From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Four
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"Abram’s transformation to Abraham -
continued as the Dating of the Patriarchal Age
Return to Abram's transformation to Abraham.
Dating the Patriarchal Age

   The Discoveries at Nuzu, which were excavated between 1925 and 1941, as this ancient site southeast of Nineveh and not far from modern Kirkuk has yielded several thousand documents of first rate importance to the student of the OT. The tablets provide numerous illustrations of the customs which figure in the patriarchal narratives. The Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 B.C.) is in agreement with the semi-nomadic life of the patriarchs as pictured in the Genesis narratives.

   In "Patriarchal Age: Myth or History" BAR, March/April 1995 by Kenneth Kitchen cited as factors to conclude that the patriarchs can be dated to the first half of the second millennium B.C., or the Middle Bronze Age. These factors are:

Merrill F. Unger in his book "Archaeology and the Old Testament"
under Chapter Nine entitled Abram-Abraham and His Age states the following:

   Page 105-118 "In the NT the name Abraham stands for the representative man of faith (cf. Rom. 4:1-25)." Has the Bible left the date of Abram and or Abraham’s life completely uncertain? On his page 105-107 regarding Abraham in the frame of contemporary history.

   "Despite the discovery of numerous bodies of inscriptional material which illuminate the patriarchal age, there has, as yet, turned up no decisive evidence to establish a precise link in the lives of the patriarchs with extra-Biblical history.
    Most believe that Abraham’s migration occurred from 1900 to 1750 B.C., and the patriarchal period between 1750 and 1500 B.C. The Biblical chronology has not been found correct or incorrect

   Genesis and Exodus shows Abram left Mesopotamia (Haran) on his way to Palestine an assumed 645 years before the Israelites left Egypt.

   If the actual patriarchal period consists of 215 years, which is based on Genesis 12:4 Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran; and Abraham in Genesis 21:5 "one hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him." Since Isaac was "sixty years old" when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:26) and Jacob was "a hundred and thirty years" old when he stood before the Pharaoh of Egypt (Gen. 47:9), the total is computed by adding 25 years for Abram, to 60 and 130, thus equaling 215 years assumed.

More from Merrill F. Unger in his book "Archaeology and the Old Testament"
under Chapter Ten entitled The Historicity of the Patriarchs.

   On his page 125-126 "An interesting appearance of a Biblical name in the Mari letters occurs in the Banu-Yamina, Benjaminites, "Sons of the Right, " that is, "Sons of the South." These were the fierce tribe of nomads who roved the fringes of the desert south of the Euphrates, but had also pushed northward. It is unlikely that scholars can connect these Bedouins with the Biblical Benjaminites, yet chronologically it is possible. The name Benjamin, "Son of the South, " was a common name in Mari where the corresponding term "Sons of the Left," that is, "Sons of the North," is found. Benjamin is said to have been born in Palestine, after Jacob’s return from Laban, and never to have been in Mesopotamia at all. The characterization of Benjamin as "a marauding wolf" (Gen. 49:27) fits the description of the tribe at Mari.
    From the account of the Benjaminites in the Mari letters is the etymology of the name of David, famous in later Israel. The word translated "chieftain" in the references to the plundering Benjaminites is dawidum ("leader"), which seems to be the original form of the name of Israel’s most famous king.
    Other terms such as "killing an ass" sheds light on customs which prevailed in patriarchal times and later. The idiom "to kill an ass," khayaram qatalum, is not Akkadian at all, but both words occur in Hebrew and indicated the sacrifice which accompanied the oath of alliance. The connection between sacrificing as ass and concluding a covenant seems to have been preserved by the Shechemites, with whom Jacob and his sons had such unpleasant dealings (Gen. 33:19; 34:1-31). Called the Bene Hamor, "sons of the ass" (Josh. 24:32), their tribal deity was Baal-Berith, "Lord of the covenant" (Judg. 9:4). Later, at the time of Conquest the Bene Hamor of Shechem were, it seems, like the four towns of the Gibeonite confederacy (Josh 9:1ff.), added to Israel by treaty, to judge from various early references to them and their god Baal-Berith

   Then Unger on page 127-128 regarding Abraham and other archeological finds states, "The so-called "Execration Texts" attest to the background of the patriarchs, in that these curious documents are statuettes and vases inscribed in Egyptian hieratic script with the names of potential enemies of the Pharaoh, which, if threatened he would break the fragile objects in a magical ceremony to send grief to those whose names were on them. The group of vases from Berlin, published by Kurt Sethe (1926), probably date from the end of the 20th century B.C. , and one from Brussels, published by G. Posener (1940), date from the late 19th century."

   The name Abraham, moreover, has been found in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C. under the forms A-ba-am-ra-ma, A-ba-ra-ma, and A-ba-am-ra-am. This shows that it was actually a name in use at an early date.

   The name Jacob, which stands for Ya’qub-‘el, "May El Protect," occurs not only as a place name in Palestine in the 15th century B.C. (Thutmose III’s list), but also as Ya-ah-qu-ub-il in the tablets of the 18th century B.C. from Chogar Bazar in northern Mesopotamia.
    Both Isaac and Jacob are abbreviated theophorous names whose full form would be Yitshaq-‘el and Ya’qub-‘el, and belong to the types known from which the Hebrews came.

   Attempts to find patriarchal names in the important texts discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in north Syria (1929-1937) have proved unsuccessful. The claim that the Hebrew God Yahweh figures in these texts and that Terah, the father of Abram, appears there as a moon god is totally unsupported by facts. Neither does a proto-Israelite tribe of Zebulon nor Asher appear in these religious poems from the 14th century B.C.

Return to the Table of Contents - Chapter Four or
go to the next subject Abraham, Nergal, and Babylon.