Genesis (Part 47)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 11:27-31

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took 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 Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

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From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary

Verse 27

THE TÔLDÔTH TERAH.

(27) Now these are the generations.—This tôldôth, which extends to Genesis 25:11, is one of the most interesting in the Book of Genesis, as it gives us the history of the patriarch Abraham, in whom God was pleased to lay the foundation of the interme diate dispensation and of the Jewish Church, by whose institutions and psalmists and prophets the light of true religion was to be maintained, and the way prepared for the coming of Christ. But though Abraham is the central figure, yet the narrative is called the Tôldôth Terah, just as the history of Joseph is called the Tôldôth Jacob (Genesis 37:2). The explanation of this is, not that we have in it the history of Lot, and of Moab and Ammon, which are mere subsidiary matters; but that it connects Abraham with the past, and shows that, through Terah and the tôldôth which ended in him, he was the representative of Shem.

Terah begat Abram.—Commentators, in their endeavour to make St. Stephen’s assertion in Acts 7:4 agree with the numbers of the Hebrew text, have supposed that Abram was not the eldest son, and that the first place was given him because of his spiritual preeminence. But this is contrary to the rules of the Hebrew language, and the failure of the attempt to deprive Shem of his birthright by a mistranslation of Genesis 10:21 confirms Abram’s claim to the same prerogative.

Ellicott notes and I agree that it was important to the author to connect Abraham to Shem. We see that occur through his father.

David Guzik tells us what we might expect from Abram in Genesis going forward.

b. Terah begot Abram: Abram is unique in the way he is called the friend of God (James 2:23); Abraham, Your friend forever (2 Chronicles 20:7); Abraham, My friend (Isaiah 41:8).

ii. Men and women in the Bible are famous for many different things, but Abram is great for his faith. Moses was the great lawgiver; Joshua a great general; David a great king, and Elijah a great prophet. Most of us know we can never be great in those things, but we can be great people of faith. We can be friends of God.

Abram / Abraham is a uniquely important figure in history inasmuch as he is the common patriarch of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Abraham (originally Abram) is the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions, including JudaismChristianity, and Islam. In Judaism, he is the founding father of the covenant of the pieces, the special relationship between the Hebrews and God; in Christianity, he is the spiritual progenitor of all believers, Jewish or Gentile; and in Islam he is seen as a link in the chain of prophets that begins with Adam and culminates in Muhammad.

The narrative in the Book of Genesis revolves around the themes of posterity and land. Abraham is called by God to leave the house of his father Terah and settle in the land originally given to Canaan but which God now promises to Abraham and his progeny. Various candidates are put forward who might inherit the land after Abraham; and, while promises are made to Ishmael about founding a great nation, Isaac, Abraham’s son by his half-sister Sarah, inherits God’s promises to Abraham. Abraham purchases a tomb (the Cave of the Patriarchs) at Hebron to be Sarah’s grave, thus establishing his right to the land; and, in the second generation, his heir Isaac is married to a woman from his own kin, thus ruling the Canaanites out of any inheritance. Abraham later marries Keturah and has six more sons; but, on his death, when he is buried beside Sarah, it is Isaac who receives “all Abraham’s goods”, while the other sons receive only “gifts” (Genesis 25:5–8).

The Abraham story cannot be definitively related to any specific time, and it is widely agreed that the patriarchal age, along with The Exodus and the period of the judges, is a late literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history. A common hypothesis among scholars is that it was composed in the early Persian period (late 6th century BCE) as a result of tensions between Jewish landowners who had stayed in Judah during the Babylonian captivity and traced their right to the land through their “father Abraham”, and the returning exiles who based their counterclaim on Moses and The Exodus tradition.

Take special note of the last paragraph above. There is some archaeological evidence for Abraham as described in the Bible, though. See excerpt below.

Among these artifacts are some 20,000 clay tablets found deep inside in the ruins of the city of Mari in today’s Syria. According to The Biblical World, Mari was located on the Euphrates River some 30 miles north of the border between Syria and Iraq. In its time, Mari was a key center on the trade routes between Babylon, Egypt and Persia (today’s Iran).

Mari was the capital of King Zimri-Lim in the 18th century B.C. until it was conquered and destroyed by King Hammurabi. In the late 20th century A.D., French archaeologists looking for Mari dug through centuries of sand to uncover Zimri-Lim’s former palace. Deep within the ruins, they discovered tablets written in an ancient cuneiform script, one of the first forms of writing.

Some of the tablets have been dated back 200 years before Zimri-Lim’s time, which would place them around the same time that the Bible says Abraham’s family departed Ur. Information translated from the Mari tablets would seem to indicate that the Sumerian Ur, not Ur of the Chaldeans, is more likely the place where Abraham and his family started their journey.

The confusion over Abraham’s historicity may lie in large part over confusion as between Sumer and Chaldea as a point of origin. We will visit this discussion more in future posts. Just keep it on your radar.

Back to Ellicott:

Verse 28

(28) Haran died before his father.—Heb., in the presence of his father. This is the first recorded instance of a premature death caused by natural decay.

In Ur of the Chaldees.—Ur-Casdim. A flood of light has been thrown upon this town by the translation of the cuneiform inscriptions, and we may regard it as certain that Ur is now represented by the mounds of the city of Mugheir. When first we read of this city, it was inhabited by a population of Accadians, a Turanian race, sprang probably from an early offshoot of the family of Japheth; but in course of time it was conquered by men of the Semitic family, who from thence overran the whole of Shinar, or Babylonia, and expelled from it the descendants of Cush. Mr. Sayce (Chald. Gen. p. 20) puts this conquest at some very uncertain date, two or three thousand years before Christ; but the establishment of a powerful monarchy under a king named Lig-Bagas, and the consolidation under his sway of several petty kingdoms, into which Chaldea had been previously split up, he places with some confidence at 3,000 years before the Christian era (ibid., p. 24). Now, there are in our museums inscribed bricks and engraved cylinders actually from the library of Lig-Bagas, and we learn that the Accadian literature was still older; for many of the works found at Agané are translations from it: and thus all those difficulties as to the antiquity of the art of syllabic writing which used to exist when men had nothing better to judge by than Egyptian picture-writing have passed away. Abraham migrated from a town which was then a famous seat of learning, and where even the ordinary transactions of life were recorded on tablets of terra-cotta. Very probably, therefore, he carried with him bricks and cylinders inscribed with these ancient records. We are no longer, therefore, surprised at the striking similarity between the narratives in the Book of Genesis prior to the migration of Abraham and those preserved in the cuneiform inscriptions. But the believer in inspiration cannot fail to be struck also at their dissimilarity. The cuneiform inscriptions are polytheistic, acknowledging twelve superior gods, and of gods inferior a countless multitude. The Semitic race is accused of adding to these a number of goddesses, chief among whom were Beltis, the wife of Bel, and Istar, the planet Venus. Of all this there is no trace in the Biblical records; nor is there in the whole Chaldean literature anything so grand and Divine as the thoughts expressed in the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

As Ur is an Accadian word, we must reject all Semitic interpretations of its meaning; we must further add that Mr. Rawlinson gives reasons for believing that its early importance was due to its being a great maritime emporium (Anc. Mon., i. 27). It was, we read, a walled town, and the great port for the commerce of the Persian Gulf, while round it lay a marvellously rich country, said to be the original home of the wheat-plant, and famous for its dates and other fruits. Its being called Ur-Casdim, “Ur of the Chaldees,” shows that they had already won it from the Accadians when Terah dwelt there. Its subsequent name, Mugheir, probably means “mother of bitumen”—that is, producer of it.

In verse 28, we get a more explicit identification of Ur. But that does not necessarily alleviate the confusion.

Ur is possibly the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the JewishChristian and Muslim patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), traditionally believed to have lived some time in the 2nd millennium BC.  There are however conflicting traditions and scholarly opinions identifying Ur Kasdim with the sites of SanliurfaUrkeshUrartu or Kutha.

The biblical Ur is mentioned four times in the Torah or Old Testament, with the distinction “of the Kasdim/Kasdin”—traditionally rendered in English as “Ur of the Chaldees”. The Chaldeans had settled in the vicinity by around 850 BC, but were not extant anywhere in Mesopotamia during the 2nd millennium BC period when Abraham is traditionally held to have lived. The Chaldean dynasty did not rule Babylonia (and thus become the rulers of Ur) until the late 7th century BC, and held power only until the mid 6th century BC. The name is found in Genesis 11:28Genesis 11:31, and Genesis 15:7. In Nehemiah 9:7, a single passage mentioning Ur is a paraphrase of Genesis.

If the Ur of Sumer and the Ur of the Chaldees are the same city, is it possible a later writer might identify the ancient city with its recent name and not its Sumerian predecessor? I do not know but it seems possible.

There is another view that Ur was not even in Mesopotamia. See here also.

About an hour’s drive from Haran is the city of Urfa which was called Orhai in Syriac
Christian literature. Local tradition still insists that Urfa is where Abraham was born.
Whether “Orhai” is related to “Ur” phonetically and whether Abraham’s birthplace lies
under some specific spot in or around Urfa need not be settled here. What is of interest is rather that the new Ebla reference to “Ur in Haran” is in keeping with the Biblical
evidence that Abraham’s birthplace is to be sought somewhere in the Urfa-Haran region.
Genesis 24:4, Genesis 24:7, Genesis 24:10, and Genesis 24:29 tells us that Abraham’s
birthplace was in Aram-Naharayim where Laban lived. From there “The River” (= The
Euphrates) had to be crossed before proceeding to Gilead (Genesis 31:21). Sumerian Ur
is west of the Euphrates and does not have to be crossed to reach Gilead or any other part of Canaan.

From Guzik:

4. (Gen 11:31-32) The family of Terah and their travels from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran.

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

a. They went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan: So Abram’s story begins in Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon). Joshua 24:2 describes Abram before the Lord called him. He was from a family of idol worshippers and was probably an idol worshipper himself (notwithstanding Jewish legends).

i. Abram came from a family of idol worshippers. Later, when Abram’s grandson Jacob went back to Abram’s relatives, they were still worshipping idols.

b. And they came to Haran and dwelt thereActs 7:2-4 makes it clear the call of Genesis 12:1-3 came to Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. When he received this call from God he was only partially obedient, because he took his father Terah with him to Haran even though the Lord called him to go from Ur by himself.

c. Terah died in Haran: Sometimes we can gain meaning from names in the Bible. The name Terah means, “delay.” The name Haran means “parched, barren.” When Abram was in partial obedience, then delay and barrenness characterized his life. When we delay in drawing close to God we also experience barrenness.

We see here that by the time of Abraham, from the line of Noah, the family had turned to idol worship. This is interesting to me inasmuch as his ancestors were likely still living at this time.

Abraham appears to have overlapped with Shem by 150 years.

In many respects, then, Abram is another “starting over” point for God with his chosen family line. Abram will eventually be known for his faith but God will have to teach about himself, and lead him to that faith, first.

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