15 September 2006

Abram's Call Reconsidered

It's interesting to get into the story of Abram as I did in a recent Bible study, trying to unravel the real life of the man from the legend of "Abraham: Father of All" that we get from the post-covenant man.

His story is told in Genesis 12-17 (after Genesis 17, his covenant with God transforms him into Abraham).

It is interesting to read some of the misconceptions we have about Abram. For example, in Genesis 12.1, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'"

I had always believed that God gave Abram this instruction in the city of Ur, for that is where Abram was born, raised and married. However, Genesis 11.31 tells that it was Abram's father Terah who moved the family from Ur. Abram's journey actually began in Haran, a place where rivers flow out of the Taurus/Ararat Mountain Ranges and fertilize the northernmost arc of the Fertile Crescent.

In returning to Haran, Terah wasn't going "where no man has gone before." Instead he was returning to the ancestral home of Shem and his descendants. In some way, Terah was the prodigal son returning home to Haran. In others, we might know him as a "Mama's Boy" or a "Great, great, great, great, great-grandfather's Boy."

Who was in Haran? Genesis 11 offers some tantalizing clues. Shem still lived--if you take the chronology literally, he lived until the days that Abram's grandson, Jacob was exiled there. Noah lived too. It is pretty easy to figure out from the chronologies of of the 10 generations between Noah and Abram found in Genesis 11:
  • Noah lived for 350 years after the flood (Gn 9.28)
  • Shem lived for 502 years after the flood (Gn 11.10-11)
  • Arphaxad, born two years after the flood (F + 2), lived for 403 years (Gn 11.13) [died F+405]
  • Shelah, born (F + 37) also lived 403 years (Gn 11.15) [died F+440]
  • Eber, born F+67 lived 430 years (Gn 11.17) [died F+497]
  • Peleg, born F+101, lived 209 years (Gn 11.19) [died F+310]
  • Rau, born F+131, lived 207 years (Gn 11.21) [died F+338]
  • Serug, born F+163, lived 200 years (Gn 11.23) [died F+363]
  • Nahor, born F+193, lived 119 years (Gn 11.25) [died F+322]
  • Terah, born F+222, lived 205 years (Gn 11.32) [died F+427]
  • Abram, born F+292, was given his call in Haran at the age of 75: F+367
I asked Bruce Feiler, author of the book Abraham, about these chronologies at a writer's Q&A a few years ago. He wasn't one to take the Bible so literally, so he didn't really answer my question. It is tantalizing nonetheless. By the chart there, Abram would have lived in Haran with his father and his great grandfathers, including Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah and Eber.

We have no record of when Abram actually returned to Haran with his father from Ur, but Noah himself had died just seventeen years before the Call, and one could date the arrival of Abram to this time, when he would have been 58 years old.

This is getting long, so I'll post it and continue below.

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