Thursday 4 April 2024

Placing Abraham in a Historical Context

Abraham was born in Mesopotamia but we don’t know if his ancestors came from Mesopotamia.

This essay is not about whether Abraham existed or didn’t exist. It explores what various sources say. You are free to read it, disagree, agree or do your own research.

Scientists trace the first human to 350,000 years ago; maybe earlier, maybe later. Abraham is believed to have existed around 1900 BC, equivalent to 3,924 years ago at the time of writing this, as of February 2024. The generational gap between Abraham and the first humans is about 17,304 generations (20 years * 17,304 = 346,076 years).

The formula for the number of ancestors a person has “n” generations ago is 2^(n+1) - 2. Born 17,304 generations after the first humans, it would be naive to assume Abraham had no African ancestors. The people of Ur spoke an Afroasiatic language. The undisputed cradle of humanity is Africa, based on the overwhelming evidence of multidisciplinary research, generations of academic scrutiny, genetics, linguistics, and archeology.

The book of Genesis in the bible states Abraham was born to a man called Terah. Terah had many brothers and sisters (Genesis 11:25) in their country of birth Ur through his father Nahor (Abraham’s grandfather). It follows that Abraham had many uncles and aunties.

Terah also had two OTHER sons - Nahor and Haran. Abraham married Sarai, while Nahor - Abraham’s brother - married Milkah. We assume that Milkah the daughter of Harán was Nahor’s cousin and Lot’s sister. Sarai was 10 years younger than Abraham (Genesis 17:17) that Abraham was born in the city of Ur, Mesopotamia. He was born in Ur Kaśdim, Chaldea, Sumer (present-day Iraq).

Around 1,900 Bc there was maritime trade network between Sumer, India and East Africa. Migrations and long distance trade between East Africa, India and Sumer had already occurred for at least 96,000 years by 1,900 BC.

According to Genesis, Abraham left Ur with his father Terah and Lot after Lot’s father - Haran - had died in Ur. Abraham, Sarai, Lot, and Terah settled in Harran (southeastern Turkey/ 20 kilometres north of modern Syria) (Appendix 1).

Abraham was a foreigner when he arrived in Harran from Ur. We don’t know how old Abraham was when he left Ur.

He became wealthy in Harran (Turkey). When he left Harran he had acquired possessions, including free people, slaves, and indentured servants.

Genesis 12:4-5 NIV

[4] So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. [5] He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Nahor and Milkah stayed in Ur. Milkah had eight sons and a daughter (Rebekah), we don’t know if Milkah had more daughters. Nahor also had a concubine called Reumah, who gave birth to 4 sons. It is possible Reumah also had daughters. Genesis 11 implies that not all children was named in Genesis. (Genesis 22:20-24).

Abraham married 3 wives during his lifetime - Sarah, Hagar and Keturah. Both Hagar and Keturah were considered concubines by later Jewish traditions. The equivalent of cohabiting without any legal rights equivalent to the legal wife. Hagar was Egyptian. Keturah is a Hebrew name meaning incense. We don’t know if she received a Hebrew name after being taken as a wife. The bible says he took “another wife” after Sarai had died. The assumption that Keturah was a concubine is based on some opinions, not solid evidence.

The term Hebrew has been used interchangeably with Aramaic by some theological scholars.

Abraham and Sarai were childless when Abraham left Harran (Genesis 11:30). His initial heir was the steward of his household Eliezer of Damascus. If Eliezer was from Damascus, that meant it was from Syria. (Genesis 15:2-3).

The miracle of Isaac being born wasn’t only to do with age, Genesis 11:30 said that Sarai was unable to conceive from early on in their married. Based on Genesis 11, it was normal at that time to have your first born between 29 and 70 (Genesis 11:10-25). In-laws could have been mean. Terah had lots of brothers and sisters in Ur.

If Abram and Sarai married aged 26 & 16, they could have been married 50 years before the date they left Harran. It would have been 40 years if they got married aged 36 & 26.

When there was famine, he went to Egypt Africa as a refugee. In Egypt he acquired even more possessions. (Genesis 12:14-16) The additional possessions came through deception. We don’t know though if he called Sarah his sister due to prophetic knowledge. Genesis doesn’t say. The encounter with Pharoah doesn’t tell us if at the time Abraham was leaning on his own understanding or that which came from God. The conversations with God increase from from Genesis 11 to Genesis 24.

Abraham’s family moved a lot. Where was Nahor before Ur? Logic would say that such an itinerant family could have come from Africa, Southwest Asia, somewhere else, or had complex ancestral lineages. The assumption that Nahor was native to Mesopotamia along with 17,304 generations of his ancestors is simply an unimaginative and indefensible assumption. Back then we could not assume a person’s country of birth was their country of origin, especially for pastoralists that moved between Africa and Eurasia at will.

Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama served as the 44th President of the United States. His father was from Kenya and his mother was from Kansas, making him the first African American president of the United States.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Thal, Austria. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American actor, former professional bodybuilder, and politician who served as the Governor of California from 2003 to 2011.

Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, South Africa. She is a South African-American actress and producer. She has received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.

Salma Hayek was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico, Salma Hayek is a Mexican-American actress and producer. She has appeared in numerous films and television shows and has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Elon Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Elon Musk is a South African-American entrepreneur and business magnate known for founding SpaceX, Tesla, Inc., Neuralink, and The Boring Company. He is one of the richest people in the world and is involved in various innovative projects.

3,924 years ago there were no planes. However, we don’t know how many times Abraham’s ancestors walked to Africa or came from Africa.

Genesis was written in Biblical Hebrew, an Afroasiatic language. The Afroasiatic homeland is considered most likely Northeast Africa by consensus across multiple universities spread across time and location.

While we have to conclude that no-one knows the true ancestry of Abraham, there are certain observations that we have to also acknowledge about the biblical Hebrews.

After Jacob brought his entire family to Egypt, how do we logically account for the increase from 70 people to almost 2 million people over 400 years? The logical observation must be that such an increase would not have been possible without intermarriage with Africans, natural population growth, generation turnover, immigrant absorption, and a separation of about 22 generations between Jacob and Moses.

The assumption that Abraham was either “white” by West European artists or “from Ur” is therefore not supported by critical thinking, based on Genesis alone. The correct interpretation has to be the following: (1) Genesis tells us Abraham was born in Ur, Mesopotamia. (2) We don’t know if his ancestry comes from Mesopotamia only, elsewhere or both, and (3) the biblical Hebrews that came from Egypt indisputably had significant African ancestry.

We finish with a quote from Josephus referring to the writings of Strabo:

Excerpt from Josephus, The Antiquity of the Jews, Book XIV, Chapter 7:

Chapter 7.

Subtitle: How Crassus came into Judea, and pillaged the temple; and then marched against the Parthians; and perished, with his army. Also how Cassius obtained Syria; and put a stop to the Parthians, and then went up to Judea.

‘Accordingly the Jews have places assigned them in Egypt, wherein they inhabit; besides what is peculiarly allotted to this nation at Alexandria: which is a large part of that city. (15) There is also an ethnarch allowed them, who governs the nation; and distributes justice to them; and takes care of their contracts, and of the laws to them belonging: as if he were the ruler of a free republick. In Egypt therefore this nation is powerful; because the Jews were originally Egyptians; and because the land wherein they inhabit, since they went thence, is near to Egypt. They also removed into Cyrene; because that this land adjoined to the government of Egypt, as well as does Judea; or rather was formerly under the same government.” And this is what Strabo says.’

All readers are free to form their own opinions. This analysis is simply just an examination of the possibilities that Genesis permits, if we assume the Abraham existed, an important figure to the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths.

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