The Genesis of Judaism

Where do Jews come from?

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Patriarchs In Space, Not in Time

In the Bible, the patriarchs are located in space but not in time. The background seems to be the first half of the second millennium B.C.E. Mesopotamian sources support this assumption as they establish the existence of cultural links between Ur and Haran at the time. Both towns worshipped the same deity--the moon god, Sin. These sources also refer to western Semitic tribes who invaded the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris and recount the ensuing decline of Ur--a possible cause for the migration of local populations to calmer regions in the north. This is where one should seek explanations for the Mesopotamian influence discernible in the Pentateuch, particularly in its legislative portions.

The stories of the patriarchs' migrations are therefore true in the sense of containing certain accepted historical facts: the ethnic basis and the social structures of the tribes about to merge into a new nation--the people of Israel.

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Yair Hoffman

Yair Hoffman is a Professor of Bible at Tel Aviv University.