& CREATION OF JUDAISM
4. Sacred History or Phoney History?
Hebrews or Israelites?
Few scholars today can honestly see any sign of a conquest of Canaan by
an external people. Some argue that the Israelites conquered Canaan from
within by a rebellion. A group of people cannot emerge within a larger
common group and then have an ethnic identity different from the rest. The
claim can be made but it could not be true. Why then should a group of
natives make such a claim? All of their contemporaries would have known it
was false. The claim could only have been made for some reason at a much
later date, when no one could dispute it.
The later date was after the conquests of the Persian kings when Cyrus
and his successors decided to set up Palestine as a loyal buffer state
against Egypt. The reason was the intrument the shahs used to achieve
their objective—by transporting into Palestine people loyal to the God
of Heaven, the Persian universal god. Certainly the narratives written in
the fifth century doubtless used names and themes familiar to the
indigenous people of Palestine, and changes were made later as successive
generations of Persian administrators were sent to carry out the policy.
Further changes were made by the Maccabees after their war of
But a central theme was always that the Jews were people that had come
into Canaan from outside with a refined god, and had had to combat native
religions, and tendencies to go native, ever after. The original Jews
indeed came from the banks of the Euphrates, not in 2000 BC, but in
the fifth century BC.
The Patriarchal Tradition
The Abraham myth could not have been purely invented, but had to be
based on an extant tradition. The people who really could have had such a
tradition could not have been from the south of the Levant. They had to be
from the north of it and Syria. Why then should northern myths appear in
the south other than that northerners were deported to the south? They
then wrote a myth based on an extant tradition using old gods as ethnic
markers of themselves, and their actual experience of moving from the
Euphrates to Judah.
Isaac had no proper mythology associated with himself and seems to have
been introduced largely as a warning not to sacrifice children. The two
patriarchs remaining are Abraham and Jacob. When it came to writing a
history, the Deuteronomists found that no Judah was mentioned in Persian
archives, but Israel and Samaria were. They overcame the problem by
identifying Jacob quite artificially with Israel. So, Jacob became the
founder of Israel under his new name, and, through being the father of
twelve other founders, he founded Judah too. This scheme implies that
Judah emerged from Israel, and not an equal, or even the same, as Judaism
subsequently taught. The history of the two countries shows that Judah
succeeded Israel and was hardly ever contemporary with it.
Abraham seems to have been a northern god, and possibly envisaged by
the Persian administration, influenced by the early colonists, as the
founder god of the people of Abarnahara, who would be called Hebrews.
Rivalries between the colonists and the locals showed this to have been
impossible. It was imposing a god on the Canaanites, and it was easier to
restore a local god than to impose a new one. The colonists had to make
their god El, and persuade the locals that they had been worshipping him
wrongly. Even that, though, did not work because a large number of locals
preferred Yehouah not El as the accessible god, and ultimately Yehouah was
the choice. It suggests that the first century of colonial settlement of
Yehud was chaotic, and it was only really sorted out after the Egyptian
rebellion of the middle of the fifth century—probably with local
support—with the arrival of the Persian minister Nehemiah, and, to
consecrate the changes, the Persian minister, Ezra. That is when the bible
began to be written.
The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are unparallelled in their time
and are equalled only by the stories in Herodotus about particular people
like Gigas, Croesus and Tamiris. At the supposed time of Abraham, around
2000 BC, even great nations like Sumer and Agade did not record such
elaborate stories about their founding heroes as prose sagas. What they
did was to write poems about Sargon and Naram-Suen (Naram-Sin), usually
not long ones. The epic of the mythical hero, Gilgamesh, is a long poem,
but few would see it as a model for the Abraham stories.
Herodotus, however, wrote about the history of the Persians, who had
not long before conquered Babylon and so had acquired her empire whoich
covered all the lands travelled by Abraham including Judah, yet had
nothing to say about any of the biblical characters, even though such
ancient and extraordinary stories were even then a thousand years old. The
straightforward explanation is that these stories were written after
Herodotus wrote, and they used his accounts as a model.
Of the people of the ancient Near East, the ones who were particularly
fond of stories of eponymous fathers of nations were the Greeks and the
Jews. The same applied to the fondness for the genealogies that
accompanied the founding father stories, used to prove nobility of stock,
true ethnicity, or even descent from a god. Giovanni Garbini does not see
this curiosity as coincidental.
The earliest Greek genealogy was that of Acusilaus in the sixth century
BC followed by Hecataios of Miletus, and Pherecydes, about the time of
Herodotus. The intermediary, assuming there was no direct contact, must
have been the Persians. The Persians occupied the intellectual cities of
the Greeks in Asia Minor, and employed myriads of Greeks in all ranks and
capacities. Greeks employed at the Persian court must have been familiar
with Herodotus, who must have been the fashion of his day, by the end of
the fifth century, and the Persian ministries must have been able to write
a bogus history of the Jewish colonists based on the model of Herodotus.
Moreover, it does not seem at all unlikely that some of the Persian
colonists deported to Yehud were Greeks, particularly around 400 BC
when Xenophon’s mercenary army hired by the rebel, Cyrus the Younger,
was defeated by Artaxerxes II, and had to fight a long retreat.
Captured Greeks might have been sent to the new temple State of Yehud.
Yehouah or El?
The Israelites had been wont to call their deity El Shadday before they
knew the name Yahweh (Ex 6:3).
Some think that El worship will have fused easily with Yahwism.
B S J Isserlin, The Israelites
As long ago as the beginning of the twentieth century, H Gunkel, H Greissman
and K Gallig showed that the three patriarchs, Abram, Isaac and
Jacob, were associated with different places, respectively Judah, Edom and
Israel, each associated with a different shrine and population. The altar
set up by Abram at Shechem suggests that this was the site of the original
shrine of the “returners”.
Jacob is not a Hebrew verb, though it is taken to mean “Yehouah or El
Rewards”, but in Arabic its cognate means “to protest”. Jacob is
described as grappling with God at the Jabbok river (Gen 32:24-29)
or at Bethel (Gen 35:10) and was renamed Israel, an allegorical
reference to the struggle between Yehouah worshippers and El worshippers
in which Yehouah replaces El as the Almighty (El Shaddai) or the Highest
(El Elyon). It is mentioned in Hosea 12:2-3. Jacob is a dialect
form of Yehouah (“c”=“h”, “b”=“v”=“w”).
The story explains why Jacob was blessed by God and became Israel. The
change of name explains why a country that worshipped Yehouah was called
Israel, a name that refers to El as their god, though, conceivably, it is
a relic of an early setback for the Yehouah faction before they ultimately
succeeded. The original story of the return was centred on Israel as an
appropriate name for all the followers of the god El. Actually, it is only
a slightly altered aetiological explanation of the custom of swearing a
bond by grasping the testicles, the origin of words like “testify” and
“testament”. To touch the “hollow of his thigh” was to touch his
testicles, a biblical euphemism (Gen 24:9).
Many of the Patriarchs seem to have worshipped El rather than Yehouah,
though at different shrines—el-Betel (Gen 31:13; 35:7), el-Olam
and el-Roi (Gen 21:33) and el-Elyon (Gen 14:13). El-Shaddai,
el-Berith and baal-Berith also appear. Some Biblicists claim that such
signs that Abraham and his descendants worshipped gods other than Yehouah
shows antiquity. They take it that the worship of El, the Canaanite high
god as discovered at Ugarit in fourteenth century tablets puts the
Patriarchs back at least that far. Once again Biblicist arguments turn out
to be special pleading. The early “returners” aimed to set up a
religion based on El or Elyon as the God of Heaven, because that is what
he was to the Canaanites, and these people deported from elsewhere in the
Persian empire into Palestine will obviopusly have worshipped other gods
different from Yehouah before they were resettled in Palestine. El was
worshipped in Canaan for centuries, so long that El came simply to mean
God. The Jacob stories seem to tell of the conversion of El worshippers at
the sanctuaries of Penuel, Bethel and Shechem.
Yehouah was identified with El, the supreme god of the Canaanite
pantheon… In many Semitic languages, the word “el” is both the
name of a specific deity and the generic name for “god”.
Yaubidi, who appears in the Assyrian annals, also is recorded as
Ilubidi. It suggests that “yau” and “ilu” might have been
synonyms, both meaning God. Garbini highlights an inscription at Kirbet
Beit Lei which read “yh yhwh”, a mysterious phrase that turns up in Isaiah
(12:2, 26:4) and translated Lord Yehouah. Here, if “yh” means god, the
translation should be “the god, Yehouah”. If “yah” like “el”
meant a god in general then the rivalry of Yehouah and El might stretch
way back into second millennium Syria. The son challenged for the
supremacy of the father from early on, and then there must have been rival
factions since otherwise one or the other would have become supreme. In
fact, it was the Persian colonists in Yehud who settled it in favour of
Yehouah, perhaps after an early preference for El.
The Persians initially sent “returners” to worship El, that they
took to be the local god, but later they switched to Yehouah. Both were
Canaanite gods but they were to be changed into the image of Ahuramazda.
This, much more convincincingly, explains the biblical data than a
childlike faith in the myths themselves when, under test, they leak like
Jacob also finally appears (Gen 48:22) as a warrior with a sword
and bow conquering the Amorites (Canaanites), seemingly a euphemism for El
worshippers. The Assyrians used the word Amurru for the people of the
Levant—it meant “Westerners”. For Assyrians, it meant the same as
the Hebrews, the people of Eber-nari. The bible uses the name for the
natives of Canaan—as a synonym for Canaanites.
The Canaanite locals preferred their local Baal or Lord, a local son of
El assigned to the people as their representative in the heavenly court.
All nations had a son of El to represent them (Dt 32:8). The psalm
in Deuteronomy 32 depicts the history of Israel as beginning with
Yehouah assigned to Israel by the Most High in the assembly of “the sons
of El”—not “the sons of Israel”, a desperate later effort to avoid
embarrassment. Yehouah is clearly denoted as a lesser god than El, yet
later he is the only god! The names of some of the tribes reflect the
names of sons or daughters of El who were favoured by the local people at
a local shrine.
It seems the Persian administrators decided, quite early, it would be
easier to persuade the people of the hill country to accept Yehouah rather
than El as the God of Heaven. Most Palestinians evidently were happier to
compromize over the popular Baal called Yehouah than the remote high god
called El. Thus it is that Yehouah is a son of El but nevertheless is the
absolute God of Heaven! The appropriate name for a country where people
worshipped Yehouah was Judah (Yehud). The condemnation of Israel’s
apostasy, divine chastisement but the assurance of relief, and the
punishment of Israel’s enemies reminds us of Judges 3:7-12:6, and
the general purpose of the Deuteronomic Historian. Deuteronomy
32:8f is the first stage of the change of presidency of the divine court
from El to Yehouah.
J Tigay has studied the theophoric names on inscribed seals and noted
that the overwhelming majority honour Yehouah, none honour the goddesses,
Astarte and Asherah, and though Baal does appear, since it is a title
(Lord), it could mean Yehouah anyway. In Canaan generally, Baal was Hadad.
The analysis revolves around proper dating of the seals, and, since
Palestinian dating is a pig’s ear, that seems unlikely. One could argue
a different hypothesis. If the use of Yehouah was made exclusive in the
Persian period, then the analysis suggest the majority of these seals
would be from that time. The name of any king never appears explicitly on
these seals—though king’s names appear—perhaps because Yehud had no
king. It was set up by the Persians as a theocracy, and the real king was
the shah of Persia.
The J and E traditions detectable, particularly in Genesis, were
the result of conflicts between the advocates of each of the two main
Canaanite gods of Palestine, Yehouah and El. Each faction cast the
justification myths for the new religion in terms of their preferred god
using the myths of Mesopotamia they had been brought up with, and
doubtless they were recited at the different shrines mentioned in the
stories. Later the traditions were combined with the name of God accepted
as Yehouah. Whether the word El was still retained in part for political
reasons or whether it was re-introduced when the scriptures had to be
reassembled from fragments is not clear.
Names and Places
Abram and Abraham have been respectively interpreted as meaning “The
Father is Exalted” and “The Father of a Multitude”. Abram could mean
“Father of a High Place”, the High Places referring to Canaanite
shrines, and the Father perhaps meaning a hierophant or priest, or maybe
the god himself. Ramah was a town on the road to Jerusalem (Josh
18:25; Jg 4:5). It was a high place with a commanding view and used
as a fortress. It was occupied by “returners” from captivity (Ezra
2:26; Neh 7:30;11:33)! An Egyptian text of the thirteenth century
BC mentions two tribes in northern Palestine, the Tayaru and the Rahamu.
The Rahamu could account for the name Abraham as “Father of the Rahamu”.
Yet there is a better explanation.
Abram’s grandson was an Aramaean but, in terms of biblical
chronology, Abram could not have been because his migration is supposed to
have happened about a thousand years before any Aramaeans appeared in
history. Abram could, however, have been an Aramaean if the “return”
under the Persians was really the migration being referred to
allegorically in the Patriarchal sagas.
Wherever the Aramaeans came from they were not called Aramaeans until
they lived in the uphill regions of the Tur Abdin region of Mesopotamia,
the source of the tributaries of the Euphrates. It is probably because
they came to be associated with these highlands that they were called
“Aramu” or “Highlanders”. However, what is high is exalted, so
their name is also read as the “Exalted Ones”. Abram is therefore the
“Father of the Aramu” meaning the “Father of the Highlanders”, or,
as the Biblicists would have it, the “Father of the Exalted Ones”.
Abram might have been a mythical founder of the Aramaeans before some of
them were transported by the Persians to Palestine.
C H W Johns long ago published an Assyrian census of the
Harran district, what he called an Assyrian Doomsday Book, the
contents of a set of tablets from the seventh century BC, concerning
the wealth and population of Harran and district. The main population of
the city and its dependent villages, only about 200 years before the
Persian conquest, was Aramaean.
The kinship of the Israelites and the Aramaeans can only have arisen in
the first millennium BC and can be explained if the “returners”,
or some of them, came from these Aramaean cities of north Syria and north
west Mesopotamia. The west Semitic names Abram, Jacob, Ishmael and Israel
simply reflect the names popular in these Syrian places. The Aramaean city
states in the early centuries of the final millennium BC were often
at loggerheads and in alliances alternately. The myths of the monarchical
period seem to be built on Assyrian records and shows these vacillations,
though romanticized, to suit the purposes of the Persian mythmakers. Thus
the “returners” could honestly accept a myth in which they are shown
as migrating from their Aramaean homelands to be the founders of a Persian
district, while the history created out of genuine Assyrian records can
show the Aramaean states often in conflict.
Nor does Abraham mean a “Father of the Multitude”. It is more
likely to mean “The Wild Ox is our Father”. The wild ox was a
favourite symbol of the Assyrians who often pictured in in bas-relief on
their monuments. It is depicted as being shaggy coated and therefore
distinguishable from a domestic ox. It was hunted by the Assyrian kings
and nobles who regarded it as a prize as good as a lion because it was so
strong and fierce. A broken obilisk at Nineveh has the Assyrian king,
Tiglath-pileser I, boasting of destructive wild oxen that he slew at
Ariziqi on the Euphrates, again in this Aramaean region. This is confirmed
by his report on the same obilisk of a raid on the city of Shuppa in the
land of Harran.
Of course, both Abram and Abraham can be read as beginning with the
preposition Eber, “beyond”. They might simply be the “people
beyond”, flattered into the “multitude beyond” because the remnant
would be a multitude if they remained obedient. Abraham can, however, be
read with less punning as “a sacred place beyond”, and that too is how
the Promised Land was presented to the colonists. There is no reason why
all of these puns could not have been intended and appreciated—it is the
nature of these languages.
Rehum was a popular name among “returners” and might have referred
to Aramu. Rehum is the name of a priestly family that returned with
Zerubabel (Neh 12:13). A Rehum was a Levite building the walls and
a leader of the people that signed the covenant with Nehemiah. It appears
also many times among the “returners” of Ezra and Nehemiah as the
variant “Harim”. Another variant is said to be Nehum (as in Nehemiah)
meaning “compassion”. Thus the Rehum of Ezra 2:2 is the Nehum
of Nehemiah 7:7. It seems to have been a Persian name because a
Persian official of that name wrote an important letter to the Shahanshah
to tell him to stop working on the temple (Ezra 4:8-9;17.23).
Some of the names in the story of Abram are the names of towns near
Harran in the Assyrian district “beyond the river” (Eber-nari,
Eber-niri) from the turn of the second millennium—places where the moon
god, Sin, was worshipped. Garbini deduces that the Jews during their exile
were sucking up to Nabonidus (who was confused with the Nebuchadnezzar of
the bible in some instances) by writing a myth that would please the king
and thus gain his favour. Nabonidus, though, did not seem the sort of king
to try to impress. After restoring the temples of Ur and Harran devoted to
his favourite god, Sin, he virtually abdicated while he spent years
seeking antiquities, or pursuing the god Sin, in Arabia Deserta. His son
Belshazzar is mistaken for the monarch in the bible because Nabonidus had
effectively abandoned his duties. In short, Nabonidus was a crank, if not
Nabonidus did not initiate the worship of the god, Sin, at Harran.
Nabonidus, whose father was a governor of Harran, chose Harran as the
centre of worship of the god, Sin, which he favoured. Sin was the local
god of the city, but Nabonidus deported people there to institute the the
worship of the god the way he wanted. He transported there people whose
ancestors, he claimed, had been originally its inhabitants, and persuaded
them that their proper god was Sin. He also rebuilt the ancient ziggurat
of Ur, the temple of Sin, and made his daughter the High Priestess of the
In burningly hot climates, the cool and darkness of the evening comes
as a relief. Darkness was seen as primal and light came out of it. This is
the biblical order of creation. It means the original god was the god of
the night—the moon. Other gods were secondary, including the sun! For
people who followed a lunar calendar, the moon was also the god of time,
and so therefore was Sin. Three stelae found at Harran in the 1950s had
been erected by Nabonidus declaring Sin to be the “king of the gods”.
Expressed in more Persian style of words, this would be “god of gods”
and “lord of lords”.
The connexion of the “returners” with Nabonidus is that the Persian
colonists of Yehud came from these cities in northern Syria—Harran and
Urfa—that devoted themselves to Sin. Terah, Laban, Sarah and Milcah are
all names associated with the moon. The implications are that the
“returners” from Babylon came from these districts in Syria—places
where the god worshipped was the great god Sin, the Semitic moon god, the
precursor of Allah and evidently the precursor of Yehouah in the sense
that the “returners” came from these places where Sin was worshipped.
Their biblical myth was actually a somewhat allegorized account of their
travels from Harran to Yehud as colonists, but set in the distant past to
give them a spurious history.
Harran seems to have been the home of Abram (Gen 12:1,4), not
Ur, though Ur, according to Cyrus Gordon, was the nearby town later called
Edessa (Urfa) but which was called Urfu, at that time, not the Ur near the
junction of the two rivers much further south. Apollonius Molo, even in
the first century BC, tells a different story about the origin of Abraham
from Genesis. The Patriarch was born in the mountainous edges of
Syria, fringing on the northern steppes, after his ancestors had fled from
Armenia. This description fits the same place—it is the neighbourhood of
Urfa and Harran, a place known as Beth Eden (Bit Adini)! Biblicists have
always know where Eden was, but they did not care to say.
Pseudo-Eupolemus, seeming to speak of Genesis 14, says the
enemies are not Mesopotamian but Armenian. Both Philo and Josephus refer
to this Genesis passage but they place it in Assyria, both adding a
detail not now in the bible but which must once have been well known. That
the biblical setting in the Arabah by the Dead Sea is wrong is suggested
by Abraham abusing the enemies of Dan and Hobab, both north of Damascus.
Garbini says other old chroniclers also made Abraham a king in Syria.
Nicolaus of Damascus, for example, Herod’s historian, said Abraham was
the fourth king of Damascus and Israel its fifth king.
Though European and American schoolchildren continue to be taught that
Abraham came from Ur in southern Mesopotamia, people in the area know that
the birthplace of Abraham was Urfa. We can read in Harpers and Queen
magazine in a travel piece on south eastern Turkey by the travel writer,
Philip Marsden, that “the birthplace of Abraham, Urfa, is sacred, like
Jerusalem, to the three monotheistic religions of the region—Judaism,
Christianity and Islam”.
Ur of “the Chaldees” is a misreading of the Hebrew—Ur Chasdiyim—meaning
“Ur of the Holy Ones”. The word “Ur” was simply Sumerian for city,
and the word lived on in Semitic languages, though the Sumerians had long
gone. So, if the meaning “city” was still understood by the word Ur,
“Ur of the Chaldees” could have simply meant “City of the Holy
Ones”. If this Ur really was the old Sumerian City, it was a centre of
the worship of the moon god, Sin, as was Harran.
Jacob, declared in the scriptures to have been a wandering Aramaean,
returns to his kinfolk in Harran, presumably after 1000 BC since the
Aramaeans were not there before then—probably not before the ninth
century BC. Isaac and Jacob both return east for their wives because
Zoroastrians and therefore the “returners” from “exile” had to do
so to get wives of their own faith, again showing that the circumstances
applied to the fifth not the eighteenth century BC. Ezra is most
definite that worshippers of Yehouah could not have Canaanite wives, and
those that had were made to abandon them. Why should displaced Canaanites
returning to their own homeland be denied the chance of marrying wives of
their own race? The ban was not ethnic but religious—Zoroastrian.
The traditions concerning Yehouah in the scriptures are contradictory.
Yehouah was God even before the Flood (Gen 4:26 (J)) but God first
revealed his name to Moses (Ex 3 (E) and Ex 6 (P)).
Elsewhere, the Patriarchs used to worship other gods:
Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your
fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah,
the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other
gods. (Josh 24:2)
Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth:
and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the
flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. (Josh 24:14)
The people were being cajoled into putting away the “other gods”
that their fathers had “served”. Joshua is saying this about 1200 BC
in the myth and the fathers being referred to are the Patriarchs
supposedly from 1800 BC, but it all applies far better to the natives
of Palestine being asked by the Persian administrators—the returners—to
accept the Persian God. If more proof is needed and proof too of dishonest
translation intended to mislead, the Assyrian expression Ebir-nari appears
again in Hebrew (Eberhanahar) but is translated as “beyond the flood”
in both these passages. Joshua is really saying that their fathers lived
in a particular part of the world called (in Assyria) “beyond the
river”. Note that Abraham’s brother’s name is Nachor (Nahor), Flood
or River! Sure enough in this district we find the places he mentions!
The “returners” had at some previous stage had “other gods” but
had been told by the Persians that their true god was Yehouah and had been
obliged to convert and proceed to Palestine as a new privileged priestly
and administrative class. On arrival, they were missionaries to the native
Israelites who were depicted as apostates to the true Yehouah that the
“returners” had brought with them—the God of Heaven. Coming from
Harran, their god had been Sin!
The indirect way the God of the Patriarchs is often referred to
suggests they had different gods from Yehouah but, instead of being named,
they are called “the god of my father” (Gen 31:5; Ex
15:2), “the god of your (his) father” (Gen 31:29; 46:1;50:17),
“your god and the god of your father” (Gen 43:23), “the god
of Abraham and the god of Nahor” (Gen 31:53), “the god of your
father Abraham and your father Isaac” (Gen 28:13), “the god of
your father Abraham” (Gen 26:24). Elsewhere (Gen
31:42,53), Jacob swore by “the terror (or fear) of Isaac his father”
where “terror” seems to be a mistranslation of a word that really
means family god or tribal god. Another circumlocution for the name of the
god is “the mighty one of Jacob” (Gen 49:24).
Some Assyrian texts have references to Assur, the Assyrian national
god—possibly the model for Ahuramazda at least in iconography—but also
to “the god of your father”. It seems to be a polite way of referring
in general to anyone’s personal or family god in a society in which
there were many. Assur was everyone’s god in Assyria but they had
personal gods too. This might have been the initial system used by the “returners”,
allowing a degree of retention of earlier gods while people were weaned on
to the local Assur—Yehouah. In a generation, of course, “the god of
your father” would come to mean the adopted god.
The word “Hebrew” is taken to be synonymous with “Israelite” and
“Jew”, but the scholars cannot decide what it means or why it came
into usage when these people already have two names. The Hebrews must have
lived in Palestine when Abraham and Jacob and their families were nomads.
In Genesis 14:13, the word Hebrew occurs in the bible for the first
time in a reference to “Abram the Hebrew”. Then Joseph explains that
he had been abducted from “the land of the Hebrews (Gen
40:15)”. Hebrews are normally equated with the Israelites who escape
from Egypt. Yet, in 1 Samuel 14:21, the Hebrews side with the
Philistines against the Israelites, but then swap sides! Hebrews were
obviously not necessarily Israelites. Hebrew was the name of the people of
whom Abram and Joseph were a part confirming that it was in use hundreds
of years before the Exodus, if the biblical chronology is to be believed.
The alternative is that these are anachronistic usages in Genesis
showing a later date of composition than usually believed.
“Apiru” or, in Egyptian, “’pr”, is a word found in the El
Amarna letters, referring to raiders of the Egyptian colonies in Canaan
and thought by some to be the invading Israelites. They say therefore that
“Apiru” is the origin of the word “Hebrew”. But why then is the
term Hebrew never found in Joshua and Judges in which the
entry and settlement of the “Hebrews” into Canaan—long after the
word “Apiru” first appeared in history—is described in detail?
The reason is the derivation of Hebrew is not from “Apiru” but from
“eber” meaning “beyond” or “across” the “nahar”, the
shores or banks of The River—the shores or banks of the Euphrates—and
was not used until after Joshua and Judges had been written!
This was the view of T C Mitchell writing in Leonard Cottrell’s Concise
Encyclopedia of Archaeology fifty years ago. Needless to say, the
Hebrews were the people who lived in Eber-niri, Eber hanahara or
Abarnahara. When Abram is called “the Hebrew” in Genesis 14:13,
the Septuagint renders it as “Perates”, meaning Euphrates. In
other words the translators of Genesis into Greek knew that Eber
had something to do with crossing the river Euphrates. Egyption ’pr,
Babylonian Hapiru/Habiru, Hebrew Eber/Ibri all refer to the river
Euphrates, in the sense of those who have crossed it. It is as clear an
indication we shall get that people over 2000 years ago connected Hebrew
with crossing the river Euphrates. The word “Hebrew” refers to people
that lived in the Persian satrapy of Abarnahara, literally “Beyond the
River to the Persians”, an administrative unit of the Persian empire not
set up until the fifth century BC.
“Eber” can also mean the opposite bank or shore and the hinterland
beyond. The expression, Eber-niri, appears in 1 Kings 14:15
where the Israelites would be scattered by God “beyond the river” for
apostasy—a suggestion that they would be transported back whence they
came. In Isaiah 7:20, the same expression is used to designate a
country of the king of Assyria, across the river to those looking from the
west. In Numbers 24:24, Eber is used as an equal or parallel of
Ashur! They are respectively the west and east banks of the Euphrates.
Possibly the name of the province of Abarnahara was an ancient one, and
then so too would the name Hebrew be. That would allow the Egyptians, and
Hittites, people who lived on the west banks to call invaders from the
east who crossed the river, the “Apiru” or “Habiru”. The
expression “Ebir-niri” meaning “beyond the river” was the Assyrian
diplomatic designation of the regions west of the Euphrates—“beyond
the river” to the Assyrians, who lived further east on the banks of the
In Hittite texts, Habiru served the conquerors, the Hittite kings. The
references in the El Amarna letters to the raids of Habiru have been noted
and Apiru were still evident in the time of Rameses IV. But
“Habiru” also appears in Babylonian tablets before Hammurabi, a half a
millennium earlier. They are also mentioned in the Mari tablets of the
time of Zimri-lim, a contemporary of Hammurabi. Other tablets from Arrapha,
east of the Euphrates, says that Habiru sold themselves into slavery
Ebrum was the third and greatest of the six kings of the Ebla dynasty
between 2400 and 2250 BC. Sargon I, the Great, of Akkad, after a
punitive expedition in which Ebla was subjugated, put Ebrum on the throne
of Ebla as a puppet, but after Sargon died (c 2310 BC), Ebrum
reduced Akkad’s cities to vassalage. Only sixty years later in 2250 did
Sargon’s grandson, Narum-Sin (Narum-Suen), reconquer Ebla and burn it
down. It is unlikely to be coincidence that Ebrum means Eber, the
eponymous founder of the Hebrews, suggesting that Sargon gave him the
title of the name of the province, just as British nobility have the name
of their demesne. Eber might have meant “beyond” (the Euphrates river)
even in those days just as it did later. So Ebrum was the name given him
by Sargon after the place he ruled. It was not his birth name.
So, the mention of Hebrews might not be conclusive of a late date, but
we are left with the puzzle of why it was not used in books like Joshua
and Judges that might have been expected to use the word, if it was
earlier. The solution might be that Eber was a general name for anyone
crossing the river—a name for transients from the east of any racial
group but seen as undesirable and disruptive until the Persians began to
use it exclusively for the settled people in their province of Abarnahara.
The region meant by the Assyrian expression was the region where the
modern boundary of Syria and Turkey is cut by the river Euphrates. Several
major tributaries of the Euphrates as well as its main channel and several
rivers running into the Mediterranean, make this the lands of the “banks
of the rivers” which might be the best interpretation of Ebir-nari. It
is the same region near Urfa and Harran, important for Abram and his
Harran was the centre of Paddan Aram (Gen 28:2) as is known from
inscriptions and Tell Feddan remains near Harran into modern times. Til
Nahiri was another ancient town nearby identifiable with Nahor. The
Assyrian census confirming that the area was occupied by Aramaeans has
Arpachshad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah (Gen 10:22; 11:10; 1 Chr
1:17), is nothing less than Persia, and Arpachshad’s grandson is Eber,
the founder of the Hebrews in this legend. The descendents of Eber were
these places near Harran whence Abram began his “return” to Canaan.
The patriarchal tales are propaganda. From the outset, Abram’s
wanderings under God’s guidance would result in a great nation—in
reality reflecting the Persian nation not the Jewish one. But the Persian
administrators were flattering to deceive the people of the Hill Country
of Palestine that they hoped to secure as loyal allies against their
southern neighbour, the mighty and rebellious Egypt.
Dr Manfred Barthel, a German popularizer of biblical discoveries, can
write, in What the Bible Says, this paragraph characterizing
Abraham is the first historical figure who appears in the Old
Testament. No scholar seriously doubts that there actually was such
a person, even though there is not a single piece of independent
evidence to prove that he ever existed.
So, we read Dr S H Hooke in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible
There is no good reason for denying the existence of Abram as a
Have we any good reasons for denying the existence of Horatio
Hornblower as a historical person? Well, of course we have but would we
have in 3000 years time? Horatio Hornblower is fictional even if he seems
to be recognisable in Horatio Nelson. The historian as opposed to the
apologist will ask what reason we have to believe that Abram was
historical and not mythical, and would have to agree with Barthel that
there is none.
The expression “Ur of the Chaldees” is itself anachronistic,
because Babylonians seem not to have been called Chaldaeans in Ur in the
second millennium BC—it was New Babylonian language from a thousand
years later when the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians were interested
in transporting people to pacify their conquests. The route of Abram did
mean something to the people that the Persians transported into Judah on
the pretence that they were being “returned” to their original home!
It was the route they took to Canaan, not any Amorite Abram a
thousand years before.
Chaldees or Chaldaeans is the translation of the biblical name (Kasdim)
of the people of Babylonia, and their astrologer-priests. Curiously no
less than 46 of the 88 mentions of the Kasdim in the scriptures occur in Jeremiah,
eight are in 2 Kings and another eight are in Ezekiel.
These are unquestionably meant to signify the Babylonians because they are
used often in poetic couplets in which Babylonian equals Chaldaean. Daniel
has eleven occurences but at least eight are references to the Chaldaeans
as Magi. Chaldee, the language of parts of Ezra and Daniel,
was thought for a long time to have been their language, but that is
simply a crude form of Persian chancellery Aramaic.
So we are left with a people, a presumed language and a priesthood that
do not match the place where they were supposed to have existed. Yet
historians have accepted what the bible says and have got themselves in
the usual twist. Their response is a sort of historical equivalent of the
archaeologist’s “disturbed strata”. They simply say that the origins
of the Chaldaeans is uncertain, then proceed to give it. What they mean is
that they do not know, but they are happy to give you a plausible guess.
In a while these plausible guesses are accepted as fact, and the scholars
think they have discovered something!
Their guess here is that the Chaldaeans were Semites from the Arabian
peninsula who for many centuries, if not millennia, insidiously
infiltrated, and occasionally raided, Babylonia until they were able to
take it over from the Assyrians. Lutterworth’s Dictionary of the
Bible (sub voce “Chaldaeans”) says the word Chaldaean was
used to replace the expression “Sea-Land” from the ninth century BC—but
the Sea-Land was still being called the Sea-Land in a copy of the Dynastic
Chronicles being used in the reign of Ashurbanipal (c 650 BC).
Nebopolassar (625-605 BC) founded the neo-Babylonian dynasty, and
passed the throne to his energetic and successful son, Nebuchadrezzar II
(604-562 BC), who captured Jerusalem. This neo-Babylonian empire is
what the bible terms Chaldaean. Consequently these kings are considered to
have been Chaldaean, but there is not a shred of independent evidence that
they were. The country seems to have been called Kaldu, but it is an
assumption based on the bible that it was because some tribe called
Chaldaeans had taken over the kingdom.
The truth is that no evidence has been found under these kings of any
distinction between part of the population called Chaldaeans and another
part called Babylonians. They wrote in only one language, doubtless
supposed by the ignorant to have been Chaldaean, but it was the language
that had been used in Mesopotamia by Babylonians and Assyrians for
centuries. Professor John D Prince who was an expert on languages at
Columbia University tells us that “no perceptible differences existed”
between Chaldaeans and Babylonians, and their language “differed in no
way from the ordinary Semitic Babylonian idiom which was practically
identical with that of Assyria”.
The origin of the word “Chaldaean” is equally fanciful. It is
supposedly from the root “kasadu” meaning “conquer”, supposedly
because they conquered Babylon. Yet the Assyrians were writing about
“Kaldu” three centuries before Babylonia was conquered. If the root
was “conquer”, it cannot have been because they conquered Babylonia.
Since the consonant change had already been made at the time of
Adad-nirari III (811-782 BC), they must have conquered Babylonia
even before because this Assyrian king already seemed to regard Babylonia
Some early connexion with an actual Chaldaea is claimed when a rebel,
Mardukabiliddinna (biblical Merodach-baladan), rose up against the
Assyrian kings Sargon II (722-705 BC) and Sennacherib (705-681 BC),
managing to gain control of Babylonia twice (721-710 BC and briefly
in 703 BC). The connexion is that this man from the small city of Bit
Yakin in the very south of Mesopotamia was called by Sargon both the
“king of Bit Yakin” and the “king of Chaldaea”. So was Bit Yakin
the capital of Chaldaea? Or was it simply that the king of Bit Yakin
became the king of Chaldaea? One trouble with identifying Bit Yakin with
Chaldaea came from Sargon’s successor, Sennacherib, who distinguished
the Arabs of the desert and Aramaeans from the Chaldeans, yet our modern
historians say they were indeed Arabs. What is more, when Assyria fell to
the neo-Babylonian monarchs, it too was included in Kaldu!
There is an alternative to the identification of Chaldaean with
“conquer”. It is that it comes from the root “chesed” (“hasid”)
meaning “pious” or “holy”. The Chaldaeans were the Hasidim, the
Holy Ones. The later Hasids of second century Judaea will have chosen the
term especially for its meaning and its association with Babylon whence
came Judaism originally. The hasids wanted a return to pure worship—that
of the Persians not the Hellenized priesthood of the Sadducees.
For long, Babylonia was the country of temples. All the great cities of
Babylonia had temples and were sacred places, so that the whole of
Babylonia was thought of as holy, but especially after the legends of the
creation and the rise of Marduk to the kingship of heaven had become
elaborated. This explains why the Babylonians were also called the
Chaldaeans—they were the Holy or Pious People. The chief city in renown
and importance was Babylon, where the prime temple was Esagila, “the
temple of the high head”, with a shrine called “the temple of the
foundation of heaven and earth”.. This building was called by
Nebuchadrezzar “the temple-tower of Babylon”, and is better known as
the biblical “Tower of Babel”.
“Chesed” seems a particularly good root for the word as
applied to priests, but it offers terrible problems to those historians
who have already decided that the Chaldaeans were a tribe of scallies from
Arabia. How did the scallies get to be the priests? Classical authors such
as Herodotus (fifth century BC), Strabo and Diodorus (both first
century BC) use the word to mean priests and astronomers, and, we saw
the author of Daniel did too, writing in the second century BC.
Biblicists are familar, of course, with the idea of tribal people being
appointed en masse to the priesthood. The caste of Levites
supposedly emerged from a tribe of Israelites who showed a particular
inclination to stand up for God. It is myth, but conceivably based on the
myth devised by the Chaldaean priests that they derived from a tribe. The
classical writers called the Magi of Iran a tribe too. Rather than seeing
pious tribes being elevated in society by their devotion, it is safer to
see the classical writers using the word tribe as synonymous with caste.
The point about a tribe is that it is a group of related families and that
is just what these ancient castes were. Their jobs—here the
priesthood—in each case were passed on by hereditary.
Xenophon (Anabasis) says that there were Chaldaeans by the Black
These troops were Armenian and Mardian and Chaldaean mercenaries
belonging to Orontas and Artuchas. The last of the three, the Chaldaeans,
were said to be a free and brave set of people. They were armed with
long wicker shields and lances… There have been tribes like the
Carduchians, the Taochians, the Chaldaeans, which, albeit they were not
subject to the great king, yet were no less formidable than
independent… Then some independent tribes—the Carduchians or Kurds,
and Chalybes, and Chaldaeans, and Macrones, and Colchians, and
Mossynoecians, and Coetians, and Tibarenians.
It is a long way from the south of Iraq, so who were these northern
Chaldaeans? Professor Carl F Lehmann-Haupt of Innsbruck explains that
the people of Urartu (Hebrew Ararat, Van) called themselves Chaldini (a
plural), and worshipped a god called Chaldi (Kasdi). It must be that the
Black Sea Chaldaeans were these same people. The Urartians lived where the
Hurrians used to live, and had a similar language. They will have been
Hurrians, Urartu being the same word as Hurru. These mountain dwellers
built fortresses on high crags throughout the highlands north of Assyria.
They were excellent builders in stone, were economically strong, and
worked well in bronze.
Urartu was what is now Armenia, a country that covers Armenia itself
and parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Much of it is where the modern Kurds
live, and the Kurds are the direct line of the people who lived there
then, although interbred with subsequent peoples. The Gutu or Kuti lived
in the middle reaches of the Tigris about 2000 BC, in Sumerian times,
and were related apparently to the Kassites who lived to the east on the
edge of the Iranian plateau. The Assyrian name of them, Kirtie, evolved
into Kardi. The name of Babylonia used in the Amarna letters is Karduniash.
The Armenians crossed the Caucasus in about 600 BC, pushing the
Chaldians to the south so that they lived in what is now Kurdistan. The
word “Kurd” is “Kald” with another common consonantal change.
|735-714—Rusa (Ursa) I
|684-640—Rusa (Ursa) II
British Museum catalogues seemed to be determined not to mention the
Chaldians of Urartu, and bundle them together in descriptions as “the
northern tribes”, while Assyriologists happily speak of Chaldaeans and
Babylonians being in coalition when they otherwise consider them as the
same people. It is like saying the Yankees and the Americans were allies.
Before the Chaldian country was called Urartu-Chaldia, it was called Naïri,
a name that is suspiciously similar to the word Nahor meaning river. It
suggests it was, or included, Aram-naharaim, the home of the patriarchs. A
king of Urartu was actually called Aramu and fought Shalmaneser III
(859-824 BC). A seated figure of this Assyrian king found at Ashur
listed his conquests in “Akkad and Kaldu”.
Boris Piatrovski (The Ancient Civilization of Urartu, 1969) says
that in the 700s BC the Chaldians ruled most of north Syria, meaning
that Urfa and Harran were under Chaldian influence and probably had
Chaldians among their populations. Tiglath-pileser defeated a coalition of
north Syrian states under the the Chaldian king Sardur II at
Commagene. Sardur fled to his mountain fortress at Van while the Aramaean
states including Israel according to the bible (2 Kings 15-16)
and Damascus were severely punished.
A Chaldian king called Ispiuni fought Adad-nariri and was successful
enough to be able to found a Chaldean colony at Musasir, near Lake Urmia
where he set up a stele. Urartu was the center of metal artwork from 900
to 650 BC. About this time, the Persians lived in this area, and were
associated with these Chaldians. Persian art and architecture were forever
influenced by this contact. The Urartians were the master canal builders,
and portions of their great projects still remain. The Persians became
experts on building subterranean canals and irrigation ducts, and either
learnt these skills when they and the Urartians were neighbours, or they
employed Urartian engineers.
A Chaldian king Rusus I built a new capital city and schemed
against Sargon II. Here is where myth and history meet. Rusus formed
a coalition against Sargon, and who should be among the allies but
Mardukabaliddinna whom Sargon called a “king of the land of Chaldaeans”.
Such confederations were a feature of resistance to the Assyrians, and are
mentioned in the bible.
Rusus was successful and erected a stele which was deliberately broken
by Sargon in a later attack, but was restored by Rusus II. Rusus
eventually was killed or committed suicide when faced with attacks on two
fronts from the wild Scythian tribe of Cimmerians coming across the
Caucasus and Sargon planning to return to the fray (714 BC). Rusus II
cleverly employed the Cimmerians to help him fight Esarhaddon (680-668 BC),
but they were then allowed to pass through the land to the Anatolian
plateau, where they became the biblical Gomer, showing, at least, that Genesis
could not have been written before this time.
Esarhaddon’s predecessor, Sennacherib, erected many stelae giving
details of his campaigns, many of which were against the allies. His first
campaign in 703 was against that same Mardukkabaliddinna who had been
deposed as king of Babylon by Sargon in 710 BC. The rebel reformed
the coalition with Elam, Aribi, and Judah, but was defeated in less than a
year. Sennacherib then fought the Medes, and the Kassites to the east
(whose god was called Kaspi, compare Caspian Sea), the Cilicians, the
Sidonians and Palestine to the west, sieging the Jerusalem of Hezekiah,
the tribes of Urartu to the north-west, subjugated the marsh Arabs
(considered as the Chaldaeans), crossed the Persian gulf in pursuit of
these rebels, and subjugated the rebellious Elamites and Babylonians. It
does not seem unreasonable that this was a continuous punitive campaign
against the countries that had allied against Assyria.
Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC) was also confronted by the confederates.
A ten sided prism dated to 636 BC gives an account of his early
campaigns which include a defeat of Elam, one of the allies, in his fifth
campaign and in his sixth campaign he fought a confederacy of Elam, the
Arabs of the desert, Babylon and the Chaldaeans. Now Babylon was ruled by
his own brother, Shamashshumukin, at the wish of their father Esarhaddon,
and he had risen against his brother with the allies, yet Babylon is
distinguished from Chaldaea, among the allies, and the Chaldaeans are
plainly not the Arabs of the desert. Babylon was crushed and the king went
on in further campaigns to destroy Elam and reduce the Arab tribes that
had been part of the coalition. Moreover, an eight sided prism covers much
the same ground as the later ten-sided one, but speaks of the submission
of Rusas. One of these coalitions will have been in the author’s mind
when, in Genesis, the four kings attack the five cities.
The Chaldians seemed to ally with the Medes when Cyrus went to subdue
the Lydians (28 May 585 BC) on the river Halys. They then remained
loyal members of the Persian empire, sheltering many conquered Medes and
Persians when the empire fell. Jeremiah 51:27-28 gloatingly
describes the coalition against Babylon of the Medes, Manni, Urartians and
Scythians. Jeremiah knew about this coalition in 539 BC, so his book
was written later than this date.
Linguistically and culturally the Chaldians were different from the
Semites and the Indo-Europeans, though they obviously mixed with many of
the latter coming across the mountains from the north, and ultimately with
the Medes, and their language was said to be a dialect of Hurrian. Their
closest cultural ties were with the Cretans and with the Etruscans.
Were these the Chaldaeans?
The scholars say “No”, but there is a clear possible point of
confusion in the time of Sargon, when the king’s scribe could have
mistaken the ally of the Chaldians, Mardukabaliddinna, as a Chaldian
himself. The word Chaldaean, derived from “chesed” and applied
to the priests and people of Babylonia, did not mean the Chaldians as a
people, simply describing the nature of the Babylonians themselves and
their priestly caste as pious, but the biblical authors confused the two.
The biblical authors confused them, but the link was the place of
origin of the colonists into Yehud. They came from Urfa and Harran, places
that were in the sphere of influence of the Chaldians of Urartu. It has to
be considered whether “Ur of the Chaldees” actually was Urfa, a city
that could quite easily have been held by the Chaldians for parts of its
history. James H Platt in the Oxford Companion to the Bible
says that the identification of Ur of the Chaldees with the Ur in Sumer,
“is not universally accepted”, and that “some scholars have
suggested it is Urfa”. He adds that Chaldaeans were one of five tribes
that only became dominant in the late sixth century, implying that these
“tribes” were castes, and Chaldaean must be identified with Magi.
Moreover, Ur, which normally means a city, took that meaning from the
walls—it is a walled city or a fortress, properly. Because cities were
small states that held land outside the walls, Ur came also to mean a
“land” or “country”. It seems that the country of Agade, north of
Babylon was called Uri—“The Land”—just as Israel is in the bible,
and this seems to coincide with Aram-naharaim, at least in part. Eusebius
refers to Ur as Urie. “Ur of the Chaldees” could convincingly simply
mean “the country of the Chaldians”—Urartu. Artu looks like the
Indo-European word for Order and Truth, which would mean the name of the
country could have been read as the “Land of Truth”, a name that would
have impressed Zoroastrians, and inclined the Medes to favour the
Mesopotamia is a Greek word meaning “between the rivers”, today
taken to mean the whole of the country called Iraq because of the two
great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris that define it. That was not
its original Greek meaning, though. For Alexander’s generals, it was the
northern part of the country, from roughly Seleucia or Ctesiphon—the
point of narrowing between the rivers—to the Anatolian plateau which is
their source. In other words, it covers the Syrian plain where the cities
of Urfa and Harran are situated. The biblical translators are inconsistent
as usual in often translating as Mesopotamia what is written “Aram-naharaim”,
Aram of the rivers, but sometimes using the words untranslated as if they
were a name, and sometimes translating them more or less literally as
“Syria of the Rivers” or “Syria of Mesopotamia” (Septuagint).
Nicolas of Damascus, a historian of the time of Herod and one of the
sources used by Josephus, claims that Abram was a king of Damascus, a city
in Syria. Justin Martyr had heard the same story. J W Rogerson, in The
Oxford Companion to the Bible openly declares that Mesopotamia is
“the equivalent geographical name” as Aram-naharaim. Stephen M Hooks,
in the Lutterworth Dictionary of the Bible explains that the area
meant by the name Aram-naharaim was the region between the Euphrates and
the river Khabur, the precise place of origin of the family of Abraham.
In the apocryphal Book of Judith, Mesopotamia occurs three
times, all in the potted history of the Jews given by Achior (Jud
5). The Jews are described as being descended from the Chaldaeans, who
were polytheists, but the Chaldaeans worshipped the God of Heaven, and
were obliged to leave their home and move to Mesopotamia. This God of
Heaven is Yehouah and he then ordered them to go to Canaan where they
settled and prospered.
This story was written when there was no ambiguity about the word
Mesopotamia—in Hasmonaean times, when the Holy Ones or Hasids had come
into Judah from Babylon. It meant the plain of Syria, so the Jews moved to
the plain of Syria from Chaldaea. It seems much more likely that the
Chaldaea meant was the one otherwise known as Urartu or Ararat than that
it was another Chaldaea hundreds of miles south in the marshes by the
Persian gulf. Perhaps these holy Chaldaeans became the caste of Babylonia
priests and some went to Yehud.
So the colonists of Jerusalem—or some of them—might have been
Chaldians from Harran, Urfa or even Urartu itself, placed in the
privileged position of guardians of the new temple state. If others were
Chaldaean priests (Magi) from Babylon, there is a basis for the confusion
of later biblical authors.
|Harran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in
Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 11:28).
|Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Harran his son’s son,
and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went
forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of
Canaan; and they came unto Harran, and dwelt there (Gen 11:31).
|And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of
the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it (Gen 15:7).|
The Urartu-Chaldians were fond of the winged solar disc, the serpent,
and bison in their art, and seemed to worship trees. Images of trees were
guarded by various supernatural beings and beasts. The tree appeared on
personal seals on Urartian correspondence, bronze cups, warriors’ bronze
belts and helmets, monoliths throughout the land, and wall paintings and
carved columns in palaces. The biblical legend of the fall of Adam might
What we seem to have are foundation legends of people from north Syria,
around the modern city of Edessa—Urfu (Ur) and Harran—who were
resettled in the Palestine hills. These people were Aramaeans but included
Chaldians from Urartu, the country that had ruled them for a century or
two, when Urfa was “Ur of the Chaldees”. Ancient stories about a real
king Ebrum, over 1000 years before, were mythologized into a foundation
myth of the people “across the river” (Eber-nari), and was taken by
the deportees into Yehud when the Persians transported them into
Ur to Canaan
The false chronology of the bible puts Abram’s migration 850 years
before the monarchy, about 1800 BC. Some aspects of the story
militate against such a date and none can be said unequivocally to confirm
it. To accept the chronology of the scriptures is to accept the impossibly
long lives of the early human beings. No doubt Christian and Jewish
“scholars” will do this, but since the chronology is plainly symbolic,
there is no need to.
For most of the third millennium BC, Canaanite and Syrian society was
urban with magnificent Bronze Age cities, but, in the second millenium,
the city structure collapsed and the people took to pastoralism. Abram’s
story gives little indication of the existence of fortified cities or of a
crisis causing their demise, unless it is Genesis 14, which looks
more like an insertion to establish Abraham as a man of substance. For
harmonizing apologists, the supposed Amorite invasion provided a
convenient hook to the biblical story of the Patriarchs. Biblicists have
associated Abram with this supposed movement of nomadic Amorites from
Mesopotamia to Canaan early in the second millennium BC. W F Albright
devised a series of refined classifications for the ancient Near East
Bronze Age to suite his presuppositions about the Patriarchs.
There is some evidence of a change in culture in Palestine in the early
second millennium, innovations from Syria being noted, and Egyptian texts
speak of movements of Asiatics called the “Amu”, identified as
Amorites. The Egyptian Execration Texts also mention princes of
roving and settled bands of people with Amoritic names. However the
cultural changes are not so sudden that they could not have occurred by
evolution or adoption rather than by invasion, or a crisis such as urban
The Amu of the Egyptian texts seem to be the Egyptian name of a people
permanently residing in the desert areas who took advantage of Egyptian
weakness, from time to time, to move in, but otherwise kept a healthily
respectful distant but friendly relationship with Egypt. They might have
been the Amorites in their Arabian homeland. A movement into Palestine and
Syria from this area is not impossible and might have happened. The
context might be congenial but it is not exclusive.
Bedouin tribes have lived in the area until modern times and any such
chief could have served as the model of a nomadic founding father, but
cannot be identified with the movement of a single family under Abram from
Chaldaea. The fact remains that the story of Abraham does not fit the
model. He was living with his own father as a family settled, not nomadic,
in Ur, then deliberately moved to Harran, again settling so that it became
the family’s new home, then again deliberately moving to Palestine to
settle again after having a look at Egypt.
These movements are usually explained by Christians because the
Patriarchs were semi-nomads following the seasonal pastures for their
flocks, but not wandering freely, instead staying near towns so that
before long they settled down like Lot and his family. It sounds
convincing but anthropologists have found that pastoral nomads evolve from
settled farmers not the other way round. Pastoralism evolves in marginal
agricultural areas as an insurance against crop failure, which is not
uncommon, since otherwise farming in such difficult country would be
risky. The herds saw the farm through bad cereal years but otherwise the
combination offered a greater variety of diet.
If any Amorite movements happened, they seem to have been only
movements from the rural steppelands into the settled urban areas of the
city states. Rather than migrating from Ur to Harran, the migrants seem to
have migrated into Ur, Harran and other cities in Mesopotamia and Canaan.
The Amorite invasions were simply a collapse of the urban
economy—probably an ecological collapse caused by overintensive farming
that forced a return to pastoralism when the soil eroded and degraded, and
was unable to support the populations of the city states. This phase is
now considered the final period of the Early Bronze Age—EBIV.
Some apologists have pointed to the use of tents as proof of nomadism
but tents were commonly used by settled people in these times and were
actually used for shelter more in the first millennium BC than in the
second, according to Van Seters. Nor were the possession of flocks and
asses any sign of nomadism. It should not need saying that settled people
had flocks and asses as well as nomads. Only settled populations had
slaves, nomads being travelling families, all related. Lest there be more
argument, let the Jews and Christian believers read the contract between
the Hebrews and the nomadic Ishmaelites (Gen 16:12;20:15;21:20-21)
which shows the Hebrews as the settled population.