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The Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Their Historicity from the Point-of-View of the Biblical Conservatives, the Centrists, and Minimalists. The Biblical Texts on the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs: Genesis 11.27-50.26: The Story of the Ancestors of Israel;

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the patriarchs and matriarchs

The Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Their Historicity from the Point-of-View of the Biblical Conservatives, the Centrists, and Minimalists


The Biblical Texts on the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs:

Genesis 11.27-50.26: The Story of the Ancestors of Israel;

Genesis 11.27-25.18: The Story of Abraham and Sarah;

Genesis 11.27-32: Introduction of the Abraham story;

Genesis 12.1-3: The LORD’s call and promise to Abraham;

Genesis 12.4-9: Abraham’s first journey to the land;

Gen 16.1-16: Hagar bears Abraham a son;

Gen 19.30-38: Lot the father of Moab and the Ammonites;

Gen 21.1-21: The Birth of Isaac and the Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael;


The Biblical Texts (Contd.):

Gen 24.1-67: A Wife for Isaac;

Gen 24.62-67: The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah;

Gen 25.19-36.43: The Story of Isaac and Jacob;

Gen 25.19-34: The Birth of Esau and Jacob/Israel – twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah;

Gen 29.1-30: Jacob’s Marriages: Leah and Rachel; and then Zilpah and Bilhah;

(The Ancestors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel are the sons of Jacob and four women.)

Gen 37.1-50.26: The Story of Joseph – a Son of Jacob and Rachel


The Conservatives’ Position Relative to the Stories of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs:

  • See the position of R. de Vaux and W. F. Albright on this on pp. 42-44 of the Textbook;
  • Many convinced that new discoveries would prove that the Patriarchs were historical figures (Textbook, p. 42);
  • They found support in that the personal names and land-purchase laws in Genesis are similar to those found in 2nd millennium B.C. Mesopotamian texts;
  • a Bedouin way of life practiced by the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and pastoral groups of Mesopotamian origin in Canaan around 2000 B.C.;
  • The “Amorite Hypothesis”’ (Albright and the Intermediate Period between the Early and Middle Bronze Age);

Chronology – Traditional:

  • Early Bronze IV=Intermediate Bronze Period (2200-2000 BC);
  • Middle Bronze II Period (2000-1550 BC);
  • Late Bronze Period (1550-1200 BC);
  • Iron Age I (1200-1000 BC);
  • Iron Age II (1000-586 BC);
  • Babylonian and Persian Periods (586-332 BC);
  • Hellenistic Period (332-63 BC).

The Conservative Position Relative to the Stories of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs:

  • R. de Vaux and the identification of the age of the Patriarchs to the Middle Bronze Age;
  • Gordon and Speiser: the similarities between social and legal practices in 2nd m. B.C. Near Eastern texts, e.g., the Nuzi Tablets (Textbook, p. 44);

Difficulties with the Conservative/Traditional Dating of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs (Finkelstein):

  • The nomadic way of life – pastoralists (sheep,goats);
  • The “Amorite Hypothesis”;
  • Important sites, e.g., Shechem, Beer-sheba, and Hebron, mentioned in the stories of Abraham did not yield finds from the Intermediate Bronze Age (Textbook, p. 44);
  • the problem with using the Nuzi Texts to date the period of the Patriarchs;
  • “Anachronisms” in the text, e.g., mention of the Philistines and the Arameans;
  • Camels in the stories;
  • the mention of Gerar=Tel Haror in Genesis as a Philistine city.

Finkelstein’s Centrist Position:

  • Stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs written from the point-of-view of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah;
  • The Arameans and the early 9th century BC;
  • Stories also reflect the relations that Israel had with its neighbours, namely, Ammon and Moab, in the 8th and 7th centuries BC;
  • Stories of relationships between the brothers Jacob and Esau, the fathers of Israel and Edom, reflect what was happening between Israel and Edom in late-monarchic times (Textbook, p. 47);
  • the Arabian caravan trade of the 8th and 7th centuries BC;
  • The stories and similarities to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires of the 9th-6th centuries BC.

Finkelstein’s Position:

- The Patriarchal traditions must be considered as a sort of pious “prehistory” of Israel in which Judah played a decisive role (Textbook, p. 50).


Martin Noth’s Position:

  • The Patriarchal stories were separate regional traditions that were assembled into a unified narrative to serve the purpose of politically unifying a heterogeneous Israelite population (Textbook, p. 49);
  • the geographical focus of the stories provide a clue as to where each of the traditions come from;
  • the Patriarchs were originally separate regional ancestors which were eventually brought together in a single genealogy in an effort to create a unified history (Textbook, p. 49);

Mazar’s Centrist Position:

  • Parallels between the 2nd millennium BC culture of the Levant and the cultural background portrayed in the Patriarchal stories are too close to be ignored;
  • Examples: The MB II period as a time when most of the cities mentioned in the Patriarchal stories, e.g., Shechem, Bethel, Jerusalem, and Hebron, were settled and fortified;
  • the personal names in the stories are mostly of the “Amorite” type known from the 2nd millennium BC;
  • the stories find parallels in the texts from Mari and Nuzi;
  • the high position of Joseph in Egypt and the presence of the Hyksos in Egypt;
  • acknowledgement of the anachronisms in the stories, e.g. camels, Philistines, and Arameans;

Mazar’s Position:

  • The kernels of these stories are generally considered to be rooted in the MB II period (Textbook, p. 58);
  • (M. Weippert’s position: Patriarchs who lived as Shasu or nomadic people mentioned in the Egyptian texts of the Late Bronze Age.)
  • See Textbook, p. 59 for a summary of Mazar’s position;
  • he acknowledges what happened to the Patriarchal stories in the process of oral transmission and editorial work reflecting much later historical situations;
  • Patriarchal narratives contain kernels of old traditions and stories rooted in 2nd millennium BC realia (Textbook, p. 59).

The Minimalists’ Position (Textbook, pp. 12-13):

  • P. Davies’s position (Textbook, p. 12);
  • J. Van Seters and T. Thompson (Textbook, p. 58);
  • Exilic or post-exilic dates for the entirety of the Patriarchal traditions;
  • No affinity to any 2nd millennium BC backgrounds;
  • Today most scholars define the Patriarchal traditions as a late invention with no historical validity (Textbook, p. 50).