Daily Life of the Patriarchs

The Way It Was

by Shaul Bar (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 201 Pages


While the literature of the ancient Near East portrays legendary heroes, this is not the case with the biblical narrative, which portrays the patriarchs and matriarchs as fallible human beings. Their story is a multigenerational one of family and the dynamics that exist within. Reading these stories is like hearing the echo of family feuds, which is what makes them timeless.
Were the patriarchs real people? Or can we say that many details in the Book of Genesis are fictions that project later romantic ideals of life and faith? To answer these questions the author examines the patriarchs’ daily life, beliefs, and customs to provide provocative and useful insights into the life of the Patriarchs.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Migration
  • The First Monotheist
  • Dating the Period of the Patriarchs
  • The Biblical Evidence
  • The Mari Evidence
  • From Ur to Canaan
  • Ḫabiru (Ḫapiru)
  • Place of Habitation
  • Chapter 2: Marriages
  • Endogamy: Marriage within the Family
  • Exogamy: Marriage Outside of the Family
  • Bridal Price
  • Maidservant
  • Bilhah and Zilpah
  • Levirate Marriage
  • Wedding Ceremony
  • Chapter 3: The Religious Customs of the Patriarchs
  • Altars
  • Sacrifice
  • Stones
  • Prayers
  • Swearing
  • Circumcision
  • Sacred Trees
  • Chapter 4: The God/Gods of the Patriarchs
  • The Different Names of God
  • The God of Israel and the Foreign Gods
  • Theophany
  • Angels
  • Chapter 5: Dreams
  • Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Incubation
  • Abimelech
  • Laban
  • Chapter 6: The Three Patriarchs
  • Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Chapter 7: The Matriarchs
  • Sarah
  • Rebecca
  • Rachel
  • Leah
  • Chapter 8: The Daily Life of the Patriarchs
  • Tent Dwellers
  • Food
  • Wheat and Barley
  • Pulses
  • Wine and Milk
  • Meat
  • Condiments
  • Nuts
  • Transportation
  • Dress and Ornamentation
  • Chapter 9: Death
  • “Lie down with one’s father”
  • Mourning Customs
  • Sheol
  • Cult of the Dead
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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To start with, I would like to thank my two readers who read an early draft of the manuscript and offered many perceptive comments and insight. Bob Turner, Circulation Librarian at the Harding School of Theology, who made many suggestions and offered his wisdom. Anna S. Chernak who read the manuscript and offered valuable advice and continuous encouragement. I am grateful as well to Shoshana Cenker who read the final draft of the manuscript and to Tiffany France who worked on the footnotes and bibliography.

I want to express appreciation for the resources and to the staff of the Harding School of Theology in Memphis, where Librarian Don Meredith led me to the materials, Associate Librarian Sheila Owen helped me with research, and Evelyn Meredith supported my research with abundant cheer.

Special thanks to Hebrew Union College Library in New York City, where Head Librarian Yoram Bitton provided me with all the necessary help, wisdom, as well as friendship, and Librarians Tina Weiss and Leonid Gontar helped with my research.

Finally, a special thanks to Lucy Melville, Publishing Director at Peter Lang for her devotion and expertise in transforming my manuscript into this book.

Memphis, Tennessee
Sept. 2014

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The patriarchal stories in Genesis do not describe typical historical events. There is no description of the nations or wars between them. There are no traces of major national events. It is a story of families and their struggles. Genesis portrays the epic story of a family wandering from one place to another, giving birth to children, enduring conflict within the family, celebrating life, and mourning death. The main interest of the stories is the fate of the heroes. Comparison with other stories and literature from the ancient Near East shows the unique quality of the stories of the patriarchs. In the ancient Near East literature, we find royal inscriptions of myths about the gods and imaginative, purely fictional stories about legendary heroes. Not so with the Hebrew patriarchs. There is no attempt to idealize them. They are described with all their faults and weaknesses, with stories portraying simple people who are living their daily life. However, there is a power that oversees the events. The interaction and exchange between human players and the divine powers makes Genesis a majestic drama.

The question of the composition of the patriarchal stories and their historical value captured the attention of Biblical scholars for centuries. Some authorities do not accept the Biblical accounts of the Jewish patriarchs as authentic, treating those accounts as myths or literary epics. Other authors identify historical facts that were expanded with later additions and revisions. In his Prolegomena to the History of Israel, published in 1878, Julius Wellhausen wrote: “Here [in Genesis] no historical knowledge about the patriarchs, but only of the time when the stories about them arose in the Israelite people; this later age is here and consciously projected in its inner and its outward features, into hoar antiquity, and is reflected there like glorified mirage.”1 ← 1 | 2 →


XIV, 201
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
Near East family faith
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XIV, 201 pp.

Biographical notes

Shaul Bar (Author)

Shaul Bar is the Director of the Bornblum Judaic Studies Program at the University of Memphis. He received his PhD from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at New York University in 1987. He has taught classes in religion and the Hebrew Bible for more than twenty years, presented hundreds of lectures internationally, and published many articles on the Hebrew Bible. He is the author of A Letter That Has Not Been Read (2001), I Deal Death and Give Life (2010), and God’s First King (2013).


Title: Daily Life of the Patriarchs
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218 pages