History is not my area of specialization. I am curious to know about the historicity of Moses and Abraham from the viewpoint of modern critical scholarship. It would be great if references are provided.

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    Have you done any preliminary research? Checked Wikipedia and Google?
    – MCW
    Dec 21 '17 at 22:17
  • yes...i have checked wiki....i want expert answers... Dec 21 '17 at 23:00
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    Wiki cites a number a scholars. What is it that you need in addition to what is already mentioned in the articles on Moses and Abraham? Dec 22 '17 at 7:26
  • See also Y-chromosomal Aaron which can be interpreted to indicate that Aharon, Moses' brother, was a real person.
    – sds
    Dec 22 '17 at 18:09

When considering historicity, Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac have traditionally been considered together as the "patriarchs". There used to be some historians who seriously argued that they lived during a patriarchal age sometime around 2000BC.

Today the stories they are contained in can fairly reliably be placed as written in the near east Iron Age, which is roughly a millennium after they are set. So either they were flat out invented at that time, or there was an oral tradition for that long that changed drastically to include Iron Age elements (and would presumably have changed just as drastically in less noticeable details as well). For that reason, they simply cannot be considered historical figures.

Moses went through a separate analysis, but the result is roughly the same. The texts that mention him are accepted to have not been written until the Babylonian Exile (late 6th century BCE) whereas the event itself would have occurred 700 years earlier. There's no real corroborating records of such a thing from any other sources, and the linguistic evidence is most consistent with the Hebrews being closely related to their neighbors in the levant, not recent immigrants from elsewhere.

The Babylonian Exile of course was a time a great stress, when a tale about how they persevered as a coherent people through slavery and exile would have been very helpful, and Egyptians a very convenient bad guy that their Babylonian masters would not have complained about.

That shouldn't be taken to lessen its impact one iota. You'd be hard-pressed to find any story more historically important than Exodus. It was likely designed for resistance. Enslaved people have used it for inspiration and comfort and resistance ever since. It was a rare speech from Martin Luther King that didn't reference it.

  • can you suggest some standard books/peer reviewed articles where I can get this? Dec 21 '17 at 23:05
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    @PythagoreanMystic - My suggestion would be to hit the links in my second and third paragraphs, and follow the sources from there. They are in there, but I don't like making 16-screen long answers going into nitty details. I sadly don't have nice layman-accessible overview sources that addresses this topic (like I do for the historicity of Jesus) to point people to. I wish I did. (Anyone?)
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 21 '17 at 23:28
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    Perhaps try The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives Dec 22 '17 at 0:04
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    Then there are the Names: Becking, Grabbe, Finkelstein, Hughes, Moore, Banks. Especially archaeologist Israel Finkelstein makes a nice read culminating in that everything before Omride dynasty is traceless in the sands and therefore likely mythological. Dec 22 '17 at 0:13
  • The story of the infant Moses being set adrift is very similar to an old Babylonian myth about a great King called Sargon who was discovered as a baby in a basket in a river. This tail could have been picked up during the Babylonian Diaspora, when Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy were written. some 400 years after the Israelites left Egypt.
    – user27618
    Jun 30 '20 at 6:56

No definitive proof either way.

There is no independent source which documents Moses's existence beyond the Hebrew holy texts ( old testament ). Added to that, modern scholarship dates the Book of exodus which details Moses role in delivering the Jewish people out of slavery to have been written sixth century BC, some 600 years after the events of Exodus took place 1200BCE. It is believed Exodus was written during the Babylonian diaspora (587 BCE-539 BCE). Additionally parts of Moses's narrative bear striking similarities with older (Babylonian) story about a second millenium King called Sargon the Great. Being set afloat in a basket and being rushed by Bulls.

Which taken in their entirety these don't prove anything but may hint at an answer, for some. Similar case could be made against Jesus Christ's existence if not for two short mentions by the jewish historian Flavius Josephus writing about 50 years after the Crucifixion.

With Regards to Abraham having lived in the second or first millennium BC experts have not formed a consensus either way. Given the time frames involved however and given slim evidence for the existence of much younger historical figures, the lack of evidence for Abraham should be even less meaningful beyond the just no good evidence either way.

Abraham: Historicity In the early and middle 20th century, leading archaeologists such as William F. Albright and biblical scholars such as Albrecht Alt believed that the patriarchs (Abraham) and matriarchs were either real individuals or believable composites of people who lived in the "patriarchal age", the 2nd millennium BCE. But, in the 1970s, new arguments concerning Israel's past and the biblical texts challenged these views; these arguments can be found in Thomas L. Thompson's The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974), and John Van Seters' Abraham in History and Tradition (1975). Thompson, a literary scholar, based his argument on archaeology and ancient texts. His thesis centered on the lack of compelling evidence that the patriarchs lived in the 2nd millennium BCE, and noted how certain biblical texts reflected first millennium conditions and concerns. Van Seters examined the patriarchal stories and argued that their names, social milieu, and messages strongly suggested that they were Iron Age creations.[11] By the beginning of the 21st century, archaeologists had given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac or Jacob credible historical figure

  • certain biblical texts reflected first millennium conditions and concerns - That's probably because that's when they were first written down.
    – Lucian
    Dec 4 '21 at 13:44

Here are some interesting sources for Abraham's existence:

  1. In the Hebrew Encyclopedia [Abraham's entry] "Researchers today tend to see Abraham as a personality in reality"
  2. The Bible World Book page 90 has archaeological finds called "Marie Certificates" with names such as "Aviram Ishmael, Jacob, Lahal.
  3. Biblical Encyclopedia [Philo entry] brings a Canaanite tradition to a man who sacrificed his son on an altar and made a circumcision
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    It's probably worth specifying which 'Hebrew Encyclopedia', which 'Bible World Book', and which 'Biblical Encyclopedia' you are citing, and why you consider them to be particularly reliable and / or scientific sources. Jun 29 '20 at 14:32
  • I'm sorry, but anyone who is proficient in the field knows these books, I can't explain what a Hebrew encyclopedia is, but it's the most competent encyclopedia in Israel, and the rest of the books are well-known books that are well-known in Israeli literature. Jun 29 '20 at 18:18
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    It's generally better to write answers that are accessible to people who aren't specialists. So, for example, I'm assuming that when you say 'Hebrew Encyclopedia' you are talking about Encyclopaedia Hebraica. If so, it is then worth noting that, as Wikipedia notes, "Writers of the encyclopedia did not hide their Jewish-nationalistic political views". It's also worth noting that volume 1 of Encyclopaedia Hebraica was published in 1948, and I'm uncertain whether the content has been updated since. Jun 30 '20 at 0:13
  • Thanks for the feedback, I changed my wording Jun 30 '20 at 19:34

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