The Case for a …

The Case for a Pre-exilic Abrahamic Tradition

1. yalad is used (rather than holid) in the J Abraham genealogies (Gen 22:23, 25:2); yalad (masc.) in the sense of ‘beget’ is clearly pre-exilic (see Jer 30:6[H], where yalad [masc.] = ‘give birth’ [impossibly]; cf. 16:3 where holid = ‘beget’). That is, yalad in the sense of ‘beget’ was replaced by holid before the exile. This is “unambiguous evidence.” Accordingly Abraham’s pedigree at Gen 11:26 is attributed to P and is post-exilic, as is the promise of Ishmael at 17:20, while the genealogy of 22:20-24 is J, c.10th century BC.

2. Beer-Sheba: Isaac names the well at 26:33(J), Abraham at 21:31(E). The different explanations (seva’ [‘abundance’ –following on 26:22: Rehoboth = “Room Enough”; Seva’ = “More than Enough,” “Surplus”] versus sheva’ [‘oath’]) imply different dialects with variant sin/shin pronunciation (as Jud 12:6). Are we to suppose that a post-exilic author intentionally created the contradiction? Such variant and contradictory traditions must have evolved orally in mutual (sometimes dialectal) isolation, not in a late scribe’s notebook.

3. Numerous place name substitutions (explanations) indicate a long history involving onomastic discontinuity, and imply remote antiquity; e.g., Gen 14:2,3,17, 23:2 (also Jud 1:10,11), etc. Are all these contrived (pseudo-archaic)?

4. A late legitimizing of the altars through their attribution to the patriarchs would run counter to D/P attempts to outlaw the shrines.

5. Gen 14 seems to be motivated by the Jerusalem priesthood’s wish to legitimize itself in the eyes of the Abrahamic tribes after David captured the city. If so, it would date to the time of J and David (10th century BC).

6. Jud 19 > Gen 19 (or vice versa?), apparently through oral transmission (see Addenda).

7. Variant accounts of Hagar’s (Abraham’s concubine) expulsion: 16:6ff(J), 21:10ff(E). Did P invent a redundant and superfluous version of his own fiction?

8. Other Abrahamic traditions have parallels with other patriarchs: wife/sister stories, well names, etc. That is, same story, different characters. The legends are transmitted orally, modified to suit the audience and setting (the sitz im leben). How did there come to be a J and an E Abraham?

9. Whereas Gen 11:28,31 has Abraham’s homeland in “Ur of the Chaldees,” Gen 22:20-24 has Abraham’s brother Nahor as ancestor to the Chaldees and Arameans, so that Abraham’s birthplace is called “Ur of the Chaldees (Chasdim)” before the birth of Chesed, their eponymous ancestor. That is, whether we attribute the anachronistic “Ur of the Chaldees” to P or J, it remains anachronistic even internally within Genesis, not only by modern criteria (which have the Chaldees occupy Ur in the 11th century BC).

10. The post-exilic introduction of an Israelite patriarchal ancestor who’s posterity includes most of its pagan neighbors would run counter to D/P doctrine of election. As the genealogical tradition progresses with the appearance of Keturah Abraham further usurps Shem’s place as the general Semitic ancestor (25:1ff). Why should the father of the peculiar monotheists be also the father of Ishmael and Esau, of the Edomites and Arab tribes? Why invent an eclectic ancestor for the chosen people when Jacob is suitably available? And as with the Captivity, Jacob migrates to Syria and returns to Canaan, while Abraham only migrates out of Syria. Accordingly Jacob would make for a better candidate for post-exilic invention for any determined to do such violence to the text.

11. The morality of J’s Abraham is primitive: J is not embarrassed to have Abraham pimp his wife (Gen 12:11ff) and lie about her status. E allows no such lying or successful pimping (20:1ff; but E does have Abraham attempt to offer human sacrifice–see next). Apparently the Abraham legend was old enough or sufficiently widespread to pass through disparate ethical traditions. The priests may dictate the ethos, but the ethos dictates the bards’ motiffs. The priests of the Diaspora would not invent an Abraham anything like J’s or E’s.

12. The binding of Isaac (Gen 22 [E]): The elohistic Abraham is depicted as flourishing in an environment where human sacrifice is countenanced (as at Jud 11:39). Accordingly the narrative must have evolved in a milieu where the practice was not yet taboo. D and P would not have been likely even to toy with the idea of human sacrifice: D because the practice had not been fully eradicated, and P because it presents such an embarrassing, primitive, and contradictory picture of God’s dealing with the “father of the faithful.”

13. The triad, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” appears in Deuteronomy as well as in the Priestly source. Deuteronomy has long and with good reason been held by most to be the book discovered in the temple (2Ki 22:8) when young Josiah was king (649-609 BC). Attempts to make D post-date P must contend (e.g.) with the fact that Aaronide priests are never mentioned in D or Samuel/Kings while they monopolize P and Chronicles. In D priest and Levite are synonymous. In P Levites are the would be usurpers of the now exclusively Aaronide priesthood (Num 16:10).

14. The Ur > Haran and Haran > Canaan migrations are best explained as variant accounts of a single migration. That is, they indicate divergent oral tradition in antiquity. But assuming otherwise, if Abraham was to serve as a prototype for the exiles, why is he given a way station in Haran (in present day southern Turkey)? Babylon is much closer to the Sumerian Ur than to Haran. If we attribute an Ur > Haran migration to P, why is this migration instigated by the pagan Terah, while the Haran > Canaan trip is commanded by God? In other words, if P had invented Abraham, he would have God command him to move directly from Babel to Canaan. If, as is likely, Ur Chasdim was generically analogous to Haran (that is, an Ur not in Sumer, but situated near Haran), why is Abraham’s home so far north of Babylon? Neither Wooley’s nor Gordon’s Ur suits Blenkinsopp’s Abraham.

15. The reason J differs with the rest as to whether the patriarchs were acquainted with the theophoric ‘Yahweh,’ is that all but J considered Moses to have been the first beneficiary of the revelation of the NAME. That is, J is not indoctrinated with that part of the Exodus tradition which has Yahweh newly reveal his name to Moses (Ex 6:3), or with the belief that Moses was the first to distinguish between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals. J’s Noah makes this distinction; P’s does not. Thus at least J’s Abraham is older than the Exodus tradition, and the Exodus tradition is older than the Exile.

16. The Sabbath is never mentioned by name in Genesis or Judges, and is only referred to in Genesis in the P creation. The patriarchs seem oblivious to the institution, as we might expect in an independent pastoral society (but not among caravaneers). Settled Israel is well acquainted with it, but for them it is synonymous with the full moon. The weekly Sabbath was apparently a post-exilic institution, and when the priests transformed the Sabbath into a weekly event, at the same time they invented the institution of a religious seven-day week independent of the lunar month, unless this was borrowed from Babylonia. The raison d’etre for the Sabbath is provided by P (after the exile): God rested on the seventh day. If the patriarchs were of post-exilic invention they would have no doubt been portrayed as faithful Sabbath keepers, shunning the shrines.


About agfosterjr

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