Friday, May 05, 2006

Anachronisms in Patriarchal History

In the patriarchal narratives, there are a plethora of anomalies--textual details which do not fit in the world or time represented in the narrative of the text. These anomalies help date the final form of the text. But sometimes, they do much more. Sometimes, they prefigure the historical context of the text's final form and point to an earlier tradition.

An example of the first is the classic reference to Abraham's origins in “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7)

Historically speaking, the Chaldeans didn't exist anywhere near Abraham's time (if we follow the Biblical age records to any degree at all). They do not show up until the first century BC—about a millennium after Abraham (if Abraham truly is a historical figure). But the text is obviously at a point where it uses the phrase “Ur of the Chaldeans” quite naturally. We can therefore be confident that Genesis came to its final form sometime in the first century when Chaldeans not only existed, but the phrase could be accepted and widespread.

An example of the second is the classic reference to the patriarchs as “wandering Arameans” (Deut 26:5). This verse was a defining aspect of Israelite identity and probably spoken often like it is today.

However, in the first century, the Arameans were bitter enemies of Israel. For Israel to announce and identify herself such is about as likely as citizens of the US proclaiming Germany their true motherland during the reign of Hitler. We are forced to move back in time before Israel's existence gathered national enemies against her in order to make sense of this common identity. We thus have evidence of a much earlier tradition of the textual narrative (perhaps in its oral form) which can be taken back into the second century...maybe not to the patriarchs themselves, but within reach of the exodus and Moses.


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8:08 PM  

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