Biblical Archaeology Review 21:4, July/August 1995

Finding Historical Memories in the Patriarchal Narratives

By Ronald S. Hendel

The search for the historical patriarchs of Genesis has taken some dizzying turns in the last half-century. From the 1940s through the 1960s, scholars proclaimed that the patriarchal age of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph had been found among the mass of new archaeological data recovered from the second millennium B.C.E. In the 1970s and 1980s, the tide turned, and the patriarchal age was lost again, as the arguments of the previous decades were shown to be over-interpretations of the data, compounded with wishful thinking. Nowadays the patriarchs, for many scholars, are no more than a “glorified mirage” concocted by the Pentateuchal writers, as Julius Wellhausen argued over a century ago.1

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