Diggin’ up the Bible 3 (Abraham)

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Many Bible critics believe that Abraham, the man recorded by Scripture to be the father of the Jewish and Arab races, as well as the father of three major world religions (Judaism, Muslim, Christianity) never existed. Their reasoning: no ancient stone tablets or writings have ever been unearthed recording his existence, therefore he must have been a figure of mythology. Today, I would like to exam some historical evidence that helps to validate the possibility of Abraham’s existence.

In Genesis 11-21 we read that Abraham’s wife, Sara, is unable to provide him a son from her own womb so she suggests he take her maidservant, Keturah, as a secondary wife, in hopes that Keturah can provide him this male heir. Abraham concedes to Sara’s request and Keturah becomes pregnant, giving birth to a child Abraham names Ishmael. Ten years later, when Sara bares a son, Ishmael loses his position as firstborn to this new child, Isaac. When Abraham transfers the firstborn birthright from Ishmael to Isaac, it means that Isaac will now receive the firstborn’s double portion of inheritance. Upon Isaac’s weaning, when Sara sees Ishmael mocking him, she demands that he and his mother be expelled from camp, saying that Ishmael should receive no inheritance with her son—meaning the single portion allotted the second born. Abraham goes to God concerning the situation and the Lord instructs him to do as Sara has requested. Abraham is heartbroken over the decision, but God promises to provide for Ishmael and to make him into a great nation.

How can this set of details help to validate the historicity of the Scripture? First, we discover within its framework several unique facts that could easily disqualify it from being real history if they were proven to not fit into the historical reality of Abraham’s day. For example, why would any woman ask her husband to take another woman—a younger one at that—as a secondary wife? Next, what gives this wife the right to offer her husband this surrogate child bearer? Also, if this servant-wife does give birth to a male child, why would this child not keep the position of eldest son even if the primary wife later births a son? Finally, notice that Sara throws a fit concerning Ishmael receiving any inheritance, meaning that even though Isaac was to inherit a double portion, Ishmael was to inherit some too. How do these details add strength to the historicity of the Bible?

Between the Code of Hammurabi (a well-preserved Babylonian set of laws followed in the region of Mesopotamia dating back to around 1772 B.C.—Abraham’s era) and the Nuzi Law (over 5,000 family and administrative archives spanning from 1450-1350 BC discovered during an excavation at Nuzi from 1925-1933) we discover that Abraham’s story fits perfectly within the framework of Abraham’s era. For example, between these two archeological finds we learn that if a primary wife was unable to give her husband a male heir it was not only her responsibility, but her obligation, to provide him a servant-wife to serve as surrogate child bearer. Next, if this servant-wife gave birth to a son, the primary wife would then adopt and raise that child as her own. He would be the legal heir to all her husband’s possessions. But, according to the Nuzi Law, if the primary wife later gave birth to a son the husband was given the right to elevate this son to the position of first-born. This meant that he would inherit a double portion upon his father’s death and the servant’s son a single portion. Also, the father could choose to leave his entire inheritance to his primary wife’s son.

Sound familiar? In a moment of weakness, after waiting for so many years for the promised son, Abraham and Sara succumbed to the traditional surrogate means of their day. Thus, Abraham’s story fits perfectly into the ancient laws practiced in the Mesopotamian region of his era.

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2 thoughts on “Diggin’ up the Bible 3 (Abraham)

  1. I don’t she was a “second wife” she was a servant and there was no marriage ceremony mentioned. She was a servant, and if Sarah had never had Isaac Ishmael would have remained his only son and inherited his worldly goods, I would think.
    The bible was written by imperfect men, centuries after the fact at times, who could have made mistakes or even translation mistakes. It seems some of the Bible was rewritten Mesoptamic history. The Noah story for one.

    • Yes, the Bible doesn’t use the words “second wife” but that is what servants who were given as surrogate child bearers in that era were considered…according to these ancient tablets. In other words, once Sara gave Keturah to Abraham and he slept with her she was seen (in that era) as a secondary (lower level) servant-wife even though there was no ceremony due to the fact that she was still a servant–as also seen in the case of Abraham’s grandson Jacob’s life. His two major wives were Rachael and Leah, but their servants became secondary wives of lower status who were merely for the purpose of giving him sons. They were never allowed to marry another because they had become his lesser wives or property, although I seriously doubt that Abraham continued sleeping with Keturah as a secondary wife because of her haughty spirit toward Sara after she became pregnant. But that’s just my opinion.

      And yes, Ishmael would have inherited the first-born status had Isaac never been born. But, also in these tablets, we learn that the servant wife’s son (Ishmael) would continue to be given the firstborn position unless the father elevated his primary wife’s son into that position instead–Nuzi Law allowed this. The whole point is that the story of Abraham and Sara fit into ancient customs perfectly…customs which were not even known until these tablets were discovered.

      As far as the Bible being written by imperfect man…please consider reading Lee Strobel’s critique of the Bible and the life of Christ, The Case for Christ. It goes into the manner of translating and preservation of the Bible, showing that the Bible was more accurately and carefully preserved than any other writing of antiquity. Also, consider reading my blog about Noah’s Ark. It’s all taken from actual fact and not fantasy.

      Thanks for writing me..and please write again. (And don’t worry about the typos…I do it all the time.) Rockie

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