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Daily Life of the Patriarchs

The Way It Was

Shaul Bar

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.
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Chapter 1: Migration


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In 1678 the French Catholic priest Richard Simeon wrote Critical History of the Old Testament. In his book, he explained that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch simply because there are so many historical details that Moses could not have known. A more traditional view was taken by Jean Astruc (1684–1766) who pointed to various sources in Genesis, one of which called the deity Elohim and the other Yahweh. Although he believed that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, Astruc nevertheless argued that Moses had two sources that were combined into the final work. This methodological breakthrough refocused the conversation regarding the composition of the Hebrew Bible. Ultimately it found expression in Julius Wellhausen’s (1844–1918) theory, which came to be known as “Documentary Hypothesis.” In his book, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, he claims that many details in the Book of Genesis are fictions – in a sense that they project later romantic ideals of life and faith upon an earlier history. The Biblical narrative is not an objective account of what happened, it is later writings that reflects the views of their authors.

So who were the patriarchs? This book and the current chapter examine the Patriarchal Narrative (Gen. 12–37). These chapters describe the life of the patriarchs and matriarchs who appear as fallible human beings. We will see if these stories represent an earlier period and contain a kernel of historicity....

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