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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Archaeology and Genesis

Over the centuries there have been many attacks against the Word of God. Yet, God has seen to it that His Word abides; while the attacks are vanquished and soon forgotten. Edward J. Young provides evidence of this:

Someone has aptly compared the Bible to an anvil against which the hammer blows of unbelief are constantly beating. But although the hammers crack and break frequently, and must be replaced, the anvil stands. It cannot be shattered. . . .

Toward the close of the last century there lived truly gifted and brilliant German scholar by the name of Julius Wellhausen. . . .

Wellhausen’s assaults upon the book of Genesis were extremely severe. He was particularly insistent that the background of the patriarchal narratives did not represent an accurate picture. He considered this background, as it is presented to us in Genesis, not to be an accurate reflection of the times of the patriarchs, but rather of the period in which it was written down, several hundred years later. . . .

In 1925 excavations were carried on at a place in Mesopotamia known today by its Turkish name of Yorgan Tepa. In ancient times, however, this place bore the name of Nuzi (pronounced Newsy), and proved to be a center of the ancient Hurrians, mentioned in Genesis 14:6 as the Horites. Incidentally this mention of the Horites [Hittites] was long regarded as an inaccuracy. Now, however, at Nuzi, a settlement of these people has been discovered.

What is of particular interest for our purpose is the fact that great numbers of clay tablets were unearthed at Nuzi, which proved to be business documents. They are now known as contract tablets, for they contain the records of ancient business contracts. . . .

As a result of the excavations it is now possible to know quite a bit about some practices of the Hurrians. For one thing, a citizen of Nuzi could not sell land. If, therefore, one wished to purchase land he could not simply go to a realtor, as we do, and buy the desired property. Instead, as a result of this restriction, there was a legal fiction by means of which it was possible to get around the difficulty. In brief, the way it worked was this. If I wish to obtain your land, I cannot buy it; I can, however, have myself adopted as your son. If I am thus adopted, I shall become the heir, and the land will be willed to me. In return for this, I can give a gift to you. . . .

Genesis 15:2, 3 has long been a difficult section of Scripture to understand. As we learn from the Nuzi tablets, it was the custom for a couple who were without children to adopt someone who in return for being made the heir would take care of them in their old age and see to it that they were given a decent burial. Eliezer of Damascus had evidently been adopted by Abraham to be his steward, to manage his affairs and possibly to give him burial. According to the practices of Nuzi if an heir should later be born, the adopted son would have to give way to the heir. In the light of this provision we may understand the language of the Lord, “This [i.e., Eliezer] shall not inherit thee, but he that shall come out of thy loins shall inherit thee.” Abraham was simply acting in accord with the customs of the time.

Not only the Nuzi texts, but also the now famous Code of Hammurabi sheds light upon the type of thing that Abraham did in taking Hagar to be his concubine. It was the custom, apparently, when the legal wife was barren, for such a wife to provide her husband with a concubine in order that a seed might he raised up. . . In providing Abraham with a concubine Sarah was simply acting in accordance with the customs of the time. The same is true of the action of Rachel (Genesis 30:3) when she provided Jacob with a concubine, Bilhah.

As might be expected, such a practice was not likely to bring about happiness, and we read that Sarah wished to drive Hagar out. In this, however, she was going contrary to practice. . . Despite the fact that Sarah was violating custom, the Lord spoke to Abraham, “Let it not be evil in thine eyes, because of the land and thy handmaid. In all that Sarah saith to thee hearken unto her voice, for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Genesis 21:11, 12). (Edward J. Young, The Accuracy of Genesis, [March 1957]: 23-26)

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