Topic 2: Did Abraham Exist?
(Jump to 2.1. The Talking Snake)
(Jump to 2.2 The Abraham Story)
(Jump to 2.3. Aging Parents)
(Jump to 2.4 Abraham the Hebrew)
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Abraham didn't really exist. He was merely a personification of a historical journey. The same applies to Adam, Eve, and Noah.
Perhaps you're joking, perhaps your baiting. Either way - it worked.
What really made someone "Jewish" was the covenant between God and His people (see esp. Act 7.8 in context; but also Luke 3.8; Rom 4.16). By this measure, Abe was the father of all Hebrews - see Gen 17:9-14; Act 3.11-13. Perhaps Esau was rejecting the covenant when he forfeited his birthright to succeed Isaac (Abe's son; Gen 25). The Edomites (Esau's descendants) were not people of the covenant, even though they were genetically related to Jacob's (his brother, AKA "Israel") descendants. Cf. Isa 51.1-4; Mal 1.2-3; Rom 9.13; Heb 11.20; 12.16.
Let's discuss why Abraham didn't exist. Just about every religion on the planet attempts to answer two questions: How did we get here? and What's going to happen to us after we die?
In the Hebrew tradition there were 12 tribes, but these tribes did not all come from the same background. In fact, only some of the tribes were held in captivity in Egypt, and the others joined in during the Exodus. Thus, there are several Creation stories that come from these different backgrounds. There is the "Seven Day" tradition and the "Adam and Eve" tradition. These are two different Creation stories.
Now, let's examine Abraham. His father's name was Terah (Earth). They came from Ur (Fire) and Abram translates as "father of people." So, basically, we have the father of the people coming from fire and being born of the earth. It is merely another creation story. It is NOT a story about a person.
You're taking the meanings of names as proof someone doesn't exist? Well, in that case, the car dealer in Dublin named Woody Butts doesn't exist either. (No - I'm not kidding.)
"Terah" as a word refers to a type of ibex, not "earth", but the actual provenance of the word is not currently known. The Hebrew word for earth is aretz. "Ur" can refer to light, fire, flame, but it is also a city. This ancient city is most likely the modern site of Tell el-Muqayyar, west of Nasiriyeh on the Euphrates in Iraq, which the British Library and Philadelphia's University Museum have worked on (source, New Bible Dictionary - I'd cite other sources, but all my good stuff is in the office).
"According to Hebrew tradition," the 12 tribes all ended up in Egypt in captivity, actually (cf. Ex 1.1-5).
The occurrence of creation stories in multiple cultures does not negate the fact of creation. If creation did happen in 7 "days" with a first man (had to be one of 'em) and a first woman (had to be one of them, too), it would make sense that traditions would agree on this. You're arguing that the traditions are too similar to be true! BTW, for the record, seems to me like creation happened about 16 billion years ago.
Certainly the names can have several meanings. You go a bit far to make the claim that the meaning of names indicate that a person didn’t exist. Personally, I like to prove that something did exist rather than claiming that it did exist because I can’t prove that it didn’t. It’s the Missourian in me.
My claim? That was your claim - you said the names have other meanings, implying that the were therefore only symbolic. (BTW, "Terah" does mean "earth" - in French or Italian, and probably Latin. However, I doubt the author Genesis knew those languages well. Not sure where you got your conclusion.)
I agree with your need to prove or test something before accepting it. You criticize those for accepting a claim before proving it, but you assume that these claims are untrue until you prove them. Both are hasty conclusions. LK, a reliable person by experience, tells me she bought bananas at the store. Should I start with the assumption that it's not true until I see the bananas and the receipt (and then interview the clerk at the store)?
Worse is to conclude that they can't be true simply because they don't fit one's adopted paradigm (or that they must be true because they do fit one's adopted paradigm). But we need not claim that things unproven are therefore unacceptable. (Can you prove this is your brother writing you? Do you accept it anyway?)
Did Abraham exist? Our only source is the OT. If we say Abraham exists because he is written in the OT then we will also need to conclude that all characters in the OT existed. Now, if we conclude the some characters actually existed and others did not we will need to provide some logic or proof that delineates the real characters from the contrived characters.
Did the talking snake exist? It is illogical to say that it did. If it didn’t then how can we claim validity of other characters without corroborating evidence?
The OT has been the only source for lots of places and characters, until archaeology finally catches up: Bethsaida, Belshazzar, etc. So, you need to do more than say that a single source cannot be trusted. This single source has been repeated confirmed by later scholarship.
And what’s wrong with concluding that all the OT characters existed? Who was contrived? You claim Adam, Noah, etc., assuming that those characters have been positively proven to have not existed.
We’ve already talked about the snake. Illogical? No. Unlike what we’ve experienced, yes. Illogical means that it defies the rules of logic. But your claim is not that it’s illogical, but that it’s unscientific, outside the realm of physical laws. But no laws of logic have been violated, per se.
So, let’s stick with unscientific. OK. Agreed. Given that a spiritual character of evil intent who possesses the ability to … ummm … possess, then this conversation in the garden is indeed highly unscientific. Your point?
But let’s look at this from a different angle – genre. The genre of Gen 1-11 is far different from the genre of Gen 12-50. That in and of itself could give you a decent rule for distinguishing actual characters and metaphorical. I’m not arguing for a metaphorical interpretation, but you asked for a decent method for distinguishing, and at least one exists. The Psalms say that the universe is God’s finger work, but the genre of poetry easily allows us to avoid an unreasonable anthropomorphic interpretation.
2.1. The Talking Snake
The talking snake is illogical. Snakes have neither the brain capacity nor the vocal tract to produce utterances.
Now, you mention that the two sections in Genesis have different presentation styles and therefore would be a clue to distinguish actual from fictional characters. This supports my point about interpretation. We can easily find people today that believed that all of the characters in the OT are real. It is their interpretation. Your interpretation may be different. That person over there, yeah him, his interpretation is different. Now, I wish to sift through the interpretations and find the truth.
You also mention in the Topic 18 that Mithra was born with the help of men before the time of men. Your words were that this was “quite a trick.” Does that same phrase apply to talking snakes, a boat with two (and only two) of every kind of animal, trees afire without burning, men walking through fire, a man walking on water, etc.” The followers of each religion believe their stories to be true but the stories of the many, many other religions to be false. Christianity, in this sense, is not different than all of the others.
Talking snakes are illogical. Agreed. But I’ve already addressed this event and the issue of brain capacity and vocal systems. MTV is illogical, but it exists nonetheless (and just look at the limitations of brain capacity and vocal systems they have!).
Again, you put words in my mouth, and they don’t taste very good. First, I said “metaphorical”, not “fictional”. Secondly, I said I was not arguing for a metaphorical interpretation. I was merely showing how your objection is invalid – decent linguistic methods do exist that could be employed to draw the distinctions you felt were lacking. However, that’s not what I think is going on in the text.
We all wish to sift through the interpretations to find the truth. I hope that you are not suggesting that I am not doing so. Our biggest differences seem to be related to the fact that you are very suspicious of the historical position that 1) the texts are significantly close to the originals, and 2) the original accounts recount factual events. I take the position, with the same goal for truth, that this historical position is defensible and reasonable. You come from the position of an open pessimist (of the texts), and I come from the position of an open optimist. I find your suspicion unwarranted but valid, and that as a working assumption, it hampers your ability to appreciate the evidence in favor of the position. Just like I’m sure my position affects my appreciation of alternate views.
On your Mithra reference, I see a simple and quantifiable difference between men helping out in an event before men existed and a man building a big boat and collecting animals with God’s help. One is logically impossible; the other is logically improbable.
2.2 The Abraham Story
It seems that these many traditions can find their way back to the Abraham story. Here we have a man chosen by God. There is a story Abraham surviving a crucifixion by fire. He was in this fiery hell for three days and then returned. He was tempted by Sarah. He was the father of humanity (well only those people that count). Sounds like a cross between Jesus and Adam. This is just another one of man’s attempts to explain from whence we came.
Fine, but these two sets of traditions that you lump together are quantifiably different in provenance, acceptance, archaeological support, literary criticism, extant literary tradition, world impact, sophistication, philosophical soundness, and so on. You can’t possibly classify these two traditions into the same category, in light of all the evidence. You’re doing Santa again – the existence of nonsubstantial traditions does not require the conclusion that all traditions are inaccurate. Yes, it raises the possibility that any given tradition is suspect, but it does not significantly address the probability in and of itself. All it does is require responsible analysis, and there exists responsible analysis to argue that the biblical tradition has a strong case.
2.3. Aging Parents
Did Abraham and Sarah really birth children at the age of 90?
Sure. Why not? She was just as shocked as you, if you read the text. That was kind of the whole point of the account. It also makes the sacrifice in Gen 22 have significance – the chances of having another one are slim. If she were young and able to have more kids, then the sacrifice wouldn’t be nearly as important. (Actually, I think she mighta been 91, and it was just one child, not “children”.)
I will now base my religion on ‘sure – why not’.
Why not? Let’s talk menopause!!!
I'm not asking you to base your religion on "sure, why not". I am asking you to not reject religion just because miracles break the accepted rules of physics.
For an account that claims a miraculous conception from the beginning, throwing in menopause doesn't suddenly make me say, "Oh, yeah - forgot about that. Miracles are one thing, but menopause - not even God can overcome that!"
2.4. Abraham the Hebrew
ahh but Abraham was also the father of the Arabs...and Ishmael, although a believer in God, was not Jewish/Hebrew.
The definition of "Israel" or the "Hebrews" as an ethnic definition is valid, but what made them "God's people" was not their ethnic definition, but their covenant, which began with Abraham. They weren't really a nation until the Mosaic covenant, but the Abrahamic covenant is what designated them as God's people.
Up until the flood, God dealt with mankind as an overall group. There was not real distinction. The flood was judgment on mankind. Later at Babel, we see the first distinction of nations as people groups. Immediately after that is Gen 12, the calling of Abraham, and the covenant God makes with him and his descendants. From that point on, God dealt with mankind primarily through Abraham's descendants - one nation that was supposed to then be a light to all nations. God's covenant with them put them in that role (hence, "chosen people"), but their task always had all nations in mind. Of course, the New Covenant came in and created a people for God that transcended national definitions.
Therefore, it's Abraham's covenant status that's more interesting to me that whether or not we can officially label him with a particular ethnic label that was later applied to his descendants through just one of his sons.
Gen 14.13 has the first occurrence of the word "Hebrew". Abraham is called "Abram the Hebrew" (Avram ha'ivri). "Ivri" is a term that could literally mean "one from beyond" or "one from the other side" (i.e., of the Euphrates, or of the Jordan). This kind of designation here reflects his status as a tribal leader, not necessarily the language he spoke. This designation "the Hebrew" is not a term Israelites used - only non-Israelites used this term (see below).
He probably spoke a Semitic language from which the Hebrew language emerged. To say whether or not he spoke "Hebrew" is a difficult designation, since the language evolved to some degree over time. He most likely didn't speak the same Hebrew in our extant Hebrew bibles, and he certainly didn't speak the modern Hebrew spoken today.
From Gordon Wenham's (major Pentateuch dude) commentary on Gen 14.13:
The Habiru/Apiru were well known in the ancient Near East, being referred to in a wide variety of texts from the late third millennium on. It seems to be more of a social categorization than an ethnic term. The Apiru are usually on the periphery of society—foreign slaves, mercenaries, or even marauders. Here Abram fits this description well: he is an outsider vis à vis Canaanite society, and he is about to set out on a military campaign on behalf of the king of Sodom as well as Lot. He is “a typical hapiru of the Amarna type” (H. Cazelles, POTT, 22). The phrase “enhances the flavor of antiquity of which this chapter is redolent” (Vawter, 196) and could indeed support the view that an originally non-Israelite source lies behind this account, since Israelites did not describe themselves as Hebrews (see further POTT, 1–28; O. Loretz, Habiru-Hebräer, BZAW 160 [Berlin: De Gruyter, 1984]).
(FYI: BZAW = Beihefte zur "Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft")
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