Arguments for the historicity of Abraham
Since the exchange of posts with Claude Mariottini about Abraham has started to become a sustained conversation, let me set some parameters from my perspective. (See his posts: "The Royal Tombs of Ur, the City of Abraham
"; "Ur and Abraham: A Rejoinder to Tim Bulkeley
"; "Abraham and Archaeology
" and my posts: "Reading Abram/Abraham
"; "Writing Abraham (update)
- For myself I read the narratives in Genesis (and indeed in most other parts of the Hebrew Bible) more as literary works, looking for plot, character and the messages carried by the words than as an aid to reconstructing the history of the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia - but I recognise that many of my readers will be highly "interested" in questions of history (interested here in both senses ;-)
- I am neither a maximalist, nor a minimalist. The Bible is written in a highly sophisticated narrative style that either makes use of supernatural revelation (e.g. of what characters were thinking, what God was thinking etc.) or of imagination, and it works hard to ensure that hearers of the narratives get God's message from the stories as they listen (these are theological texts)- if these things were not true it would be merely a dull collection of ancient annals.
- The evidence for the historicity of the events underlying the Patriarchal narratives is highly contested, as is its interpretation. E.g. Claude is happy to claim that Kitchen's reference to an Egyptian text that may mention a place name including the name Abram is "a possible extrabiblical reference to Abraham", it is, but it is at several removes time, it is a place name not a person, and we do not know that the reference is to our Abram... In short, from my perspective, there is NO extra-biblical evidence (from anywhere within 1000 years
- There is, however, evidence that seems to me to make Abraham, much as the biblical narrative describes him, a possible person. Not least names and social customs found in MB Syria.
All this is too complex for me to be able to deal adequately with it in the 150 words that a sidebar permits, and the editors have not included "historicity" among the headings they have given me for the body text.
I hope Claude - whom I've never met FTF - is enjoying the conversation, I am finding it most helpful. Not least because I have similar issues in my teaching, there too "most people... want to believe that these stories are reliable and historical, even when there is no historical evidence or archaeological findings to prove that these stories are true" (to quote Claude). But there too, in Intro classes at least, there is not really enough time to address the issues at all fully.