Genesis chapter 12 begins enigmatically: “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land, and from your kin group, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” Abraham was a native of Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), the most advanced civilization of its time. Mesopotamia was known for its knowledge in the arts and sciences—mathematics, astronomy, architecture, irrigation and animal husbandry—and, above all, for its cities. Babylon, for example, comprised 2,500 acres. That was even larger than the 1,850 acres of Nineveh, a city that took three days to traverse (Jonah 3:3). Babylon’s population is estimated to have been 100,000, and the alluvial plain in which Babylon was situated (at the head of the Persian Gulf) may have contained as many as a million people.
Why then did Abraham leave, especially for the backwater region of Canaan? More precisely, why did God want him to leave? The answer must reside in the previous chapter. It is an anti-Babylonian polemic.