Genesis (Part 48)

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

Genesis 12:1

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 

_______________________________

In verse one, the word translated as “the Lord” comes from the Hebrew Tetragrammaton.

יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050H3069.

Blue Letter Bible provides the transcription form of “Yehovah” but this is also where the name for God “Yahweh” originates.

The name Abram means “high father.”

אַבְרָם ʼAbrâm, ab-rawm’; contracted from H48; high father; Abram, the original name of Abraham:—Abram.

Country:

אֶרֶץ ʼerets, eh’-rets; from an unused root probably meaning to be firm; the earth (at large, or partitively a land):—× common, country, earth, field, ground, land, × natins, way, + wilderness, world.

Kindred:

מוֹלֶדֶת môwledeth, mo-leh’-deth; from H3205; nativity (plural birth-place); by implication, lineage, native country; also offspring, family:—begotten, born, issue, kindred, native(-ity).

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Genesis 12:1

Now the Lord. Jehovah = the God of salvation, an indication that the narrative is now to specially concern itself with the chosen seed, and the Deity to discover himself as the God of redemption. The hypothesis that Genesis 12:1-4 were inserted in the fundamental document by the Jehovist editor is not required for a satisfactory explanation of the change of the Divine name at this particular stage of the narrative. Had said. Literally, said. In Ur of the Chaldees, according to Stephen (Acts 7:2), reverting, after the usual manner of the writer, to the original point of departure in the Abrahamic history (Aben Ezra, Mede, Piscator, Pererius, Calvin, Willet, Rosenmüller, Dathins, Alford, Murphy, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’); or in Haran, after Terah’s death, as the first call given to the patriarch (LXX; Chaldee, Syriac, Raschi, Lyra, Keil, Kalisch, Dykes), or as a repetition of the call addressed to him in Ur (Clarke, Wordsworth, Inglis). Luther conjectures that the call in Ur was given “fortasse per pattiarcham Shem;”but if the authority of Stephen be recognized, this was the occasion of the first theophany vouchsafed to Abram. Get thee out. Literally, go for thyself, a frequent Hebraism, expressive of the way in which the action of the verb returns upon itself, is terminated and completed; hence, though not necessarily emphatic, it may be equivalent to “Go thou,” whoever else remains behind (Jarchi, Ainsworth, Bush). Of thy countryA proof that the date of the call was while Abram was in Ur (Calvin), though if Ur was at Edessa (vide supra) the patriarch could scarcely have been said to be from home. And from thy kindred. At Ur in all probability Nahor and Milcah were left behind; at Haran, Nahor and his family, if they had already arrived thither, and according to some (Kalisch, Dykes) Terah also. And from thy father’s house. I.e. if they will not accompany thee. No Divine interdict forbade the other members of the family of Terah joining in the Abrahamic emigration. Unto a (literally, the) land that I will show thee. Through a revelation (Lange), or simply by the guidance of providence. The land itself is left unnamed for the trial of the patriarch’s faith, which, if it sustained the proof, was to be rewarded by the exceeding great and precious promises which follow:—according to one arrangement, seven in number, one for each clause of the next two verses (Cajetan, Willet); according to another, four, corresponding to the clauses of the second verse, the last of which is expanded in the third (Keil); according to a third, six, forming three pairs of parallels (Alford); according to a fourth, and perhaps the best, two, a lower or personal blessing, comprising the first three particulars, and a higher or public blessing, embracing the last three (Murphy).

The Pulpit Commentary reminds us that a controversy exists regarding the Book of Genesis. There is a school of thought that Genesis existed and at some later point, thngs were added to it. The original text is said to be Jehovist/Yahwist and the added text is said to be Elohist. For a discussion of that, click HERE. However, there are some who believe that the original text was Elohist and that subsequent changes were made by Jehovists / Yahwists. The Commentary above refers to the latter. As we discussed this to some degree earlier in the Genesis study, I will not entirely rehash the subject now. I will again point out though that there are various scholarly beliefs on this topic – including that there are more than just two potential authors or that one singular author compiled traditions in this way for reasons known only to himself and/or God who guided the writing.

Elohim is plural and should accurately be translated “the gods.” Jehovavh/Yahweh is singular. There is a lot to deep-dive on with this topic. Depending on one’s belief, the original text was Yahwist with gaps filled in by Elohists (an understanding being that Yahweh/Jehovah is God and that Elohim describes the entirety of God’s divine council / the angels.) The alternative belief is that the original text was Elohist and that subsequent revisions – concerned that the text creates the appearance of the Hebrew religion as being a pantheon religion – made changes to clarify the monotheism of the Jewish people.

Here I would point out that an ancient reader might refer to any celestial being as one of “the gods.” To be a “god” – especially to an ancient – is not necessarily to have the attributes a modern reader would accredit to Yahweh/Jehovah (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.) When we read Yahweh/Jehovah described as “The Most High” we should consider the beings that surround Him on His throne as lesser – and thus lesser in attributes. To a human, though, especially at the time of the writing here, godhood may have only required a celestial form of some sort.

Moving on.

The Pulpit Commentary also draws attention to Acts 7:2, wherein Stephen states that Abram is from Mesopotamia. Stephen states in that New Testament book that God spoke to Abram while he lived in Mesopotamia. The problem, of course, is that the text here in Genesis states that Abram departed from Haran. We are left with a lot of scholars taking the approach to the text that Abram left from Ur in Mesopotamia, traveled as far as Haran with Terah, before leaving there after Terah died and continuing on toward the Promised Land.

EvidenceForChristianity.org tackles this apparent contradiction thusly:

I do not see a chronological error in the speech. First, Stephen said that God spoke to Abraham in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. This agrees with Genesis. Then Stephen said that God told him to “leave your country and your people.” Stephen did not say where Abraham was then God told him this. Given that his father followed him to Haran, it makes sense that the command to leave his family came to Abraham in Haran. Again, it is not Stephen’s desire to present a careful chronology, but the fact is that there is no contradiction with fact here. If he had said, ‘while still living in Ur and before leaving for Haran God told Abraham to leave his family, then I suppose you could call this a contradiction, but even if this were the case (it is not), we do not know for sure that God did not also deliver this message to Abraham while he was in Ur.

Revisiting Genesis 11:31

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.

In my view, there is nothing in the text to directly contradict the notion that the message from God to Abram in 12:1 was given prior to the departure described in Genesis 11:31 from Ur.

I mentioned in the previous post, but there is a fascinating article regarding the likely location of Abram’s Ur of the Chaldees which I will again link to here:

Ur of the Chaldees, like many other northern Urs (mentioned in the Nuzu, Alalakh,
Ugaritic and other cuneiform tablets), was directly or indirectly named after Sumerian Ur which was excavated by C. Leonard Woolley in southern Iraq and which is sited on
Biblical maps. But Sumerian Ur is never called “Ur of the Chaldees” in any of the
numerous references to Ur in the cuneiform tablets. The designation of Abraham’s Ur as of the Chaldees” distinguishes it from the other cities called Ur, including Sumerian Ur located about a thousand miles from Haran.

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

Does it matter whether Abram’s family originates in northern Mesopotamia (Turkey) or in Southern Mesopotamia? I always prefer for history to be understood as accurately as possible. I am also fascinated by the archaeological site Göbekli Tepe and Urfa, Turkey, is only eleven miles away. One wonders if there is a connection. If there is, then it reminds us that the Biblical timeline and the archaeological timeline presents us with some difficulties.

Noah’s Flood has some corresponding archaeological evidence. The problem is that all of that evidence is thousands of years older than the commonly understood timeline of events provided by Genesis. If Abraham’s Ur has any connection to Göbekli Tepe then it lines up favorably with the Great Flood archaeology. But we again face an issue where the Bible’s understood timeline is much more recent than the archaeological evidence with which it ought to connect.

Genesis presents the reader with a genuinely interesting mystery involving time itself. This is worth keeping an eye on, as we study, because we will eventually reach a time wherein archaeology and the Bible’s chronology sync up.

The story of Abram’s journey is part of the Lech Lecha command.

This post has already been somewhat long, but there is a LOT to write about regarding Abram. There is quite a bit of controversy among Rabbinic scholars with this command. Here are some questions addressed by the article linked.

Did Abram abandon his father Terah?

At the end of Parashat Noach, Genesis chapter 11, Abraham’s father Terach dies in Haran. In the very next verse that now begins Parashat Lech Lecha, Abraham is told to leave his homeland, his birthplace, and his father’s house – that is, Haran – and to go on a journey to the land that God will show him. A surface reading that is accentuated by the division of theparshiyot gives the reader the impression that the command came to Abraham after his father died, but, as Chazal (the classical sages) point out, a look at the math indicates otherwise.

Here is what the biblical text states and implies:

a. Terah was 70 years old, and he engendered Avram, Nahor, and Haran (Gen. 11:26).[1]

According to this verse, Avram appears to be Terah’s eldest son,[2] and, hence, the gap between Terah and Avram is 70 years.[3]

b. And Avram was 75 years old when he left Haran (Gen. 12:4).[4]

Thus, given that Terah was (at least) 70 years old when Avram was born, he would have been 145 (70 + 75) years old when his son, Avram, left Haran.

c. The days of the Terah were 205 years; and Terah died in Haran (Gen. 11:32).[5]

The rabbis in Bereishit Rabbah were bothered by Abraham’s abandonment of his father. They resolve this problem in two steps (Ber. Rab. 39:7); the first step deals with the intrinsic problem, the second with the appearance (or מראית עין) of a problem.  

1. The wicked are considered dead while still alive.[6]

This maxim, which appears many times in rabbinic literature,[7] is used here to show that, since Terah was a wicked man, Terah was considered dead already. Hence, Abraham had no obligations to his father and had not really “abandoned” him in the latter’s old age.

2. Abraham our father was afraid, thinking, “When I leave, others will consider that I have desecrated the Name of heaven and they will say, ‘He abandoned his father and left him in his old age.’” So, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “lekh lekha – go, and as for you, I will absolve you from the commandment of honoring your father and mother but I will absolve no one else. Further, I will recount his death before your departure as it says, ‘Terah died in Haran’ (Gen. 11:32) and then ‘Go from …’ (Gen. 12:1).”[8] (Ber Rab. 39:7)

The rabbis interpret that Abraham was sensitive to the what others would see as an unethical act vis-à-vis his father and, reading the Hebrew lekh lekha, not as an emphatic but as two separate words with two separate meanings (a device common in midrash), the rabbis take the passage as an explicit exemption from God for Abraham from the ethical command to honor his father and, hence, to stay in Haran.

The second word lekha—“for you,” thus reflects a personal exemption given to Abraham concerning honoring his father.  According to the rabbis, this is the reason Terah’s death is recorded in the Torah before the command to leave Haran. That is, Chazal believe that the Author, by ordering the verses this way, was telling readers that Avram left while his father was still alive but that he did so with the explicit permission of God so as not to imply that he had not properly honored his father.

Modern scholars, who ascribe all three of these verses to P, the Priestly Source, and thus in theory could discuss the same problem that some of the rabbis highlighted, do not anachronize the Decalogue, and do not assume that all of Abraham’s behavior was positive and a model for later generations. They, therefore, see no issue with Avram abandoning his father for a new start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s