Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Six




Part One: “The World of Abraham”



At the beginning of the patriarchal period, the biblical record provides us with a table of the great nations of the ancient world (Genesis 10).[1]  The Table is a “horizontal genealogy”--it includes contemporary tribes and nations and peoples and  shows their relationships to and with each other.  A vertical genealogy would show lineage starting from an ancestor and following down through history. 

The Table seems to be made of an old “bare-bones” list, the so-called “sons of” (bene) sections, and additional interpretive sections that have been added, the “begat” (yalad) sections, making it clearly a toledot[2] as it is entitled (the title “generations of” comes from the same verb yalad).  The sections added to the old list include the beginnings of the easter empires, the Egyptian tribes, and the Canaanite tribes and their land.  These were of the greatest interest to the readers of the Book of Genesis--the Israelites who were entering the land to receive the divine blessing.

The list is not a genealogy, per se.  But neither does it purport to be one.  It is a Table that includes genealogy, but it uses it figuratively in places, for the list includes cities, nations, tribes, and people.  For further discussion of the structure and the contents of the Table, see the literature on the subject (I have a couple of articles on the Table; the bibligraphical data can be obtained in my Creation and Blessing).

The names on the Table remind the reader of ancient wars and captivities.  Most of what we know of these groups comes from records of their battles, in the Bible and in extra-biblical literature.  Their general regions are kept pretty well in line, except for movements and migrations.  Peoples like the Philistines, for example, were on the move, and so it looks like they originated in one place but in fact that was a later step.  It is like saying Israel came from Egypt--they did at one time.


The Time of Abraham

Abraham is described in the Bible as a wandering Aramaean.  His family is Semitic;[3] his ancestral home was in the north, in the region of Haran, because all the names on his ancestral genealogy of Genesis 11 (from Noah to Abram) are found as place names in that region (by archaeology and history).  In general, Abraham could be called a Semite, an Aramaean, an Amorite (western Semite) who probably spoke old Amorite, as well as Akkadian which was the lingua franca of the day. 

In Genesis 14 he is referred to as “the Hebrew.”[4]  This title “Hebrew” (‘ibri) is open to several interpretations.  Albright thought it related to “dust” (‘apar), and came up with “dusty camel driver.”  More plausible are the suggestions that it is a gentilic ending on the name of the ancestor Eber, or that it is related to the verb “cross over” and refers to Abram as a pilgrim, or immigrant, the one who crossed over into the land.[5]  

Most scholars who think that there may have been an Abraham would date him, or the setting for the stories about him, in the range of 1700 to 1500 B.C. (The Middle Bronze Age).  Of course, many think the stories were made up, and that the coloring for the stories is from the first millennium B.C., not the second.  But the biblical data is pretty straightforward if it is taken at face value.  We have to work back from the known date of Solomon and the building of the Temple, to add up the ages and dates of the bondage in Egypt and the lives of the ancestors.  That gives us a date of 2091 (or 2086) B.C. for Abraham when he received the call and went to Canaan at the age of 75.  So his birth would be about 2166 B.C., just at the end of the Early Bronze Age and the start of the Middle Bronze Age (see Eugene Merrill, A Kingdom of Priests [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House]).

The so-called “patriarchal period” in Canaan would then be 2091-1876, and the sojourn in Egypt 1876-1446.  The later date of some scholars has to compress the age of the patriarchs into a couple of hundred years, the bondage in Egypt also to a couple of hundred years, and then the period of the judges the same.  But some of the verses in the Bible have to be considered erroneous, or given vastly different meanings (we shall look at this later).

If this is correct, this puts Abram (the early name of the man) under the Sumero-Akkadian empire of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the famous dynasty of Ur (2135-2025 B.C.).  Ur-Nammu took the new title, “King of Sumer and Akkad.”  His great work was the building of the Ziggurat at Ur, which is the best preserved structure of this type in antiquity.  Abram would have left Ur just when it was entering its heyday of power and prestige under a strong dynasty that lasted over a century.

During the Patriarchal Age there were smaller Elamite and Amorite states in Mesopotamia with Elamite princes in Isin and Larsa, and Amorites in Eshnunna, who between 2100 and 1800 took over the heritage of the Third Dynasty of Ur after its collapse, along with the destruction of the city of Ur.

The period of the patriarchs parallels the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt under the 12th dynasty (2000-1750 roughly).  Joseph would have been Vizier/Prime Minister under one of the powerful Pharaohs of this time, probably Sesostris II or III (perhaps went into Egypt under one and rose to power under the successor).  Jacob took the family down to be cared for by Joseph, probably in the reign of Sesostris III in 1876.  The Israelites then would have been there through the Hyksos period (1780-1546); they would have been oppressed by Thutmose III (1482-1450) of the New Kingdom at least (perhaps earlier kings too), and delivered from Egypt under Amenhotep II (1450-1425).  But that gets us into the Middle Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age--here just a broad overview of the sequence.


The City of Ur

Location.  The Bible is clear that Ur is in the lower Mesopotamian region, for it identifies it as a Chaldean location.  “Chaldeans” is not an anachronism, as many suggest, “Chaldeans” being Neo-Babylonian priests--it is an editorial clarification by the scribe to explain where Ur was.  There, after about 1000 B.C. the Chaldeans became dominant and founded the Neo-Babylonian Empire (Nebuchadnezzar).

Joshua 24:2 identifies the eastern ancestry of the patriarch as “beyond the River” where they worshiped other gods.  The archaeology of Ur has certainly shown the polytheistic nature of the city.  The names “Sarah” and “Milkah” reflect this background.

The Excavation.  The place was unknown before 1854.  The Arabs knew it as “the mound of bitumen” (al Muqayyar).  It is 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf, and 220 miles southeast of Baghdad (figure 10).

In 1854 J. E. Taylor conducted excavations there which yielded cuneiform cylinders stating that Nabonidus of Babylon (556-539 B.C.) had restored there the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu.  This made it clear that it was Ur.

Further excavations by H. R. Hall in 1918 found the ziggurat, tombs and houses.  But the main work was a combined effort of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania, led by C. L. Woolley (1922-1934).  This made Ur one of the best-known ancient sites of southern Mesopotamia.  The work revealed that the city was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in that area, particularly at the time that the Bible says Abram left it.

The site goes back to 4000 B.C. for its beginnings.  But two important times were noted there. The first is the Ur I period, about 1500 B.C.  This was a high point of development as was noted by the work in the royal tombs.  With the buried leaders (Shubad and Mes-Kalam-dug) was found jewelry, musical instruments, weapons, and a wide variety of other things showing high craftsmanship. 

The other period is Ur III when the city was at its height (2070-1970).  Woolley estimated that the population was about 250,000 people in the area.  The wall of the city proper was about two and a half miles in circumference, and was 77 feet thick.  Inside the city in the northwestern part was the sacred enclosure of the moon god Nanna (or Nannar, or Sin), within which stood the great brick ziggurat or step-tower, measuring about 200 feet in length, 150 feet in width, and 70 feet in height..  The city had two harbors, with numerous business houses for sales that covered a wide distance.  The houses of the middle class were two story places built around a courtyard and consisted of 10-20 rooms.

Education was at a highly developed level.  The basics of reading and writing and maths were taught.  In fact, the Sumerians not only knew multiplication and division tables but could extract the square and cube roots and do geometry.

Scores of thousands of clay tablets were found.  Many were shipping label documents, business receipts, court cases, and tax records (see figure 11 for Sumerian script). 

The city later was badly damaged by Hammurabi’s son when it rebelled.  The city was restored to greatness about a millennium later by Nebuchadnezzar and then further by Cyrus the Persian.

The Ziggurat.  The ziggurat of Abram’s day may have been built on top of an earlier one that went back to the first dynasty (2800), but the upper part was the work of Nabonidus (ca. 550 B.C.).  The bulk of the massive construction was the work of Ur-Nammu--his name and title were stamped on the bricks.  The tower was a solid mass of bricks.  The facing, covering the inner core of unbaked bricks, consisted of baked bricks set in bitumen, eight feet thick (figure 12).

The tower was an artificial mountain.  The people wanted to worship their gods in the mountains, but there were none in Shinar.  So this was constructed for that.  They even planted trees and shrubs on its levels, to imitate nature.

In front of the ziggurat stood twin temples between its stairways, the day houses of the moon god and his consort Nin-gal.  In the temples were lesser gods with their retinues.  Next to these were the kitchens, where the daily food for the gods was prepared.

The shrine of Nannar stood on top in Abram’s day, for that was the deity of Ur.  Other gods had temples on it, and in the city, but this deity was tops.  A whole quarter of the city was set aside to him.  He was called “the Exalted Lord,” “the Crown of Heaven and Earth,” and “the Beautiful Lord who shines in heaven.”

The Temenos.  The city was somewhat in an oval shape.  In the northwest part was a second enclosure, a rectangular area about 400 yards by 200 yards.  This was the temenos or sacred precinct of Nannar.  Originally it was a raised platform, but over the years it was dwarfed by the constant rise of the city area where people lived--that area was more likely to have ruins and rebuilding than the sacred area.  A great wall around the precinct rose high and set off this area. 

The whole place was something like a medieval castle: the great outer wall of the city, then an inner wall around the raised temenos (on which stood the ziggurat); then a wall around the keep, the last line of defense.  There was another higher platform, strengthened and defended by a massive double wall, whose internal chambers were stocked with weapons.  Nannar was the god, and the king; and so his place had to be defended.

In front of the ziggurat and on a lower level was a large open courtyard surrounded by many chambers.  This was for the business of the sanctuary, where people brought gifts and taxes.  Nannar was the great landlord.

On one side of the court rose another house/temple called “The House of Great Plenty.”  This was the harem, so to speak, of the moon god.  Here the ritual befitting such a place was held in privacy.  In adjacent houses were the priestess-prostitutes.

The Sumerian Temple was more than a place of worship.  In a theocratic state the moon god ruled as king and god.  Much of the business in the temenos was devoted to the secular activity of the priests in their routine.

For a description of the “firsts” at Ur, see Kramer's little paperback book.  For a more definitive work on these people, see Kramer's Ancient Sumer.



Abram left Ur and traveled north to the town of Haran, where later the family would send for a wife for Isaac.  It would be reasonable to go home if promised an inheritance; but this was not to be the place, and so when the father Terah died, they journeyed to Canaan (figure 13).

Haran still exists on the Balikh Rivers 60 miles west of Tell Halaf.  It is 10 miles north of the Syrian border today, inside Turkey.  The town lay astride the ancient caravan route, and so never disappeared.   The town flourished in the 19th and 18th centuries B.C., according to Assyrian records. It is also mentioned in the Mari texts and the Hittite documents too.  The place in Assyrian is called Harranu (“road”), perhaps because here the trade route from Damascus joined the east and west route from Nineveh to Carchemesh.

The city was also a center of the moon god (Sin) and his worship, and so was a rival for Ur. 

The city became the outpost for the Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C.


“Nakhur” occurs in the Mari tablets (from the 18th century) and the Assyrian records of the 17th century, where the name is Til-Nakhiri (the mound of Nahor).  It was located just a little below Haran.

Besides these powerful cities, other names in the area reflect the genealogy of Abram.  There are towns near Haran called Serug (Assyrian Sarugi), Nahor and Terah (Til Turakhi in Assyrian, “mound of Terach”).  And Peleg is retained by later Paliga on the Euphrates.


Other Cities of Mesopotamia


Location.  The city of Mari, Tell Hariri, was located in the middle Euphrates region fifteen miles north of the present Syria-Iraq border, near the town of Abu Kemal.  In the ancient times the river flowed past the edge of the city, but now the river is over a mile away.  The mounds of the site cover an area of about a mile in width and a half a mile in length.

Mari was the only major city of the middle Euphrates area, and so controlled all the trade routes by land or river.

The Excavation.  Andre Parrot of the Louvre excavated here from 1933-1939, and 1951-1956.  Other French teams have worked here off and on.  Parrot found that the earliest buildings go back to 3200 B.C.  It was one of the most prosperous cities of Mesopotamia during the 3rd millennium, and at the end of that millennium helped to bring an end to the great empire at Ur.  Mari thrived until Hammurabi took the city in 1695 and two years later had it razed to the ground.  Though rebuilt, it never regained its grandeur.  But it is mentioned as an important place in the Nuzi, Ugaritic, Assyrian and Egyptian documents.

Parrot excavated the ziggurat with its related shrines, the great temple to Ishtar (goddess of love and war), a temple to Dagan, and the great palace with its archives of over 20,000 tablets. 

The palace covers about eight acres.  It had royal apartments as well as administrative offices and a school for scribes.  The palace walls still stand at a height of 15-20 feet, and there were two stories in at least part of the structure.  It had 300 rooms arranged around open courts, and included a throne room with wall paintings, and bathrooms with toilets and two tubs, for hot and cold water.

The Archives.  We shall come back to the archives to discuss their importance to the patriarchs.  But at this point a survey is in order.  The tablets are mostly in Akkadian, but some were in Hurrian.  Many of the documents represent diplomatic correspondences between king Zimri-Lim of Mari and Hammurabi of Babylon, and thus help establish the chronology of the period.

They also contain many names equivalent to those in Genesis 11 (Peleg, Serug, Nahor) showing that they were good historical names.  Moreover, they mention customs found in the patriarchal narratives and throw light on tribal organization and traditions.  To date, only about 3,000 of the tablets have been published.  See further anything by Abraham Malamat, but especially “Mari,” Biblical Archaeologist, 1971, p. 22 for a bibliography.


Location.  Nuzi (Nuzu), modern Yorgan Tepe, is 12 miles southwest of modern Kirkuk in northeastern Iraq. 

Excavation.  It was excavated from 1925-1931 by the American Schools of Oriental Research in cooperation with the Iraq Museum, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania.  Edward Chierra, Robert H. Pfeiffer, and R. F. S. Starr directed it.  Hardly had they begun in 1925 when they found two large houses and a considerable number of tablets.  Such private archives were the main feature of this dig.  In the second season they found more private houses and the palace, which occupied the center of the mound.  Pfeiffer worked on the palace, Starr on the temple and part of the city wall.  But not a great deal of the mound was worked; much is left to do, if the political situation ever allows.

The site was occupied in pre-historic, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Partho-Sassanid periods.  Most important for our studies is the Hurrian period of about 1500 B.C.  While this comes a little later than the patriarchal period, what the texts record must be traditions, traditions that were not invented at the time but represent long standing Hurrian traditions, earlier that 1500.

Some 20,000 tablets document this period and tell of life among the citizens.  What they record offers interesting parallels to the patriarchs.  At Nuzi there are such customs as the sale of a birthright, the use of oral blessing, a wife's giving a slave wife to her husband to bear children, adoption of an heir, to name but a few.  Here were customs in the area that was Abraham's ancestral home, Haran.


The Historicity of the Patriarchs

The critical view of the patriarchs for the most part is nihilistic--they never existed, or they were much later if they existed at all.  Wellhausen thought the stories reflected life in Palestine 1200-900 B.C. (not that the patriarchs existed). He said the stories were projected back into these times of hoary antiquity. But if that were true, the difficulty is that the stories do not reflect anything of the conditions or the customs of the people in the land at that period.  Albright says that Wellhausen did not even recognize the difficulty because he was so ignorant of conditions in Palestine at that time (Archaeology of Palestine [AP], p. 130).

But with the discovery of Akkadian tablets at Nuzi and Mari the background of the stories takes on a sharper focus.  There is no authenticating reference to any of the patriarchs of course; but the evidence concerns the background of the stories and that is compelling.  It shows they fit that period, that culture, and that tradition.


The Nuzi Tablets

Several customs have surfaced here that are helpful in shedding light on the biblical narratives (see Cyrus Gordon, “Biblical Customs and the Nuzi Tablets,” Biblical Archaeologist 3 [1940]:1-12; and for bibliography, see the encyclopedias for archaeology).  Some of the more striking are:

Adoption.  A Nuzi couple who was childless frequently adopted a freeborn citizen or a slave to look after them, bury them, and inherit them.  Genesis 15:2 shows this very well, as Abram was concerned that the Damascene Eliezer stood to inherit him.  He called him “the son of my house” which means the heir.  In fact, there is a clever wordplay on the word “heir” and “Damascus” in the account.  Presumably Abraham had legally adopted him as the trusted slave.  But God, in telling Abraham it would be a son, does not even name the slave: “This one will not inherit you.”  Not naming him is significant in legal transactions.

Now if he had been named heir, how could he be set aside.  Nuzi tells us that if afterward the adopter has a son, the slave steps aside so the son can inherit the father.

In another Nuzi text we see how a man can adopt another man as his son and give him his daughter to wife, making him and his children heirs.  If the adopter had a son then, the adopted son would share with the actual son.  The stipulation included the fact that the adopted son could not marry another wife in addition to the daughter.  In the Jacob-Laban cycle the terminology of adoption is not clearly stated, but it looks like that is what Laban did (Gen. 29-31).  The treaty at the border clarifies this.

Marriage Laws.  Nuzi customs illustrate Sarai’s action in giving Hagar to Abram for a wife when she despaired of having children (Gen. 16).  Later Rachel follows the same course of action, as does Leah, but for a different reason.  Nuzi laws state that if a wife is barren she must furnish her husband with a slave wife.  Interestingly, the documents state that the slave must come from Lulluland in the mountains of the north, from whence come the best slave wives (Lullians).

When Sarai wanted to expel Hagar (Gen. 21) the patriarch's reluctance is understandable in view of the documents.  The laws state that if the wife bears a son the slave child should not be expelled.  Abraham would have refused to send him away if God had not intervened and (again) overruled custom.

Rights of Primogeniture.  Esau’s sale of the birthright (Gen. 25) is also illustrated here in Nuzi.  A legal arrangement existed whereby the privileges of the firstborn were transferred to another.  There is one case where the one who surrendered his right received three sheep in return, to some extent comparable to the meal of Jacob, except that Esau got far, far less.

The Teraphim.  Rachel’s theft of the teraphim (Gen. 31) is also clarified here.  The possession of the household gods implied leadership of the family and in the case of a daughter assured her husband the right to the property of the father.  Since Laban had sons who expected to inherit him, the theft of these gods was a serious threat to their future.  Jacob would have the main claim to Laban’s estates.  So Laban hunts for them.  But in an ironic twist, Rachel sits on them, claiming her period prevents her from getting up.  The Leviticus laws of uncleanness help explain why Laban would not think to ask her to move--surely she would not be sitting on them in that condition.  But of course she was.

These customs became obsolete later, in the period that Wellhausen said was reflected in the stories.  The narratives with these customs would make no sense being in that period of time.


The Mari Texts

Abram's migration west took place about 400 years before the Mari documents.  The region around Haran was under the control of Mari, though.  And the customs and names reflect that heritage.  The fact that the city of Nahor is frequently mentioned makes that clear.

What is interesting at Mari is the names found in the tablets.  One is the famous habiru, which many equated etymologically with the name “Hebrew” applied to Abraham.  This word occurs in Mari, El Amarna letters, and the Ugaritic texts (15th century).  It is possible to see in the movement of Abram a part of the wider movement of people, various groups, designated by this term.   But the term does not equate with the Hebrews of the conquest--the term refers to mercenaries, marauding bands.  Hebrews could have been among them, but for the most part were different.

The name Banu-Yamina, “Benjamites,” “Sons of the South” or “Sons of the Right Hand.”  These are not the tribe of Benjamin, of course; they are a fierce tribe of nomads who roved the fringes of the desert. Benjamin was born to Jacob in Canaan, and was never in Mesopotamia at all.  But the patriarchs have names from their culture, and this occurrence shows the tribe's name was a good Semitic name of the period.  Beside that, the statement that Benjamin was a marauding wolf (Gen. 49:27) also fits the culture.

In the Mari documents there is also the word dawidum, which means “chiefton.”  Many have thought “David” was a title because of this.

The custom of killing an ass to make a treaty is found at Mari as well as the story of Jacob and Shechem (Gen. 34).  According to the Bible (Josh 24:32), the Shechemites were called “sons of the ass” (bene hamor), and their tribal deity “Lord of the covenant” (ba‘al berith; Josh. 9:4).  It seems that later (Josh. 9) some of these tribes were added to the covenant by treaty.

Divination was significant at Mari.  The diviner was important to the culture.  He protected items for divining the future so that people could read the omens.  The patriarchs had some problems with idols and teraphim, but seem to have escaped divination.  Joseph, however, uses it as part of his dealings with his brothers.

The name “Abraham” has parallels in these documents.  A-ba-am-ra-ma, A-ba-ra-ma, and A-ba-am-ra-am have all been found, showing the name is a good old Amorite name.  The name “Jacob,” meaning “[God] protects,” occurs as a place name in Canaan (on Thutmose III list in the Execration Texts) but also as the name Ya-ah-qu-ub-il in tablets from Chagar Bazar in northern Mesopotamia.  Also names like Ishmael, Isaac, Joseph, Laban appear in documents from the nineteenth century.



Part Two “Abraham's Migration to Canaan”



The period known as Middle Bronze I (Kenyon’s Intermediate EB-MB period) dates from 2300-1900 B.C.  It is the time of the movement of the Amorites, often called the “Amorite invasion.”

We have seen that MBI is clearly the period of the patriarchs.  Abram was born in 2166, and enters the land about 2091 (or 2085).  After the various dates for the patriarchs, we have Joseph in Egypt in MBII, and Jacob joining him in 1876.  Kenyon and Albright put Abram at a later age, MBII, fitting him against the milieu of 1900-1750.  But that is the time the Egyptian sojourn begins according to the literal reading of the dates and ages in the Bible.

But here we are concerned with the movement of the Amorites and the evidence of it in archaeology.  Then we will look at the land of Canaan as it was when Abram arrived.


Archaeological Evidence for the Migration

Artifactual Evidence from Egypt.  At the end of the 6th dynasty of Egypt, 2294 B.C., there is an invasion of Asiatics in Egypt.  It is associated with the overthrow of the Early Bronze civilizations in Canaan.  Most scholars agree on the date of 2300, in the time of Pepi I.

Artifactual Evidence from Canaan.   The evidence is:

1.       All the major tells reveal a destruction level at the end of EB (@2300).

2.       There is evidence that the land was settled by many new groups of people.  Kenyon draws some conclusions about these people:

*There are numerous peoples, but they are not interested in town life (this can be challenged, however, for all her evidence comes from the hill country sites: Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell Duweir, Beth Shean, Megiddo, and Jericho in the Ghor).  Megiddo does not fit the pattern, and so she says it is an exception.  Actually Megiddo was badly dug.  There are three temples there, and it is hard to date them.  The middle one seems to be EB-MB.  So, of Kenyon’s conclusion, we may say that it is true of the hill country sites, but we do not know about the plains and valleys.  She bases her conclusion on limited evidence and excepts the tell Megiddo.

*These people are shepherds since there are no implements of any agricultural work.  It is a pastoral life they follow.

*There are concentrated cemeteries with the tribal burial grounds lacking any consistent order.  The variety reflects different peoples.

*These groups are separated and tribal in their organization.

Kenyon wants to see all of these as Amorites.  But the Bible says that there are many groups in Canaan, the Amorites being one of them (unless she is using the term more widely than the Bible).  The cliche list of Canaanite tribes (“-ites”) seems to be supported by the data showing many tribes in the land, much ethnic variety, and much wandering.  Abram as a wandering bedouin chieftain fits this period well (fig 14).

3.       Kenyon dates this period at 2300-2000.  How does she arrive at this?  The evidence is:

*The pottery type is calicoform, which is current in Syria in the last centuries of the second millennium (e.g.,  the milk bowl).

*There was found a toggle pin (for the shoulder of a garment) at Ras Shamra (fits this period and this material).  It was found directly underneath a 2000 B.C. temple.  The terminus ad quem is then 2000 B.C.--that is the 12th dynasty of Egypt.

4.       Not only on previously occupied sites but new settlements in the fringe area show the same results:Negev, Transjordan, and Upper Galilee.  We find these groups in new sites which were previously unsettled on the marginal areas.  Abram ended up in the Negev (so he still fits the MBI period).

5.       Fringe area settlements disappear after 1950 B.C.  According to Glueck, there are no more settlements or occupations in the Negev and the Transjordan after 1950 B.C.  There is the occupational gap and the settlements end.

Literary Evidence from Mesopotamia Regarding Canaan.  Akkadian texts from Mesopotamia (from the period of 2300-2000 B.C.) refer to a new Semitic speaking group of invaders who put an end to the kingdom of Akkad and the final remnant of Sumerians--they are known as Amurru, which is “men of the west lands.”

The evidence points not to one ethnic group but waves of invaders.  They are called Amurru (= Biblical “Amorites”), so they are essentially the Amorites.  They swept through Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia (destroying Akkad), and are named as “western” from the “land of Amurru.”  So Western Semites, nomads, destroyers.  They are Amorites who speak a western Semitic dialect.


Literary Evidence from the Bible

Texts bearing on the Amorites.  The Bible uses the general term “Amorite” for inhabitants of the western land (very similar to the Akkadian texts).

Genesis 15:6          “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full”

Joshua 24:15          “serve the gods of the Amorites?  Choose you this day whom, you will serve”

The Bible uses “Amorite” as an ethnic group, as the grandson of Noah through Ham, Canaan, to the Amorites.  This ethnic group is part of the Western Semitic people.

The Bible describes the above group as finally settling in the hill country, whereas the Canaanites were in the plains, in the valleys, by the sea (Num. 13:29; Josh. 5:1; 10:6).

Texts bearing on various ethnic groups in the land.  Genesis 12:6 and 13:7 refers to the Canaanite and the Perizzite in the land.  Who are the Canaanites?

Genesis 15:19 lists ten “nations” (*) that are in the land: Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.

Ezekiel 16:3 lists Jerusalem as the offspring of the Amorite (father) and the Hittite (mother) in the land of Canaan.

So the Bible is in harmony with the evidence found by Kenyon.  In the land of Canaan there are various ethnic groups of people, including the remains of the powerful Canaanite empire that was dominant in the preceding centuries.  At Megiddo there were five types of burial grounds.  Of these Kenyon makes no distinction, but lumps them together as Amorite.

They apparently came from Syria or through the northern area of the land.  But they are not an ethnic group, which would then be a descendant of Canaan.


Text of Genesis 14This chapter tells of the invasion of the kings.  It lists the small kings who were being attacked and subjugated (figure 15).  The groups represented are:

*The Rephaim in Ashtoreth-karnaim.  Karnaim was the inherited place of Ashteroth as the regional capital under Aramaean and Assyrian rule.

*The Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim.  Sheveh is used only here; it is in a land known later as part of Moab.

*The Zuzim in Ham

*The Horites from Seir to El Paran.  El Paran is south; Elath is on the fringe of the Paran desert.



Aharoni concludes that the Amorites were pushed out of transjordan by later invaders.  This later invasion of the four kings may be responsible for the end of the transjordan settlements.  EB ends with 2000 B.C., and so it may fit.  It makes good sense with Genesis 14.  The events in the chapter could be dated around 2050 B.C.


The Land of Canaan

At the age of 75 Abraham left Haran and came to Canaan (Gen. 12:4,5).  The land was still thinly populated, but there were strong cities.  Linguistically the groups had the same stock language as Abram, a Semitic language, but there were difference still between them (perhaps old Amorite, certainly Akkadian).  Of course their racial and cultural features were distinct.

The Canaanite towns were mostly on the Coastal Plain, the Plain of Esdraelon, and the Valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea region.  The hill country was occupied and fortified by the Amorites and the sedentary population.  So Abram and his family had to wander towards the south to find a place to settle.  The hill country of the central regions and the south had plenty of room--with good reason.

After the “invasion” things settled down for the Middle Bronze period.  The situation in the land was very much the semi-nomadic life of the patriarchs.  But there were city-states with kings, and a feudalistic system in existence.

In the MB period the mountains were heavily forested on the watershed ridge and the western slope, so that there was little arable land.  Cisterns were only generally coming into use.  As a result the settlements were mostly near natural water sources.  The ideal location was a water source under a low hill, suitable for defense, with meadows or valleys nearby for food supply.  Between such towns there was plenty of room for semi-nomadic people.

The topographical references in the patriarchal stories also fit the evidence of MB.  Places such as Shechem, Bethel, Dothan, Gerar, Beersheba, and Jerusalem (Shalem) are all known archaeologically from this early period.  Hebron, however, was not founded until about 1700 B.C.  Earlier the location was Mamre, after the person who owned; it is called Hebron as a point of clarification for later readers (Gen. 13:18, 23:19).

The five cities of the plain of Jordan, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar, also have been attested in the texts, especially in the Ebla texts.  The indications are that the area was fertile and well-watered, and well populated in 2065 B.C. But it was suddenly abandoned.  The Vale of Siddim is the southern end of the Dead Sea region.

Sometime around the middle of the twenty-first century B.C. the Vale of Siddim with its cities was overwhelmed by a great conflagration (Gen. 19:23-28).  The region is said to have been full of asphalt pits (Gen. 14:10).  The entire region is on a fault line that runs down into Africa.  And while the biblical record is looking at the divine cause of the events there, it is likely that natural phenomena were involved as immediate or mediate causes.Perhaps the salt and sulphur of the area were mingled by an earthquake which resulted in a violent explosion.  If the material was caught up into the air it would then rain burning sulphur on the cities.

But Genesis 14 still remains the most important link of the patriarchs to the international world around them.  All the evidence from archaeology at this time supports the historicity of the event--the names, the feudal system, the invasion, and the quest behind it, all fit the times. 

The names are ancient names, giving rise to the need for the scribe to clarify where they were (see verses 1-7).  Bela--which is Zoar; Siddim, which is the Salt Sea; En-mishpat, which is Kadesh.

          The cities of Bashan, Ashtoreth and Karnaim, were both occupied at this time.  The city of Ham in the account was found as well, in eastern Gilead, dating to the early bronze age.

The line of march is also authentic.  They came down from Hauran (Bashan) through Gilead to Moab.  The road is called the King's Highway.  It is the natural route into the region, but does not seem to be popular after 1200.  Since the invaders wanted the copper, manganese, and mineral deposits of the Sea, Edom and Moab, the account appears authentic.

Kings were allied to others by treaty obligations.  Here it is the war of Chedorlaomer.  But it is in the days of Amraphel (not Hammurabi).  He is the overlord; he has city-states under him.  So if Chedprlaomer went to battle, his master and colleagues had to go as well.

The same was true in the land.  Abram had a covenant with Mamre.  When Abram went to war, these Amorite chieftains had to go as well, because they were loyal to each other.  The treaty worked in Abram's favor.




All the evidence, biblical texts and archaeological data, point to the veracity of the material about Abraham and his family.  The records fit the MB I period perfectly.

Next we must look at MB II period, and answer who the Canaanites and the Hyksos were.  This will involve Egyptian data as well as Canaanite.  We will look at Hazor, Megiddo, and Ebla, and Ugarit.  The texts will be Sinuhe, Execration texts, the tablets of Ebla and Ugarit.






     [1]The modern critical view of the Table of Nations is that it is much later (as indeed Genesis is said to be), coming from the exile or the Persian period.  But the data on the Table makes that unlikely--Israel is not mentioned, Persia is not mentioned, and the interest in the land of Canaan and the tribes that dwelt there is clearly representative of the earlier period.

     [2] In Genesis the numerous headings that use this word (“these are the generations of”) trace from a starting point (here: Shem, Ham and Japheth) “what became of” these ancestors.  What became of them was all the tribes and nations of antiquity that lived next to each other in the ancient lands.

     [3] The name “Semitic” is derived from the name “Shem”; but the Semitic people were not all descendants of Shem, nor did all the descendants of Shem speak Semitic languages.  It is a convenient term to use, however, for the peoples around the Fertile Crescent who spoke related languages.

     [4] Some have thought that Genesis 14 was an account of the war by someone outside the family because it refers to Abram as the Hebrew, embroiled in this “international” skirmish.  The account would then have been obtained for the family records.

     [5] The word “Arab” uses the same letters, but referses the last two--‘rb for ‘br.  Sometimes letters do reverse in words, and so some have thought these two words, Hebrew and Arab, may have been from the same root, meaning “beduoin.”