Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest
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An objection to an early date to the Pentateuch

In Deuteronomy 26.5, Moses makes the statement "Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: 'My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous'". The ancestor is variously identified with Abraham or Jacob, but in either case is one of the patriarchs. This would date the wanderings to which Moses refers to the interval between 1900 BCE and 1700 BCE depending which patriarch is in view. In conventional terms using the internal Biblical timeline, Moses' writing is dated in the middle of the second millennium BCE. Various dates for the Exodus have been proposed, ranging from the end of the 13th dynasty to the reign of Ramesses II. Conventionally this means between about 1600 and about 1300, whereas the New Chronology proposes an Exodus around 1450.

The Arameans are often said not to be historically attested until the late Bronze Age crisis, during which there was a change in the ethnonym of the region to the north east of Galilee from "MR" (Amor) to "RM" (Aram). This consonantal shift has, for example, been dated to about 1250 BCE (using conventional dating). In the New Chronology the Late Bronze Age is redated to approximately 1100-1000 BCE. In either case the date of the consonant shift is placed later in time than the events claimed to be described. This means that the patriarchs and Moses would have been expected to use the term Amorite rather than Aramean.

The claim is therefore made that the mismatch of dates indicates either:

  1. The books attributed to Moses were not written until significantly later than traditionally taken, possibly well after 1000 BCE.
  2. The accounts of Abraham and the other patriarchs do not originate from the first half of the second millennium, but rather later. As an extreme position they are placed in parallel with the dealings of Aram with the Assyrian empire after the 8th century BCE.

Resolution

There are three ways this difficulty can be addressed. First, the verses in Deuteronomy 26 can be studied in greater detail. Second, the overall usage of Aram and Amor (and derived words) within the Old Testament can be investigated to see how and where they are used. Finally the usage of these terms outside the Old Testament can be explored in more detail. The first of these is discussed here, and the others on companion pages.

Deuteronomy 26
It is important to note that the words are not actually placed in the mouth of any of the patriarchs explicitly. Moses makes the statement, and urges the people to regularly make it in the future as a sort of creedal confession. Thus the earliest required date is in Moses' era rather than that of the patriarchs. For a late Exodus, this would not be far removed from the indicated transition point from "Amor" to "Aram". However, any early Exodus model still encounters this difficulty. One could speculate that the Israelites used the term in a slightly different way than other groups and the change represents legitimate variation, but this is inherently unprovable.

The fact that it is a creedal confession intended to be regularly repeated is significant. Under these circumstances it is quite probable that later copiers of the earlier text would have used a more recent name for the region in order to assist greater understanding. Following this line of thought, Moses may indeed have written 'Amorite' rather than 'Aramean' but the more modern word has been substituted at some stage.

The pattern of overall Old Testament usage is investigated in a companion page and should be referred to at this point. There it can be seen that "Aramean" is sometimes used of individuals in the early books of the Bible, though its use as a more general term for a nation comes rather later. Similarly, the pattern of nonBiblical usage should be viewed.

Summary

The original challenge was that the use of the term Aramean in Deuteronomy 26 was anachronistic as regards the claimed time-frame. More careful study shows that this usage is entirely to be expected in a confession of this kind. Not only that, but usage of the terms is nonBiblical sources is not in fact as clear-cut and abruptly divided as has been suggested. In particular, "Aramaean" occurs quite early, back to the Ur 3 dynasty which is in the era of Abraham, and "Amor" can occur quite late, up to the 19th Egyptian dynasty and corresponding Assyrian rulers.

However, as a general principle there is a very clear trend for the use of the term Amorite in the early Old Testament books to be replaced by Aram or Aramean in later ones. Where there are departures from this pattern they are of very clear and systematic kinds:

With the exception of these clear special cases, the overall trend is clear - the term 'Amorite' hugely predominates in Genesis-Judges, and 'Aramean' replaces it from Samuel onwards. With a transition date for the wider use of these words claimed for the Late Bronze Age, this pattern is wholly supportive of early composition (before 1250-1100 BCE) of Genesis-Judges with the other historical books being added at various later dates.

Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest