My article “Ur and Haran: Abraham’s Background,” originally written in 1997, has been uploaded in PDF format and is available for download. Below is an excerpt from the article:
The migration of the patriarchs from their place of origin into the land of Canaan is emphasized several times in the Old Testament as an integral ingredient of biblical history. In fact, the early life of Abraham is characterized by his migrations from Mesopotamia to Canaan, to Egypt, and back to Canaan. This emphasis is consistent with the biblical view that the patriarchs came from outside of Canaan. Joshua, in retelling the mighty acts of the God of Israel to the new generation of Israelites, reminded them of this important fact in the history of the young nation: “Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River” (Josh. 24:2 NIV). The river mentioned by Joshua was the Euphrates.
The migration of Abraham and his family from Mesopotamia to Canaan probably is related to the vast migration of nomadic and semi-nomadic people that occurred in the Fertile Crescent in the first half of the second millennium B.C. To the writers of the Old Testament, who understood the events of history from the perspective of divine sovereignty, the migration of Abraham and his family was portrayed as a response of faith to God’s call. This call involved God’s promise that Abraham would become a great nation, that he would receive the land of Canaan as his own inheritance, and that he would become a blessing to the nations.
You can read or download the article here.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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You address a question that I have had about Abraham in your article, but as a tangent. The name “Ur of the Chaldeans” has puzzled me, though not because of its location, per se.
I understand the Chaldeans to be the Neo-Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. Are the Arameans ancestors to this people or are they a completely separate group? Also, do the Arameans date to Abraham’s time or to Moses’ time?
Thanks for the intriguing posts!
Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in answering your comment. In fact, I have no good explanation to give you for this terrible delay.
The Chaldeans and the Arameans were two different groups. Jeremiah 35:11 makes that distinction: “But when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Arameans.’ That is why we are living in Jerusalem.”
The name “Chaldeans” in “Ur of the Chaldeans” is an anachronism because Ur did not become “Ur of the Chaldeans” until the 7th century B.C.
The Bible tend to identify the patriarchs with the Arameans. The confession of faith in Deuteronomy 26:5 says: “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with a few people and lived there. There he became a great, powerful, and populous nation.” If the person in question here is Jacob, then the Aramean connection predates Moses.
Thank you for your comment and for visiting my blog. Again, I am sorry for the delay in answering your question.
Hi Dr. Mariottini. This probably a big question, but do you have any thoughts on the arguments of Thomas Thompson in The Historicity of the Patriarchal Traditions, and John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition? The argue against there being mass migrations from Mesopotamia to Canaan in the second millennium B.C.E. Here’s a post I wrote that touches some on that issue:
Many years ago, when I was in graduate studies, our seminar spent a whole semester studying Thompson’s argument on his view of the patriarchs and the historicity of the narratives. At the end of the semester, our group rejected Thompson’s argument and argued for the validity of the historical evidence.
Much has changed in Biblical studies in the past 30 years. Today the argument is between the maximalists and the minimalists. The issue is whether the patriarchs were fictional characters or historical figures. Although we may not have much evidence that proves they were actual historical figures, I cannot accept the fact they never existed.
Although W. F. Albright’s and John Bright’s views on the patriarchal traditions have been practically abandoned by historians and archeologists today, I and many others still believe that their arguments still have merits that need to be considered whenever studying the history of the patriarchs.
James, I apologize for the delay in answering your comment. I have been away from blogging and have not kept up with my emails. In fact, I do not have a good reason to back-up my apology. Again, thank you for your comment.