Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Eisenmania IV – Search for The Historical Abraham

Posted by NT Wrong on June 20, 2008

Robert Eisenman is rightly sceptical about the historicity of the Abraham stories. But in his second lecture on the Dead Sea scrolls, he introduces a new criterion for distinguishing an historical kernel about Abraham from the legends – detail and distinctiveness of people and placenames:

“I don’t know how historical Abraham is. There is one story about Abraham in the Bible, in case you’re interested, which I think is historical – and the really only kernel that they have to work off of. I don’t know if I can find it for you [ … ] Chapter 14, the campaign of the four kings … That is clearly totally different from the rest of Genesis.”
Robert Eisenman ( 4:00–5:00 )

Ah yes – the survival of toponyms and personal names in stories. Unfortunately for Eisenman, toponymns and personal names tend to survive very well in legends, while the details of the story remain mythical. Catalogue of Ships, anyone? Anyway, Eisenman tells us about the amazing historical details in Genesis 14:

” ‘It was in the time of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim, Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).’ None of these names are ever spoken of before or after. And the precision of this is very high.”
Robert Eisenman ( 5:10–5:34)

Hmmmm … It’s been well known for well over a century that Genesis 14 is in fact from a quite unrelated source from what surrounds it. So Eisenman is quite right on that count. But what does he mean exactly by the historical “precision” of this account. How can he tell when something has “very high” precision? What exactly is Eisenman referring to that is historically “precise”?

” ‘they defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emim in …’
Robert Eisenman ( 5:40–5:45)

Ah yes – Rephaim, Zuzites, Emim … according to the Bible, these are groups of … Giants! Now that’s historical precision!!

“All of this is in, like, three or four or five lines! … This is old even when the narrator puts it down. This is old! This is very old!! Even the narrator doesn’t understand it … If you saw this you could see – even I, a dumbo, who had little training when I first started here in these things could see – this is not like any other text in all of Genesis and the rest of the Bible. Why? Presumably it’s from a stele … I think this is actually the kernel of the Abraham story because at the end of this he says … ‘Abram the Hebrew’ … This is real. I mean real from whatever period it was. So there was a person called Abraham the Hebrew. I’m sure of that. Just from this here. And he was called the Hebrew. I’m very sure of that, too, just from looking at this in a literary-critical manner … ‘Abraham came back after the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings at his side’ and so on and so forth. I mean, these names come out of … space, as it were. There’s no description of who they are, what they are, what their background is, where they came from, so on and so forth. That’s where you get real history, and it’s not poetry because it’s crappy poetry. It doesn’t even read well. It’s a newspaper clipping, from that time, or a commemorative clipping shortly after.”
– Robert Eisenman ( 5:45–8:00, 0:00–1:17 )

Let’s think just for a couple of seconds about that ‘commemorative stele’. Rather than commemorate victory over historical peoples, it names … Giants. Now that’s the strangest commemorative stele I know of. If there was a commemorative stele behind the tradition, it’s been well buried in legend. Genesis 14 is not the best choice for establishing history in Genesis (it’s much like the rest of the material, in that respect).

2 Responses to “Eisenmania IV – Search for The Historical Abraham”

  1. steph said

    He doesn’t know how historical Abraham is but there is a story about him in Genesis 14 which is real – there was a person called Abraham (the Hebrew). I’m glad he cleared that up. With such precision.:-)

  2. His reasoning feels like a puzzle with a few pieces missing. And then there’s his anachronistic comparisons….

    I give this one a “Huh”? Now I need to work out the rest of the scale.

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