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/amen/a/122710-CW-Archaeological-Evidence-About-The-Story-Of-Abraham-In-The-Bible.htm
 The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Fourby Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995,"Evidence of Abram "