Board index Specific Bible verses, texts, and passages Genesis

The beginning of the covenant; Faith vs. Faithlessness

The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby Pree » Thu May 16, 2019 12:38 pm

The lack of historical evidence for Abraham’s existence is a serious problem

Both Christianity and Judaism are based on a covenant God made with the patriarch Abraham. He is a central figure in both of these religions. And yet, evidence for his existence is considerably lacking. If we can’t even establish that Abraham existed, everything else upon which this foundation is built comes crashing down. For if there is no Abraham, then there is no covenant.

To put it simply:

1. If the evidence for a historical claim is weak, then other claims dependent on this claim must be called into question.
2. The evidence for the existence of Abraham is weak.
3. Both Christian and Jewish claims depend on Abraham’s existence.
4. Therefore, both Christianity and Judaism must be called into question.
Pree
 

Re: The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 16, 2019 1:02 pm

You know very well that if we found some shard that said "Abraham" on it, people would ask, "How do you know it's your Abraham?" And that would be a proper question. And if we found some artifact that mentioned "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," they would ask, "How do you know it's your Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?"

You may think the latter one is silly and far-fetched, but yet an ossuary from the 1st century was found mentioning James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus, and yet people say, "How do you know it's your James, Joseph, and Jesus? It think there's no winning this game unless there are multiple, undeniable references that match what the Bible says. Scientifically speaking, it's demanding almost the impossible. You must realize that the further we go back in time, the fewer artifacts we have (especially specific ones [names, places, and events]). And especially since Abraham was not a ruler of an empire or lived in a city, the odds of finding 1 artifact, let alone numerous, are close to zero even if he did exist. Add to that that Abraham was a Bedouin, not a king (as the records we have in Egypt or Assyria from the era). Where would one even hunt for such artifacts, and why would you expect there were any artifacts for Abraham? I sense that you misunderstand archaeology. The absence of names from the extra-biblical, archaeological historical record is very much to be expected, and is in itself inconclusive. Lack of historical or archaeological evidence does not prove a character didn't exist or an event didn't happen.

I guess that's my biggest question: Since Abraham was a Bedouin, and not a king, and never lived in a city, nor held an official position of any kind, and lived 4,000 years ago, why would you expect there were any artifacts for him? And what would you expect those artifacts would be?

Here are a few things we know.

    * The name Abrum is affirmed in Old Assyrian texts from the same era. It was a place name, but that would show that Abram's lineage could be associated with the region of Syro-Mesopotamia, as the Bible says.
    * The details of the Genesis account during the life of Abram (Abraham) are astoundingly accurate and fit perfectly with the era and the region (things like Hittite contracts, the war of Genesis 14, the people groups around, descriptions of religious practices, etc.). If Genesis were written during the exile, as some claim, these details would have been unknown to them. We know about them because we're digging up stuff from the era that had been hidden for a millennium before the exile.
    * Abraham and later Isaac are said to have made a treaty with King Abimelech, and Jacob made a treaty with his father-in-law, Laban. Over 90 treaty documents have been found, dating from 2600-600 BC, and these treaties take distinctive form from culture to culture and generation to generation, with oaths, curses, and stipulations being given different emphases and presented in different orders. The ones with Abimelech and Laban fit exactly the region and eras that Genesis puts them in, and not at all the later or earlier ones. Later writers would not have known this. It speaks to the historicity of the text.
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Re: The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby Utah 911 » Sun May 19, 2019 1:56 pm

You have any sources?
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Re: The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 19, 2019 2:07 pm

Of course.

The old Assyrian texts are a collection of 23,000 tablets from the site of Kultepe, near the modern Turkish city of Kayseri. "Abrum" is one of the place names.

The Hittite contracts, primarily noticeable in Genesis 23, come from our knowledge of the Hittite culture from numerous archaeological digs. They are one of the most prominent cultures to have inhabited the ancient Near East during the 2nd millennium. Records are abundant. They ruled over a vast area we now know as Turkey as well as northwestern Syria. The excavation of their capital, Hattusha, yielded thousands of clay tablets.

The war of Genesis 14.
* Kenneth Kitchen (Egyptologist) and Roger Dalman (Egypt and Early Israel’s Cultural Setting, JETS 51/3 (Sept 2008), p. 454) write that this invasion could only have happened during Mesopotamia’s Isin Larsa period—the chaotic 275-year period after the fall of the Ur III culture when local city-state rulers struggled for power (anywhere from 2060 BC to about 1949 BC).
* Speiser (The Anchor Bible Vol. 1, Genesis, pp. 108-109) writes that "Many elements of this chapter suggest a non-Israelite source, but with uncanny accuracy to what we know of history. The geographic detail and the cities listed give credibility to the narrative."
* Hamilton p. 399; Kidner p. 119; Walton p. 416, in their separate Genesis commentaries, write that These four kings’ names are authentic enough, and they ring true to their various countries.

You and I would have to discuss the specifics if you want more than this.

The treaties with Abimelech. The reference is from Kenneth Kitchen & Kevin Miller. Ancient Near Eastern treaty structure is well-known.
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Re: The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby Hedges » Sun May 19, 2019 3:02 pm

Actually, your "things we know" are not correct. A couple of examples.

Genesis 11:31
31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

The Chaldeans did not exist as a people until hundreds of years after Abraham
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaldea

Genesis 14: 14
14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan

This ones pretty glaring. Dan of course was the land claimed by the tribe of Dan. How exactly Abraham passed through a land named after his unborn great grandchild is a bit vexing.

And can you provide some back up on your treaty claim? I'd like to see for myself how accurate that claim is.
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Re: The lack of historical evidence for Abraham

Postby jimwalton » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:32 am

> Gen. 11.31

The mention of Ur of the Chaldees is neither problematic nor anachronistic. The Genesis text was not written until many centuries later. There was more than one "Ur" in the ancient world (Sumerian Ur; the Ur of Upper Mesopotamia (Haran), Ura in Hittite territory), so the writer is specifying which Ur was the homestead of Abraham.

The Chaldeans were an ethnic group related to the Arameans. They didn’t penetrate southern Mesopotamia until the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Note that they were not a significant enough people group to appear in any of the genealogies of Genesis. It is not until Gen. 22.22 that they are linked with their ancestor Chesed.

“Ur” is technically “land; field; region.” “The land of the Chaldeans” associates the region with the lower Mesopotamian territory.

> Genesis 14.14

This, also, is no problem. The author inserted a place name familiar to his contemporaneous readers. If I were telling you a story set in the eastern US in the 1600s, if I wanted to tell you that my characters went to the area we know as New York, I could easily use that name instead of the name the native Americans used for it so that you would understand where they were going. Since the text was not written down until between 1200-c. 700 BC, to use a name common to the reader is to be expected.

The reason "Dan" matters is that Abraham was promised by God to inherit all of the promised land he set his feet upon. To mention Dan in this context (which later became the "sea to shining sea" kind of statement of Israel: "from Dan to Beersheba", shows that God was true to His promise. It makes sense that the author would use "Dan" here.

Neither of these anachronisms detracts from the historicity of the text.

> And can you provide some back up on your treaty claim? I'd like to see for myself how accurate that claim is.

Literature on the Hittite culture and their treaty structure is extensive, as is literature on the treaties of the ancient Near East. You can find material in any library or through a Google search.


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