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The materials for the facts of the life of Abraham are found in Holy Scripture, in the Book of Genesis, and in some of the later writings. I have taken it for granted that these statements are authentic, and have not thought it necessary to follow Ewald and his school in distinguishing the various authors of them, assigning this to “the Book of origins,” and that to the First narrator, and that to the Second, and so on. Nor have I esteemed the details thus given as accretions that have grown up round a great central figure in the lapse of centuries, the outcome of hero-worship, the result of a natural desire to accumulate on a great forefather anything that would tend to elevate his personal character or exalt the favour with which he was regarded by God. The narrative appears to me to be consistent, derived doubtless from different sources, but worked up by the compiler into a fairly complete biography, which, taken in conjunction with hints afforded by the later Scriptures, leaves on the mind a finished picture of the
Father of the Faithful.” Accessory to the Scripture account are the history of Josephus and some treatises of Philo, which contain additional facts more or less mythical, derived from certain histories or Jewish tradition. Eusebius in his “ Præparatio Evangelica," adds some circumstances, and a few of the Fathers afford a little further information. Ephraem Syrus is said to have composed a work on Abraham's sojourn in Egypt, which however, if existing in MS., has not been published. A plentiful crop of legends has, as was natural, risen around the true story of this celebrated man. Many of these will be found in “ The Book of Jubilees," which under the name of Kufale has been discovered in an Abyssinian dress, and translated in Ewald's "Jahrbücher," ii. and iii. The most copious collection, however, gathered from the Talmud and other sources, has been made by Beer in his Leben Abraham's nach Auffassung der jüdischen Sage." The Koran has contributed largely to this legendary lore. Other Mussulman traditions are found in Weil's work, “The Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud." Immense assistance to the understanding of the various phases of the Patriarch's life has been derived from the interpretations of the cuneiform inscriptions of the East and the hieroglyphs of
Egypt, embodied in the works of Schrader, G. Smith, Rawlinson, Sayce, Brugsch, and others. Topography is cleared by the travels of Robinson, Thomson, Stanley, Tristram, Loftus, Porter, Malan, etc., and the publications of the Palestine Exploration Fund. The commentaries of Kaliscii, Delitzsch, and especially Dillmann (ed. 1886), afford most valuable information. Of monographs on this subject very few exist. The best and most recent is that by Dr. Oswald Dykes, “Abraham, the Friend of God." The Rev. R. Allen's work, Abraham ; His Life and Times, as by a Contenporary," is a romance founded on reliable materials, but extending only to the arrival at Haran. The Rev. H. Blunt published some “ Lectures on Abraham” in 1831, and the Hon. L. J. Barrington a book entitled “From Ur to Machpelah ;” but these are rather homiletic and edificatory than scientific. It is almost unnecessary to add that the Dictionaries of the Bible, such as those of Herzog, Winer, Smith, Kitto, and McClintock and Strong, contain epitomes of most necessary information, with references to other works which bear on the subject.
Whether Abraham was acquainted or not with the art of writing (and there is no certain evidence on either side), there is certainly no reason why he should not have known it. His contemporaries at Ur inscribed their names on the bricks of which they built their temples ; there is writing in Egypt of earlier date than his time ; his great-grandson, Judah, possessed a signet ring, which, doubtless, as in the case of those discovered in Chaldæan tombs, was engraved with a device and inscription. It is not, then, altogether beyond the bounds of possibility that he transmitted the events of his life by written documents to his descendants. But even without such memorials, oral tradition may easily have handed down the wonderful incidents of his career to a more literary age, and thence to Moses. Isaac was seventy-five years old when his father died ; Jacob had lived for the first fifteen years of his life in daily intercourse with his grandfather, who must have often recounted to the gentle boy the leading events that had befallen him ; and this narrative must have been continually repeated by Isaac, whose death anticipated that of his son only by some five and twenty years. Thus, when Jacob arrived in Egypt, he carried with him the stories which he had received from his grandfather and father, and during the seventeen years of his life in that country he could impart the family traditions to his sons and grandsons, who would have found no difficulty in committing them to writing in a land where literature fourished, and of whose chief seat of learning, On, Joseph himself was a denizen. Granted that Moses was the chief composer of the Pentateuch, there is no difficulty in believing that the history which he relates was transmitted to him in an authentic form, and that he had good warrant for his wonderful story.
W. J. D.