The Social Environment Of The Patriarchs -- By: M. J. Selman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 27:1 (NA 1976)
Article: The Social Environment Of The Patriarchs
Author: M. J. Selman


The Social Environment Of The Patriarchs

M. J. Selman

The Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture 1974*

* Delivered at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on 3rd January, 1975.

The name of Nuzi has figured prominently in the study of the biblical patriarchs over the last four decades. No serious investigation of Genesis 12–50 can now afford to ignore information found in the cuneiform tablets from this East Tigris site (now Yorghan Tepe) of the mid-second millennium BC, for their impact on early biblical history has been considerable.1 Examples of the important contribution thought to be provided by these texts can be seen in E. A. Speiser’s claim that some patriarchal customs “cannot otherwise be explained either from the local background or from any but Hurrian sources”,2 and in J. Bright’s conclusion that “the patriarchal customary law was at home specifically among the Hurrian population of approximately the same area at approximately the same time”.3 Similar views are to be found in the large majority of books and articles concerned with the patriarchs.4

The benefits of this supposed special relationship with Nuzi

can be seen in at least three directions. In the first place, several enigmatic incidents in the patriarchal narratives are now explained on the basis of similar practices at Nuzi. Examples include the inheritance agreement between Abraham and Eliezer (Gn. 15), Jacob’s marriages (Gn. 29–31), and Rachel’s theft of her father’s household gods (Gn. 31). In some cases, the new interpretation has differed radically from anything previously offered, so that C. H. Gordon was able to say the Jacob-Laban narratives, for instance, that they have taken on “an entirely new meaning in the light of the Nuzi documents”.5

Following on from these comparisons, the Nuzi material has been employed along with other extrabiblical evidence, in support of a date in the second millennium BC for the patriarchal period. There is, however, less unanimity than might be expected concerning the value of the Nuzi evidence on this matter. Many scholars prefer to see the patriarchs in the context ...

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