It seems that some in our society cannot be content with the death of God; they also must kill off everyone else related to the biblical narrative. Each person mentioned in the Bible is scrutinized and criticized, their very existence doubted. Everyone from Adam to the Lord Himself has been questioned and at some point declared mythical, fictitious, or allegorical. Of these doubted characters in the divine drama, perhaps none has so great an influence on the world today as the patriarch Abraham. Muslims, Jews, and Christians respect him as the “father of the faithful”—the man who found and followed the One True God, El Shadai, the Almighty. Over three billion believers look to Abraham as an example of faith and obedience, yet it is from those very same camps that many doubts arise.
Originally published in 1999 in Ha’aretz magazine and then reprinted in the Biblical Archaeological Review, an article written by a Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University seeks to undermine biblical faith by denying the historicity of the patriarchs. The attack is cleverly disguised as pure science, but in truth it is only academic arrogance. Professor Herzog expresses in the article his frustration that his people (the Jews) refuse to accept his “scientific” conclusions. The rejection is not surprising, considering that the professor attempted to demolish 4,000 years of Jewish (and Christian) history. Note the introductory summary of the article:
Following 70 years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel, archaeologists have found out: The patriarchs’ acts are legendary stories, we did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, we did not conquer the land. Neither is there any mention of the empire of David and Solomon (Herzog, 1999).
While direct evidence for the patriarch’s existence is lacking, the circumstantial details in the biblical narrative have been adequately corroborated with the archeological facts. According to biblical chronology, Abraham lived around 2000 B.C. He was born of Terah in the city of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31) and migrated to the land of Canaan at God’s behest (Genesis 12:1). Indeed, the city of Ur flourished around the time 2000 B.C., and was a well-known center of wealth and learning (Free, 1992, p. 46). Abraham’s neighbors would have been idol worshipers, bowing before Nanna the Moon god, just as the text indicates (Genesis 31:19). After settling in Canaan, Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured by Mesopotamian kings (Genesis 14). Though history tells us nothing specifically about the kings, their names were common during that time period (Free, p. 52), and their invasion of Palestine can be reasonably attributed to a search for copper in the large deposits of Palestine (Hoerth, 1998, p.96).
The most interesting discovery thus far that lends credence to the patriarchal story is the tablets of Nuzu, uncovered between 1925 and 1941. When Abraham and Sarah realized that they were barren and unable to produce an heir, Abraham adopted his slave, Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2). This was common practice for a childless couple in ancient Middle East. For the same reason, Sarah encouraged her husband to take a female servant, Hagar, as a wife, in order that he might produce a son. Though God did not approve of this arrangement, it was a standard practice according to the Nuzu documents (Unger, 1973, p. 122). William F. Albright, the famed archaeologist of the Bible lands, remarked:
It is now becoming increasingly clear that the traditions of the Patriarchal Age, preserved in the book of Genesis, reflect with remarkable accuracy the actual conditions of the Middle Bronze Age, and especially of the period between 1800 and 1500 B.C. (as quoted in Unger, p. 121).
Thus, despite the absence of Abraham’s name, archaeology does confirm the reliability of the biblical text.
Not only is there ample evidence for the biblical narrative in the archaeological record, but history also tells us that time and time again, the Bible has been vindicated. It was not until 1876 that a reference to the Hittite people was discovered outside the Bible; likewise, King David’s name had only sacred mention until 1923. In a response to Herzog’s attack, Hershel Shanks suggested that the archaeological evidence we now possess “is minute compared to what we don’t know, and is subject to change tomorrow” (Shanks, 1999). Again and again, the Bible is abused, yet it is a testament to its divine origin that it continues to return victorious over its enemies. It would seem that the Bible’s enemies eventually would realize this and give up, but history also tells us that such will never be the case. Let us continue, therefore, to look beyond shallow accusations, and put our faith in God and in the facts, not the opinions, of archaeology.
Free, Joseph (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Herzog, Ze’ev (1999) “Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho” [On-line], URL: http://www.bib-arch.org/bswbBreakingIllSpecial1.html.
Hoerth, Alfred (1998), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Shanks, Hershel (1999), “Herzog’s Attacks on the Bible Unjustified” [On-line], URL: http://www.bib-arch.org/bswbBreakingIllSpecial2.html.
Unger, Merrill (1973), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).