Was Abraham a historical person?

Hello to everyone.

I’m Alessio from Italy. I used to be a YEC, but some months ago I came to accept EC, because I’ve descovered many scientific proofs for evolution. I’m now struggling with the need of re-reading the book of Genesis, in order to understand what is “real history” from what is a myth. I came to understand that Gn 1-11 is most probably a myth; but how can we deal with the story of the Patriarchs? I’ve searched throughout the Internet historical proofs for the existence of Abraham and the other Patriarchs, but I didn’t found any proof for that. So was Abraham a myth like Adam and Eve? Could some of you explain to me why we take only Gn 1-11 as mythical but and not from 12 to 50?

Thank you.

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Welcome to the forum, Alessio. There will be differing opinions, but I think of Abraham as historical because the story he is in rings true and he as a character is fleshed out rather than just being a place holder in the narrative. That is purely subjective, I know. There is really no archeological evidence that he existed, of course that goes for Moses too.
Of course, you can argue that he was accepted as historical by others later in the Bible, and named by Jesus, Paul and others, but the same can be said of Adam also, though there are some differences in that the only naming of Adam in the Old Testament outside of early Genesis is the genealogy in 1Chronicles 1, so certainly not a prominent figure. In the New Testament also, Adam is more a placeholder, whereas Abraham is known by his actions and faith.

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Hi, Alessio - welcome to the forum. This is a good place to process these kinds of questions. Here is my own take on some of what you bring up.

This very way of thinking of the situation still betrays a fairly firm modernist mindset that a lot of ex-YECs struggle (or not!) to shed even while they are still emerging from that belief system. In short it might be characterized this way: “we now know that significant parts of the Bible must merely be myth (meaning ‘untrue’), and so now the project becomes a sorting to cull away the ‘untrue’ from the ‘true’ according to our new scientific lights - in a kind of triage to hopefully rescue the parts that can still be respectably defended in modern contexts.”

I won’t presume to know for sure how well that may fit your experience - I’m only guessing based on your introductory post here, of course. Many of us as believers here think of the Bible as true in all that it teaches from the first verse. We just don’t think that modern approaches such as what YEC has adopted (where science and historicity are uncritically granted status as the truth gatekeepers) … we don’t accept that this is a true or faithful approach to the Bible as a whole, whether it be passages in Genesis 1-11, or later, or in the gospels. There are places, of course, where historicity is an important consideration, but we generally like to get that clue from the text itself and not as a modern demand imposed generally on the text from without.

This is my initial reaction - sorry if it goes wide of the mark of what you’re looking for. But feel free to jump in with clarification or push back as needed.

And again - good to have new voices like yours here!

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Welcome to the forum @Alessio_Rando. My grandmother was from Italy and I am currently trying to learn Latin (Salve!). Also, I recently made the jump from YEC after years of head burying and wrestling with doubts. You can find my story here on the forum. You’ll find plenty of folk with similar stories here and is great that we can add your voice to the mix.

I’m with @jpm on this one:

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dominate so much of later half of Genesis. The details of the lives, the places the go, people they meet, the things they do, it all rings of historical events. That’s why so many make the distInction between Genesis 1-11 and 12 onwards. Gen 1-11 is very much the prologue to the book, grounding it antiquity and introducing key theological themes like blessing, curse, dominion, and sin. In those chapters the camera has a wide angle lens on all humanity. In chapter 12 the story of Israel kicks off in earnest and the narrow lens is focused on Abraham and his direct offspring.

None of that is a smoking gun for historicity, but then there is unlikely to ever be one.

On an aside, as I was transitioning out of YEC I found this collection of blogs really helpful. Especially in unpicking the Humean empirical worldview I’d inherited from Answers in Genesis. Perhaps you might find them useful too.

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Dear Alessio,
Walther Hinz, in his article “Wann hat Abraham Gelebt?”, places Abraham in the 22/23rd century BCE. This is based on his work on the Elam tablets where Tharah, the father of Abraham is mentioned.
Best Wishes, Shawn

How do we know anybody is a historical person? Some people doubt the historicity of Jesus or David. Sometimes there will be supporting archeological evidence and sometimes there will not be. If the source is reliable where it can be checked then that is evidence that it can be relied on where independent evidence is lacking. The Bible is one of the most intensively scrutinised books by hostile reviewers and has shown itself to be reliable. Many claims of errors have been overturned by recent archeological discoveries.

Although there might not be direct independent archeological evidence the history of Abraham comes from a reliable source and is consistent with other history and archeological evidence for that period.

We can be confident that Abraham was a historical person.

Egyptian history and the biblical record: a perfect match?

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I’ve read considerably on the subject of Abraham, and I’m convinced, (through reading scholarly research) that there is a historical basis for the patriarchal period. See Richard Hess’ excellent essay on the Ancestral Period in this volume:

Simply put, the names and customs of the patriarchs reflect the early second millennium, and many of said customs died out, or became rarer later.

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I see Abraham as a historical person along with a lot of other figures from the Bible except for Job who is just a character in a story that deals with the problem of evil. The rest of Genesis past 11 seems more based in reality rather then the events of Gen.1-11 (and though I do see the people from Genesis 1-11 as historical real people, the events behind them are mythical such as Adam and Eve being real people but not the sole founder’s of humanity and Noah being real but not being the only one along with his family surviving the flood.) This is just my take in all of this and how I understand it all. Hope this helps you with you’re question @Alessio_Rando

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It’s not as apparent in English (or Italian!), but there is a shift in style and vernacular from Gen. 11 to Gen. 12. The other thing to keep in mind is that God called Abram out of idolatry (Josh. 24:2). He didn’t come from a long line of YHWH worshippers who orally passed down the stories of Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the genealogies. Finally, consider the possibility that Gen. 1-11 was not the first thing written in the Bible. Scholars of all stripes are fairly well agreed on that point. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are likely the oldest “strata” in Genesis.

Hope that helps!

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Abraham and his Horite Hebrew people are well attested in historical records, Genesis being one of those records.The English term “Hebrew” is derived from the ancient Akkadian word “Abru” which means priest.The Hebrew were a caste of ruler-priests who dispersed among the (Y-DNA) Haplogroup R1 populations of Africa, the Middle East, and Eurasia. Analysis of the king lists of Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 reveals an authentic marriage and ascendancy pattern that verifies the historicity of the Horite Hebrew.

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Instead of drawing a sharp line between fact and fiction, consider it being a matter of the gradual effect upon the transmission of very old stories from before a time when we specialized human activities into such things as science, philosophy, religion, history and entertainment. Then it is not a matter of whether or not something is myth but rather how much of the myth can be taken as literal historical and how much is it likely that other literary functions have a part in the telling of the story. Very little of the Bible can measure up to modern scholarly standards of historical documentation, and thus all of Genesis is part of a spectrum of the whole Bible.

So the plain fact is that I don’t accept this premise of your question, that Adam and Eve are completely fictional. How about a numerical rating of historicity?

King Arthur and Merlin 1 vague myth dominated by fictional storytelling
Adam and Eve 1 Accounts filled with symbols at best and magical embellishments at worst
Noah 2 multiple varied accounts from diverse cultures
Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) 3 pretty solid history mixed with a lot of fiction and myth
Abraham 3 enough details to strongly support belief in a historical source
Jesus 4 - multiple accounts with all the character of a historical source
Julius Cesar 5 - both excellent history and reasons to discount some things said about him.
George Washington 6 solid historical documentation, not without myths and fictional accounts
Abraham Lincoln 7 solid history, but not without some myth as well

In other words, the facts testify quite clearly that just because there is myth doesn’t mean there is nothing historical.

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So the “sons of God” in Gn 6 could be Hebrews?

“Sons of God” refers to the early kingdom builders, the mighty men of old" in Genesis 6:4. They are described as heroes and men of renown. They constructed temples, palaces, fortified shrine cities (“high places”), and pyramids. The rulers of the ancient world dispersed across a vast region that extended from central Africa to Southern Europe and the Indus Valley. It was believed that these rulers were divinely appointed to rule. Some ruled in ancient Edom. They are called the Anakim, descendants of Anak. The mighty men of old are also called the Nephilim. The word npyl (nephil) in Aramaic means giant in stature or great in status/power. The term is equivalent to nfy in Arabic, meaning hunter. It is said concerning Nimrod that he was a mighty hunter or a mighty man before the Lord.

The clue to understanding Genesis 6 is the word gibbor-iym (powerful ones). This passage is speaking about ancient rulers who were regarded as the “sons of the gods” or deified kings ( elohiym ). The gibbor-iym, also designated elohiym (deified rulers), comprise the divine council spoken of in Genesis. This is a common theme in Africa, especially among the Buganda of Uganda, the Yoruba, the ancient Kushites and the ancient Egyptians. The idea spread across the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion.

Among the rulers of old were the Horite Hebrew, a caste of ruler-priests who served in the royal temples and shrines.The English word “Hebrew” is derived from the ancient Akkadian word “Abru” which means priest.

The word ‘Nephilim’ means ‘fallen (as in slain) ones’. This is why the biblical giants are also called ‘Rephaim’, a term meaning the spirits of the dead. I agree with most of the rest of what you say, minus the Horite stuff, I find it more likely that the Hebrews were descendents of the Suteans (Sethites).

See Ken Kitchens “On the Reliability of the Old Testament”. He is an Egyptologist. He starts with the latest stories and goes backed in time in chunks, as there is less info as one goes back. For the later kings, there is a lot of evidence. For David some evidence. etc. For Genesis 12-50, he assesses it as plausible from the info provided, as Israel was too small to show up yet in any historical records or artifacts, but other things mentioned do show up in the right time frames, with some qualifications.

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Analysis of the kinship pattern of the king lists of Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 reveals that the Hebrew lines practiced endogamy. The lines of Cain and Seth intermarried. The lines of Ham and Shem intermarried, and the lines of Nahor and Abraham intermarried.

Rephaim was a name known among the Israelites, but other peoples had different names for them. “Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim.” (Deuteronomy 2:11)

I believe Genesis can be taken as literal. It becomes difficult to draw a line between what is allegory and what is real. I feel the first two chapters of Genesis should be viewed as sequential and all conflict with science goes away. This also eliminates the conflict of the differences in the sequence of creation between the first and second creation narrative. This is also consistent with the pattern establish in Genesis and Chronicles that the line leading to the Messiah always being given after the line or lines not leading to the Messiah.

As a secondary argument, I feel the sons of God described in Genesis 6 refer to the offspring of Adam (see Luke 3) where the daughters of men refers to the offspring of men and women created in Genesis 1

Interesting opinion.