Previous | Next | Directory

The Migrations of the Patriarchs

or Download

For centuries, scholars disputed whether there had ever been any such city as “Ur of the Chaldees,” where the Bible tells us Abram grew up. But in 1929, archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley unearthed what were clearly the remains of this ancient and very real city. Thus, another of the many objections to the Bible’s veracity has been debunked.

In his epic account of the discoveries made while excavating the city’s remains, Woolley relates finding multiple layers of settlement, showing that by the time of Abram the city was already centuries old. In fact, in Abram’s day Ur was the imperial capital of the Sumerian empire, which included several other city-states along the Euphrates river. Woolley’s team unearthed multiple shrines to pagan gods worshipped by the king and the people.1

Careful examination of ancient texts and archaeological evidence yields ample support to the biblical narrative about Abram and his kindred moving north from Ur to Syrian locations also mentioned in the Bible. Concerning the biblical account of Abram’s father Terah migrating from Ur to Haran, John Bright, in A History of Israel, writes: “To be sure, there is nothing intrinsically improbable about it. Ur and Haran were linked by ties of commerce and also of religion. In view of the fact that names associated with that cult [of the moon god] are not unknown among the Hebrew ancestors (e.g., Terah, Laban, Sarah, Milcah), it would be rash to deny that the tradition [i.e., the biblical account] may rest on historical circumstances. It is not impossible that certain Northwest-Semitic clans, having infiltrated southern Mesopotamia, had subsequently—perhaps in the disturbed days after the fall of Ur III—migrated northward to Haran.”2

Regarding the patriarchs as figures of history, Bright goes on to say, “The evidence so far adduced gives us every right to affirm that the patriarchal narratives are firmly based in history…. Although we cannot undertake to reconstruct the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we may confidently believe that they were actual historical individuals.”3

Summing up the evidence, Bright says, “Palestine in the early second millennium was filling with seminomadic clans, each of which was headed by a real individual, even if we do not know his name. If the patriarchs represent similar groups, as there is every reason to believe, it is captious to deny that the leaders of these groups too were real individuals; that is to say that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were clan chiefs who actually lived in the second millennium BC.”4

The Bible tells us that Jacob, the third patriarch, had twelve sons, one of whom was Joseph, Jacob’s favorite. The ten older sons were so jealous of him that they discussed doing away with him; instead, they sold him into slavery to a caravan heading for Egypt. There, Joseph became a trusted steward of the household of a noble, whose wife tried to seduce him. Joseph’s refusal to disobey God’s law incurred such wrath from the wife that she leveled a false charge against him that landed him in prison.

According to historian Paul Johnson, the account of this “affair” is a key to establishing Joseph as an actual figure of history. “There is no doubt about his historicity. Indeed, some of the more romantic episodes in his life have echoes in Egyptian literature. His attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife, who in her fury at her rejection by him resorts to slander and has him thrown into prison, occurs in an ancient Egyptian narrative called The Tale of Two Brothers, which first reached written form in a papyrus dated 1225 [BC].”5

Among Joseph’s fellow prisoners are two former servants of the Pharaoh—his chief butler and his chief baker. J. A. Thompson tells us, “Such titles as we find in Genesis 40:2, ‘the chief of the butlers’ and ‘the chief of the bakers,’ are well known as the titles of certain palace officials in Egyptian writings.”6