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The Historical Accuracy of the Patriarchal Narratives (Third part)

When the traditions are examined in the light of the evidence, the first assertion to be made is that already suggested, namely, that the stories of the patriarchs fit authentically in the milieu of the second millenium, specifically in that of the centuries sketched in the preceding chapter, far better than in that of any later period.

For one thing, the names in the patriarchal narratives fit perfeclty in a class known to have been current in both Mesopotamia and Palestine in the second millenium, specifically among the Amorite element of pupulation. For example, of the names of the patriarchs themselves, “Jacob” occurs in an eighteenth-century text from Chagar-bazar in Upper Mesopotamia (Ya’qub-el), as the name of a Hyksos chief (Ya’qub-‘al), and as a Palestinian place name in a fifteenth-century list of Thutmosis III, while name built on the same root are instanced in an eighteenth-century Egyptian list, at mari, and elsewhere. The name “Abram” is known from Babylonian texts of the First Dynasty and possibly from the Execration Texts, while names containing the same components are again found at Mari. Although the name “Isaac” is not attested, and “Joseph” not apparently so, both are thouroughly charateristic early type. Further, “Nahor” occurs in the Mari texts as the name of a town (Nakhur) in the vicinity of Haran (as in Gen. 24:10). Later Assyrian texts (which knew “Nakhur” as “Til-Nakhiri”) also knew a “Til-turakhi” (Terah) and a “Sarugi” (Serug). Of the names of the sons of Jacob, “Benjamin” appears in the Mari texts as a large confederation of tribes. The name “Zebulun” occurs in the Execration Texts, while names built on the same roots as those of Gad and Dan are known from Mari. “Ishmael” and perhaps “Levi” occur at Mari, while names akin to “Asher” and “Issachar” are found in an eighteenth-century Egyptian list.

To this must be added the still earlier Ebla texts, where – so we are told – numerous personal names familiar to us from the Bible are to be found: Abram, Eber (cf. Gen. 10:21 ff; 11:14 ff), Ishmael, Esau, Saul, David, and Israel, as well as others.

To be sure, in none of these cases do we even probably have a mention of the Biblical patriarchs themselves. But the profusion of such names in contemporary texts shows clearly that Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria did in fact contain a population akin to Israel’s ancestors in the Middle Bronze Age and for centuries before. This both reinforces confidence in the antiquity of the tradition and adds verisimilitude to the Bible’s assertion that Israel’s ancestors had migrated from this general area. (From John Bright, A History of Israel, 1980, pp. 77-78)

Simone Venturini


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