Abraham: His Life and Times

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Abraham: His Life and Times

Post  ChristianLady on Tue 23 Sep 2008, 8:41 pm

Abraham was a semi-nomadic shepherd to whom God revealed himself, made promises, and entered into covenant concerning Abraham's offspring and the land that they would inherit in the future. Abraham's belief in these promises was counted by God as righteousness and his faith shaped his life. Ultimately these promises find their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah and all those who trust in Yahweh, the true God, Abraham's spiritual children.

Abraham was called both a Hebrew (14:13) and an Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:5; cf. 25:20; 28:5; 31:20, 24). He was born in Ur and moved to Haran with his father Terah. At God's call, he traveled to Canaan and lived for a while in various localities, in particular: Shechem, Hebron, Bethel, and the Negev desert, with sojourns to Egypt and Gerar. Genesis records that he led a band of armed men to rescue his nephew Lot from kings who had captured him, interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah (Lot's wicked residence), paid tithes to the Melchizedek, King of (Jeru)Salem, and entertained angels. He bore a son, Ishmael, by his wife's servant who became the father of the Arab nations. His heir, Isaac, was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age by supernatural intervention by God. His devotion to God was such that he was willing to sacrifice his only son. He grew wealthy, married again after Sarah's death, and died at the age of 175 years. There it is in a nutshell, but we'll spend 10 lessons discussing the significance of his life.

Moon Worship in Ur and Haran

Abraham's ancestors were idolaters and polytheists (worshippers of many gods). Joshua reminds the people, "Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods" (Joshua 24:2). Jacob's wife Rachel, who probably grew up with Terah's religion, stole her father's "household gods" (31:32-35; 35:2-4).

Archaeology shows that both Ur in Lower Mesopotamia and Haran in Upper Mesopotamia were centers of moon worship. Even the names Terah, Laban, Sarah, and Milcah contain elements that reveal allegiance to the moon-god.[2]

Sumerian culture in southern Mesopotamia had a number of gods in its pantheon: four leading deities -- An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag -- and three chief astral deities -- Nanna (the moon), Nanna's son Utu (the sun), and Nanna's daughter Inanna. Enlil was considered the chief god, with his cult center at the city of Nippur. Other Sumerian cities had their own special deities as well. Nanna, the moon-god, was the main deity of the Sumerian city of Ur, later known by its Semitic name, Sin.[3] This male deity was also known in the north from several inscriptions to "Sin/Shahar, the Lord of Haran,"[4] and was the tutelary god of Haran. The moon-god's symbol was the crescent moon.

Worship in Sumer involved temples as well as ziggurats with small temples on the top. These temples were staffed by priests (who offered sacrifices and made libations), singers and musicians, as well as male and female prostitutes (whose activities many scholars relate to the fertility cult).[6] Much later than Abraham, the Israelites are warned against worship of the moon, sun, and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2-5), though this kind of worship continued under idolatrous kings (2 Kings 23:5-12).

Abraham's Religion

Abraham's faith grew as God revealed himself. By the time we see him in Genesis 12 he is a monotheist, a worshipper of one God. He apparently used two words for God -- El, the generic Canaanite name for the cosmic deity and Yahweh. Yahweh is sometimes translated "Jehovah" in the KJV and expressed as the "LORD" in the KJV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, etc., following the Jewish tradition of not pronouncing the divine name, but substituting Adonai, "Lord," instead.[7] Abraham called this God by several other names compounded with Yahweh and El:

* God Most High (El Elyon, 14:19, 22, "maker of heaven and earth")
* Almighty God (El Shaddai, 17:1)
* Everlasting/Eternal God (El Olam, 21:33, = "Yahweh")
* Jehovah-Jireh (22:14, "The Lord the Provider")

Abraham's monotheism contrasts sharply with the polytheism of his forebears (Joshua 24:2). He believed God to be the Lord of the cosmos (14:22; 24:3), supreme judge of mankind (15:14;18:25), controller of nature (18:14; 19:24; 20:17), highly exalted (14:22) and eternal (21:33). Whenever God spoke to him, he obeyed immediately in faith.[8]

Abraham's relationship with God was personal rather than formal. However, Abraham and the other patriarchs practiced various forms of worship, including building altars, offering sacrifices, calling on the name of Yahweh, circumcision, prayer, making vows, and tithing -- as well as planting trees and setting up monuments. We'll examine these further as we study the details of Abraham's life.

Dating of Abraham

Just when did Abraham live? We can't know that for sure either. It is difficult to find fixed events in Genesis that can be connected absolutely to dates established from archaeology.

One approach to dating Abraham is to backtrack from the first fixed event we find in the Bible -- a statement that Solomon laid the temple foundation in the 480th year after the exodus (1 Kings 6:1), which would date the exodus at about 1447-1446 BC. Working backward from the genealogies and other data in the Pentateuch puts the birth of Abraham in 2166 BC, and frames Abraham's life from 2166 to 1991 BC.[11] However, there are several problems with this approach. First, textual: the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch agree with Paul (Galatians 3:17) that the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 apply to the whole time span between Abraham and the Exodus, not just the Israelite stay in Egypt as the Hebrew Masoretic text would suggest, bringing Abraham's birth year to 1952.[12] Second, genealogies in Bible occasionally skip generations.

Another approach to dating Abraham uses a combination of history and archaeology. One prong is the dating of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) by some kind of cataclysmic event, which archaeological evidence seems to point to around 1900 BC.[13]

You can also compare the lifestyle described in Genesis to archaeological findings to find a match. At the end of the Early Bronze Age (2400 to 2000 BC), Palestine was in a post-urban phase, with numerous settlements, camps, and cemeteries in the Jordan Valley and the Negev-Sinai. The Palestine described in Genesis also was sparsely populated, with few if any urban centers. By about 1800 BC, a number of urban centers had developed -- Dan, Hazor, Akko, Shechem, Aphek, Jerusalem, Jericho, and Ashdod. By 1600 BC, there were a number of heavily fortified sites, such as Gezer and Shechem. But, by 1550 BC, nearly every city in Palestine had been destroyed by the Egyptians driving out the Hyksos from Egypt.[14]

The Hyksos, a Semitic rather than Egyptian people, ruled over Syria, Palestine, and Egypt 1650 to 1542 BC until they were driven out by the Egyptian Amosis (Pharaoh Amenhotep I), founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It is easier to image the non-Egyptian slave Joseph rising to the position of second in the kingdom under a Hyksos ruler (1786 to 1575 BC), than under an Egyptian ruler, either before or after the Hyksos period. The period after the Hyksos dynasties would be expected to yield the pharaoh "who knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8), who would oppress the Semitic peoples remaining in Egypt.[15]

Depending upon how one views the evidence, Abraham might fit into Middle Bronze I (2100-1900 BC, Nelson Glueck and William F. Albright), Middle Bronze II (1900-1550, Ephraim A. Speiser), or the Amarna Period of the Late Bronze Age (early 14th century, Cyrus H. Gordon).[16] Of course, there are no archaeological findings that refer specifically to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so where they fit into the archaeological periods isn't precise, but we can place the birth of Abraham with some degree of confidence between 2100 and 1800 BC.[17]

Abraham: His Life and Times

ChristianLady
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