Abraham and Archaeology

The quandary that Tim Bulkeley is facing with the prospect of writing an article on Abraham is one that all of us face.  How do we write and teach about Abraham to people who are interested in history and fascinated by archaeological discoveries?

The minimalist view is sure not acceptable to most people who are interested in reading and studying the Bible.  Most seminary students, pastors, and lay people are not comfortable with the view that Abraham did not exist and that the stories in the Bible are just myths.

Most people want to take the maximalist view, that is, they want to believe that these stories are reliable and historical, even when there is no historical evidence or archaeological findings to prove that these stories are true.  The approach taken by John Bright is his A History of Israel is good for those who believe the biblical text is grounded on historical facts.

When it comes to an archaeological reference to prove that Abraham existed, there is practically none.  Recently, Kenneth Kitchen, in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Williams B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003) has made an attempt to defend the historicity of the patriarchs.

Kitchen makes reference to archeological discoveries to affirm that the patriarchal narratives are historically reliable.  On pages 313-14 of his book, Kitchen cites a possible extrabiblical reference to Abraham. The following are his words:

“The only suggested extrabiblical mention of Abraham is in the topographical list (nos. 71-72) of Shoshenq I (Shishak) of Egypt in 925, giving what may be read as ‘The Enclosure of Abram,’ and which is fairly widely accepted.  But this is not absolutely certain; it could be interpreted ‘Enclosure of the Stallions’ (`abbirim), although the Negev region where this place was located is not exactly famous for horses.  However, the Negev is mentioned as one of Abraham’s haunts (Gen. 12:9; 13:1, 3; 20:1; also Isaac then, 24:62), which would well fit with a place being named after him.”

Maybe Tim can use this citation and the references Kitchen cites on page 566 to aid those curious readers who desire to do additional reading on this controversial subject.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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