Archaeology and the Age of Abraham -- By: Merrill Frederick Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 110:440 (Oct 1953)
Article: Archaeology and the Age of Abraham
Author: Merrill Frederick Unger


Archaeology and the Age of Abraham

Merrill F. Unger

As a result of archaeological research, particularly that of the last three decades, a large quantity of inscriptional material is now available to scholars, which has an important bearing on the patriarchal age. This material is of the greatest importance. The bulk of it is as yet unpublished, but that which has been analyzed and interpreted has had a momentous role in dealing a fatal blow to radical critical theories and in compelling a greater respect for the historical worth of the patriarchal narratives.1 This does not mean, however, that the new material has proved the accuracy of the Old Testament narratives in any direct way; but what is perhaps more significant, it does mean that it furnishes a great deal of indirect evidence showing that the stories fit into the background of the age, as it can be recovered from the new sources of knowledge now available, and that customs which appear in the stories prevailed in the world in which the patriarchs are set. So far no references to the patriarchs themselves have been discovered, and none could reasonably be expected, considering the situation as a whole. Neither has there occurred any clear allusion in the sources to any event mentioned in the patriarchal narratives. “That the evidence concerns the background of the stories and not their content does not make it less significant.”2 As Albright says, “It is now becoming increasingly clear that the traditions of the

patriarchal age preserved in the book of Genesis, reflect with remarkable accuracy the actual conditions of the Middle Bronze Age, and especially of the period between 1800 and 1500 B.C..”3

I. Abraham and the Discoveries at Nuzu

Excavated between 1925 and 1941 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 Old Testament. These tablets provide numerous illustrations of the customs which figure in the patriarchal narratives.4 Among these adoption figures prominently. At Nuzu a childless couple frequently adopted a free born person or a slave to look after them when they grew old, bury them when they died, and inherit their property.5

Abraham, who had no prospect of any children of his own, refers to Eliezer as his heir and calls him “son of my house,” that is, his heir presumptive (Gen 15:2). Pr...

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