The Patriarchs’ Mesopotamia: Persian, Babylonian, or Earlier?

The Bible describes the Patriarchs as journeying to Mesopotamia and getting their wives from there. In the case of Isaac and Jacob, a command is given from their fathers not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Since the Bible could not have been composed in its written form before c. 722 BC, when the first evidence for mass literacy and a large population appears in Judah, and since First Temple Judah was antagonistic to Assyrian and Chaldean rule, it makes the most sense to place the composition of these narratives either during the Persian or Exilic periods. The Hellenistic Period is unlikely, since the geography expressed in Genesis contains no evidence of Hellenistic influence.

The Babylonian period would make little sense for the composition of the Patriarchal narratives. The command to take a wife from Mesopotamia would be nonsensical to any Jew living in the vicinity of Babylon. The frequent references to northern, instead of southern Mesopotamia in the Patriarchal narratives would also be odd if those narratives were written in the Exilic era. The placing of the completion of the writing of Genesis in the Early Persian period would also make sense of Genesis 11, allowing for a possible Jewish settlement in Northern Mesopotamia. In short, it is most likely that the Northern Mesopotamia of Genesis reflects conditions of the Early Achaeminid period of the First Return, or, possibly, a later return.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

One thought on “The Patriarchs’ Mesopotamia: Persian, Babylonian, or Earlier?”

  1. I too would consider myself an atheist and a skeptic. Much like you, I enjoy learning about ANE. Over the last twelve years, I have developed an innovative theory that sheds new light on the origins of the Abrahamic narrative and the birth of monotheism. I am putting the last hand to a monograph in which I argue that Abraham was a historical figure of the Bronze Age that never made a Covenant with a new “God”, but with a Mesopotamian overlord instead. I explain how, initially celebrated through the cult of the ancestor, this overlord will get deified and is to be associated with Baal/El Berith, the enigmatic Bronze Age pagan deity of Shechem. It would be through multiple stages of syncretism that can be precisely identified and dated that this pagan cult evolved and culminated into modern monotheism…

    Although the above might sound at odd with your position (i.e. “Since the Bible could not have been composed in its written form before c. 722 BC”), the theory is extremely complete, comprehensive and provides an efficient synthesis of past maximalist and minimalist positions. All the pieces of the puzzle (i.e. textual, etymological, sociological, archeological, chronological and dendrochronological) fall into places and converge to offer an overwhelming burst of evidence.

    I’d love to get your thoughts and would be happy to share the manuscript for your review.

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