Updated: Aug 17, 2022
The Life and Times
by: Shmuel ben Shlomi
One of the oldest historical post-deluge characters we know about is a man named Avram (Avraham). And, while he is the first we know the most about, what we do know from Biblical sources is really quite minuscule in comparison to what he accomplished.
Born over 4,000 years ago in approximately 2100 BCE (Before Common Era), this man who lived for a total of 175 years on planet Earth, fathered several groups of peoples including the Arabs, the Jews and a myriad of other ethnic groups still currently residing throughout the Near and Middle East; and yes, the world millennia after his demise. That is quite a feat and if that alone were all he contributed to humanity it would be enough to guarantee him a place in a hall of records.
But, there is more to this man Avraham than just the spreading of his seed throughout the globe. He is quite literally the father of the entire concept of One G-d.
We are going to take a deep dive into the life of this man of antiquity. Venture where few have gone in the past. Blending together what is in the Biblical texts of the Torah, the Quran, the Sumerian cuneiform writings and authors such as Bruce Feiler, James M. Freeman, the works of Zecharia Sitchin, and many more [SEE: List of all References and Sources at the end of Part Three]; it is my hope that we will gain a more fuller and rounder understanding of Avraham, the man singly responsible for beginning a process that would eventually move most of the Middle-Near East and Western world from polytheism to monotheism.
Our first introduction to the man Avram, later to be renamed Avraham - as he will be so called throughout the rest of this Three Part essay - is almost as an afterthought. From the Biblical text, which is the first mention of him in any public way, we come to know the name of his father, as well as his two brothers (Genesis 11:26). Before that nothing, after that just bits and pieces in relation to the 175 years he lived. The next mention of him after his birth is as a grown man with a wife and no children and then G-d calls him to leave his home which was mentioned as Ur of the Chaldeans. That’s it!
Thankfully with the finding of ancient Sumerian (known as Shinar in the Bible) texts and their painstaking decipherment we have learned a lot about Ur (ref: Mari Tablets of King Zimi-Lim - circa 4000 BCE). It was a powerful city/state in ancient Mesopotamia (the Greek name for the fertile region situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - today in Iraq). Ur was the center of worship for the Annunaki god named Nanna by the Sumerians and Sin by the Akkadians. This god’s magnificent ziggurat (a pyramid type structure with a flat surface at its top) was located there in Ur. We also know from the Torah and Jewish tradition in the Midrash that Terah, the father of Avraham was a worshipper of idols, those being the gods of the Annunaki. Some traditions allude that Terah was a priest of Nanna-Sin and served as sort of a high priest within the ziggurat at Ur. At the time of Avraham’s life there were two centers of Nanna-Sin worship — one in Ur and the other to the northwest in the city of Haran, likely the original home base of Terah before moving to Ur sometime later in his life. Something happened to cause Terah, a priest of idols to move from Ur back to Haran, taking his entire family, including Avraham and his wife Sarah back to Haran, the other center of Nanna-Sin ziggurat service.
The Bible doesn’t bother to explain this shift in location directly, however historically and from archaeological finds deciphered from Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform writings we learn that at about the time of Terah’s moving his family to Haran the city of Ur, having weakened seriously from within, was under threat of attack by one of its neighboring city-states as well as Elamites from Persia - modern day Iran. It made sense for the high priest of the Ur ziggurat to move from the primary place of worship to the secondary location many miles away to the north in Haran. After some time in Haran Terah succumbed to old age and he died at 205 years (Genesis 11:32). It was at or near this time that G-d spoke to Avraham and told him to take himself, his wife Sarah, his extended family which included his nephew Lot, as well as all he had acquired in the way of wealth and leave Haran and the entire Mesopotamian region completely, moving westerly until he would reach a land that G-d would show him. Avraham was 75 years old at the time of his departing Haran for a land that would one day come to be known as the Land of Israel.
One of the first things we will need to understand and come to appreciate about this person called Avraham is that he was not a man situated somewhere out of time. He was very deeply a man of his time. He lived in an era and place nearly all of us, except for the most remote Arab nomads in the Middle and Near East today, would find completely strange and at odds with our modern 21st Century ideas of mores, customs and mannerisms. He would not fit into our current digital, fast-paced nuclear society today any more than we would in his of four millennia ago. As the famous songwriter once equated, “the times they are a changin” (Bob Dylan). They have certainly changed since the time Avraham walked the face of the earth. However, as much as times and customs may have changed, human nature has changed very little, if at all and that is why these stories of antiquity still grip us today — they still speak to our souls, our spirits and, yes, even our intellect. There is still much to be learned from the likes of Avraham.
That being said we must take a side now and look at some of the mores, customs and traditions of Avraham’s time to get a better understanding of him, his story and why he made some of the decisions he made.
One of the first things that might catch a “modern” person’s eye is the fact that Avraham was married to his half-sister. Her name was Sarai - later changed to Sarah. This custom was very acceptable among the ruling and priestly caste of the ancient Near and Middle East, as it was in the Far East as well. As stated earlier Terah was likely a high priest to the Annunaki god Nanna-Sin. He would have arranged his son’s (Avraham) marriage to his daughter from one of his other wives or concubines. This was a very common practice among the wealthy and elite of ancient societies. It ensured a continuation of the royal and priestly bloodline as well as ensuring transfer of property rights that would stay within the familial line. Sons did not arrange their own weddings, it was always done by the father and in case the father was dead then by the next male kin, usually an uncle. Avraham’s situation would have been no different. He was a product of his time. Avraham arranged the marriage for his son Isaac and Isaac did the same for his son Jacob, albeit in a sort of off handed way. This practice of arranged marriages still continues within Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Ultra-Orthodox Muslim communities in our time.
We also notice that Avraham never left his father in Ur or Haran. As the only living eldest son he remained by his father’s side until his death in Haran. In those times, except under extreme circumstances, such as occurred with Jacob fearing for his life at the hand of his brother Esav, a son never abandoned his father’s household. Even in Jacob’s case it was his father and mother both that encouraged Jacob to leave, go to Haran, find a wife among their kin and then return once the ire of Esav was cooled. Therefore, Avraham, even though we learn from tradition and the Midrash had himself come to abhor the idea of polytheism practiced by his father, stayed with him until his normal passing into the afterlife. Then and only then did he “Go forth” from his native land and from his father’s house to the land that the one true G-d would show him. (Genesis 12:1)
So, we have established the customs of the time to have fathers choose a son’s mate and marry half-sisters if you were a member of a royal or priestly line within the Sumerian Annunaki pantheon, which Avraham was. And the custom of never leaving one’s father’s household so long as the elder father remained alive, as Avraham did according to the mores of his time.
NOTE: It should be understood that this marriage practice mentioned above was blatant as well among the Egyptian pharaohs throughout their many dynasties, including the Hyksos rule of Egypt at the time Joseph who was second only to pharaoh in power.