Biblical Archaeology Review 22:4, July/August 1996

The River Runs Dry: Creation Story Preserves Historical Memory

By James A. Sauer

Evidence of climatic change has the potential, already partially realized, of dating the patriarchal age, the sojourn in Egypt (the Joseph story) and the origins of the Biblical Flood story. It may even enable us to locate at least one of the four rivers associated with the Garden of Eden.

I speak as a former skeptic. Every scholar (and many BAR readers) knows of the egregiously failed effort by the great William F. Albright in the heyday of Biblical archaeology to place the patriarchs in the Middle Bronze period, shortly after 2000 B.C.E. Today, the conventional wisdom—or at least the view of many mainstream scholars—is that the patriarchal stories do not have a setting in a particular archaeological period, that there is no patriarchal period as such. I too have written numerous papers noting that Albright and many of his students (including Nelson Glueck, G. Ernest Wright and John Bright) were too optimistic in making connections between archaeology and the Biblical sources before the emergence of Israel in Canaan in the 13th century B.C.E.

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