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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 4: The God/Gods of the Patriarchs


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The God/Gods of the Patriarchs

According to the Talmudic legend, Abraham was a monotheist who destroyed his father’s idols. In Christianity, Paul describes Abraham as the father of all of Israel and a symbol of fidelity to God.1 However, in the Book of Genesis, Abraham and the other patriarchs worshipped different elim such as El Elyon, El Olam, El Roi, El-elohei Israel, El Bethel, and El Shaddai. Interestingly, the god El was also well known in the ancient Near East. In a Canaanite myth from Ugarit he is portrayed as the king of the gods. More so, his characteristics are very similar to the deity that the patriarchs worshiped in the Book of Genesis. The patriarchs also worshipped “the god of Abraham,” “the Fear of Isaac,” and “Mighty One of Jacob.” Thus, it was suggested that the patriarchal gods did not bear their own name but were named after their cult founder, which was typical of nomadic people. This type of name was also found in Nabatean and Palmyrean inscriptions. Another phrase found only in the patriarchal stories is “the God of my/your/his Father,” with the names of Abraham or Isaac or both, attached to them. This formula is also mentioned in God’s revelation to Moses: “I am, He said, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6). As with previous phrases, the phrase “god of my father...

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