The Patriarchs and Archaeology

Why so little archaeological evidence for the Patriarchs?

The fathers of Biblical Israel, often called the Patriarchs, are decidedly difficult to date primarily due to a lack of abundant physical evidence.  It is estimated that that the Biblical account places the Patriarchs to around the Middle Bronze Age (2166-1805). This is not alarming given our overall ignorance of that time period. John J. Bimson notes, “Our knowledge of the centuries around 2000 BC is very small, and our ignorance very great.”[1]
Dr. David Gottleib states, “Archaeology has uncovered a myriad of details, details that the Bible records about the quality of life and the conditions of life of the Patriarchs which turn out to be accurate to the last detail.”[2] The quality of life and lifestyles recorded in the Genesis account reflect those in early extra-biblical source such as the Code of Hammurabi. The Egyptian and Hittite texts, thousands of clay tablets from the Amorite city of Mari, the Horite city of Nuzi, and the cities of Leilan and Alalakh all support the statements of Gottleib. 

Marriage contracts and inheritance laws contemporaneous with the Biblical story are accurately reflected in extra-biblical sources. For example, the Hurrian Law at Nuzi and the Code of Hammurabi in Babylonia gave legal precedence for a man to adopt children he may have fathered through slaves as legitimate heirs. This is identical to the custom we see in Genesis 17-20 when Sarai, the wife of Abraham, gives Hagar (slave) as a means of producing an heir. Understanding even small elements of life during such times helps to correctly understand the Sitz im Leben of the Old Testament accounts.

[1] ""Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs" by John J. Bimson." "Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs" by John J. Bimson. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

[2] Gottlieb, David "Bible Veracity and Archeology" Mesora: Discussions. Retrieved from www.mesora.org. Internet accessed 16 November 2009.

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