|Abram Journeying Into the Land of Canan, by Gustave Dore|
Chapter 6 of Kugel’s How to Read the Bible covers the call of Abram to leave the land of Canan (Genesis 12 – 15).
Abram (or Abraham) is thought of as the first monotheist, but where did this legend come from? It is not explicitly stated in the story of Abram that he is monotheistic (though allusions to it are included in the New Testament and supporting documents written later in the Hebrew history). This belief that Abram was a monotheist comes originally from early scholars who believed that Abram must have done something to deserve being singled out by God and given great nations of descendants.
Philo suggested that the people of the land of Chaldea, whence Abram was said to have traveled, were astronomers. They had calculated the movements of the sun and stars very well, and worshiped the sun and stars as Gods. Therefore, when God said to “Leave Chaldea!” he was telling Abram to believe in only one God.
Josephus, had a similar theory about the astronomy of Chaldea. The Chaldeans had calculated the number of days in a year to be 354.25. But what kind of number is 354.25? Wouldn’t a god have chosen a nice round number? This inconsistency with god’s order suggested that the sun was not a god.
Early scholars probably believed Abram was a historical figure, but later scholars (modern scholars before the 1900s) tended to believe that he was metaphorical. However, starting in 1933 archaeologists discovered a huge library of clay tablets in the ancient city of Mari. These mentioned many of the cities that were described in Abram’s narrative. Some of these documents date back to the time when Abram probably would have lived if he lived. After this, biblical archaeology was explored with fervency.