Abraham In History And Tradition Part I: Abraham The Hebrew -- By: Donald J. Wiseman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:534 (Apr 1977)
Article: Abraham In History And Tradition Part I: Abraham The Hebrew
Author: Donald J. Wiseman


Abraham In History And Tradition
Part I:
Abraham The Hebrew

Donald J. Wiseman

[Donald J. Wiseman, Professor of Assyriology, University of London, London, England.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of four articles, prepared by the author for the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary in November, 1976. The editors regret that illness forced Dr. Wiseman to cancel the lectureship, but they are pleased to present the series in print.]

The study of Abraham in history and tradition has recently been revived. However, it is accompanied by a recrudescence of a critical trend in Old Testament scholarship which virtually dismisses Abraham as an eponymous ancestor, a mythological hero of legendary sagas, or the projection into the past of later Jewish ideologies seeking for a “founding father.” On this basis the Genesis patriarchs are considered by many scholars to be unhistorical, and it is argued that this is no problem because their historicity is irrelevant to the theological value of the biblical narratives. With this development, Old Testament scholars have reacted against and reappraised the extrabiblical evidence which has led to the more conservative understanding and interpretation of a second-millennium B.C. “Patriarchal Age.”1 Both viewpoints will now need to be reevaluated in the light of the recent texts discovered at Ebla, which reveal for the first time the history, language, and culture of the Upper Euphrates in the latter half of the third millennium B.C.2

It is true that some of the comparisons made between the social background reflected in Genesis and extrabiblical evidence have arisen from the desire of scholars to find parallels in ancient Near Eastern texts. However, dismissing those parallels would not of itself argue against the historical origin or nature of the Genesis texts so much as against the various theories proposed for their interpretation.3 Van Seters has rightly questioned some of these but goes beyond the evidence when he argues that “there is no real portrayal of a nomadic pre-settlement phase of Israelite society, nor any hint of the migratory movements or political realities of the second millennium B.C.”4 For him the Abrahamic tradition as it stands reflects “only a late date of composition and gives no hint by its content of any great antiquity in terms of biblical history.”5 His argument is that the few nomadic details—the references to camel...

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