Abraham

Abraham  is regarded as the founding patriarch of the Israelites in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditon. Abraham was chosen by God to be blessed and was made into a blessing for all peoples on Earth. His life as narrated in the book of Genesis (chapters 11, 25) reflects the traditions of different ages, and Abraham is not regarded a historical figure by secular scholars.

His original name was Abram meaning either "exalted father" or "[my] father is exalted" (compare Abiram). Later in life he went by the name Abraham, often glossed as av hamon (goyim) "father of many (nations)" per Genesis 17:5 , but it does not have any literal meaning in Hebrew.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions", because of the role Abraham plays in their holy books and beliefs. In the Torah and the Qur'an, Abraham is described as a patriarch blessed by God (Genesis 17:4-5). In the Jewish tradition, he is called Avraham Avinu or "Abraham, our Father". God promised Abraham that through his offspring, all the nations of the world will come to be blessed (Genesis 12:3), interpreted in Christian tradition as a reference to Christ. Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider him father of the people of Israel through his son Isaac (cf. Exodus 6:3, Exodus 32:13). For Muslims, he is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael.

In the Hebrew Bible
His father, Terrah, came from Ur of the Chaldees, popularly identified since 1927 by Sir Charles Woolley with an ancient city in southern Mesopotamia which was under the rule of the Chaldeans although Josephus, Islamic tradition, and Jewish authorities like Maimonides all concur that Ur-Of-The-Khaldis was in Northern Mesopotamia — now southeastern Turkey (identified with Urartu, Urfa, and Kutha respectively). This is in accord with the local tradition that Abraham was born in Urfa, or with the nearby Urkesh, which others identify with Ur of the Chaldees. They also say Chaldees refers to a group of gods called Khaldis. Abram migrated to Harran, apparently the classical Carrhae, on a branch of the Habor. Thence, after a short stay, he, his wife Sarai, Lot (the son of Abram's brother Haran), and all their followers, departed for Canaan. There are two cities possibly identifiable with the biblical Ur, neither far from Haran: Ura and Urfa, a northern Ur also being mentioned in tablets at Ugarit, Nuzi, and Ebla. These possibly refer to Ur, Ura, and Urau (See BAR January 2000, page 16). Moreover, the names of Abram's forefathers Peleg, Serug, Nahor, and Terah, all appear as names of cities in the region of Haran (Harper's Bible Dictionary, page 373). God called Abram to go to "the land I will show you", and promised to bless him and make him (though hitherto childless) a great nation. Trusting this promise, Abram journeyed down to Shechem, and at the sacred tree (compare Gen. 35:4, Joshua 24:26, Judges 9:6) received a new promise that the land would be given unto his seed (descendant or descendants). Having built an altar to commemorate the theophany, he removed to a spot between Bethel and Ai, where he built another altar and called upon (i.e. invoked) the name of God (Gen. 12:1-9).

Here he dwelt for some time, until strife arose between his herdsmen and those of his nephew, Lot. Abram thereupon proposed to Lot that they should separate, and allowed Lot the first choice. Lot preferred the fertile land lying east of the Jordan River, while Abram, after receiving another promise from Yahweh, moved down to the oaks of Mamre in Hebron and built an altar.

In the subsequent history of Lot was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18, Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, or 45, or 30, 20, even 10 righteous people. (Abraham's nephew Lot had been living in Sodom.)

Driven by a famine to take refuge in Egypt (26:11, 41:57, 42:1), Abram feared lest his wife's beauty should arouse the evil designs of the Egyptians and thus endanger his own safety, so he referred to Sarai as his sister. This did not save her from the Pharaoh, who took her into the royal harem and enriched Abram with herds and servants. But when Yahweh "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" Abram and Sarai left Egypt. There are two other parallel tales in Genesis of a wife confused for a sister (Genesis 20-21 and 26) describing a similar event at Gerar with the Philistine king Abimelech, though the latter attributing it to Isaac not Abraham.

As Sarai continued to be infertile, God's promise that Abram's seed would inherit the land seemed incapable of fulfillment. His sole heir was his servant, who was over his household, a certain Eliezer of Damascus (15:2). Abraham is now promised as heir one of his own flesh. The passage recording the ratification of the promise is remarkably solemn (see Genesis 15). Sarai, in accordance with custom, gave to Abram her Egyptian handmaid Hagar as his wife.(Gen 16:3) Sarai found that Hagar was with child, unable to endure the reproach of barrenness (cf. the story of Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:6), dealt harshly with Hagar and forced her to flee (16:1-14). God hears Hagar's sadness and promises her that her descendants will be too numerous to count, and she returns. Her son, Ishmael, was Abram's firstborn, but was not the promised child, as God made his covenant with Abram after Ishmael's birth (chapter 16-17). Hagar and Ishmael were eventually driven permanently away from Abraham by Sarah (chapter 21).

The name Abraham was given to Abram (and the name Sarah to Sarai) at the same time as the covenant of circumcision (chapter 17), which is practiced in Judaism and Islam and by many Christians to this day. At this time Abraham was promised not only many descendants, but descendants through Sarah specifically, as well as the land where he was living, which was to belong to his descendants. The covenant was to be fulfilled through Isaac, though God promised that Ishmael would become a great nation as well. The covenant of circumcision (unlike the earlier promise) was two-sided and conditional: if Abraham and his descendants fulfilled their part of the covenant, Yahweh would be their God and give them the land.

The promise of a son to Abraham made Sarah "laugh," which became the name of the son of promise, Isaac. Sarah herself "laughs" at the idea because of her age, when Yahweh appears to Abraham at Mamre (18:1-15) and, when the child is born, cries "God has made me laugh; every one that hears will laugh at me" (21:6).

Some time after the birth of Isaac, Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Proceeding to obey, he was prevented by an angel as he was about to sacrifice his son, and slew a ram which he found on the spot. As a reward for his obedience he received another promise of a numerous seed and abundant prosperity (22). Then he returned to Beersheba. The near sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most challenging, and perhaps ethically troublesome, parts of the Bible. According to Josephus, Isaac is 25 years old at the time of the sacrifice or Akedah, while the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac is 37. In either case, Isaac is a fully grown man, old enough to prevent the elderly Abraham (who is 125 or 137 years old) from tying him up had he wanted to resist.

The primary interest of the narrative now turns to Isaac. To his "only son" (22:2, 12) Abraham gave all he had, and dismissed the sons of his concubines to the lands outside Canaan; they were thus regarded as less intimately related to Isaac and his descendants (25:1-6). See also: Midianites, Sheba.

Sarah died at an old age, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, which Abraham had purchased, along with the adjoining field, from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23). Here Abraham himself was buried. Centuries later the tomb became a place of pilgrimage and Muslims later built an Islamic mosque inside the site.

Abraham is considered the father of the Jewish nation, as their first Patriarch, and having a son (Isaac), who in turn begat Jacob, and from there the Twelve Tribes. To father the nation, God "tested" Abraham with ten tests, the greatest being his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. God promised the land of Israel to his children, and that is the first claim of the Jews to Israel. Judaism ascribes a special trait to each Patriarch. Abraham's was kindness. Because of this, Judaism considers kindness to be an inherent Jewish trait.

According to the 1st Century Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews "Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham." He is an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism

The Genesis narrative

Biblical narratives represent Abraham as a wealthy, powerful and supremely virtuous man, but humanly flawed, and when afraid for himself, miscalculating, and a sometimes deceiver and an inconsiderate husband. But his central importance in the Book of Genesis, and his portrait as a man favored by God, is unequivocal. Abraham's generations (Hebrew: toledoth, translated to Greek: "Genesis") are presented as part of the crowning explanation of how the world has been fashioned by the hand of God, and how the boundaries and relationships of peoples were established by him.

As the father of Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham is ultimately the common ancestor of the Israelites and their neighbours. As the father of Ishmael, whose twelve sons became desert princes (most prominently, Nebaioth and Kedar), along with Midian, Sheba and other Arabian tribes (25:1-4), the Book of Genesis gives a portrait of Isaac's descendants as being surrounded by kindred peoples, who are also ofttimes enemies. It seems that some degree of kinship was felt by the Hebrews with the dwellers of the more distant south, and it is characteristic of the genealogies that the mothers (Sarah, the Egyptian, Hagar, and Keturah) are in the descending scale, perhaps of purity of blood, or as of purity of relationship, or of connectedness to Sarah: Sarah, her servant, her husband's other wife. The Bible says of the Hebrew people: "Your father was a wandering Syrian".

As stated above, Abraham came from Ur in Babylonia to Haran and thence to Canaan. Late tradition supposed that the migration was to escape Babylonian idolatry (Judith 5, Jubilees 12; cf. Joshua 24:2), and knew of Abraham's miraculous escape from death (an obscure reference to some act of deliverance in Isaiah 29:22). The route along the banks of the Euphrates from south to north was so frequently taken by migrating tribes that the tradition has nothing improbable in itself. It was thence that Jacob, the father of the tribes of Israel, came, and the route to Shechem and Bethel is precisely the same in both.

Further, there is yet another parallel in the story of the conquest by Joshua, partly implied and partly actually detailed (cf. also Joshua 8:9 with Gen. 12:8, 13:3), whence it would appear that too much importance must not be laid upon any ethnological interpretation which fails to account for the three versions. That similar traditional elements have influenced them is not unlikely; but to recover the true historical foundation is difficult. The invasion or immigration of certain tribes from the east of the Jordan; the presence of Aramean blood among the Israelites; the origin of the sanctity of venerable sites these and other considerations may readily be found to account for the traditions.

Noteworthy coincidences in the lives of Abraham and Isaac, such as the strong parallels between two tales of a wife confused for a sister, point to the fluctuating state of traditions in the oral stage, or suggest that Abraham's life has been built up by borrowing from the common stock of popular lore. More original is the parting of Lot and Abraham at Bethel. The district was the scene of contests between Moab and the Hebrews (cf. perhaps Judges 3), and if this explains part of the story, the physical configuration of the Dead Sea may have led to the legend of the destruction of inhospitable and vicious cities.

In the New Testament

In the New Testament Abraham is mentioned prominently as a man of faith (see e.g., Hebrews 11), and the apostle Paul uses him as an example of salvation by faith, as the progenitor of the Christ (or Messiah) (see Galatians 3:16).

Authors of the New Testament report that Jesus cited Abraham to support belief in the resurrection of the dead. "But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken" (Mark 12:26-27). The New Testament also sees Abraham as an obedient man of God, and Abraham's interrupted attempt to offer up Isaac is seen as the supreme act of perfect faith in God. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Hebrews 11:17-19)

The traditional view in Christianity is that the chief promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 is that through Abraham's seed, all the people of earth would be blessed. Notwithstanding this, John the Baptist specifically taught that merely being of Abraham's seed was no guarantee of salvation. The promise in Genesis is considered to have been fulfilled through Abraham's seed, Jesus. It is also a consequence of this promise that Christianity is open to people of all races and not limited to Jews.

The Roman Catholic Church calls Abraham "our father in Faith," in the Eucharistic prayer called the Roman Canon, recited during the Mass. (See Abraham in the Catholic liturgy).

In Islam

Abraham, known as Ibrahim in Arabic, is very important in Islam, both in his own right as a prophet as well as being the father of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, his firstborn son, is considered the Father of the Arabs, and Isaac is considered the Father of the Hebrews. Abraham is revered by Muslims as one of the most important prophets of Islam, and is commonly termed Khalil Ullah, "Friend of God". Abraham is considered a Hanif, that is, a discoverer of monotheism.

Muslims believe Abraham built the Kaaba, the Holy Mosque in Mecca, during his life. The construction of the Kaaba was upon God's command. Abraham's footprint is believed to remain to this day on a stone in the Holy Mosque. The annual Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, follows Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael's journey to the sacred place of the Kaaba. The Eid ul-Adha ceremony is focused on Abraham's willingess to sacrifice his promised son, which Muslims consider Ishmael, on God's command.

Arab Connection

A line in the Book of Jubilees (20:13) mentions that the descendants of Abraham's son by Hagar, Ishmael, as well as his descendants by Keturah, became the "Arabians". The 1st century Jewish historian Josephus similarly described the descendants of Ishmael (i.e. the Ishmaelites) as an "Arabian" people. He also calls Ishmael the "founder" (κτίστης) of the "Arabians".  Some Biblical scholars also believe that the area outlined in Genesis as the final destination of Ishmael and his descendants ("from Havilah to Assyria") refers to the Arabian peninsula. This has led to a commonplace view that modern Semitic-speaking Arabs are descended from Abraham via Ishmael, in addition to various other tribes who intermixed with the Ishmaelites, such as Joktan, Sheba, Dedan, etc. Both Judaeo-Christian and Islamic tradition speak of earlier inhabitants of Arabia, and the Nabateans are not the ancestors of the modern Arabs having assimilated into the Syriac, Jewish and Greek Middle Eastern communities of Late Antiquity.

Classical Arab historians traced the true Arabs (i.e. the original Arabs from Yemen) to Qahtan and the Arabicised Arabs (people from the region of Mecca who assimilated into the Arabs) to Adnan, said to be an ancestor of Muhammed, and have further equated Ishmael with A'raq Al-Thara said to be ancestor of Adnan. Umm Salama, one of Muhammed's wives, wrote that this was done using the following hermeneutical reasoning: Thara means moist earth, Abraham was not consumed by hell-fire, fire does not consume moist earth, thus A'raq al-Thara must be Ishmael son of Abraham.

In Mormonism

Abraham is an important figure in Mormonism, and is referenced in several LDS books of canon.

The Book of Abraham, found in the Pearl of Great Price, has five chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 include details about Abraham's early life and his fight against the idolatry of his society and even of his own family. It recounts how pagan priests tried to sacrifice him to their god, but an angel appeared and rescued him. Chapter 2 includes information about God's covenant with Abraham, and how it would be fulfilled: "And thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;...and in thy seed after thee ... shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal." (Abraham 2:9-11)

Thus, Mormonism considers Abraham the "father of the faithful," who was blessed with covenant promises because he sought to regain the true priesthood and the true gospel possessed by others on earth such as Melchizedek, and because he was willing to follow the Lord's guidance and direction in all things, not withholding anything.

Chapters 3 through 5 are a vision in which God reveals much about astronomy, the creation of the world, foreordination, and the creation of man. It agrees closely with Moses account of the creation, but gives more detail.

In addition to the text, there are three facsimiles of vignettes from the papyrus. One depicts Abraham about to be sacrificed by a priest; the second is the hypocelaphus which contains important insights about the organization of the heavens. The final picture shows Abraham teaching in the Pharaoh's court.

The Book of Jacob, part of the Book of Mormon, claims that God's commandment that Abraham sacrifice Isaac was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son" (Jacob 4:5).

In Philosophy

Abraham, as a man communicating with God or the divine, has inspired some fairly extensive discussion in some philosophers, such as Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. Kierkegaard goes into Abraham's plight in considerable detail in his work Fear and Trembling. Sartre understands the story not in terms of Christian obedience or a "teleological suspension of the ethical", but in terms of mankind's utter behavioral and moral freedom. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Sartre doubts that Abraham can know that the voice he hears is really the voice of his God and not of someone else, or the product of a mental condition. Thus, Sartre concludes, even if there are signs in the world, humans are totally free to decide how to interpret them.

Textual Criticism

Writers have regarded the life of Abraham in various ways. He has been viewed as a chieftain of the Amorites, as the head of a great Semitic migration from Mesopotamia; or, since Ur and Haran were seats of Moon-worship, he has been identified with a moon-god. From the character of the literary evidence and the locale of the stories it has been held that Abraham was originally associated with Hebron. The double name Abram/Abraham has even suggested that two personages have been combined in the Biblical narrative; although this does not explain the change from Sarai to Sarah.

The interesting discovery of the name Abi-ramu on Babylonian contracts of about 2000 BC/BCE does not prove the Abraham of the Old Testament to be an historical person, even as the fact that there were Amorites in Babylonia at the same period does not make it certain that the 'patriarch' was one of their number. A fairly lucid treatment of the subject is given by Michael Astour in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (s.v. "Amraphel", "Arioch", "Chedorlaomer", and "Arioch"), who explains the story of Genesis 14 as a product of anti-Babylonian propaganda during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews:

"After Böhl's widely accepted, but wrong, identification of Tu-ud-hul-a with one of the Hittite kings named Tudhaliyas, Tadmor found the correct solution by equating him with the Assyrian king Sennacherib (see Tidal). Astour (1966) identified the remaining two kings of the Chedorlaomer texts with Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (see Arioch) and with the Chaldean Merodach-baladan (see Amraphel). The common denominator between these four rulers is that each of them, independently, occupied Babylon, oppressed it to a greater or lesser degree, and took away its sacred divine images, including the statue of its chief god Marduk; furthermore, all of them came to a tragic end.
3. Relationship to Genesis 14. All attempts to reconstruct the link between the Chedorlaomer texts and Genesis 14 remain speculative. However, the available evidence seems consistent with the following hypothesis: A Jew in Babylon, versed in Akkadian language and cuneiform script, found in an early version of the Chedorlaomer texts certain things consistent with his anti-Babylonian feelings. ..." (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Chedorlaomer")

Another scholar, criticizing Kitchen's maximalist viewpoint, considers a relationship between the tablet and Gen. speculative, also identifies but identifies Tudhula as a veiled reference to Sennacherib of Assyria, and Chedorlaomer, i.e. Kudur-Nahhunte, as "a recollection of a 12th-century B.C.E. king of Elam who briefly ruled Babylon." ("Finding Historical Memories in the Patriarchal Narratives" by Ronald Hindel, BAR, Jul/Aug 1995)

The Anchor Bible Dictionary suggests that the biblical account was in all probability derived from a text very closely related to the Chedorlaomer Tablets, and this in a publication which can be said to do at least a reasoably good job of getting good scholarship. The Chedorlaomer Tablets are thought to be from the 6th or 7th Century BCE, well after the time of Hammurabi, at roughly the time when Gen. through Deu. are thought to have come into their present form (e.g. see the Documentary Hypothesis). While Astour's identifications of the figures these tablets refer to is certainly open to question, he does cautiously support a link between them and Gen. 14:1. Hammurabi is never known to have campaigned near the Dead Sea at all, although his son had. Writes Astour, "This identification, once widely accepted, was later virtually abandoned, mainly because Hammurapi was never active in the West." The Chedorlaomer Tablets, then, appear to still be the closest archaeological parallel to the kings of the Eastern coalition mentioned in Gen. 14:1. The only problem is, that in all probability, they refer to kings that were from widely separated times, having conquered Babylon in different eras. Linguistically, it seems, there is little reason to reject the identification of Hammurabi with Amraphel, but the narrative does not make sense in light of modern archaeology when it is made. A number of scholars also say that the connection does not make sense on chronological grounds, since it would place Abram later than the traditional date, but on this, see the section on chronology below.

If Gen. ch. 14 is a historical romance (cf., e.g., the Book of Judith), it is possible that a writer who lived in an exilic or post-exilic age (i.e. during or after the Babylonian Captivity), and who was acquainted with Babylonian history, decided to enhance the greatness of Abraham by claiming his military success against the monarchs of the Tigris and Euphrates, the high esteem he enjoyed in Canaan, and the practical character displayed in his brief exchange with Melchizedek. The historical section of the article Tithe deals more extensively with the historicity of the meeting with Melchizedek.

Many scholars claim, on the basis of archaeological and philological evidence, that many stories in the Pentateuch, including the accounts about Abraham, Moses were written under king Josiah (7th century BCE) or king Hezekiah (8th century BCE) in order to provide a historical framework for the monotheistic belief in Yahweh. Some scholars point out that the archives of neighboring countries with written records that survive, such as Egypt, Assyria, etc., show no trace of the stories of the Bible or its main characters before 650 BC/BCE. Such claims are detailed in "Who Were the Early Israelites?" by William G. Dever, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003). Another similar book by Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein is "The Bible Unearthed," (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001). Even so, the Moabite Stele mentions king Omri of Israel, and many scholars draw parallels between the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I and the Shishaq of the Bible (1 Ki. 11:40; 14:25; and 2 Chr. 12:2-9); and between the king David of the Bible, and a stone inscription from 835 BCE that appears to refer to "house of David"; although some would dispute the last two correspondences.

Dating and Historicity

Traditional Dating

According to calculations directly derived from the Masoretic Hebrew Torah, Abraham was born 1,948 years after biblical creation and lived for 175 years (Genesis 25:7), which would correspond to a life spanning from 1812 BC/BCE to 1637 BC/BCE by Jewish dating; or from 2166 BC/BCE to 1991 BC/BCE by other calculations. The figures in the Book of Jubilees have Abraham born 1,876 years after creation, and 534 years before the Exodus; the ages provided in the Samaritan version of Genesis agree closely with those of Jubilees before the Deluge, but after the Deluge, they add roughly 100 years to each of the ages of the Patriarchs in the Masoretic Text, resulting in the figure of 2,247 years after creation for Abraham's birth. The Greek Septuagint version adds around 100 years to nearly all of the patriarchs' births, producing the even higher figure of 3,312 years after creation for Abraham's birth.

History of Dating Attempts

When cuneiform was first deciphered, Theophilus Pinches translated some Babylonian tablets which were part of the Spartoli collection in the British museum. In one, referred to as the Chedorlaomer Text, currently thought to have been written in the 6th to the 7th Century BCE, he believed that he recognized the names of three of the kings of the Eastern coalition fighting against the five kings from the Vale of Siddem in Gen. 1:14. In 1887, Schrader then was the first to propose that Amraphel could be an alternate spelling for Hammurabi (cf. the ISBE of 1915, s.v. "Hammurabi"). Vincent Scheil subsequently found a tablet in the Imperial Ottoman Museum in Constantinople from Hammurabi to a king of the very same name, i.e. Kuder-Lagomer, as in Pinches' tablet (see this website for a quote from a book by Zacheriah Sitchen on the subject, although Sitchen is by no means mainstream). Thus are achieved the following correspondences:

Name from Gen. 14:1 Name from Archaeology
Amraphel king of Shinar (=Sumer via Aramaic) Hammurabi (="Ammurapi") king of Sumer (i.e. Babylonia)
Arioch king of Ellasar Eri-aku king of Larsa (i.e. Assyria)
Chedorlaomer king of Elam (= "Chedorlagomer" in the LXX) Kudur-Lagamar king of Elam
Tidal, king of nations (i.e. goyim, lit. 'gentiles') Tudhulu, son of Gazza

Many scholars by 1915 had become largely convinced that the kings of Gen. 14:1 had been identified (cf. again the ISBE of 1915, s.v. Hammurabi, which mentions the identification as doubtful, and also The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, s.v. "Amraphel", and Donald A. MacKenzie's 1915 Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, who has (p. 247) "The identification of Hammurabi with Amraphel is now generally accepted"). The terminal -bi on the end of Hammurabi's name was seen to parallel Amraphel since the cuneiform symbol for -bi can also be pronounced -pi. Tablets were known in which the initial symbol for Hammurabi, pronounced as kh to yield Khammurabi, had been dropped, such that Ammurapi was a viable pronunciation. Supposing him to have been deified in his lifetime or afterwards yielded Ammurabi-il, which was suitable close to the Bible's Amraphel.

Archaeology subsequently discovered that the Babylonian king lists had been padded in a later era with extra names, and Albright was instrumental in synchronizing Hammurabi with Assyrian and Egyptian contemporaries, such that Hammurabi is now thought to have lived centuries later. Since many ecumenical theologians may not hold that the dates of the Bible could be in error, they began synchronizing Abram with the empire of Sargon on chronological grounds, and the work of Schrader, Pinches and Scheil fell out of favor with them. The objection resurfaced that Amraphel could not derived from Khammurabi, in spite of the Ammurabi/Ammurapi spelling for Hammurabi that had already been found. More substantial objections were later made, including the finding that the days of the Kuder-Lagomer of Hammurabi's letter preceded the writing of the letter early in Hammurabi's reign led some to speculate that the Kuder-Lagomer of Gen. 14:1 should be associated with later Hittite or Akkadian kings with similar names, and these scholars thus generally considered the passage anachronistic - the product of a much later period, such as during or after the Babylonian Captivity. Others pointed out that the Lagomer of Kuder-Lagomer was an Elamite deity's name, instead of the king's actual name, which some believe referred to a king that must have preceded Hammurabi. Other misreadings of the Chedorlaomer Text were pointed out, causing them to be associated with entirely different personages known from archaeology. It seemed that the theory of Schrader, Pinches and Scheil had fallen utterly apart.

Mainstream scholarship in the course of the 20th century has given up attempts to identify Abraham and his contemporaries in Genesis with historical figures. While it is widely admitted that there is no archaeological evidence to prove the existence of Abraham, apparent parallels to Genesis in the archaeological record assure that speculations on the patriarch's historicity and on the period that would best fit the account in Genesis remain alive in religious circles. "The Herald of Christ's Kingdom" in Abraham - Father of the Faithful (2001) implies a historical Abraham by stating "At one time it was popular to connect Amraphel, king of Shinar, with Hammurabi, king of Babylon, but now it is generally conceded that Hammurabi was much later than Abraham."

There are two main eras with which Abram is usually associated by those postulating his historicity: that of king Sargon of the Sumerian Empire (ca. 2334–2279), and that of king Hammurabi (ca. 1792–50, middle chronology) and his son (ca. 1749-1712) of the Old Babylonian Empire.

A traditional chronology can be constructed from the MT as follows: If Solomon's temple was begun when most scholars put it, ca. 960-970 BCE, using e.g. 966, we get 1446 for the Exodus (I Ki. 6:1). There were 400 years reportedly spent in Egypt (Ex. 12:40), and then we only need add years from Jacob's going into Egypt to Abraham. So, we can add that Jacob was supposedly 130 when he came to Egypt (Gen. 47:9), Isaac was 60 years old when he had Jacob (Gen. 25:26) and Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, and we get 1446 + 400 + 130 + 60 + 100 = 2136 BCE for Abram's birth. (A considerable variety of scriptural chronologies are possible, however.) Thus, if one adheres to an Early Exodus theory, then Abram is usually synchronized with Sargon I, or sometimes other figures in the Sumerian Empire. If one favors a Late Exodus theory, we should subtract roughly two centuries, and then Abraham's life would overlap that of Hammurabi's empire (died at 175 years, cf. Gen. 25:7, so 2135 - 175 - 200 = 1761).

Gen. 10:10 has it that Babel was the beginning of Nimrod's empire. Since Sargon's capitol city, Agade, has not yet been found, it is easy to suppose that Nimrod was not Hammurabi, that there is a remote chance that Agade is Babel, or that somehow Bable got substituted for Agade somewhere along the way. Even so, there are reasons to prefer the equation of Hammurabi with Amraphel. The Nimrod of Gen. ch. 10 precedes the Amraphel of ch. 14, and Nimrod's kingdom began with "Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh, in Shinar" (Gen. 10:10). Mentions of Nimrod both precede and follow those of Abram. Furthermore, Nimrod is associated with the Tower of Babel, not the Tower of Agade, in the Bible. Rabinnic materials are full of an account of Abram being thrown into the furnace used for making bricks for the Tower of Babel by Nimrod, but Abram was miraculously unharmed, while the furnace spread to the rest of the city, causing the "Fire of the Chasdim". It seems safe to conclude that Nimrod and Abram were more or less contemporaries. While it is easy to hypothesize that Agade was Babylon, the Britannica says that Babylon was a vassal kingdom during this period, and only during the time of Hammurabi did it become the beginning of an Empire in its own right (s.v. "Babylon", whereas the city of Babel = Babylon); and so we can conclude that Babylon was probably not the same as the Sumerian capitol. This surely matches the biblical description of Nimrod's empire far better. If we wish to belabor that Gen. ch. 14 still retains any historical authenticity, the Old Babylonian Empire, like Nimrod's, extended into the Trans-Jordan, but only during the reign of Hammurabi's son; whereas the Sumerian Empire by contrast did not. The city of Babel was not only the beginning of the Old Babylonian Empire, it was its capitol. After the end of the Old Babylonian Empire with the defeat of Hammurabi's son by the Elamites, there was not another empire ruled from the city of Babel until the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which was much too late to be synchronized with Abraham. True, the capitol of the Kassite Empire was near the city of Babel, but the Britannica has it that it was not ruled from Babel itself; and synchronizing Abram with the Kassite Empire would only compound the problem by requiring Abram to have lived even more recently.

Archaeological correlates for the life of Abram are relatively scarce, whereas the Exodus can be correlated with Semite remains in Egypt, as per Bietak, as well as numerous transitions in Palestine from Egypto-Canaanite material culture to proto-Israelite. There is a reasonably broad although loose consensus of archaeologists who favor a Late Exodus, and this would place Abram closer to the time of Hammurabi than of Sargon. If an Early Exodus can be proven, it would rule out synchronizing Abram with Hammurabi's empire, and then some time during the Sumerian Empire would be by far the best remaining parallel. Since the archaeological correlates of the Exodus are more plentiful than for Abram, the fixing of the era of Abram/Abraham must rely on the eventual outcome of the Early/Late Exodus debate.

Speculations on Hindu Connections

In the 19th century, there were isolated speculations about an identity of Abraham and Brahma, or Abraham and Rama: "The Arabian historians contend that Brahma and Abraham, their ancestor, are the same person. The Persians generally called Abraham Ibrahim Zeradust. Cyrus considered the religion of the Jews the same as his own. The Hindus must have come from Abraham, or the Israelites from Brahma " (Anacalypsis; Vol. I, p. 396.) A. D. Pusalker, whose essay "Traditional History From the Earliest Times" appeared in The Vedic Age, claims a historical Rama dated to 1950 BC.
 
 
 
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