The Patriarchs in the Land of Israel
The history of the Jewish people, like the history of most nations, begins in obscurity. According to the Bible, Abraham, who is considered to be the first of the Patriarchs, originated from the town of Ur, which was in ancient Mesopotamia, a geographical area roughly covered by modern Iraq.
Ancient Mesopotamia was dotted with city states from the fourth millenium bce. The systems of government varied in different periods; elective kingship gave way to hereditary monarchy. Many of the languages as well as the legal systems we know, originated in this area. The states had well developed relations and maintained orderly archives. Archaeology is supplying evidence for all of this, and many of its discoveries are adding to our understanding of the stories in the bible.
Abraham and his family migrated, at Gods command according to the Bible, out of this area in a southwesterly direction into Canaan, which lay between Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the biblical account, Abraham is told that if he goes to Canaan he will be blessed and become a great nation. Later the story relates how God promised that the land would belong to his descendants. The scholarly view that accepts the historicity of the Bible story dates the migration at about 2000 BCE.
The Land of Canaan - or Judea, Palestine and Israel as it has been variously known - was on the great trade route. Abraham was the chief of a nomadic tribe wandering through what is nowadays the Negev of modern Israel, with his base in Beersheva. Although he maintained rather friendly relations with his neighbours, he was set apart from them by his rejection of their pagan religion and his belief in the One, Unseen, All powerful God.
Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the child of Hagar, Abraham's second wife, while Isaac's mother was the first wife Sarah. Sarah and Abraham were both relatively old when Isaac was born and neither had believed that they would bear a child. According to both Jewish and Muslim tradition, Ishmael was the founder of the Arab nations. The high point of Isaac's life - and that of Abraham's - was the Akedah in which Abraham was commanded by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. At the last moment God told Abraham to desist and declared 'Now I know that you fear God.'
Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob, whose early life was spent in intense rivalry over the birthright and its accompanying blessing. Jacob, by a trick, prevailed and as a result had to spend many years in exile in fear of his brother's vengeance. Jacob took 4 wives who bore him twelve sons and a daughter. The sons became the Tribes of Israel (an alternative name for Jacob). Ultimately, Esau forgave his brother, who returned to live in the ancestral land.
Next Step : From Canaan to Egypt
Index to Footsteps through Jewish History