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Exploring Genesis: The Bibles Ancient Traditions in Context

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Answer Biblical archaeology’s earliest questions in this FREE BAS eBook on the Book of Genesis. Download your copy today!

Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context

In this FREE eBook, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

The esoteric stories and lost landscapes in the Book of Genesis present a great challenge for historians. Biblical scholars and archaeologists have nonetheless been able to provide cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Learn about early Biblical figures, cities and environments in the latest FREE Biblical Archaeology Society eBook.

The Creation story from Genesis explains how the world was formed and how humankind was created. Was this story heavily influenced by an ancient Babylonian Creation myth called Enuma Eliš? In “The Genesis of Genesis,” Victor Hurowitz explores this question. A text which describes the divine activities of the gods and the creation of man, Enuma Eliš includes many of the motifs found in the Biblical Creation story. To what extent is there a relationship between these two texts? In this comparative study, Hurowitz examines the similarities and differences between the Babylonian myth and the Biblical story and sets them in the historical context of the ancient Near East.

The story of Joseph in Genesis is well known. Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph ended up in a prison in Egypt and there became known for his ability to interpret dreams. Summoned from the dungeon to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph shaved before approaching the ruler of Egypt. Most people in ancient Mesopotamia did not shave. Why, and what, did Joseph shave? In “Why Did Joseph Shave?” Lisbeth S. Fried examines Egyptian ideas of cleanliness and purity. These ideas may explain why Joseph had to appear hairless—and circumcised—before entering Pharaoh’s palace.

In the story of Abraham, we learn how one man was called by God to become the founding father of the Israelites in the land of Canaan. In Genesis, Abraham was said to have been born in Ur of the Chaldees. However, there were many places named Ur in antiquity. Where was Abraham’s Ur? Sir Leonard Woolley claimed to have found it at Tell el-Muqayyar, now called Ur, in southern Iraq. There, the British archaeologist unearthed evidence of royal burials, a ziggurat, several temples and hundreds of golden baubles, weapons and vessels. Did Woolley actually locate the patriarch’s native land, or was the famed excavator too eager to match the Biblical account with his archaeological site? In “Abraham’s Ur: Did Woolley Excavate the Wrong Place?” Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt describes Woolley’s excavations at Ur and the intrigue incited by his identification of Abraham’s birthplace.

Since Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavation of Ur in Iraq in the 1920s and 30s, his identification of the site as the birthplace of Abraham became one of the most popular theories for where the patriarch’s native land is located. The identification of Abraham’s birthplace received such widespread acceptance that Pope John Paul II planned to visit Iraq as part of his tour of Biblical sites to celebrate the new millennium. However, a careful reading of Biblical and ancient texts indicates that this Ur might not be the patriarch’s hometown after all. In “Abraham’s Ur: Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?” Hershel Shanks explores another popular theory for where Abraham was born: in Turkey.

Hershel Shanks’s review of the case for a northern Mesopotamian site as the home of the Biblical patriarch reopened the debate in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review. In “Where Was Abraham’s Ur? The Case for the Babylonian City,” Alan R. Millard lists the many strengths of the traditional southern Babylonian location.

The articles in this eBook are a preview of the many Biblical stories and histories covered in Biblical Archaeology Review, Bible Review and Archaeology Odyssey.

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  1. Varghese says

    Bible uses terms consistently. It says Ur is in a place called “Land of the Chaldeans” but in Isa 23:13 bible uses that term again in a way that indicates Assyria (Turkey) is a different entity… “Look at the land of the Chaldeans! This is a people that no longer exist; Assyria destined her for desert creatures. They raised up her siege towers, they stripped her fortresses bare and turned her into a ruin.” There are several other verses and events (such as the Babylonian captivity which was certainly in the Land of the Chaldeans which did not happen to be in Turkey/Syria at least for the most part) which prove that Babylon/Chaldean’s Land is Iraq…

  2. Carol says

    I have downloaded 2 books but can not find out how to pull them up to read. Please explain how I can find them so I can read them.

  3. shari says

    My book went to my kindle app Carol. Try there. ;)

  4. Launa says

    Not impressed with this organization. Every article is an attempt to cast doubt on scripture as a historical reference by comparing other “mythical” stories. Any one who respects the authority of the Word accepts the global flood as fact. This leads to the obvious conclusion that all these other ancient cultures descended from Noah’s line. After the tower of babel they were divided and scattered – so obviously there would be very similar creation stories across these cultures, which would differ simply with the telling of it passed down to succeeding geneations! It’s no great mystery. The “Biblical Archeological Society” should stop their subterfuge and remove Biblical from their name. They are clearly not interested in supporting Scripture through archaeology, as their name implies.

  5. Stephen says

    Even better than supporting scriptural literalness, it would be nice to know the truth.This organisation isn’t too bad at questioning the pointless dogma,

  6. Nick says

    I agree. Any org that has biblical in the name should be unfunded by any who believe in The Word. I’ll start by removing my name from their list. I knew of their motives when they continue to use B.C.E. and A.C.E. Common era my eye; it’s BEFORE CHRIST & AFTER CHRIST! I’ve asked them this question a few times, never to get an answer. I know they will not publish this as their “backroom un believers that fund this group” will pull the plug. What’s the saying; “it is better if a millstone were hung around their neck etc., etc. I dare you to print my opinion!

  7. Brian says

    I must disagree with the last comment. I am impressed with this organization. What I am not impressed with is L’s hostility to views not her own. “Anyone who accepts the authority of the Word. .” knows that the Word is primarily about Truth and not primarily about historical facts. The Bible contains information that is historical, however. It is a matter for the science of archeology to sort out how much of the Biblical story and its transcendant Truth is historical-factual, and how much is not. The confusion of the (whole, transcendant, spiritual) Truth with the historical-factual dimension of truth is a fundamentalist, anti-science view that in the end denies our God-given reason as well. Science is nothing more than common sense (capacity to use reason) applied in a systematic way. I love the Bible, and I love history, and I know that they are different, although often related. I appreciate Biblical Archeology’s attempts to articulate that relationship.

  8. Jürgen says

    The biblical “Ur” means only “town”. The place of Abraham was never in South of nowadays Iraq, but in nowadays Turkey in the place of URfa = Sanliurfa. There even the Muslims worship this place. Still Jewish and Christians worship without any evidence the place in “Ur”. – Beside this the biblical Nimrod was the area God of URFA/SANLIUFA and has his throne there.

  9. Ian says

    Sadly, Jürgen, you have your facts wrong. The biblical word for town is (Anglicised) kiriath. Ur certainly existed, and during its later period ruled a large kingdom across Sumer and Akkad. However, Ur ‘of the Chaldees’ is an anachronism, as the Chaldæans ruled Babylonia during the Iron Age, replacing the Late Bronze Age Kassites. During the time of Hammurabi, the whole of Mesopotamia was ruled by this Amorites people, and it would have been possible as a semi-nomadic pastoralists to move from Ur to Harran. Indeed, the Amurru (biblical Amorites) and the later Aramæans spread throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia. The latter introduced the Aramaic language into Palestine, and it became the ordinary spoken language through the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

  10. Ian says

    You are assuming, Launa, that ‘biblical’ has to mean pro-literalist Bible interpretation. Although archæology started out trying to find historic proof of what was in the biblical record, by the beginning if the 20th century that was quite rightly questioned, because biblical interpretation of the literal sort and archæology more often than not are contradictory. Unless you follow (the largely discredited) David Rohl school of thought, and believe in red-headed tribesmen originating in Eden-Edom, modern archæology is a scientific approach to analysing the evidence from the ground. There us very little evidence, for example, for a powerful southern kingdom of Judah alongside its northern neighbour Samaria. It us likely that Judah was a sub-kingdom of its more powerful neighbour, which is why, when Egypt even is mentioned as an ally, the only biblical King in the alliance at Qarqar is Ahab — Judah was assumed to part of Bit-Humri, the House if Omri. And from that point if view, Ahab did good, and was not ‘a bad king’. It all went wrong with Jehu, actually, who withdrew from the anti-Assyrian alliance and ended up bowing before the Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. The books if Kings are not historical books, they use history for a theological purpose — if the Deuteronomic History theory is right: it was, Why it all went wrong? It is fascinating to note that while scions of the Davidic royal line were still about in the Return there was no great movement to restore the monarchy.

  11. Ladislao says

    For clarity and understanding of the above, please note that Ian usually writes “of” when he means “if”, and also writes “us” meaning “is”. He may be trying to express the phonetical sound of the Turkish “undotted i”.
    But this is not always done, so avoid using an editor to change “back” those words, or you’ll end up with something less understandable.
    Ian’s points are quite believable, in the light of legendary stories being constantly built up from actual historical events, duly mixed-up by each successive leader’s generation with some timely moral teachings, spiced-up by a lot of hero-worship, with some quite inevitable BS filler.
    The idea when reading ancient descriptions, whether legendary, biblical or else, is to look through the allegorical currently readable details, back into the historical facts that must have taken place. Any stark distillation that thus arises should be tested with the standard methods of legend-weaving, to see how plausible it is that such a basic fact could be eventually weaved into the current legendary description.
    This approach is never anti-biblical in any way, rather quite the opposite. It brings some real respect into biblical analysis, as opposed to the destructive blind faith exhibited by fundamentalists, who avoid any possibility of incorporating verifiable truth into their unscientific refusal.

  12. Ladislao says

    That said, I disagree about the interpretation of the word “Ur”. If there’s more than one of such places, it may indeed represent some generic term for “town”, just as South Asia uses “pur”, even as Mogol India refers to “abad”.
    Ur doesn’t have to be used biblically as “town”, since the term could have been incorporated as a foreign expression.
    But Abraham is never depicted biblically as an Ur-dwelling urban citizen, rather as a full-fledged nomad of the open spaces. From the mentioned residences of some relatives, my feeling is that he would be considered in modern times as a wandering Kurd, and that his local hometown, if any, becomes therefore irrelevant.


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