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Josephus Flavius on Genesis 11:26-12:5

BS”D

As part of my final assignment in the course on entertainment, history and religion in the Medieval Muslim Middle East, I’m working on Abraham as he appears in Jewish sources, and how they are reflected in Islamic sources later on.

Right now I’m writing on the rewritten Bible literature, just finished the part of Josephus, which I thought I wanted to present you for. It is not going to be exactly like this in my assignment, that would take way too much space and focus, but it’s serving as a base for my later presentation of background literature.

I have used the Kindle Edition of “Josephus, Flavius; Antiquities of the Jews – a history of the Jewish people” by Mark Oxford as source material.

Let me hear your thoughts.

In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus deals with the account of Terah as well as the first encounter between G-D and Abraham. But there are differences between the Biblical account and the one of Josephus, both where Josephus attempts to fill the gaps, but also where he should not have felt the need. One interesting difference in the two versions, is the generations, where Terah – according to the Biblical text – is the father of Abraham, Nahor and Haran (Genesis 11:26-27), but according to Josephus, Terah is only the father to Abraham, whereas Nahor is the father to Haran (Antiquities Chapter 6, fifth paragraph). Nevertheless, a little further on Josephus does state that Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran, but it is not clear why he didn’t mentioned this in the first case, leaving the impression that Terah and and Haran were brothers, but it might be cause by confusion from his side.[1] Also according to Josephus does Haran die in Ur Casdim, but here his death plays a crucial role in Terah’s, and hence Abraham’s , leaving of Ur. According to Josephus Haran had a monument raised, which can be “seen to this day” (Antiquities, chapter 6, fifth paragraph). How he died is not explained by Josephus, but somehow it left Terah with hate to the Chaldean, which is the reason he left Ur (Antiquities, chapter 6, fifth paragraph), hence answering why Terah left the city in the first place. Josephus ends the sixth chapter by recounting the generations of Nahor down to Rebecca and Laban.

Why did Lot follow Abraham? Why the inconsistence between Genesis 11:31 and Genesis 12:1? It seems like Josephus had these two questions in mind, when he introduced the seventh chapter in his Antiquities, at least he answers them. Lot was adopted by Abraham, since he himself did not have any sons and Lot’s father already dead (Antiquities chapter 7, first paragraph). Thereafter Abraham took his adopted son and his wife, and left the land of the Chaldeans (Antiquities, chapter 7, first paragraph), differing between city and land of the Chaldeans, so according to Josephus, even though Abraham indeed did leave Ur of the Chaldeans with his father, he was still living in the land of the Chaldean. That explains the inconsistency of the Biblical accounts, but creates a new. If Terah had to leave Ur because of his hatred to the Chaldeans – and what happened with Haran, since he hated them so much – then why did he still choose to stay in their land? These new questions are not answered.

Also according to Josephus is Abraham commanded to go to Canaan, but Josephus attempts to answer why G-D suddenly chose him. Abraham was “a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions; for which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had…” (Antiquities, chapter 7, first paragraph).  That is, Abraham had an insight and understanding that no one else could show. And even did what no one had done before him, he “…ventured to publish this notion, That there was but one God, the Creator of the universe; and that, as to other [gods], if they contributed anything to the happiness of men, that each of them afforded it only according to his appointment, and not by their own power” (Antiquities, chapter 7, first paragraph). He then continues by giving an account on how Abraham ended with the knowledge of one G-D, explaining how he first derived his opinions “from the irregular phenomena that were visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun, and moon, and all the heavenly bodies…” (Antiquities, chapter 7, first paragraph), and then letting Abraham himself explain how it would be logical that if these bodies indeed were gods, then they would correct their own irregularities, before dealing with men (Antiquities, chapter 7, first paragraph). By stating this, Chaldeans and other people in Mesopotamia raised against Abraham, leading to Abraham’s decision of leaving the land of the Chaldeans, and thus being commanded to settle in Canaan by G-D. Hence the order of initiative is changed from Abraham being ordered to leave his land, his place of birth, by G-D, Who discovered Abraham before Abraham discovered Him, to Abraham making a logical deduction that there can be only one G-D, stating it publicly which lead to an outcry against him, and by that forcing him to leave his land, where after  G-D appears, and orders him to enter Canaan. Where G-D discovers Abraham in the Biblical account, Abraham discovers G-D in Josephus’ account.


[1] Terah’s father was also called Nahor, but it it still not clear why Josephus mentions Haran (or a Haran) as Nahor’s son, since nothing in the Biblical account leaves room for this.


2 Comments

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  2. Saleh AlHadi says:

    Salamun Alaikum,

    With regards to Abraham being the ancestor of the Israelites, I would like to share some thoughts to the fact that what The Torah as a revealed text had revealed.

    Genesis 17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.
    Genesis 17:20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.
    Genesis 18:18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.
    Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
    Genesis 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,

    From the above verses, GOD promise Abraham [P] and his descendants a Great Nation through Ishmael [P]. GOD’s promise the truth – The Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks were made Great Nations. Each had their own Empire that stretch from Asia Minor to Northern India. Only The Israelites did not reached the heights of The Great Nation mentioned. If they were the descendents of Abraham [P], they would have had reach the height of The Great Nation. But instead they were put to slavery.

    “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers.” Deut. 7:6-8
    The above verses from the OT state explicitly that The Israelites were FAVOURED among the nation and not made GREAT among the nation AND that they were a minority race. They were given Kingdom and not Empire!
    Further, the pre-exilic language used by the Israelites was a Canaanite dialect not known as Hebrew.

    Whatever language the Jews spoke before settling in Blessed Land, it was a dialect of Canaanite that became their language after the settlement. (Dictionary of the Bible p. 121)

    OT itself never refers to the Jewish language as Hebrew, as illustrated by these following two verses from Isaiah 36 {LXX}:

    36:11 Then Eliakim and Somnas and Joach said to him, Speak to thy servants in the Syrian tongue; for we understand [it]: and speak not to us in the Jewish tongue: and wherefore speakest thou in the ears of the men on the wall?

    36:13 And Rabsaces stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jewish language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of the Assyrians:

    The same phrase is found in the NWT, The Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text, RSV, and the Arabic edition. These last three substitutes “Aramaic” for ‘Syrian language’, but none of them designates the other as Hebrew. We find the same incident and/or same expression in 2 King 18:26 and 2 Chronicle 32:18 [LXX]

    4 Kings 18
    18:26 And Heliakim the son of Chelkias, and Somnas, and Joas, said to Rapsakes, Speak now to thy servants in the Syrian language, for we understand it; and speak not with us in the Jewish language: and why dost thou speak in the ears of the people that are on the wall?.

    2 Chronicles 32
    32:18 And he cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language to the people of Jerusalem on the wall, [calling them] to assist them, and pull down [the walls], that they might take the city.

    In Jezekiel 16 {LXX} we read the following:

    1. Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2. Son of man, testify to Jerusalem [of] her iniquities; 3. and thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord to Jerusalem; Thy root and thy birth are of the land of CHANAAN: thy father was an AMORITE, and thy mother a CHETTITE.

    The above citations unanimously agree on this phrasing; surely if Hebrew had been founded, by then the OT would bear testimony to it, instead of vague wording about the ‘Jews’ language’ AND that the Israelites came from the land of Chanaan’. Given that the text makes the reference to the land of Canaan generically, which simply put, is Chanaanite; we can conclude that the Israelites were descended from Chanaan.

    In fact the word ‘Hebrew” was indeed in existence, but it predated the Israelites and did not refer to anything remotely Jewish. The words ‘Ibri (Habiru) and ‘Ibrani (Hebrew) were in usage even before 2000 B.C.E. and referred to a group of ARAB TRIBES from the northern reaches of the Arabian Peninsula, in the Syrian desert. The appellation spread to other Arab tribes in the area until it became a synonym for ‘son of desert.’ Cuneiform and Pharaonic texts from before the Israelites also use such words as Ibri, Habiri, Habiru, Khabiru and Abiru. In this sense the term Ibrani, as described to Abraham, means a member of the ‘Abiru (or nomadic Arab tribes), of which he was a member. The phrase “Ibrit, denoting Jews, was coined later on by the rabbis in Palestine.
    (See Israel Wilfinson, Tarikh al-Lugat as- Samiyya (History of Semitic Languages), Dar al-Qalam, Beruit, Lebanon, PO BOX 3874, ND, pp. 73-79)

    So what language OT was written in?

    From the information cited above we see a process of scriptural evolution: Canaanite, Aramaic (Assyrian), and finally square, which later on came to be regarded as Hebrew. We can conclude that prior to their return from Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E.; Israelites did not have any means of written communication distinctly their own since pre-exilic Jewish script was Canaanite (Ibid p. 91). Ernst Wǜrthwein writes on pp. 1-2 of his book The Text of the Old Testament (2nd Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995):

    “When Aramaic became the predominant tongue of the ancient Near East, the Jews adopted this language and soon assumed its script as well-which was then known as Assyrian.”

    Regards

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