Esor Ben-Sorek
Esor Ben-Sorek

The Flight of Abraham

The parsha in Genesis, Lech L’cha, has great historical meaning for the birth of the Hebrew people. In Hebrew, the words mean “you must go” and according to the Hebrew Bible, God so spoke to Abraham and commanded him to leave his home, his father’s home and the land of his birth to go to an unknown land that God will direct him and give him as an eternal possession.

Etymologically, how did God appear to Abraham? Not surely by word of mouth but possibly in a dream. In his time, Marduk was the god of his country. The city of his birth was Ur in southern Mesopotamia.

After the defeat of the Old Babylonian Empire by the Hittites in 1595 BCE, the latter were routed by the armies of Kaldu (Chaldeans), also known as the Kassite kingdom (Ur Kassdim) who ruled from 1531 BCE to 1155 BCE, a period of 400 years.

It was during this time that the Elamites (Persian people) conquered the Kassites and during the rebellion the third Ur dynasty was overthrown. The Elamite king, Shimut-Wartash, ruled briefly from 1772 BCE to 1770 BCE and in this period there was great chaos in Ur and surrounding areas in Mesopotamia.

It was for this reason that Abraham and his family fled from Ur, not because of the Biblical tale that God had spoken to him. The Biblical stories were written more than one thousand years later during the reign of King David. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are known to scholars as pan-Semitic literature. The story of the creation of the world appears in Egyptian literature as Enuma Elish and the story of the great flood is recorded in the magnificent Babylonian story known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. These stories were written hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years before any Hebrew appeared on earth.

Abraham of Ur has been called the first Hebrew (ivri) from the word “ever” which means crossed over because he crossed the lands of the two rivers , Tigris and Euphrates (Mesopotamia is the Greek word for two rivers).

Because of the war and upheaval in the Kassite kingdom, Abraham’s flight makes him history’s first refugee.

His first stop was in Haran, both the name of a place and the name of his brother, son of Terach.  Haran’s son was Lot who became the ancestor of the Moabites and the Ammonites.

After some years in Haran, Abraham and Lot, accompanied by others, continued their journey across the desert to the land of Canaan, whereas Terach,  Nahor and Milcah preferred to remain in Haran.

Once settled in Canaan, Abraham lived among the seven nations who dwelt there. He told them that he had been commanded by an invisible God to make his home among them. And, believing in One God and not the god of the moon, sun and stars only, he preached his sense of monotheism to the idol worshippers among whom he lived.

However, Abraham was not the first monotheist. That title goes to the Egyptian pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenatan, who believed that the sun god was the only god. After his death, the priests of Egypt abandoned sun worship and returned to idolatry.

The great Jewish historian and scholar of the bible, Professor Louis Ginsberg, in the 1920’s published his “Legends of the Bible” which was accepted as historical truth by all non-Jewish biblical scholars and by most of the liberal Jewish scholars.

Religiously-observant Jews continue to believe that all the stories in the Bible were written at God’s command and therefore there could be no changes made. Historians, however, accept the first eleven chapters in Genesis as legendary. For them, Hebrew history begins only in the twelfth chapter.

But history and religion are in conflict. The religious beliefs can not be proven, whereas archaeology and biblical scholarship can be scientifically proven.

Lech L’cha is an interesting story, but it is only a story that purports to tell how Abraham came to the recognition of One God.

In his flight from war and rebellion he became the first father of Hebrew history.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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