Patriarchs
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Dating the patriarchs - Objections

Many of these objections are standard challenges to the view that the patriarchal accounts of Genesis originate from early in the second millennium BCE, while others are more unusual. In most cases, there is merit in the suggestion, and it should not be dismissed out of hand. The reader must make up his or her own mind if, on balance, the difficulty is serious enough to compromise the model or not.

Contents

  1. The term 'of the Chaldees' is a late appellation
  2. Camels are an anachronism at this point in history
  3. The description that Abraham paid Ephron for land shows late origin
  4. The presence of Hittites in Genesis is an anachronism
  5. The Table of Nations represents the political situation in the first millennium, not the second
  6. Use of the term Aramaean for the patriarchs is an anachronism
  7. The patriarchs could not have dealt with Philistines in the early 2nd millennium

Objection raised

Abraham is described as coming from Ur 'of the Chaldees'. This term was not used until (at the earliest) the 9th century BCE. Hence the use of this term shows late composition of the text.

Possible resolution

The specific appellation 'of the Chaldees' need not be part of the original text, but an annotation made by a later Biblical copier to indicate to his readers the location in mind. Various tablet archives from Ebla onwards show us that there were several places called Ur (or simple variations of this name), and so clarification might be felt necessary. There is debate as to whether Abraham's city of origin was the well-known Ur, in the south of Mesopotamia, or a more northerly location nearer Haran. However, since merchants and other travellers routinely undertook long journeys in the early second millennium, so the apparent advantage of proximity to Haran may be unimportant.

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Objection raised

Abraham is described as possessing camels. These animals were not widely used as beasts of burden until well after 1000 BCE. Therefore the account of Abraham must post-date this time and not originate from the early 2nd millennium.

Possible resolution

Whilst it is true that camels did not come into widespread use until substantially later than patriarchal times, there is evidence of limited use much earlier. A fodder list from Alalakh in Syria from the 18th century BCE suggests knowledge of the camel. Mesopotamian lexical lists from the Old Babylonian period in the first half of the 2nd millennium show a knowledge of domesticating camels. A text from Nippur from the same period refers to camel's milk. Camel bones were found in Mari amongst house ruins from the second half of the 3rd millennium. Hence, there is no difficulty with the inclusion of camels as a minor element in the narrative and a sign of wealth.

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Objection raised

Abraham is described as having paid for the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite. Coinage was not used until the 7th century BCE in Lydia. Hence the account originates from the first millennium, not the second.

Possible resolution

Although coinage was indeed invented in the first millennium, the use of precious metals as a medium of exchange is vastly earlier. As discussed in the companion pages on law-codes (see the covenants pages), it was routine for compensation values for personal injury or loss, and for commodity values when trading, to be quoted in terms of shekels of silver. This is true from the Ur 3 dynasty law-code of Ur-nammu, conventionally around 2100 and about 200 years later in the New Chronology) onwards. A shekel was a weight measurement of about 10 g. The table below indicates the relationships between the various weights. The shekel was used not only in a legal context but also a trading one, for example in the Mari letters we find Ishbi-erra to Ibbi-suen, saying "You ordered me to travel to Isin and Kazallu to purchase grain. With grain reaching the exchange rate of one shekel of silver per gur, 20 talents of silver have been invested for the purchase...". Hence we can see widespread familarity with this usage. Within Egypt, kidet and deben were used as weights, and in one of the Amarna letters, from Pharaoh to Milkilu of Gezer these weights are mentioned. A kidet was approximately the same weight as a shekel.

Since Genesis explicitly says that Abraham "weighed out for [Ephron] the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants", rather than counting coins, there is no problem. This kind of transaction is entirely appropriate for an early second millennium date.

For specific extracted quotes recounting transactions of various kinds from sources outside the Old Testament, please refer to the the transaction reference pages.

Unit Multiple Approx. equivalent weight
Shekel 10 g
Mina50 shekels500 g
Talent60 minas30 kg
Beka1/2 shekel5 g
Gerah1/10 beka (so 1/20 shekel)1/2 g
Pim2/3 shekel7 g
Notes:
The weights were typically pieces of stone, often carved into specific shapes such as animals. The relationships between them varied from time to time. As well as the standard talent described above, a "double" or "heavy" talent of twice that weight was sometimes used in Babylon. As well as the common shekel, a "royal" shekel weighing about 20% more has been identified.
The division of the talent was either 60 minas of 50 shekels, or 50 minas of 60 shekels. The Pentateuch and early historical books contain a number of instances where a multiple of 50 shekels is used (for example Gen.23:15, Ex.30:24, 1 Sam. 17:5), strongly suggesting that at this time there were 50 shekels to the mina (as also at Ugarit in the mid second millennium). In Ezekiel's time the mina was redefined to be 60 shekels, fitting in with current Babylonian practice.
There was, inevitably, a certain natural variation in the exact weights. For example, talents have been found varying between 29.76 and 30.27 kg (or 58.68 to 59.82 for the heavy version). Shekel weights vary in the region 11.08 to 12.25 g, with the heavier royal shekel 12.5 ro 12.88 g.
Egyptian weights were measured in deben and kidet (10 kidet to the deben). There were approximately 8 shekels to the deben, and markings on shekel weights have been interpreted as equivalent deben/kidet values.
The pim is mentioned only in 1 Sam. 13:21 as a charge levied by the Philistines. 12 inscribed examples have been found from various locations between Judah and the coastal plain area, averaging 7.8 g. The bekah is found in Gen. 24:22 and Ex. 38:26. Seven insscribed examples have been found in various locations within Israel and Judah, averaging just over 6 g. The gerah is found in Ex. 30:13 and Ezek. 45:12. Finally, the qesitah (Gen. 33:19, Josh. 24:32, Job 42:11) is of an unknown weight. It has been suggested that these weights were in the shape of a sheep and represented the price of one.

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Objection raised

The Hittites mentioned in this same passage are too early for the known Hittite kingdom and subsequent empire which arose in what we now call Turkey. At earliest their expansion started in the mid second millennium, and even then a presence in Canaan would be surprising. Only after the demise of the Hittite empire did refugee neo-Hittites seek to avoid Assyrian attacks by venturing here. Furthermore, the Hittites with whom Abraham deals have Semitic names rather than native Hittite ones. This again suggests a later period in which the refugees had become integrated with the population.

Possible resolution

There is some evidence of early migration of groups of people down from the region later controlled by ethnic Hittites (who in turn migrated here from further north). For example, the presence of people originating from Asia Minor is known in Byblos in the early 2nd millennium, and metalwork and pottery originating from these northern regions has been found in Syria/Palestine dating from the late 3rd millennium. Although this does not constitute proof, this strongly suggests that the presence of people from the (later-named) Hittite region had an early presence in Canaan. If this were the case, then they would naturally be Semitic-speaking people in common with all the other ethnic groups in that region. Hence, the fact of Semitic names would not indicate late assimilation, but a relic of an early presence subsequently eliminated. Alternatively, the Old Testament use may indicate a tribe localised in the hill country of Canaan and have nothing to do with the more northern people.

The word translated "Hittite" is used in only two parts of the Old Testament - before and immediately after the Sojourn in Egypt, and then again in the early 1st millennium, during the time of David and Solomon and the early Divided Monarchy. There are slight differences between the Hebrew words used, which may indicate a distinction between two different groups, or else simply a difference resulting from the time interval between these writings. In both cases it is only used of individual people, or of a group/tribe of people, and never as a term for a land. So there is no Biblical use of Hatti-land in the way that we encounter it in Egyptian and other writings.

When we first meet the Hittites in the time of Abraham, we learn that the land they live in is called Canaan (the term, land of Canaan, is used several times in Gen 12-15). The inhabitants are called (as a general term) Canaanites, and then some of the individual tribes (including Hittites together with Hivites and others) are named at the end of ch.15. From ch.23 we infer that they were living in the vicinity of Hebron. The usage in Joshua 9 and 11 again links them with the hill country. Whether these represent a Semitic tribe of Canaanites in the hill country round Hebron, or an enclave ethnically related to the inhabitants of Anatolia, they appear to be geographically quite restricted.

David has a few followers called Hittites, and Solomon traded horses with "the kings of the Hittites". In Elisha's time, the Arameans believed (mistakenly) that Israel had hired Hittite kings to attack them. It is less clear who is meant here. David's followers could easily again be members of a local tribe attracted to his leadership, but it is hard to see why such a group would be the focus of trade with Solomon, or inspire fear into the Aramaeans. Conventionally at this time, the Hittite empire had been swept away, and only NeoHittite city-states remained. These would certainly be in a location where Solomon could trade with them, and the Aramaeans be threatened by them territorially. Within the New Chronology, the demise of the Hittite Empire was approximately contemporary with Elisha, and the "kings" referred to would necessarily be the last rulers of the Hittite empire.

Outside of the Old Testament, the Egytians used the word Hatti to refer to their Anatolian adversaries. Substantially later, the Persians used it to refer to the land of Syria/Palestine, but this seems to have been only a land-usage not a people-usage. Between these times, we find that Shalmaneser III recounts that Hadadezer of Damascus gathered 12 kings of "Hatti-land" to fight against him. This was just before Hazael's reign, so parallel with Elisha's time mentioned above. The kings concerned originated primarily from the region between Syria and Asia Minor, but included others from further south including Israel (Ahab) and Arabia. This could be seen either as a transition in usage from the earlier Egyptian meaning of "the Hittite empire region" to the later meaning "anywhere in the western coastlands", or alternatively that Shalmaneser's scribes saw the ringleaders as NeoHittites and therefore lumped the alliance together. In either event, it is more difficult to reconcile this with the New Chronology dating where the Hittite empire persists into Shalmaneser's time.

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Objection raised

The 'Table of Nations' in Genesis 10 reflects the poltitical situation in the mid first millennium BCE, not in the early or middle 2nd millennium. Therefore it is reasonable that this book was not composed until then.

Possible resolution

This matter is the subject of a companion page. Since the passage is not central to the plot-line, but is a self-contained unit within Genesis, it does not have a direct bearing on the matter at hand. However, it is an important point which deserves attention.

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Objection raised

In Deuteronomy 26.5, Moses makes the statement "Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: 'My father was a wandering Aramean...". This statement has been variously seen as appying to Abraham or Jacob. In either case the term 'Aramean' was not used until the Late Bronze Age, well after the time proposed for the patriarchs.

Possible resolution

See the companion page Amorites and Arameans.

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Objection raised

Abraham and Isaac both dealt with a group of people called "Philistines". These people did not arrive in the coastal plain area until the time of Rameses III, thus making an early second millennium date impossible.

Possible resolution

See the companion page The Philistines.
Patriarchs