Abraham—God’s Prophet and Friend
THE combined armies of four Eastern kings cross the Euphrates River. Their line of march is the King’s Highway to the east of the Jordan River valley. En route they conquer the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, and the Horites. Then, the invaders turn around and defeat all the inhabitants of the southern Negeb.
What is the purpose of this military campaign? Between the invaded regions of Transjordan and the Negeb lies the prize. It is a coveted valley called the District of the Jordan. (Genesis 13:10) Here, the inhabitants of five city-states, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, live a carefree life of material ease. (Ezekiel 16:49, 50) Once they were subject to the apparent leader of the combined armies, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. But they have rebelled against him. Now, without neighboring support, they face an accounting. Chedorlaomer and his allies win the resulting battle and begin their long march home with much spoil.
Among the captives is a righteous man, Lot. He is the nephew of Abraham, who is tenting in the nearby mountains of Hebron. When Abraham hears the distressing news, he immediately summons 318 of his men. Courageously, with the support of some neighbors, they chase after the four kings and surprise their armies by night. The invaders flee. Lot and his household are recovered, together with the other captives and goods.
What reason do we have to believe this record in the 14th chapter of Genesis? Was the story invented to make a national hero of the forefather of a number of nations, including the Jews? What about other events in the life of Abraham?
What Clergymen Have Said
In the early 19th century, Lutheran theologian Peter von Bohlen claimed that Abraham was a myth and that the account of Chedorlaomer’s invasion had no historical foundation. Another, Professor Julius Wellhausen, stated: “We attain to no historical knowledge of the patriarchs.” He suggested: “[Abraham] might with more likelihood be regarded as a free creation of unconscious art.”
English theologians followed the lead of their German colleagues. “The great patriarchal tales in the book of Genesis are prehistoric, no more historically true than the tales of . . . King Arthur,” wrote clergyman Stopford Brooke in his book The Old Testament and Modern Life. “From . . . Genesis . . . we obtain but a broken and distorted view of the life and character of any one of the patriarchs,” wrote John Colenso, Anglican bishop of the former British colony of Natal. “It is impossible,” he added, “to place implicit confidence in any of these records.”
Such criticism spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:17) Today, millions of churchgoers no longer take the life of the patriarchs seriously. Yet, to the shame of Christendom’s theologians, atheists now state that Bible criticism has gone too far. For example, Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia (Great Soviet Encyclopedia) states: “In recent years, a series of contentions of biblical criticism were reexamined in the light of new research, especially on the basis of the data of so-called biblical archaeology. Some biblical traditions that had been regarded as myth . . . seem to have a historic core.” Consider how archaeology has thrown light on the record about Abraham.
Ur of the Chaldeans
According to the Bible, Abraham was raised in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” (Genesis 11:27-31; 15:7) For centuries, Ur’s location was a mystery. Critics believed that if it existed at all, it was an insignificant, backward place. Then, to their embarrassment, ruins that lie between Babylon and the Persian Gulf were identified unmistakably to be those of Ur. Thousands of clay tablets unearthed at the site revealed that Ur was a center of world trade, with a large cosmopolitan population. In the time of Abraham, the city even had schools where boys were taught to write and do arithmetic.
Furthermore, excavations at Ur revealed that its architects used the column, the arch, the vault, and the dome. Ur’s craftsmen produced exquisite jewelry, elaborately designed harps, and daggers with blades of pure gold. In several homes, archaeologists unearthed sewage pipes, made of baked clay, that descended into large drainage pits up to 40 feet [12 m] deep.
These discoveries gave many scholars a fresh view of Abraham. “We had been accustomed to think of Abraham as a simple dweller in tents, and find him a possible occupant of a sophisticated brick house in a city,” wrote Sir Leonard Woolley in his book Digging Up the Past. “Abraham,” stated archaeologist Alan Millard in his book Treasures From Bible Times, “left the sophisticated city, with all its security and comfort, to become one of the despised nomads!”
What about Abraham’s victory over Chedorlaomer, king of Elam? In the early 19th century, little was known about the Elamites. Bible critics rejected the idea that Elam ever had influence over Babylonia, let alone Palestine. Now, the Elamites are viewed differently. Archaeology reveals them to have been a powerful warfaring nation. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia states: “The Elamites destroyed the city of Ur about 1950 B.C. . . . Subsequently they exerted considerable influence on the rulers of Babylonia.”
Furthermore, the names of Elamite kings have been found on archaeological inscriptions. Some of them begin with the expression “Kudur,” similar to “Chedor.” An important Elamite goddess was Lagamar, similar to “laomer.” Thus, Chedorlaomer is now accepted by some secular sources as a historical ruler, his name possibly meaning “Servant of Lagamar.” One set of Babylonian inscriptions has names similar to three of the invading kings—Tudhula (Tidal), Eri-aku (Arioch), and Kudur-lahmil (Chedorlaomer). (Genesis 14:1) In the book Hidden Things of God’s Revelation, Dr. A. Custance adds: “Besides these names were details which seemed to refer to the events which transpired in Babylonia when the Elamites established their sovereignty over the country. . . . So confirmatory of Scripture were these tablets that the Higher Critics jumped on them and did everything in their power to deliberately suppress the significance of them.”
What about the invasion by the four kings? Is there any archaeological evidence in Transjordan and the Negeb to support this? Yes. In his book The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, Professor Yohanan Aharoni refers to the disappearance of a pre-Israelite civilization that had “impressive” settlements in Transjordan and the Negeb, “around 2000 B.C.E.” Other archaeologists say this happened about 1900 B.C.E. “The pottery of both the Negeb and Transjordan for this period are identical and both show sudden, catastrophic termination of the civilization,” states Dr. Harold Stigers in his Commentary on Genesis. Even Bible critics, such as John Van Seters, accept the evidence for this. “One unsolved problem is where these people went, if anywhere, at the end of the period,” he states in his book Abraham in History and Tradition.
Genesis chapter 14 provides a possible solution to the problem. According to Bible chronology, Abraham arrived in Canaan in 1943 B.C.E. Chedorlaomer’s destructive invasion must have taken place shortly after that. Later, in that same century, God brought fiery destruction upon the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This forever changed the ecology of the once fertile lower Jordan Valley. (Genesis 13:10-13; 19:24, 25) It was no longer the prize of foreign invaders.
There are many other examples of how archaeology dovetails with the Scriptures in throwing light on events in the life of Abraham. But archaeology has its limitations. The evidence it provides is often indirect and subject to the interpretations of imperfect humans.
The Most Reliable Testimony
The strongest proof that Abraham really existed is the testimony of man’s Creator, Jehovah God. At Psalm 105:9-15, God spoke approvingly of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as his “prophets.” Over a thousand years after Abraham’s death, Jehovah God referred to Abraham through the mouth of at least three prophets, even calling him his “friend.” (Isaiah 41:8; 51:2; Jeremiah 33:26; Ezekiel 33:24) Likewise, Jesus Christ held Abraham up as an example. During his prehuman existence in heaven, God’s Son had personally witnessed his Father’s dealings with the patriarch. Thus, he could say to the Jews:
“‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham. But now you are seeking to kill me, a man that has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. Abraham your father rejoiced greatly in the prospect of seeing my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.’ Therefore the Jews said to him: ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and still you have seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’”—John 8:39, 40, 56-58.
With the testimony and encouragement of the two greatest Persons in the universe, we have the very best reasons to accept everything the Bible states about Abraham. (John 17:5, 17) Though the Bible presents Abraham as an example, it does not unduly elevate him as a national hero. This can be seen by examining the account of his victory over the four allied kings. When Abraham returned from the battle, he was greeted by Melchizedek, king of Salem, who said: “Blessed be the Most High God, who has delivered your oppressors into your hand!” It was Jehovah that he praised for that deliverance.—Genesis 14:18-20.
However, a far grander victory is at hand! Soon, this same glorious God will defeat “the kings of the entire inhabited earth” at the global war called Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14, 16) Then, God’s promise to Abraham, his prophet and friend, will have complete fulfillment: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” Millions are enjoying a foretaste of such blessings. You can be included among them, as the articles appearing on pages 18-28 in this magazine will show.—Genesis 22:18.
[Maps/Pictures on page 7]
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District of the Jordan
Abraham obeyed, moving out of Ur, a very prosperous city
Sample artifacts from Ur:
1. Gold dagger and sheath
2. The ‘Standard’ of Ur
3. Gold bull’s head from sounding box of a harp
5. Jeweled headdress
Photos: Courtesy of the British Museum