Throughout the Old Testament, and especially the New Testament, the name of Abraham stands for the representative man of faith. Look at Romans 4:

       What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say?

       "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."

       Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

"Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

       Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
       So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
       It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
       Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
       Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

I. Abraham in the frame of contemporary history:

       Despite the discovery of numerous inscriptions in the Ancient Near East, we have no references to the patriarch Abraham outside the biblical accounts. In fact, it is difficult for most scholars to even affix a precise date for his life.
       Generally, though, scholars place Abraham's migration from Ur somewhere between 1900 and 1750 BC. Here are some factors to consider in arriving at a date:

A. The Biblical Date of Abraham's Migration from Ur.

       According to scattered chronological notices given mainly in the books of Genesis and Exodus, Abraham left Mesopotamia (Haran) on his way to Palestine about 645 years before the Israelites left Egypt. This figure is made up of the actual patriarchal period (Abraham-Jacob) consisting of 215 years, plus the Egyptian sojourn which lasted 430 years.
       The period of 215 years as the duration of the patriarchal period in Palestine is arrived at from the following biblical data:
       According to Genesis 12:4, Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. According to Genesis 21:5, he was "one hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him." Since Isaac was "sixty years old" when Jacob was born (Genesis 25:26) and Jacob was "a hundred and thirty years old" when he stood before the Pharaho of Egypt (Genesis 47:9), the total is found by adding 25 years for Abraham, 60 years for Isaac, and 130 years for Jacob, giving 215 years as the length of the period from Abraham's arrival in the country until Jacob's exit from it.
       According to Exodus 12:40-41, the entire period of Israel's sojourn in Egypt was 430 years.
       The LXX at this point reads 215 years for the Egyptian sojourn, so that is a possible variance in our dating. But compare Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6. Of course, the 400 years might be constructed by adding together the patriarchal period and the 215 years of captivity as given by the LXX.
       If we go with the Hebrew text, however, the patriarchs spent about 215 years in Canaan, and the Israelites 430 years in Egypt. Abraham, accordingly, entered Canaan 645 years before the Exodus (or 415 if we follow the LXX).
       If we accept the synchronism of 1 Kings 6:1, which places the Exodus 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon's reign (which we know to be about 961 BC), we have a date of the Exodus in 1441 BC. That would place Abraham's entrance into Canaan at 2086 BC, and his birth at 2161 BC, since he was seventy-five years old when he left Haran for Canaan (Genesis 12:4). The Patriarchal period, then, would extend from 2086 BC to 1871 BC, and the Egyptian sojourn from 1871 to 1441 BC.
       If we reject the synchronism of 1 Kings 6:1 and read the 480 as being short hand for twelve generations (12x40 = 480), then we can perhaps argue that a generation more realistically is only twenty years, so that puts the Exodus at about 1290 BC. Thus, Abraham then entered Palestine about 1935 BC, he was born about 2010 BC. If we use the LXX dates for the Egyptian sojourn, then Abraham entered Palestine about 1720 and was born about 1795.

B. Ur

       Going with the Early dates, Abraham was born under the new Sumero-Akkadian Empire of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2135-2025 BC). Ur-Nammu took the title "King of Sumer and Akkad"; his mightiest work was the erection of the great ziggurat at Ur, which remains the best preserved of all monuments of this type. The Hebrew patriarch accordingly would have emigrated from the famous city when it was just entering its heyday of power and prestige, with a dynasty that lasted over a century. He would, moreover, be leaving Haran for Canaan when his native city had reached the height of its influence in southern Mesopotamia.
       The patriarchal age, in Palestine, would, on the other hand, witness numerous smaller Elamite and Amorite states in Mesopotamia with Elamite princes at Isin and Larsa, and Amorites at Eshnunna, who between 2100 and 1800 BC took over the heritage of the Third Dynasty of Ur after its collapse and the subsequent destruction of the capital city, Ur.
       Egypt, during the patriarchal period in Palestine was powerful; it was the time of the strong Middle Kingdom, under the Twelth Dynasty (2000-1780 BC). Joseph became prime minister of, and Jacob stood before, one of the powerful pharaohs of this dynasty (Amenemes I-IV or Senworsret I-III).
       Israel, moreover, was in Egypt during the Hyksos period of foreign domination (1780-1546 BC), was oppressed by the great Thutmose III (1482-1450 BC) of the New Kingdom (18th dynasty) and left the country of Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep II (1450-1425 BC).

Ur in the Abrahamic Era.

       The Old Testatment is quite clear in its statement that Abraham's home was originally in lower Mesopotamia, specifically the city of Ur, and that he subsequently emigrated to Haran in upper Mesopotamia on his way to Canaan (Gen. 11:28-31; 12:1-4; 15:7; Neh. 9:7). Singularly enough, Abraham's native city is referred to not simply as Ur in the Old Testament (Gen. 11:31, etc.) but Ur of the Chaldees. The qualifying phrase "of the Chaldees" is not an anachronism as many critics hold, but simply a later gloss to explain to a subsequent age, when Ur and its location had vanished, that the city was located in southern Babylonia.
       The polytheistic eastern ancestry of the Hebrews is indicated in Joshua 24:2. There is the story told in the Talmud, of when little Abraham was six or seven, his father left him in charge of his idol shop while he went out to conduct some business. When his father got home, he discovered to his horror that all the idols had been smashed, but one -- the big one in the center, who was holding a stick in its hands.
       "Abraham, what have you done?" demanded his father.
       "I? Nothing. The Big idol got angry and smashed all the little idols."
       "Don't take me for a fool, son. Idols don't get up and walk around, they don't breathe, they don't eat and they don't move -- and they certainly can't smash anything."
       "Then why do you bother worshipping them?"
       This idolatrous environment out of which the Hebrew patriarchs came has been illuminated by the excavations at Ur. Until 1854 the site was completely unknown, as far as it being the location of the ancint city of Ur. The Arabs called the spot al Muqayyar, "the mound of Bitumin". In that year of 1854, J.E. Taylor conducted some simple excavations there which yeilded cylinders stating that Nabonidus of Babylon (556-539 BC) had there restored the ancient ziggurat of Ur-Nammu. Further excavations by H.R. Hall in 1918 and notably by C.L. Wolley from 1922-1934, have made Ur one of the best-known ancient sites of souther Babylonia and have revealed that it was one of the largest and wealthiest cities of that area, particularly at the time biblical chronology suggests Abraham left it with his father.
       The ziggurat of Ur-Nammu of Abraham's day was probably erected on top of a smaller structure which may have been as old as the reign of Mes-Anne-padda of the First Dynasty of Ur (c. 2800-2600 BC). But its upper part was the work of Nabonidus. The bulk of the great artificial mountain, however, had been constructed by Ur-Nammu, and his name and title were discovered stamped on the bricks. The tower was a solid mass of brickwork, 200 feet long, 150 feet wide and about 70 feet high. The facing, covering the inner core of unbaked brick, consisted of baked brick set in btumen, eight feet in thickness.
       The ziggurat was thus a mountain of brickwork, a "high place" or artificial hill made by men who had once worshipped gods on mountain tops -- or so it is supposed. Finding nothing of the sort of this flat alluvial plain, they had set to work to build one. The called it "the hill of heaven" or the "mountain of God". They planted trees and shrubs on its stages, in imitation of the real hills of their native home. The whole design was a masterpiece, the lines of the walls being built on calculated curves to give the appearance of lightness and strength.
       Originally the shrine of Nannar, the moon god, stood on the upermost stage, for Ur was dedicated to this deity. Numerous other gods were worshipped in Babylonia, but at Ur Nannar was supreme. Other deities might have their temples, but at Ur a whole quarter of the city was set apart for him. He was called "the Exalted Lord", the "crown of Heaven and Earth", "the Beautiful Lord who Shines in Heaven", and similar epithets.
       The city walls enclosed a rough oval comprising an area some two and a half miles in circuit. Within this tract in the the northwest part, was a second enclosure, consisting of a rectangular space about four hundred yards in lenghth and approximately two hundred yards in width. This was the TEMENOS or sacred area of Nannar. Originally it was a platform raised above the general level of the town. But gradually it had been dwarfed by the constant rise of the residential district, where dilapidation and reconstriction upon preceding debris and ruins were much more common than in the carefully kept temple enclosure.
       The great wall that encircled the sacred precinct rose high above its surroundings and set off the TEMENOS as a holy place.
       Nannar was not only the god of Ur, but also he was its king. So it was fitting that his house should be the city's ultimate stronghold. It was indeed designed as an inner fortress, but it was nonetheless the temple of the moon good. Moreover, the walled platform or temenos was the moon god's terrace and on it stood also the ziggurat, the chief splendor of the city and the center of its cult. On its uppermost stage was the shrine of Nannar containing the statue of the god and his bedchamber.
       In front of the ziggurat, set between its stairways, were twin temples, the day houses of the moon god and his consort, the goddess Nin-Gal, in which were the shrines of the lesser gods who formed their retinue. Abutting these were the sacred kitchens where the daily food of the gods (eaten by their eartly representatives) offered in connection with their worship, was prepared.
       In front of the ziggurat and on a lower level was a large open court surrounded by many chambers, which was a sort of market place where the populous of the city and surrounding country brought their gifts and paid thier taxes to the moon god, for Nannar was the great landlord of his people. He owned their farms, their shops, and their wealth. Their gifts and payments were in kind, and were recorded on wet clay tablets and deposited in the archives of the temple.
       The ziggurat and the open court at its base however, did not take up all the area of the TEMENOS. On one side of the court arose another temple called "the House of Great Plenty". This was the harem, as it were, of the moon god. Here, in twin shrines, one devoted to Nannar and the other to his spouse, a secret ritual was conducted. In the adjacent apartments were housed the priestess-prostitutes. The House of great Pleanty (what we would call a Whore House) faced the Sacred Way, a broad thoroughfare running through the TEMENOS from northeast to southeast.
       The Sumerian Temple was much more than a place of "worship". The sacred area of Ur with its multitudinous activities was like a monastery in the Middle Ages. Arranged around a building called "the Great House of Tablets" were factories, workshops, and offices. In a theocratic state the moon god was king as well as god. He needed civil servants as well as priests. Much of the activity in the TEMENOS was devoted to the secular business of the priesthood and doubtless the worship of Nannar at Ur, like the worship of Caesar Augustus at Rome, was a demonstration of loyalty to the state rather than the expression of religious need. But that did not diminish its importance. "We have to think of Ur in Abraham's time as dominated by a cult the essense of which was its material magnificence, a cult absolutely inseparable from the city."

II. Abraham at Haran and in Canaan.

       Despite the remarkable discoveries made in the course of the systematic excavations at Ur, especially the royal tombs, no direct evidence has been found of Abraham's residence there, and such evidence could scarecely be expected, since Ur was very large and Terah and his sons inconspicuous citizens who emigrated from it. However, the case is quite different in the region of Haran to which the patriarch went. In this region of northwest Mesopotamia there is unmistakable evidence of the extended Hebrew residence in the vicinity of the Balikh and Habur rivers, two tributaries of the Euphrates east of the great bend south of ancient Carchemish.

A. Abraham's Sojourn at Haran:

       The town of Haran (Gen. 11:31; 12:5) is still in existence on the Balikh River sixty miles west of Tell Halaf. It was a flourishing city in the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries BC, as is known from frequent references to it in cuneiform sources. The name appears in Assyrian documents as Harranu (road) likely because here the trade route from Damascus joined the highway from Nineveh to Carchemish. Sinularly enough, like Ur, Abraham's birthplace, it was also the seat of worship of the moon god from very ancient times. Whether Terah chose Haran as a place to settle because he had not broken with his idolatry, or perhaps from commercial reasons, can, of course, only be guessed at.
       The city of Nahor, which was Rebekkah's home (Gen. 24:10), occurs often as Nakhur in the Mari tablets, discovered in 1935 and dating from the eighteenth century BC. To judge from the Mari references and Assyrian records of the seventh century BC, where Nahor occurs as Til-Nakhiri (the Mound of Nahor), it seems to have been located in the Balikh Valley below Haran. Beside the definite location of the patriarchal cities Haran and Nahor in northwestern Mesopotamia, hardly less clear indications of Hebrew residence in this region appear in the names of Abraha's forefathers, which correspond tothe names of towns near Haran: Serug (Assyrian Sarugi), Nahor, and Terah (Til Turakhi, "Mound of Terah", inAssyrian times). Other immediate ancestors and relatives of Abraham listed in Genesis 11:10-30 have left traces in this territory, called Paddan-Aram (Aramaic paddana, the field or plain of Aram) in Genesis 25:20, 26:6-7, and so on. Reu also corresponds to later names of towns in the Middle-Euphrates valley. Peleg, for example, recalls later Paliga on the Euphrates, just above the mouth of the Habur.
       Beside definite geographical links between the Hebrew patriarchs and their earlier residence in northwest Mesopotamia, a number of the early patriarchal narratives indicate a formative influence from this region. Terah not only died in Haran (Gen. 11:31-32) from which city Abram then migrated to Canaan (Gen. 12:4), but a wife for Isaac was fetched from "the city of Nahor" (Gen. 24:10). Jacob fled to Haran (Gen. 27:43) from Esau's wrath, and he lived in Paddan-Aram at least twenty years while in Laban's employ (Gen. 29:1-31:55).

B. Abraham in Canaan.

       At the age of seventy-five and after the death of Terah, Abraham left Haran and came into Canaan (Gen. 12:4-5). In this age Palestine was still thinly poplulated. Linguistically the bulk of its inhabitants belonged to the same family as the Hebrews, though their racial composition and cultural traditions were different. Virtually all the Canaanite towns were then located in the Coastal Plain, the Plain of Esdraelon, and the Valley of the Jordan and of the Dead Sea.
       As Albright wrote,

       The hill country was in the main still unoccupied by sendentary population, so the biblical tradition is absolutely correct in making the patriarchs wander over the hills of central Palestine and the dry lands of the south, where there was still pleanty of room for them.

       This general stituation which prevailed in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2200-1550 BC) in Palestine is in thorough agreement with the semi-nomadic life of the patriarchs as pictured in the Genesis narratives. On the other hand it is completely out of perspective for a later period, particularly after 1200 BC, and its origin as a late invention would be most difficult to explain.
       In the Bronze Age the mountains of Palestine were heavily forested on the watershed ridge and the western slope, so that there was little arable land. Cisterns, moreover, had not then come into general use. Consequently there were no settlements except where good springs are located just under a low hill, suitable for defense, with meadows or valleys near at hand, to insure a supply of food. Between such fortiefied towns, most of which were located on the watershed ridge or near it, there was plenty of room for semi-nomadic tribes, whose existence is attested by the remains of Middle and Late Bronze Age pottery in cemeteries whihc were too far from towns to have been used by the sedentary population.
       It is significant, too, in this connection that the topographical allusions in the patriarchal stories fit the archaelogical indications of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2200-1550 BC) extremely well. In fact, so many corroberations of detail have come to light in the last several decades that "most competent scholars have given up the old critical theory according to which the stories of the patriarchs are mostly retrojections from the time of the Dual Monarchy (9th-8th c. BC). For instance, places which appear in connection with the movements of the patriarchs are not the towns and holy sites of later periods, such as Mizpah or Gibeahk, but are nearly all known from recent archaelogical explorations to have been inhabited in the patriarchal age, such as Shechem, Bethel, Dothan, Gerar, Jerusalem (Salem) and Bersheba. Hebron, however, as a city, was not in existence in Abraham's day. It was not founded until "seven years before Zoan in Egypt" (Num. 13:22), that is, about 1700 BC. Earlier, the site was called Mamre, and the mention of Hebron (Gen. 13:18, 23:19) is an explanatory note by Moses (or later editor) to indicate where Mamre was.

Sodom and Gomorrah

       The five cities of the plain (circle) of the Jordan -- Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar, also belong to the early patriarchal age. The biblical notice that the district of the Jordan, where these cities were located, was exceedingly fertile and well-peopled around 2065 BC, but that not long afterwards was abandoned, are in full accord with the archaeological facts. It is now known that these cities were situated in the Vale of Siddim (Gen. 14:3), and it used to be believed that this was the area at the southern end of the Dead Sea, now covered with water.
       In the September/October 1980 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, it was reported that Walter E. Rast of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana and R. Thomas Schaub of the University of Pennsylvania, were excavating two sites near the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan, which they believe are prime candidates for the Biblical cities destroyed because of their wickedness.
       The principle site is a place called Bab edh-Dhra, less than one mile east of the Lisan, the tongue-like peninsula that protrudes into the Dead Sea on the eastern shore. While surveying the area around Bab edh-Dhra, Rast and Schaub discovered the second site, Numeira, in 1973. Even without excavation, the archaeologists could see that the site had been burned. Spongy charcoal was all over the ground and could be scooped up by hand. Pottery sherds found on the site's surface easily dated Numeira to the Early Bronze Age (c. 3200-2200 BC), the same period that Bab edh-Drah was inhabited.
       Located seven miles south of Bab edh-Dhra, Numeira is a mere two-acre site. Excavations have revealed a number of domestic installations and the existence of some local industry including winemaking. The preservation of a large batch of grapes with skins still on -- found in what may have been a winery -- seems almost miraculous. The remains of a tower from which the inhabitants could have been warned of approaching danger was also uncovered: a flight of plaster lined stairs leading to the upper part of the tower was preserved.
       In their systematic survey of the area, Rast and Schaub also found three other sites -- all showing signs of habitation during the Early Bronze Age -- strung along a line south of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira. These three sites, Safi, Feifa, and Khanazir, like Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, overlook the Southern Ghor, the circular plain or flatland along the southeast shore of the Dead Sea. these other three sites have yet to be excavated, however.
       That there are five, and only five sites located in the Dead Sea area -- each located near a flowing spring; that all five date to the same archaeological period -- the Early Bronze Age; and that there is no other evidence of occupation in the area until the Roman period over 2000 years later, is not without significance.
       Before their destruction, Sodom and Gomorrah had been part of a coalition of five cities which had rebelled against their overlord. The rebellion was suppressed and Lot, who lived in Sodom, was taken captive. When Abram heard this, he took an army of 318 men, rescued Lot and defeated the armies that previously had fought agains the coalition of five cities (Gen. 14).
       These five biblical cities are generally referred to as the Cities of the Plain. In addition to Sodom and Gomorrah, they are Admah, Zeboiim, and Bella (or Zoar): Gen. 14:2. Geographical references in Genesis 14 seem to suggest that the five cities were located in the Dead Sea area (14:3).
       Many people, even W.F. Albright, have speculated that the shallow, southern end of the Dead Sea was once dry land and that Sodom and Gomorrah might have been located there.
       In recent years the level of the Dead Sea has dropped considerably because of the water that has been drained from the Jordan River to the north, whicch empties into the Dead Sea. During the summer of 1979, a large part of the Dead Sea's southern basin became exposed. Rast and Schaub took the opportunity to examine and explore the southern floor of the Dead Sea. Their conclusion: "The south end (of the Dead Sea) could not have contained cities at any time during the historical period, at least from 3000 BC onward." According to these archaeologists, "This area would have been not only an improbable, but also an impossible area in which to establish a city."
       The town of Bab edh-Dhra was destroyed at the end of the Early Bronze III period (about 2400 BC), apparently. The foundations of some of the buildings were buried under tons of rubble. Beneath the rubble, there is clear evidence of a fiery conflagration. Some Early Bronze IV structures were also found, perhaps built by those who destroyed the Early Bronze III city. And then, nothing.
       At the other three sites, Safi, Feifa, and Khanazir, there have been no excavations. An interesting sidelight about Safi is its identification on a famous mosaic map in Madab, an hour's drive away. The Madab map was found on the floor of a 6th century AD Byzantine churhc. On it, Safi is identified as Zoar, one of the five Cities of the Plain.
The unexcavated town of Feifa appears to be very similar to Bab edh-Dhra. Even surface evidence reflects the fact that the city was destroyed in a fiery disaster. Spongy charcoal can still be scooped from the surface by hand, just like at Numeira.
       The fifth site, Khanazir, is at the extreme southern end of the Ghor, just before entering the Arabah, the great valley that extends from the Ghor to the gulf of Aqabah in the Red Sea. Although a wall clearly encircled the site -- it is difficult to tell more without excavation.
       There is much to be learned from these sites, still. The possibilities are especially intriguing because of the recent heated debate as to whether towns named Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, and perhaps other Cities of the Plain are mentioned in the Ebla tablets, which also date from the mid-third millenium.
       This lends support to an early date for Abraham, rather than a late date. In fact, if the dating of these sites is accurate, it is possible that Abraham must be dated to an even earlier time than the biblical data would at first suggest.


       As a result of archaeological research, particularly that of the last six or seven decades, a large quantity of inscriptional material is now available to scholars, which has an importan bearing on the patriarchal age.
       This material is of the greatest importance. The bulk is not yet published (archaeologists are notoriously slow about publishing), but what has been published and analyzed has had a mementous role in dealing a fatal blow to radical critical theories and in complelling a greater respect for the historical worth of the patriarchal naratives. This is not to say that the new material has in some way proved the accuracy of the Old Testament narratives (they don't need that), but they have furnished a great deal of background material, showing that the stories in Genesis fit into the background of that age, and that customs which appear in the stories were customs which prevailed in the world in which the patriarchs found themselves.

        1. Abraham and the Discoveries at Nuzi:

       Nuzi was excavated between 1925 and 1941. It is located southeast of Nineveh, not far from modern Kirkuk, and it has yielded several thousand documents. These tablets provide numerous illustations of the customs which figure in the patriarchal narratives. The people of Nuzi (or Nuzu) were Hurrians (the Horites of the KJV) Old Testament.


       At Nuzi, a childless couple frequently adopted a freeborn person or a slave to look after them when they grew old, bury them when they died, and inherit their property. Abraham, who had no prospect of any children of his own, refers to Eliezer as his heir, and calls him "son of my house", that is, his heir presumptive; look at Gen. 15:2:

       But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate (literally "son of aquisition of my house is he") is Eliezer of Damascus?"

       Presumably Abraham had legally adopted this slave in accordance with prevailing custom, to the mutual advantage of both. But the divine word to Abram is "this man will not be your heir" (Gen. 15:4). If he was a legally adopted heir, how could his rights be set aside as long as he fulfilled his filial duties? The Nuzi texts give the answer. There, provision is made that if the adopter should afterward beget a son of his own, the adopted son must yield to him the place of the chief heir.


       Nuzi marital customs illustrate Sarah's action in giving her Egyptian servant Hagar to her husband as her substitute when she despaired of becoming a mother herself (Gen. 16:1-16). Later, Rachel follows the same course with her servant Bilhah and her example is followed by Leah, but for a different reason (Gen. 30:3, 9). Nuzi marriage regulations stipulate that if a wife is barren, she must furnish her husband with a slave wife.
       Later, when Sarah had herself given birth to Isaac, and demanded that Hagar and her child should be expelled and disinherited, the patriarchs reluctance to comply with her demand is readily understandable in the light of common practice at Nuzi. There, the law provides that in the event the slave wife should bear a son, that son must not be expelled. It is clear, in the light of Nuzian parallels, why Abram was reluctant to agree to Sarah's illegal demand, and doubtless would have refused to do so, had not God overridden the human law.
       This points out how God was working with Abram, teaching him to trust him, and also teaching him that God's law takes precedence over human law, and that God will not always operate within human expectations. God says, "you will have an heir", so he adopts his slave, thinnking he has fulfilled God's will. Then God makes it clear that was not what he meant, that the heir would be a son born to him. Then he takes Hagar and has a son through him and God has to come and say, no that's not waht I meant either. People never expect miracles.


       Esau's sale of his birthright (Gen. 25:27-34) is also illustrated. At Nuzi, a legal arrangement existed whereby the privileges of the firstborn were transferred to another.


       Rachel's theft of Laban's teraphim (Gen. 31:34) is much better understood in the light of the Nuzi evidence. Apparently the possession of these household gods implied leadership of the family and in the case of a married daughter, assured her husband the right to the property of her father. Since Laban evidently had sons of his own when Jacob left for Canaan, they alone had the right to their father's gods, and the theft of these idols by Rachel was a serious offence (Gen. 31:19, 30, 35), aimed at preserving for her husband the chief title to Laban's estate.
It is of the greatest importance to note that in these cases customs are interwoved in the narratives which do not recur in the Old Testament in later periods. Concerning the patriarchal stories, H.H. Rowley wrote:

       Their accurate reflection of social conditions in the patriarchal age and in some parts of the Mesopotamia from which the patriarchs are said to have come many centuries before the present documents were composed is striking.

       But the fact that the patriarchal narratives correctly reflect customs that would long since have become obsolete in the age when the critics content these documents were first reduced to writing (9th-8th c. BC) is only "striking" under such an artificial theory of their composition.
Taking them as authentic documents written in the Mosaic Age (15th c. BC), such authenticity of local color and detail is perfectly natural and what one would expect, with divine revelation. Yet, despite artificial theories of composition which are still almost universally foisted upon the patriarchal narratives, their increasing archaeological vindication is forcing scholars to treat them with more respect than used to be the case until quite recently.

       2. Abraham and Mari

       The ancient city of Mari on the middle Euphrates is represented today by Tell Hariri about seven miles north of modern Abou Kemal. Excavations undertaken there since 1933 by Andre Parrot and others have brought to light more than twenty thousand tablets from the archives of the royal palace and uncovered a temple of Ishtar and a Ziggurat. In the time of Abram (c. 2100 BC) Mari was one of the most flourishing and brilliant cities of the Mesopotamian world, and the patriarch and his father Terah probably passed through thise petropolis on their way to Haran.
       The large number of the tablets discovered present diplomatic correstpondence teween Zimri-Lim, the last king of Mari, with his ambassadors and agents and with Hammurappi, the king of Babylon (c. 1728-1685 BC).
       Abraham's migration from Ur, according to the Biblical chronology, however, took place some four hundred years before the period of the Mari letters and the reign of Zimri-Lim. At this time "the region about Haran was probably under the control of Mari." The city of Nahor (Genesis 24:10) is mentioned quite frequently in the Mari letters.
       In the light of the interesting fact that Abram is the first person in the Bible to bear the name Hebrew (`ibri) (Genesis 14:13), the occurrence of the term "Habiru" in the Mari letters (eighteenth century BC) and earlier in the Cappadocian texts (nineteenth century BC) as well as in the later Nuzi, Hittite, Amarna and Ugaritic texts (15th-14th centuries BC) is significant, since the philological equation Hebrew - Habiru seems not unreasonable. The wide occurance of the term Habiru shows that the term "is not an ethnic designation, for the Habiru of these various texts are of mixed racial origin, including both Semitic and non-Semitic elements, but its fundamental meaning seems to be 'wanderers', 'those who pass from place to place.'"
       Placing the Habiru in a much wider context as a result of archeological discoveries is not an embarrssment to the Biblical representations. Eber as an ancestor of the Hebrews (Gen. 11:16f.) included more than Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Some of his posterity were evidently left in Babylonia when Terah migrated with his family, and some were left in northern Mesopotamia when Abram migrated from Haran.

        3. Names:

       The name Abram has been found in Mesopotamia in the second millenium BC under the forms Abamrama (A-ba-am-ra-ma; A-ba-ra-ma) and Abamram (A-ba-am-ra-am). This shows that it was actually a name in use at an early date. The name Ya`qub'el "May El protect" occurs not only as a place name in Palestine in the fifteenth century BC (Thutmose III's list), but also as Yahgubil (Ya-ah-gu-ub-il) in tablets of the eighteenth century BC from Chagar Bazar in northern Mesopotamia. The name is obviously very similar to the name Jacob (Ya`aqov).
       Both Isaac and Jacob are abbreviated thophorous names whose full form would be Yitshaq-'el and Ya`aqub'el, and belong to types known in the environment from which the early Hebrews came. Similarly, names closely resembling the shortened forms Laban and Joseph appear in documents of the nineteenth century BC.