Abraham As Archaeology Knows Him Part II — Abraham the Spiritual Genius -- By: James L. Kelso

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 02:2 (Spring 1973)
Article: Abraham As Archaeology Knows Him Part II — Abraham the Spiritual Genius
Author: James L. Kelso

Abraham As Archaeology Knows Him
Part II — Abraham the Spiritual Genius

James L. Kelso

The following article first appeared in Perspective, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Winter 1972, and is reprinted here with permission. As you read this fascinating article, we suggest that you do so with your Bible opened to the book of Genesis. — Ed.

Thus far we have studied Abraham the business man, now we shall look at Abraham, the spiritual genius. The essence of the spiritual life of Abraham centers in the covenant which God made with Abraham. Just as Professor Mendenhall demonstrated the archaeological background of the Mosaic covenant, so Moshe Weinfeld has demonstrated the archaeological background (Hittite and Nuzi) of the Abrahamic covenant.1

In the Abraham story we have the “covenant of a grant”, i.e., a royal grant bestowed upon a most loyal follower of the king. Such a covenant contained six major features: (1) The king obligated himself to a loyal follower; but the servant was not obligated to the king, (as was the case in the Sinai covenant pattern). (2) The covenant was described in great detail, as in Gen. 15:1–21; 17:1–21. (3) The covenant applied to all the legitimate descendants of the loyal follower. No one could take the grant away from the loyal follower or his descendants. (4) The covenant was a reward for loyalty and good works done by the king’s faithful follower. (5) A curse was invoked upon anyone who violated the rights and privileges of the loyal follower. (6) The covenant was sealed with a sacrificial service such as in Gen. 15:9–11, 17–18.

The detailed Abraham story however, does not begin with a covenant, but with three promises that were made to Abraham to test him for loyalty. Gen. 12:1–3 was both a command and a promise. It was not yet a covenant, although verse 3 uses the covenant terminology of section (5) above. Verse 3 also involves a question of Hebrew grammar. The more common grammatical usage would read “in you will all the families of the earth be blessed.” For theological reasons the Jews naturally reject this translation and read instead “by you all the families of the earth will bless themselves.”

A second promise was made to Abraham after he had graciously allowed his young nephew Lot to take land priority for pasturage (

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