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Who Was Abraham? The Modern Attack on Abraham

The typical depiction of Abraham as a poor desert nomad is likely completely wrongThe archaeological and even the Biblical evidence presents a very different picture. 

It is possible that Abraham was actually a much more interesting and important figure, even before he forever altered the course of world history.

You're not likely to hear this part of Abraham's story, though ...

Modern academics are trying their best to minimize and fictionalize every aspect of Abraham's story. Read below how archaeological evidence actually supports the Bible's account of Abraham.

Rather listen to this article? I recently did an interview with Brother Andre Marie on the Veritas Radio Network on the "Modern Attack on Abraham" - Listen to it here!

This article covers all of the following topics:
  • When Did Abraham Live? When was Abraham born?
  • Modern Attack on the Timeline for Abraham and the Exodus 
  • Another Modern Attack: Is the mention of camels anachronistic in the account of Abraham?
  • Abraham's Timeline [chart] with Abraham's Ages
  • Who was Abram/Abraham?
  • The City of Ur during Abraham's Time
  • Cyrus Gordon & David Noel Freedman: Abraham, the Merchant Prince
  • William F. Albright's View: Abraham and the Great Caravans

When Did Abraham Live? When was Abraham born?

First off, when did Abraham live? What were the years of Abraham's life? Working backward, we can trace the chronology of Abraham's life through the text of Genesis and Exodus.

Let's start with the Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. According to 1 Kings 6:1, this occurred in the fourth year of King Solomon's reign or 966 BC. 1 Kings 6:1 also states that this was the 480th year since the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus would have occurred, therefore, in 1446 BC.[1] 

The Book of Exodus (12:40-41) tells us the following: "The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt."

There were 430 years between Jacob and his sons entering into Egypt and the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. This takes us to 1876 BC. 

There were another 215 years between Jacob entering Egypt and Abraham entering the Land of Canaan, according to Genesis. [For a more detailed calculation see Footnote #1] This takes us to 2091 BC. 

Abraham entered Canaan when he was 75 years old, so 75 years before would be 2166 BC, the birth year of Abraham in Ur

The Modern Attack on the Timeline for Abraham and the Exodus  

This is something you ought to be aware of ...

Unfortunately, many modern scholars completely disregard the text of Scripture when constructing a timeline for Abraham and the Exodus. Most attempt to place the writing of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch much, much later than stated by the historical sources. This is an attempt to undermine the history of the Jewish people and Scripture, itself.  

The History Channel gets a lot wrong when it comes to the Bible.

What's worse, there's some pretty contrived hypotheses floating around out there which attempt to fictionalize the account of Abraham found in Scripture. 

Jean-Louis Ska, S.J. describes one such theory in Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, which is also referenced in the "Abraham" article on Wikipedia, unfortunately. [2] Ska states "we can affirm that the book of Genesis was intended as a reply" to the land dispute between rival claims to the Promised Land following the exile. 

Did you catch that? The account of Abraham was added in a thousand years after the fact. Why? To settle a 6th century BC land dispute. A land dispute which occurred almost 1500 years after Abraham's death.  

The support for this theory? A couple verses in Ezekiel.

Up until the last centuries, it was nearly unanimously held by historians and theologians alike that the Biblical timeline was correct. Why have scholars suddenly abandoned this theory? What is their evidence?

Camels. Anachronistic camels, to be more specific. In Genesis 24 and elsewhere, Abraham is described as possessing camels. 

Unfortunately for Abraham, there were no domesticated camels in the Middle East until the 10th century BC, at least according to one 2014 study. This would mean Abraham's camels were one thousand years out of place.  

The study in question, conducted by archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University, used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of camel bones found in a copper mining in the Aravah Valley, south of the Dead Sea.

That the fate of thousands of years of camels should be in the hands of a few copper mining camels seems unfair. That's a huge extrapolation. Regardless, is there any other evidence that would refute this?

Easily. Depictions of domesticated camels have been found on ancient Egyptian artifacts dating back dating back to the First Dynasty (3100-2850 BC) and perhaps even further.

For example, a petroglyph dated to the Sixth Dynasty (c. 2345-c. 2181 BC), i.e. just before Abraham's birth, was found near Aswan and depicts a man leading a dromedary camel.[3] (Ripinsky, p. 139).

There is also this artifact from the lands Abraham would have traveled through to reach the Promised Land. This is a Syrian cylinder seal ca. 1800 BC which depicts two figures riding on a two-humped camel: [4]

Syrian cylinder seal depicting the riding of a Bactrian camel, ca. 1800 BC. Walters Art Museum.

And again, the figurine below ca. 2300-1700 BC was found within the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), a large region spanning parts of Afghanistan and three other countries:
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Credit: TM Kennedy
Notice that the camel is wearing some sort of harness. Wild camels typically don't wear harnesses, right? Again, this shows that camels were domesticated in regions adjacent to Ur, Abraham's home, in Abraham's time. 

Isn't it interesting that this figurine is made of copper? It was the camels used in the mining of copper that supposedly disproved the existence of domesticated camels during Abraham's time.

There's a lot more that could be said in this section. There is other evidence cited by the critics of the Biblical timeline, such as different forms of God's name, duplicative accounts of events, etc. These also do not hold much water ... far less than a camel, anyway. I'll be covering this in greater depth in a subsequent article. 

The Ages of Abraham - Abraham's Timeline

Abraham's entered into the Land of Canaan when he was 75. Here's a look at the timeline of Abraham's life between entering the Promised Land and his death.

Who was Abram / Abraham?

Abraham was born "Abram." Abram didn't become Abraham until he was 99 years old, when God changed his name to "Abraham," meaning "a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5). 

Abram was a tenth generation descendant of Noah, through his father Terah. Terah was the father of three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran is better known for his son, Lot. 

Abram married Sarah, his half-sister, who was then known as Sarai. Sarah was also barren. Abram departed for Canaan along with his father, wife, and nephew, Terah, Sarai, and Lot, respectively. 

What was Abram / Abraham's Role in Society

We may think of Abraham as a wandering nomadic chieftain or as an ignorant, migratory Arab sheik. The evidence just doesn't support this. 

The City of Ur during Abraham's Time

Abraham came from Ur, which was a very powerful place in Abraham's time. Ur was also a wealthy and sophisticated urban area surrounded by sedentary farmers, i.e. not wandering nomads. 

Here's a computer reconstruction of Ur based on the archaeological excavations that have taken place:

2166 BC, the date of Abraham's birth, corresponds to the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur at this time was at the height of its glory, it's golden age. 
Bust of Ur-Nammu

The empire was ruled by Ur-Nammu, the governor-king of a region roughly the area of modern Iraq. This would have encompassed the territories of Sumer and Akkad. 

Reconstruction of the sacred precinct at Ur, circa 21st century BC.

Ur-Nammu ruled the large area through appointed regional administrators. The state operated massive factories which employed thousands of workers and produced commodities like textiles, flour, and even beer. 

The state controlled not only factories but international trade, itself, according to French scholar, Georges Roux.[5] Merchants were actually civil servants, employed by the state. Private merchants likely existed as well, but the best surviving records are government records.

Cyrus Gordon & David Noel Freedman: Abraham, the Merchant Prince

Cyrus Gordon, an American scholar of Near East cultures and ancient languages, advanced the idea that Abraham was not just a powerful patriarch but a merchant prince. Using different data than Gordon, David Noel Freedman of the University of California also believed Abraham to be a "merchant prince" who belonged to the "urban culture and civilization" of Ur. 

Gordon's theory is based on texts discovered at Ras Shamra in Syria. In one of these ancient texts, the king of Ras Shamra is complaining to the Hittite king about the merchants from Ur. 

Gordon cites several verses from the Bible which indicate that the patriarchs were merchants:

(1) Abraham was able to buy land from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver, weighed "according to the weights current among the merchants." (Genesis 23:16 RSVCE). 

It is elsewhere noted that Abraham was rich in gold and silver, cf. Genesis 13:2 and 24:35. The French Assyriologist Georges Roux observes that such silver was "used as a standard for exchanges" and was "hoarded by high officials and did not circulate unless authorized by the palace."[5]

How then did Abraham acquire so much silver and gold? Was he an official merchant of the government of Ur?

(2) The Schechemites gave permission to Jacob's household to "dwell and trade" and "acquire real estate" in their territory (Genesis 34:10).

(3) After Joseph released his brothers from prison, they relayed his message to Jacob. The message was, if they could prove their honest intentions, they would be permitted to "trade in the land" (Gen 42:34). Joseph's brothers weren't just permitted to buy grain from Egypt's storehouses; they would become merchants with Egypt. The context was a formal trade alliance.

It's no wonder Joseph rose so rapidly in the Egyptian ranks. He was descended from a line of merchant princes. His family had been negotiating trade in commodities for hundreds of years.

Gordon concludes that "the patriarchal narratives, far from reflecting Bedouin life, are highly international in their milieu, in a setting where a world order enabled men to travel far and wide for business enterprise ... Abraham comes from beyond the Euphrates, plies his trade in Canaan, visits Egypt, deals with Hittites, makes treaties with Philistines, forms military alliances with Amorites, fights kinglets from as far off as Elam ..." [6]

NOTE: Gordon dates Abraham to the 1500s BC. While this is still 600 years more recent than the Biblical timeline, it is getting us much closer. Also, Gordon provides Abraham with an historical context, rather than a fictional context as Ska did, above.

William F. Albright's View: Abraham and the Great Caravans

William F. Albright, formerly a professor at Johns Hopkins University, arrived at the same conclusion as Gordon and Freedman while taking a very different approach. 

Albright also dates the years of Abraham very close to what appears in the Bible. 

Albright relied on the work of several archaeologists, including Yohanan Aharoni, Nelson Glueck, and Beno Rothenberg, who traced the ancient caravan routes of the Middle East. These caravan routes navigated the deserts of Sinai and the Negev circa 2000-1800 BC. 

Not only that, Albright notes, the caravan routes led from Egypt, Sinai, Negev, Jerusalem, Bethel, Shechem, Damascus, Aleppo, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, basically most of the sites referenced in Abraham's travels. 

Not only that, while still in the region of Ur, Abraham lived in the important commercial center of Haran. Haran actually means "caravan city." 

Abraham, therefore, spent most of his life on the main trade routes of the caravans.

Abraham also had a very large entourage. Abraham fielded an army of 318 "retainers" in the battle recorded in Genesis 14 (specifically v. 14). Along with their families, 318 retainers would mean that Abraham's entourage numbered over one thousand people.

It would have been extremely difficult for such a number to survive in the desert, if Abraham was not engaged in a lucrative and wide-ranging caravan trade. 

The Bible also confirms Albright's archaeological thesis at Genesis 13:3, "And his caravan journeyed by stages from the south (Negev) to Bethel."

Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs

For the above sections on Abraham's role in society, I am referring to an excellent resource, which you might also enjoy: Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs (by using the link below to purchase you will be helping to support this site)

Conclusion: Who Was Abraham?

Does that reshape your understanding of Abraham? From desert nomad to merchant prince is quite a difference. 

What about the modern skulduggery with the dating of Abraham's life? Have you encountered any of this suspicious post-dating? I hope this article will provide you with some evidence to counter these attacks. 

Please remember to comment below and share. Let me know if there is any more that needs to be covered in this section or if I've left anything out. 

This article is part of a larger series I wrote on Abraham and Isaac, including the following articles:


[1] The calculation of 215 years relies on Genesis 12:4; 21:5; 25:26; and 47:9, as described on p. 11 of Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs. Abraham entered Canaan when he was 75 and was 100 when Isaac was born (a difference of 25 years). Jacob was born when Isaac was 60 and was 130 when he stood before pharaoh. We add 25, 60, and 130 to get 215 years. Add another 75 years, and you arrive at the year of Abraham's birth. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs (Vos, Nashville) provides a thorough dating of Abraham's life based on Scripture (p. 11). Click here to purchase a copy.
[2] Jean-Louis Ska, S.J., Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, Eisenbrauns (2006), p. 169 (incorrectly cited by Wikipedia as pp. 227-28, 260)

[3] Michael Ripinsky, 1985, 71:139-140 - more Egyptian examples can be found here.

[4] Barnett, Richard D., 1985, “Lachish, Ashkelon and the Camel: A Discussion of Its Use in Southern Palestine” in: J.N. Tubb, ed. Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Papers in Honor to Olga Tuffnell, London, Institute of Archaeology, pp. 16-30, 16. For more on this, click here.

[5] Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, 3rd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), 1962, p. 172-73.

[6] Cyrus Gordon, "Abraham and the Merchants of Ura," Journal of Near Eastern Studies (January 1958), p.28-30.

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  1. I am brand new to blogging. I am a new Christian and I have very much enjoyed reading this article, especially since I stem from a Jewish background.

    I will be sure to read more of your posts in the future.

    Thank you.


    1. Wow! Thanks so much, Melissa! Did you convert from Judaism to Christianity?

  2. I am so sorry it took me awhile to re-find your blog.

    Yes! I am a convert to Christianity from Judaism, and am ever so thankful each day to the Lord.

    1. Awesome! I'm glad your back - back to the blog and back in the fold! I would love to hear about your conversion from Judaism. Feel free to email me a scottsmith81 at gmail dot com.

  3. A very interesing article. It makes alot of sense. Thank you