Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and Joseph

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Abraham and Sarah

Abraham divided the last years of his life between Hebron and Beersheba. He was active during the Middle Bronze Age (2200-1570 B.C.) at the time after the Hyksos invaded ancient Egypt and ruled over much of the Middle East. At that time Hebron was surrounded by a massive stone wall with huge reenforcing towers. Graceful clay jugs, bowls, and juglets, like those excavated at archaeological digs in the area, were in common use.

The Middle Bronze Age is contemporary with the First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt. John R. Abercrombie of the University of Pennsylvania wrote: “United Egypt of the Old Kingdom disintegrated into individual kingdoms (nomarchs) after the Sixth Dynasty. This period of disunity, possibly described in the Admonitions of Ipuwer, lasted some three hundred years and is generally contemporary with Middle Bronze I. Asiatics, known as the Hyksos, gained control of the delta region of Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period. [Sources: Historical Overview of the Middle Bronze Age (Anep, 382-386), John R. Abercrombie, University of Pennsylvania, James B. Pritchard, Princeton, Boston University, bu.edu/anep/MB.html |*|]

Manfred Bietak's excavation at Tell ed-Dab'a in the Nile Delta clearly demonstrates the presence of an Asiatic culture at this site. Large migdol temples, family cemeteries on the tell, unusual donkey burials, weapons, types of grave goods, common Middle Bronze IIA-C pottery and other small finds are comparable and almost identical to the kind of cultural remains from contemporary sites in Palestine and Syria.

“A number of key battles were fought by Egyptian kings of the Seventeenth Dynasty against the Hyksos, but it wasn't until the reign of Amosis, the first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty (circa 1570 B.C.), that the Hyksos were expelled. The important text describing the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt comes from the tomb walls of one Ahmose of El Kab. His autobiographical inscriptions describes the conquest of Avaris, the Hyksos capital, the city of Sharuhen (Tell el Farah S) in Palestine and the conquest of all Retenu during the reign of Thothmosis I.” |*|


When Abraham was 99, God changed his name from Abram to Abraham and announced,Sarah was Abraham's wife. Sarah was originally names Sarai. She received her name Sarah from God. When Abraham was 99, God announced, “I will also give you from her [Sarah] a son.” Upon hearing this “Abraham flung himself on his face and he laughed, saying to himself, “To a hundred-year-old will a child be born, will ninety-year-old Sarah give birth?”

Later Abraham met three strangers in the desert and gave them hospitality. He washed their feet and gave them curds and milk and a calf he cooked. This is viewed as precedent for the Muslim custom of hospitality. The strangers promised Abraham that despite her great age Sara would bear him a son. When Sarah was told she laughed, “After being shriveled, shall I have pleasure, and my husband is old “...Shall I really give birth, as old as I am.”

Reverend John Bell, a minister of the Church of Scotland, wrote for the BBC: “The relationship that Abraham has with Sarah is very interesting, she's a bit of an odd puss, she can be quite nippy, particularly in her relationship with Abraham's concubine Hagar. She also does a great thing in giving God a name that has not been mentioned before - God's been seen as a creator and she gives God the name Laughter Maker because when her child is born she calls him Isaac which means 'he laughs'. She says 'I'll call him Isaac because God has made laughter for me.' [Source: BBC]

She gives us a picture of God that nobody else gives: that in God's heart there is humour and there's laughter and that he gives that as a gift to humanity. Right at the beginning, the story of Abraham says that God does not give up on old people and God does not give up in situations that look barren. Both Abraham and Sarah have got to their final years and for them to be the progenitors is a colossal thing.

Hagar and Ishmael

Presentation of Hagar to Abraham

After many years Sarah still had not bore Abraham any children despite repeated promises by God that he would be the father of a great nation and have many descendants. Worried that she would never have a child, Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a relationship with Sarah's Egyptian slave Hagar. In the Middle East at that time it was a common custom for barren wives to encourage their husbands to procreate with slaves or concubines. According to a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from Nuzi in 1400 B.C.: "If [the wife] does not bear [she] shall acquire a [slave girl] as a wife for [the husband]."

Still Sarah was unhappy with Hagar. She complained to Abraham that after Hagar “saw she had conceived, I became slight in her eyes.” Abraham told her, “Look, your slave girl is in your hands. Do to her whatever you think right.” Sarah cast out the pregnant Hagar who began a trek towards Egypt, but returned to Sarah’s side after God ordered her to do so.

When Abraham was 86, Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmael, which means “God has heard.” According to Jewish and Christian scriptures, Ishmael was Abraham’s first son but was not the heir to God’s promise. The Koran, contrast doesn’t mention Hagar but calls Ishmael “an apostle (and) a prophet...He was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord.”

After Isaac was born, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out by Sarah, who wanted to make sure that the younger Isaac became Abraham’s heir. Throughout the sections in Genesis about Abraham, Sarah demonstrates that she was no pushover and that she was a partner of Abraham. One rabbi told National Geographic she was the first great feminist.

God took Sarah’s side this time on the Hagar issue but promised to make a great nation out of Ishmael. He told Abraham “through Isaac shall your seed be acclaimed. But the slave girl’s son, too I will make a nation, for he is your seed.” Arabs later embraced the reference to a “nation” to mean them and a reference to 12 sons to be 12 Arab tribes. Some trace the animosity between Jews and Muslims back to this legendary act.

Hagar and Ishmael moved to the desert, where they were protected by God. Genesis says little else about them other than that Ishmael “became a seasoned bowman.” According to Muslim, tradition, Hagar and Ishmael moved to Mecca, where they lived in a small house. Abraham came often to visit. Ishmael was buried next to the Kaaba.

In the 1970s, archaeologists working in Beersheba claimed they had found a well that could have been used by Hagar after she was banished into the desert. Later it was revealed that the well was dated only to the second century B.C.

Genesis on Hagar Giving Birth to Ishmael

Genesis 16:1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 16:2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. 16:3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

16:4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. 16:5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. 16:6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thine hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

16:7 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. 16:8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. 16:9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. 16:10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. 16:11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. 16:12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

16:13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? 16:14 Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. 16:15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. 16:16 And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.

Sarah Gives Birth to a Son, Isaac

Finally at the age of 105, Sarah gave birth to her first son Isaac (meaning “he who laughs”) in Hebron. He was circumcised when he was eight days old and became the fulfillment and heir to God’s covenant with Abraham and ensured the Covenant would be passed down through his heirs.

Genesis 18:9 And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. 18:10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind 18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness while Sarah and Isaac look on

18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 18:13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 18:14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. 18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh..18:17 And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18:18 Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him...

....Later after Sarah was taken from Abraham by Abimelech: Genesis 20:14 And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. 20:15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee. 20:16 And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was 20:17 So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. 20:18 For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife.

21:1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 21:2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 21:3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. 21:4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.

21:5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. 21:6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. 21:7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. 21:8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.

Hagar and Ishmael Cast Out to the Wilderness

Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness
21:9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. 21:10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 21:11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. 21:12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 21:13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

21:14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. 21:15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. 21:16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

21:17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. 21:18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. 21:19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. 21:20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. 21:21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

Abraham's and Sarah’s Death

After Abraham returned from Jerusalem, he settled in Beersheba. Sarah died in Qiryat Arba, near Hebron, at the age of 127. Abraham buried her in Hebron in the cave of Machpelah, which he bought for 400 shekels from a Hittite who took advantage of his grievous state and overcharged him. Abraham never owned a piece of land in his entire life until he bought the cave. As a nomad he never needed a place to live but according to one scholar "the dead require a permanent resting place."

Burial of Sarah
Afterwards Abraham took a new wife, Keturah, who gave him six more children, some with Arabic names. He also found a wife — Rebecca from Nahor near Haran in northern Mesopotamia — for Isaac. Abraham died at the age of 175. Isaac and Ishmael reunited to bury him in Machpelah next to Sarah. Later, Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Rebecca), and the their son Jacob and his wife Leah were buried there too. Ishmael is regarded as the patriarch of the Arabs. He is believed to be buried somewhere else. Many say in Mecca, next to the Kaaba.

The is little archaeological evidence to back up the claims that the tombs that exist today in Hebron that are called the Tombs of the Patriarchs are the real tombs of Abraham and his family. The tombs in Hebron have never been excavated but archaeologists believe they date many centuries after Abraham's death. The claim they are the tombs of Abraham and his family are based on tradition.

Ibrahimi Mosque was built over Machpelah cave in the 13th century and has been in continuous use since then. For a long time Muslims prevented Jews from entering. They were allowed to pray at the entrance but not go inside. After the Seven Day War in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and Hebron, Israeli authorities allowed Jews to enter the complex. The time and locations of the Jewish prayers was initially restricted to avoid conflicts with Muslims.

Sarah Dies and Abraham Haggles Over Her Burial Site

Genesis 22:19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba. 22:20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor; 22:21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, 22:22 And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 22:23 And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. 22:24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

23:1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. 23:2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. 23:3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, 23:4 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

23:5 And the children of Heth answered Abraham, saying unto him, 23:6 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead. 23:7 And Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. 23:8 And he communed with them, saying, If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me, and intreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, 23:9 That he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he hath, which is in the end of his field; for as much money as it is worth he shall give it me for a possession of a buryingplace amongst you.

23:10 And Ephron dwelt among the children of Heth: and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the audience of the children of Heth, even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying, 23:11 Nay, my lord, hear me: the field give I thee, and the cave that is therein, I give it thee; in the presence of the sons of my people give I it thee: bury thy dead. 23:12 And Abraham bowed down himself before the people of the land. 23:13 And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.

23:14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying unto him, 23:15 My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead. 23:16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. 23:17 And the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure 23:18 Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. 23:19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. 23:20 And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.

Abraham’s Last Years and Death

Cave of the Patriarchs
Genesis 24:1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. 24:2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: 24:3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: 24:4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

24:5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? 24:6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. 24:7 The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. 24:8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again. 24:9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter. 24:10 And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.

Later Abraham’s servant returned with a woman named Rebekah: Genesis 24:62 And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. 24:63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming. 24:64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. 24:65 For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself. 24:66 And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

25:1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 25:2 And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. 25:3 And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. 25:4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 25:5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. 25:6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

25:7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. 25:8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 25:9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 25:10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. 25:11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi.

Abraham and the DNA group Haplogroup D

Cave of the Patriarchs

The Cave of the Patriarchs (south of Jerusalem in Hebron) is a walled shrine-mosque-mausoleum complex built around the cave, where and his family are buried. Within the complex are the tombs of the Patriarchs (Abraham and his immediate descendants are regarded as the ancient patriarch of Islam, the first patriarchs of Judaism and ancestors of Jesus) and important women in their lives: 1) Abraham, 2) Sarah (Abraham’s wife), 3) Isaac (Abraham and Sara’s son), 4) Rebecca (Isaac’s wife), 5) Jacob (Isaac and Rebecca’s son), 6) Leah (Jacob’s wife). Just outside the complex is the Tomb of Joseph.

The Cave of the Patriarchs is known to Muslims as the Noble Enclosure of the Friend and is regarded as forth holiest Muslim site after Mecca, Medina and Dome on the Rock in Jerusalem. It is known to Jews as the Cave of Machpelah or the Tomb of the Patriarchs and is considered the second holiest Jewish site after the Western Wall. Before the 1960s no one but Muslims were allowed to enter the complex. For 700 years, Jews were permitted only to pray outside the structure on the seventh stone step leading to the complex.

Concealing the cave is the Ibraham Mosque whose foundations lie on a fortress-like sanctuary built around 20 A.D. during the reign of the Roman King Herod's with addition made over the centuries by Byzantine Christians and several Muslim dynasties. In the center of the Mosque are six red-and-white striped cenotaphs’symbolic tombs — that represent the real graves which are in the cave below the mosque. They and the pillars date back to the 9th century.

The cenotaphs look like small stone huts. The one that belong to Abraham and Sarah are locked behind a silver padlock and gate. Crusaders purportedly found Abraham's bones in it in A.D. 1119, but this fact can not be verified since no archeologist are allowed in the cave. There is a grate over a small aperture into the cave but all you can see is an oil lamp below.

Ibrahimi Mosque is laid out in rectangle with the tombs of Abraham and Sarah in the middle and the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca on one side and the tombs of Leah and Jacob on the other. On the Isaac and Rebecca side is a Muslim prayer area. On the Jacob and Leah side is a Jewish prayer area and a synagogue for Jewish worship. The mosque is decorated with quotations from the Koran. Two thick stone minarets dominate the structure. They are often manned by Israeli soldiers.


Meeting of Isaac and Rebekah

The leadership of the Israelite nation passed from Abraham to his son Isaac and then to his grandson Jacob, the progenitor of the 12 tribes of Israel. (Jacob was renamed Israel by an angel with whom he wrestled [Gen. 32:25–33].) Jacob was the second son of Isaac and Rebecca and is regarded as the founder of Israel. Chapters 17 through 22 of Genesis describe Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac. In Chapter 25, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a some stew. The stew given to Esau was made from red lentils. He most likely went along with the deal because he had just killed King Nimrod of Babel and thought he was going to be executed.

Shechem, where Jacob grazed his sheep, was occupied during his time. Tablets from Nuzi also indicate it was customary for males to sell their birthright to their brothers, as Esau did to Jacob. In one case a brother agreed to exchange his inheritance for "three sheep immediately from his brother Tupkitilla."

Jacob was something of a trickster. In Chapter 27 of Genesis he impersonated Esau by donning a goatskin so he could receive from Isaac, who was blind and dying, a blessing intended for Esau as the oldest son. Later he fled to his uncle’s house to escape Esau’s rage. One the way he had a vision of a ladder with angels going up and down it. Then God spoke to him and told him that the land he was lying on would be his forever.

Jacob is perhaps best known for his ladder. But close scrutiny of the original Hebrew indicates the ladder was more like a ramp found on a Mesopotamian ziggurat. In Chapter 32, Jacob gets into a wrestling with an angel who knocks Isaac’s hip out of joint and renames him Israel. "Israel" mean "he who struggles with God.” Later it came mean the homeland of the Jewish people and the place in which the Jewish people hope to return to.

Jacob and his sons are described as the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were forced by famine to leave Canaan and move to Egypt, where the Israelites are enslaved, paving the way for their Exodus under Moses 400 years later. In Chapter 47-50 of Genesis, the 12 tribes of Israel enter Egypt, Jacob and Joseph die, and the Exodus is prophesied.


Jacob and Esau Meet
Joseph was Jacob's favorite son. He , was persecuted by his envious brothers and was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and reached a high political office in Egypt — vice-regent of the country — through his great wisdom. In Chapter 37, Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 silver shekels. According to Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool, this matches the going price for a slave in Mesopotamia in the 18th century B.C.

Chapters 37 through 50 in Genesis describe Joseph and his adventures in Egypt. In Chapter 41, he interprets the Pharaoh's dreams and becomes a powerful man. When Joseph encountered his brothers, he urged them to bring Jacob and their families to Egypt to avoid the famine blighting the Land of Israel. In Chapters 43-46, Joseph is reunited with his father after he and Joseph's brothers come to Egypt in search of food. After Joseph's death the Children of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians. Among the Hebrew slaves was Moses.

In the 17th century B.C., when Joseph rose to power in Egypt, Lower Egypt was ruled by a Semitic people called the Hykos. Jacob is perhaps best known for his of coat many colors. But close scrutiny of the original Hebrew indicates the coat was more likely an “ornamental tunic.”

In Chapter 47, Joseph tell his people "when the harvests come, you shall give a fifth to the Pharaohs.” Egyptian record from that time show that peasants were required to pay a 20 percent tax on their crops. The style of warfare, the form of contracts and treaties and the laws of inheritance mentioned in the Bible are also consistent with historical record.

Tablets from Elba mention Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau) and Sa-u-lum (Saul) but they could have easily been people with the same names as the biblical figures. These texts also mention a king named Erbium who ruled around 2,300 BC and bears an uncanny resemblance to Eber from the Book of Genesis who was the great-great grandson of Noah and the great-great-great-great grandfather of Abraham. Some scholars suggest that Biblical reference in the Elba tablets are overstated because the divine name yahweh (Jehovah) is not mentioned once in them.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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