Who Was Abraham?
And Where Did He Come From?
Biblical Historical Studies:
Little-known Facts About the First Patriarch
A Sabbath Teaching
In "Abraham: Trials of Family and Faith" Terence E. Frethiem writes, "The historical task remains exceptionally difficult. Abraham and his family remain elusive figures at best. The earliest known possible extra-biblical reference to the name Abraham exists in a 10th century (B.C.) Egyptian text set in the Negeb, a familiar setting for Abraham in the biblical texts." (p.22)
Scripture tells us that Abraham lived in the 10th generation after Noah (Genesis 11:10-26). But where did Abraham's ancestors live? They are closely associated with three separate geographical locations: Canaan, Aram, and Ur of Chaldees.
William Foxwell (W. F.) Albright in "The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra" writes of "...the evidence which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Hebrew tradition was correct in tracing the Patriarchs directly back to the Balikh Valley in northwest Mesopotamia. This evidence consists of explicit references to cities like Harran and Nahor (Genesis 24:10), both of which were flourishing in the 19th and 18th centuries [B.C.]; it consists also of personal, tribal and divine names, and especially of the cosmogonic narratives (Genesis 2 – 11)."
Dr. Douglas L. Esse, Assoc. Director of the Harran Expedition of the Oriental Institute in Chicago wrote, "The biblical account clearly made a strong association between the patriarchs, the city, and the surroundings of Harran in northern Syria (today southeast Turkey)." ("The City of Abraham and the Moon God" in SMS Bulletin 8, Oct. 1984, p.5) Abraham's father, Terah, was named after the town of Til Turahi; Abraham's grandfather Nahor, was named after Nahuru or Til Nahiri; Abraham's great grandfather Serug, was named after Sarugi (modern Suruc); Abraham's brother Nahor, was named after Nahuru or Til Nahiri; and Abraham's brother Haran, received the name of the Haran (also spelled Harran) district, but was born & died in Ur of Chaldees. These were all place-names in the ancient Balikh Valley area of Aram.
Furthermore, all eight sons of Nahor by Milcah are place or tribal names related to the region of Aram. The Bible relates, "It came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, "Behold, Milcah has also born children unto your brother Nahor: Huz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel. Bethuel begat Rebekah. These eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother." (Gen. 22:20-23)
Dr. Esse further notes, "Whatever the details, the fact remains that there was a very strong association between the patriarchs, viewed as the founders of Hebrew culture, and northern Mesopotamia in the area of Harran."
How can these names be associated with Harran before these ancient founders ever lived there? Is it possible that the names associated with Abraham's family all existed in Harran before the family ever moved there from Ur? It makes sense if the family originated in Harran, later moving to Ur, and then back again to Harran. But why would they move?
Historians note that during a two century period from approximately 2200 to 2000 B.C., a great famine occurred across the entire northern Mesopotamian area (from Asia Minor east to northern Iran), including the area of Aram and the district of Harran. Israeli Orientalist scholar, Dr. Afif Erzen in "Eastern Anatolia and Urartians" writes, "Archaeological excavations in the centres of both Transcaucasia and northwest Iran have shown that after 2nd millennium B.C., a severe draught forced people to retreat...The same situation also made itself strongly felt in the centres of settlement in Van Region." So, with a severe drought throughout the Harran-Van-Aram region in the Middle-Bronze II period (~2200-2000 B.C.), it is not surprising that Scripture relates that Abraham and his father, Terah, had been living instead in Ur of Chaldees. (Genesis 11:31)
Years of drought forced many to migrate to the southern Mesopotamian cities that were unaffected. Where might they choose to move in a drought? Why would they move such a long distance all the way to Ur in the very far reaches of southern Babylonia, not far from the Persian Gulf? Quite possibly this would have occurred for religious reasons since Ur was a major center of moon god worship with a large famous temple, the ruins of which are still visible today. Historical records do in fact indicate that in ancient times the two major centers of the pagan moon god were at Harran and Ur of Chaldees. The family of Abraham originally worshipped the moon god in their pagan state before Elohim revealed Himself to them.
W.F. Albright also wrote, "By the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the movement of Semitic nomads into Babylonia had become sufficiently significant to be mentioned in year names and documents." (The Role of Canaanites in the History of Civilization, p.333)
Harran, located in southeastern Turkey, is in a flat fertile valley that is watered by the Jullab River, a tributary of the Balikh River, which flows south and drains into the Euphrates River. Harran is east of the great northern bend of the Euphrates (just north of Syria). It is known by three names in the Bible (Genesis 25:20; 28:2-7; 48:7; Hosea 12:12-13): Haran, Paddan-Aram and Aram-Naharaim (which means a field, or country of Aram). From the Hebrew word Aram developed the name Armenia. This area was a crossroads of trade and civilization.
T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) visited Harran in 1911 and wrote in his journal of seeing "huge tells [mounds] about every two miles." These mounds and dolmens stretch from Palestine, across Europe into the British Isles. Medieval Harran covered an area of 300 acres, surrounded by a wall with 187 towers. Ancient Harran was even larger. It was a thriving place for trade and commerce, and could indeed have sent out trading colonies across the Mideast, as well as to Egypt and Europe.
Sir Leonard Wooley, who led the famous British excavations at Ur between 1922 and 1934, described the ancient city of Ur as paved with drains, indoor plumbing, ziggurats and a harbor. Dr. David Rosenberg also describes the ancient city of Ur in "Abraham: The First Historical Biography" as "rectangular blocks, with suburbs radiating in all directions. Buildings contained bathrooms and drains, as did the street, drained by covered sewers. The main street was broad and paved. There were drain pipes made of pottery and water pipes in private houses, supplying kitchen and bathroom, along with water flushing arrangements for the toilets."
There was a large palace and temple complex in Ur with a ziggurat "surrounded by a huge plaza," known as the courtyard and Temple of Nanna. The professional classes lived between the temple and the king's palace, near the western harbor, which was smaller to serve smaller vessels. A "larger harbor to the north brought in the city's provisions." Houses were built around a central enclosed courtyard, with no outside windows, only having windows facing the inside courtyard. Graveyards were originally placed under house floors. Later burials were located in the courtyard.
Unfortunately, Ur's prosperity was badly interrupted a century or two later. W. F. Albright writes, "Ur was at the height of its prosperity from about 2060 to about 1950 BC when it was destroyed by invading Elamites." This was about the time when Abraham's father, Terah, took his family out of Ur of Chaldees. Despite popular misconceptions, Scripture confirms that it was indeedTerah, not Abraham, who led the family away from Ur. We read, "Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran, and dwelt there." (Genesis 11:27-31)
If Terah intended to move his family from Ur to Canaan, why would they stop at Harran? For how long did they stay there? Did they in fact have relatives there? Scripture gives tantalizingly little information, but does record that at some point Terah died in Harran.
Dr. David Rosenberg describes what life was like in Haran. "Some ancient remnants of the family, called 'distant cousins', lived in the northern city of Haran...these 'poor relations'...were still semi-nomadic, living in mud-covered [beehive] huts, involved in the caravan trade." (Compare the early Britons living in wattle daub beehive huts, same as in Harran, and dating from the same period. The early Anglo-Saxon Chronicle coincidentally states that the Britons came from Armenia, or Aram, home of Abraham's ancestral relations.) Abraham's housing went from the two-story luxury homes found in Ur, to wattle-daub beehive huts in Harran, to the simple tents of Canaan! "Now YAHUAH had said to Abram, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee." (Genesis 12:1) Note that Yah gave this command in Harran, not Ur. Abraham's country and kindred were in Harran, not Ur.
Elohim's call to Abraham in Harran continued with a blessing: "I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You shall be a blessing. I will bless them who bless you and curse him who curses you. In you all families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram departed as YAHUAH had spoken to him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy five years old when he departed out of Haran." (Genesis 12:2-4)
The Bible clearly indicates that Abraham was a rich man, but does not clearly indicate the source of his wealth. Did Abraham make his money through the caravan trade? Scholars believe that Terah and Abraham were involved in trading goods between Mesopotamia and Canaan, and down to Egypt as well. The goods sold in Egypt included spices, incense, and black face paint [eye shadow] for women's eyes. Harran was a crossroads center of some of the most important trading routes, and the word "Harran" means "caravan" in Akkadian.
"And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar." (Genesis 20:1) The Hebrew words in this verse are obscure, but Orientalist scholar, W. F. Albright interprets it as, "And Abraham departed from there [Haran] to the Negeb, keeping between Kadesh and the Wall [of Egypt], while he was a resident alien at Gerar." Albright comments, "In other words, his house and family were at Gerar on the edge of the desert Negeb while he spent his time in northern Sinai leading caravans." (The Biblical Period From Abraham To Ezra, p. 6)
"And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son [dead Haran's son], and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came." (Genesis 12:5) How did Abraham obtain his substance and the souls "gotten," (mostly purchased) and camels for caravans?
Dr. Albright says, "the 19th century B.C. was perhaps the high point of the donkey caravan trade..." According to contemporary Egyptian texts, there were 200-600 donkeys or camels per caravan. "And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land." (Genesis 12:6) For years, liberals and agnostics ridiculed Scripture's portrayal of the Patriarchs riding camels. They claimed that the camel was not domesticated until centuries later. But within the last few decades, translated clay tablets confirmed that camels were indeed domesticated and commonly used during the time of Abraham. Modern scholarship has now proven that Scripture here gives a true description of Abraham's camel caravans. It is not an anachronism (an event out of its time and place) as has so often been claimed in the past.
"Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. There was a famine in the land and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there for the famine was grievous in the land [of Canaan]." (Genesis 12:9-10) Why not go back to his former home and relatives in Harran? Did Abraham have business in Egypt? Scholars think so! "The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels." (Genesis 12:15-16) "And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had." (Genesis 12:20)This Pharaoh was evidently a Semitic Hyksos ruler, and therefore favorable to Abraham and his household. The book, "Israelite and Judean History" states, "The current Austrian excavations at Daba'a in the Delta, not far from the Hyksos capital at Avaris have brought to light an assemblage of typically Palestinian material (about 1800 B.C.) indicating that the Asiatic presence in Egypt began quite early and was probably a peaceful infiltration at first."
"Abram went up out of Egypt, he, his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. He went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first. There Abram called on the name of YAHUAH. Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents and the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together." (Genesis 13:1-6)
Abraham and Lot, now wealthy men, had left an advanced civilization in Ur to live in a tent in a barren wilderness with a multitude of dangerous marauding tribes throughout the area. Their struggle to survive in this new land of Canaan also became intertwined with what is now known to be one of the most important battles of the ancient world, recorded in Genesis Chapter 14. Yet, until recent archaeological discoveries, this major battle was completely unknown to modern historians!
"And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; [this has now been verified by historians. Tidal is a short form of the name of Hittite king Tudkhalias] That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea...and they joined battle with them... four kings with five. And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way. And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan." (Genesis 14:1-14)Scripture reports that Abram had 318 trained male soldiers! Scholars estimate that Abraham's entire settlement totaled several thousand people, including women and children. It was actually a small kingdom!
In the next chapter of Genesis we read of the Egyptian captivity. The time period and length of this bondage has been a source of confusion for Bible readers. "[Yah] said to Abram, "Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs [southern Palestine, controlled by Egypt], and shall serve them. They shall afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward they shall come out with great substance." (Genesis 15:13-14) Egypt controlled all of southern Palestine, including the land of Judah, so the 400 year domination or "affliction" included more than the estimated 210 years in what we call Egypt today. If the Exodus took place in 1453 BC (as Orientalist scholar Adam Rutherford calculated), then calculating backward in time, Abraham lived 400 years earlier around 1850 B.C. This coincides with Bishop Ussher's chronology, which gave 1850 BC as the time of Abraham. Scripture states that there were 430 years between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Exodus. (Genesis 15:13; Galatians 3:16-17).
The patriarch figures in a marvelous and much ignored prophecy in Genesis chapter 17: "When Abram was ninety years old and nine, YAHUAH appeared to Abram, and said to him, 'I am the Almighty God [El Shaddai in Hebrew] Walk before me and be perfect. [Elohim of the Mountains, or "Mountain Elohim" -- No mountains in Chaldea!] And I will make my covenant between me and you and will multiply you exceedingly.' Abram fell on his face and Elohim talked with him, saying, 'As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham for a father of many nations have I made you. [a double witness! No mistake about the matter.] And I will make you exceeding fruitful, I will make nations of you [triple witness!], and kings shall come out of you'." (Genesis 17:1-6)
Surprisingly, none of this fits the Jewish people. They are not multiplied exceedingly; in fact, the Arabs number over thirteen times the number of Jews in the world today. The Jews are not many nations. They have no king ruling over them. When I ask ministers about this, some say, "Well, it must include the Arabs." Are the Arabs and Muslims Abraham's covenant people? Others say, "Well, it is not a very important matter." However little we may know about Abraham and his ancestors, his name change from Abram, 'exalted father' to Abraham, 'father of many nations', placed less focus on his ancestry and more importance on his heritage, his descendants. Do we place importance on our Abrahamic heritage? Elohim does!
"Wherefore remember that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by they who are called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands." (Ephesians 2:11) The Apostle Paul enigmatically refers to "Gentiles" as those who are "called" or supposed to be "Uncircumcision," cut off from the covenant promises. He also refers to the Jewish people as those who are "called," or consider themselves to be, the Circumcision, the covenant inheritors. But are they in reality the entire inheritors of the covenants? The Apostle continues, speaking to those who consider themselves only to be "Gentiles," and outside of the covenant promises, "That at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world." In using the word, commonwealth, the Apostle Paul was referring back to Elohim's promise in Genesis 35:11 that Abraham's descendants would be a "company of nations" (as, for example, the British Commonwealth, not just one nation like the Israeli state in Palestine). It is clear that Abraham's covenant descendants include far more than the Jewish state alone. Are those who follow Elohim only "Gentiles," "Uncircumcision," and "strangers from the Covenants of Promise"? The Apostle disagrees with that! The Apostle continues, "But now in Yeshuah you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Messiah." (Ephesians 2:11-13) The term,"far off," is an exile term for dispersed Israel: those far off have been brought nigh by the blood of Yeshuah!
This is a wonderful revelation from the Apostle, but there is yet another important matter to relate that concerns the worship of the moon god. Abraham's descendant Jacob was accused by Laban, "And now, though you would needs be gone, because you sore longed after your father's house, yet wherefore have you stolen my gods?" (Genesis 31:30) Note that the verse refers to the plural "gods", or "mighty ones," called Sin and Nannar, his consort. These household gods (idols of Harran) were images of a moon god.
According to Essen, "Sin was a venerable and respected god throughout Mesopotamia, but nowhere, with the possible exception of UR, was he a more dominant figure than at Harran. The mound of Sultantepe (25km NW of Harran) remains a temple devoted to Sin. A large carved basalt stele is the symbol of the god Sin with a crescent moon." What religion today is characterized by a crescent moon on its banners? This symbol is the emblem of the Muslim Religion. Is there a connection? Yes!
Regarding Islam's connection with a crescent moon, the moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years. Information on the origins of the symbol is difficult to ascertain, but most sources agree these ancient celestial symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and Siberia in their worship of sun, moon, and sky gods. There are also reports that a crescent moon and star were used to represent the Carthaginian goddess Tanit or the Greek goddess Diana.
The city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople and Istanbul) adopted the crescent moon as its symbol. Some believe they chose it in honor of the goddess Diana. It was not until the Ottoman Empire that a crescent moon and star became affiliated with the Muslim world. When the Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they adopted the city's existing flag and symbol. Legend holds that the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman, dreamed the crescent moon stretched from one end of earth to the other. Taking this as a good omen, he chose to keep the crescent and make it the symbol of his dynasty. There is speculation that the five points on the star represent the five pillars of Islam.
Elohim repeated the covenant to Abraham and Isaac. "That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. Your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." (Genesis 22:17) "I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Genesis 26:4-5)
I pray that some of your questions about Abraham were answered in this teaching. May this article encourage you to do further studies into Scripture and the writings of historians about Abraham, our patriarch and model in the faith of YAHUAH. May Yah bless you and keep you!