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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Historicity of the Ancestral Narratives in Genesis

In the biblical account of the origins of Israel, narratives concerning Israel's ancestors in Gen. chs 12–50 follow the mythic material in chs 1–11 . The chronology of the narratives themselves is set in the early second millennium BCE, but there are no direct connections between the biblical traditions and nonbiblical sources. No person or event known from Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or other sources is even mentioned in the biblical narrative. At the relatively few points where the Bible does name rulers (as in Gen. ch 14; 20.2; 26.8 ), none of them are found in any nonbiblical sources. Moreover, at many points in the narrative the Bible is tantalizingly vague. If the biblical writers had just named, for example, the pharaoh who took Sarah into his house (Gen. 12.15 ), or the pharaoh in whose court Joseph rose to power (Gen. ch 41 ), we would at leastknow when the biblical writers thought those events took place, and could correlate them with Egyptian chronology.

The biblical narratives themselves are the result of a lengthy and complicated process of the formation, transmission, and editing (see the Introduction to the Torah, pp. 1–7). Although the reconstruction of that process is hypothetical, there is no doubt that the process itself has led to the inclusion of a large number of anachronisms. The stories reached the written form in which we have them long after the purported events that they recount, and they often reflect the times when they were written or edited rather than the times in which their stories are set. For this reason, it is unlikely that these stories can be useful in reconstructing any particular period in the second millennium. The ancestral stories in Gen. chs 12–50 may preserve some authentic historical memories, but these have been so refracted by the processes of transmission and the idealization of the ancestors that it is impossible to designate any of the individuals mentioned in Genesis as historical or to establish anything resembling a precise chronology.

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