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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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  • Mervyn says

    Could the “six days” simply mean “six eras”, a term unknown in those days?
    What matters more is who taught Adam to work the land when he was expelled from Eden? Who taught him a language to speak when he was first created? How did he know about the existence of God? Why did Adam and Eve see any necessity for clothes when no animals wore clothes? Why did their sons Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to God – a brand new way of ingratiating themselves to a great personage?
    Did God need such food and oblations? Or even such obeisance?
    And so it goes on… No one has yet solved those straight-forward problems.

    • craig says

      Mervyn asks some good questions. The first concerns “six eras” instead of “six days.”

      “With regard to humans arriving on the scene, the Talmud (Chagiga 13b) states clearly that there were 974 generations prior to Adam. The famous Tifferes Yisrael commentary to the Mishnah wrote in 1842 (prior to publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species): “In my opinion, the prehistoric men whose remains have been discovered in our time and who lived long before Adam are identical with the 974 pre-Adamite generations referred to in the Talmud, and lived in the epoch immediately before our own.” (from aish.com)

      Relative to the comment above, Adam would be the first fully sentient man, as in “in the image of God He created him.” Essentially, each person has the same thought-power as does God, with direct knowing, creative impulse and the assumption of knowledge.

      “…who taught Adam to work the land” is implied in the scripture Gn. 2.5, “For the Lord God had not caused it rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground.” The clear implication is that man was destined to till the earth, and that if there is no other way that the understanding to till the earth would be given, it would be given by God. That is, the understanding would be imparted, whether directly or cognitively, or by a step by step observance of plant life (dropping seeds), with instruction given.

      “Who taught him a language to speak when he was first created?” Language begins with thought, conception— words follow. Meaning followed by words may be imparted, nuanced, indicated specifically. We assume the world was always as we know it today, but I would assume the world as quite different for Adam. Thought may have been easily and directly transferred, and thus sound expressed. Today we intellectualize, we convince, we argue a point. It is foreign to us that direct knowing-forming-language could have at any time existed.

      “…existence of God” would be imparted, sometimes referred to as “direct knowing in the spirit.” Adam would have been in an enlightened condition relative to our own. God may have been, and I suggest probably was, as known and accepted as we accept the air.

      “…Cain and Abel offering sacrifices” has nothing to do with “ingratiating” themselves to God. The sacrifice is a showing of gratitude, or thanks to whom all bounty derives. In a simple example, it would be like the son who washes the car for his father, and without being asked. The term “great personage” is misapplied. “Personage” would already be of the earth, and God would have to be considered above all personages, as such.

      As to God needing such food (food given in sacrifice), He does not. The oblation aspect comes out of the attribute of gratitude, such as we may witness from the above mentioned son who washes dad’s car. “Obeisance” deals with a certain more formal respect given to those in a station above your own. It may be seen as deference expressing allegiance.

      All of Mervyn’s questions might better require a short or longer article to properly answer. Because these answers are shorter they may spur even more questions. If you think “enlightened understanding,” as Adam seems to have had, as opposed to intellectual analysis only, then the greener pastures God created begin to flower.

      Craig R. Evans
      The Way Missions.Org.

    • John says

      “Could the “six days” simply mean “six eras………..”

      It certainly does, each creative day is thousands of years in length……it is reasonable to assume that all creative days are of the same length. This being the case, we read what Paul said at Hebrews 4:1-11, which is over 4 000 years after the start of the 7th day……….the promise of entering into his rest, existed then, and still exists today (we are now 6 000 years into that day of rest)…….up until the end of this system that is under Satan’s control, and through Satan’s demise at the end of Jesus’ 1 000 year reign, (Revelation 20:1-6).
      Genesis 2:2 tells us when God started his seventh day of rest………this does not mean that God has remained idle all this time……..He rested from His creative works. (see John 5:17)

  • Mervyn says

    Surely, Joseph was shaved before being presented to the Pharaoh simply because he had been a prisoner for years and was filthy with an long unkempt beard and hair.

    I am sure that prisons in those days – and until modern times – were not hotels as today. Of course Joseph was required to wash and clean up before meeting the greatest man in the world. Why make an issue of that simple recorded fact?

    • Furienna says

      Because it was uncommon for men to shave in many Bronze Age cultures, where a full beard was the norm. Egypt would have been an exception to this though, so it would be correct that Joseph shaved before he met the Pharaoh.

    • John says

      Mervyn says: “…… the greatest man in the world.”
      Rather a sweeping statement,I feel……….If you could have asked him, he probably would have agreed.
      Look at what Pharaoh said to Aaron and Moses at Exodus 5:2 “And Pharaoh said, ‘Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go'”(ASV)………….no one tells me what to do, I am Pharaoh ….well he certainly did find out who Jehovah was…..the ten plagues also showed the ‘strength’ of the Egyptian gods……..or rather, the weakness of those gods. Jude, at Jude 5 also speaks of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

  • John says

    Reading all the comments here shows me the depth of confusion there is about the writings here. Any text taken out of its proper context is a pretext. By taking the Bible out of its context you can get it to support almost any wild and foolish idea. You need to put the Bible back in context in order to understand its truths. And what is the context. The New Testament emerged in the 2nd to the 4th century of the Roman Empire. You need to understand what was happening here in order to truly understand what the New Testament is about. The Torah and the “old Testament” emerged in the period of from the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish elite to the coming of the Greeks. This is the environment that led to the collection of the books that later were translated into Greek, Latin or English. Fail to understand this and you will not understand what you are reading.

    • John says

      John, (I am a different John), says: “The Torah and the “old Testament” emerged in the period of from the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish elite to the coming of the Greeks.”

      Not sure where you arrived at your information………Moses is credited with the writing of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Psalm 90……..and the Israelite Nation lived under that written Code from 1513 BCE until 33 CE………not to mention other Bible writers like Joshua, Nathan David, etc…..all who well dead by the time of the nations exile in Babylon………and the Israelites would have had ALL those scrolls written up to that time, e.g. at Daniel 9:1, 2 we find that Daniel knew from studying the writings of Jeremiah 25:11 that the exile was to be for 70 years.

      John also says: “The New Testament emerged in the 2nd to the 4th century of the Roman Empire.”
      Again you have a small problem Matthews writing was completed in 41 CE and the last book of John, Revelation was completed in 96 CE……..most of Paul’s letters were completed in the 60’s ………and these books were read by the early Christians, until the ‘oppressive wolves’ stepped in………and remember Paul had been a Pharisee, (therefore well educated), before he accepted Christianity and he spoke at least Hebrew and Greek fluently………and by means of holy spirit he was able to speak many other languages (1 Corinthians 14:18)……..and these were used to teach others………and there had to be an interpreter 1 Corinthians 14:27, 28.
      Don’t forget that these letters were sent as encouragement/counsel for the various congregations in his day……….and of course for our benefit today.

  • Michael F. says

    The Bible from creation to the crowning of Solomon is a great cosmic myth which also combines Akkadian history retold as an Amorite text. It was all based on their myths and history from creation thru Abraham (Ishum) through Moses (Marduk) to David (Davika/Naram Sin.)

    • John says

      With all due respect Michael, you do have it wrong way around.
      The myths originate in Babylon and Gilgamesh, and Babylon went into decay in the fourth century CE………it is now just a pile of rubble……..but, it certainly had a ‘colourful’ history, and it would have certainly been something to see in its heyday.
      However, ignoring the account of creation, in favour of the lie, does not change things…………..Babylon and Gilgamesh are fairy tales.
      Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”, from then on it is all history……as Genesis 2:4 says: “These are the generations, (or history) of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made the earth and the heaven” (ASV)………..and of course this included the first human pair, Adam and Eve. It is all there in the first two chapters of Genesis.
      Also, Michael, if we could just mention a personage from around that era, let’s say Noah………immediately one generally thinks of a global deluge, that flooded the entire earth.
      Now, if ,as you speculate that Noah and the flood were myths………why did Jesus and his apostles speak of them……….or were they lying???
      I think not. Jesus had a reputation of being a perfect, sinless man. (Hebrews 5:7-10)
      This would not only discount the Bible from creation to Solomon…….but the entire Bible. Therefore Michael I would have to strongly disagree with your thoughts on this matter.

  • JOSEPH says

    Its the differences, not the commonalities, that made Genesis varied from all other ancient writings. Let not the simple, ancient form of writing confuse – these are apparently made for all generation’s understanding, a feat in itself.

    For the first time, Monotheism became ‘No other Gods’ – negating the head-bashing deities battling for supremacy; or even Mono-Sun Deity. For the first time, an order of creation appeared that introduced a new science that changed the universe. It became the E=MC2 of both humanity and history. The elite Greek minds were first to recognize the Hebrew superiority, with the first translation of the Septuagint Bible which aligned with Aristotle’s ‘First Course’.

    Beyond Darwin. Genesis’ Creation premise squashes the BBT, noting that Darkness [V2] emerging prior to Light [V3]; that life forms emerged in an order of protocol [Species]; and that Life emerged ‘after’ their sustenance provisions [critical light, separation of water & land, vegetation].

    Science. Genesis is also the first document that said the universe was finite [with an ‘In the beginning’], defining Infinite as that without ‘change’ [“I am the Lord I do not change”], and first to allude to the age of the Universe and the Earth, and their sizes: “And He separated the water from the land” – takes Billions of non-hour based years; and “Look now if you can account the stars” – that the universe size is unaccountable.

    Singularity. That a lone singular entity with no internal or external components cannot exist and cannot perform an action. That all emerged as a duality [Heaven & Earth, Darkness and Light; Day & Night; water & Land].

    That “Man & Women He Created Them” – originally a duality, then separated. This is correct:
    If a green marble produces a red marble, it means the green had to contain red. How else?

    That life forms were fully completed, and were yet not Alive, awaiting a trigger factor. Analogy is of a completed car that won’t move without an external trigger factor. How else?

    That Adam remains the first recorded ‘NAME’ of a speech endowed life form. Regardless if the story is seen as mythical.


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