Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Ante-note: What follows, and most of the section on Genesis, is from my thesis, updated since then with newer information. It will be presented in small chunks to keep the size of the posts as small as possible, and to allow me time to update each section with new information.

 

Genesis – Abraham

Genesis is the foundational book of the entire TaNaK, the book where Abraham is introduced, and the Covenant between him (and the Israeli people) and God is formed. Understanding what Genesis is, the story it tells, and its’ background, is fundamental to understanding the rest of the Bible (Old and New).

What follows is my attempt to do just that: to fully understand Genesis. To accomplish this I decided to look at Genesis with as few preconceptions as possible, to look at the surrounding cultures (lifestyles and religious beliefs/practices), and the historical background of its’ main character – Abram (Abraham). For the base of my studies I used the RSV version of the Bible, referring to the Greek Septuagint (LXX) to resolve what I felt were questionable translations, or where I felt further clarification was needed. Additionally, I used many online and printed resources to “flesh out” the people, cultures, and places mentioned in Genesis, these sources are footnoted where they are first used.

 

Abram (Abraham)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

According to Genesis, Abram was one of three children born to Terah (Abram, Nahor, and Haran)[1]. Abram was born in the city of Ur in lower Mesopotamia, approximately 1812 BC (based on the 130-year assumption[2]). Ur was located along the Euphrates River, about 70 miles from the Persian Gulf. At this time the land was under turmoil, the prior kingdom (Ur-III, 2119-2004 BC) having collapsed, and Hammurabi’s control not yet reaching Ur; a loose association of Semitic city-states was the only authority in the land.

The Midrash[3] states that Terah was a maker of idols[4], and would have passed this trade onto his children. It was during his time working for Terah that Abram became disillusioned with idolatry and began having his encounters with YHWH; it was as a result of these encounters that Abram rejected the religion, and gods, of his family and came to his belief in YHWH.

Source: BibleStudy.org

Source: BibleStudy.org

The rejection of the local gods may have forced Terah to take Abram and Lot (Haran, now deceased) and leave Ur for Canaan – being idol makers this may have not made it any easier on them. Another clue to this is that somewhere along the journey they switched from being idol makers to shepherds (Abram and Lot are mentioned as having large herds when they finally settled in Canaan). They never made it to Canaan on this trip (possibly health of Terah?), settling instead in Haran in upper Mesopotamia, a journey of 600 miles from their home in Ur. Abram and Lot would continue the journey to Canaan after Terah’s death.

Why Nahor is not mentioned in this exodus is uncertain, but speculation is that he must have accompanied them as far as Haran because Abraham later sends his servant to Haran to obtain a wife for Isaac from his brother Nahor’s family[5].

Source: BibleStudy.org

Source: BibleStudy.org

Upon Terah’s death Abram and Lot left Haran to resume their journey to Canaan (solid red line), Abram is now 75. Abram and Lot settled in Shechem in Canaan, where God promises Abram the land for his descendents. When a famine strikes they leave Shechem for Egypt (dashed red line), once the famine ends they return again to Canaan, returning again to Shechem. To settle a dispute regarding pasture land for their flocks, Abram and Lot decide to separate, with Abram taking the area near Hebron and Lot going to the Jordan valley, settling in Sodom. After settling into the Canaanite territory, God makes his covenant with Abram (now Abraham), and Abraham meets with Melchizedek.

 

End Part I – Part II will be a background on the Mesopotamian and Sumerian cultures of Abram’s time.

 

[1] Genesis 11:26

[2] Genesis is not clear on the year of Abram’s birth. If the listing of the children of Terah is taken as being in order then Abram was born when Terah was 70. If we work back from the death of Terah then Abram was born when Terah was 130. Since children are not always listed in their order of birth in the Bible, I go with the 130-year calculations.

[3] A Jewish expansion/commentary on Biblical texts, here it is the Genesis Rabbah.

[4] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com

[5] Genesis 24:1-10

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