After men have crossed this desert on the way to Jerusalem, they come to a city which is called Bersabee [Beersheba] which was once a fine city in habited by Christian men, and still there are some of their churches standing. In that city Abraham the Patriarch lived. Bersabee the wife of Ury [Uriah] founded that city, and called it Bersabee after herself. In that city King David begat on her Solomon the Wise, who was king of Jerusalem for 40 years.

(The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Chapter Nine, translated by C. W. R. D. Mosely)

Sir John Mandeville here claims that the city of Beersheba was founded by Bathsheba yet a mere sentence earlier he states that Abraham lived there, and Abraham predates Bathsheba by several centuries. In fact, the Bible (Genesis 21:31) explicitly states that Abraham gave it the name Beersheba.

What are we to make of Sir John Mandeville's account? Is this simply a mistake (or deliberate distortion)? Is there, perhaps, an alternative chronology that places Bathsheba before Abraham? Is the naming of this city after Bathsheba attested to anywhere else?

(I am aware that the work as a whole is not considered entirely accurate, but I seek an explanation for this particular claim.)

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    Who can explain why a person who lied about everything, or near enough, lied about a specific claim?.. – gktscrk Dec 6 '20 at 6:57
  • FTM, why consider religious writings to be an accurate historical source? (I'm tempted to say gospel, but that would be a really bad pun :-)) We know that much of Genesis is false, why assume it is accurate re Abraham naming a city "Beersheba"? – jamesqf Dec 6 '20 at 18:02
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    @jamesqf It doesn’t matter whether you or I would consider religious writings as an accurate historical source. What matters is whether a (supposedly) devout medieval Christian would consider it accurate. With no exposure to modern critical biblical scholarship, why wouldn’t he consider it accurate? Moreover, hoe did he know that Abraham lived there without accepting the account in Genesis? – Alex Dec 6 '20 at 18:10
  • @Alex: That depends on just what question you're asking, doesn't it? As a parallel, we might ask what sources Virgil used in writing the Aeneid as a history question, but we (most of us, anyway :-)) would regard those sources as being mythology. – jamesqf Dec 7 '20 at 4:39
  • @jamesqf And the mythological sources he used would be equally interesting and equally a historical question (literary history, at least) – Luke Sawczak Dec 7 '20 at 16:21

This can't really be reconciled historically, because Abraham was written as a mythological figure, not a historic one.

The Abraham story cannot be definitively related to any specific time, and it is widely agreed that the patriarchal age, along with The Exodus and the period of the judges, is a late literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history.

As for Mandeville itself, we don't really have anything to go on other than that author's writings in that one work, so if the logic isn't there, we don't know.

We can say more generally that this was before the full development of the Scientific Method, and Mandeville's author had the sensibilities of a storyteller, not a Historian. So its a fair bet that if they made an assertion not otherwise supported by facts, it was because they thought that reading made for the best story.

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