How Long Did Jacob Wrestle with Laban?–Part One (Resources & Notes)

[Note:  According to the record of Josephus, the ancient city of Ur was a Chaldean city established among the ancestors of Arphaxad (Arpachshad) who was the son of Shem (Antiquities, 1.6.4).  Some scholars today propose that Arpachshad was also the ancestor of the Chaldeans, citing that the last three letters of Arpachshad (Urfa Chesed) are the same as for Kesed and the Kasdim, which in Greek are the Chaldeans (Babylonian, Kašdu, and Assyrian, Kaldu or Kaldû).]

[Note:  Harran was located in an area referred to as Paddan Aram, which means “Field of Aram.”  From the biblical perspective Aram was a brother to Arpachshad, Elam, Asshur and Lud who were the sons of Shem.  This helps us in part to understand why Jacob was called a sojourning “Aramaean” who went into the land of Egypt because Abraham’s relatives and Jacob’s mother Rebekah—of the family of Nahor—were from the region of Paddan Aram.  So in Scripture it states that Jacob was “a Syrian [Aramaean] ready to perish… and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deut. 26:5).]

[Note:  The city-state of Harran was known to be an Aramaean state or area where Abraham and his relatives came to settle after leaving Ur at the close of Ur’s Third Dynasty.  In this area the Aramaeans had once become a significant influence in the region, and it was they who had contributed to the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur.  Harran was also where many people were devoted to Sin the moon-god as were the people of Ur.  (In latter centuries Harran was the last Assyrian capital after the fall of Nineveh.)]

[Note:  The term “Amorite” can be a misleading description, especially as it has been sometimes adopted to explain the same group of people in both Mesopotamia and Palestine.

In Scripture we learn that Shem had a son named Aram from whom the Aramaeans are descended, and it is also where we get the term “Aramaic” to describe the language of the Aramaeans.  From the works of Josephus we learn that Aram’s sons founded cities in Mesopotamia and beyond, generally from where the nation of Syria is today to the Persian Gulf.  In fact the city of Damascus is noted by Josephus to have been founded by Uz, a son of Aram.

The Aramaeans were also settled in the area surrounding the city of Harran, and so the land was referred to as the Field of Aram.  In ancient Mesopotamian texts they were referred to as the Amurru by the Akkadians, which is confirmed in the records discovered at Mari in Mesopotamia.

A problem arises in modern historical interpretation when we find that the Amurru are referred to as the “Amorites,” whose identity has been subject to much debate, and who have also been equated with the Amorites that contended with the people of Israel in the time of Joshua.  (Amurru was also a relative geographical term meaning “westerners” in Mesopotamia.)

In Scripture the Amorites in the land of Canaan are stated to be descended from Amor, who was a descendant of Canaan the son of Ham (Gen. 10:16).  It is these Amorites who contended with the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land (Num. 13:26-31; Jos. 13:4; 24:15; Amos 2:10).  (Jerusalem was a city founded by an Amorite.)

However, the Aramaeans (Amurru) were not the same peoples as those Amorites descended from Ham, but they were also a problem for the Israelites.

From the records of the Amarna tablets, which were discovered in Upper Egypt in the town of Amarna and written probably during the reigns of King Jehu and Jehoahaz of Israel, we have diplomatic references to representatives from Canaan and the Amurru.  These Amurru can be accounted for in Scripture during the time of Jehoahaz’s reign when, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria [Aram], and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, all their days.  And Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him: for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the king of Syria [Aram] oppressed them….  Neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria [Aram] had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing (II Kings 13:3-4, 7).

Also from the El-Amarna letters we know that the capital of the Amurru was at “Dumasqa,” which we know as the city of Damascus in Syria.

Therefore the Amorites (Amor) who contended with Joshua were not likely to be the same as the Amurru or Aramaeans referred to in some accounts as “Amorites” in Mesopotamia.  And the conjecture that the Amorites of Canaan were the nomadic tribes that invaded Mesopotamia as far as the Persian Gulf is unsubstantiated.  However, it is reasonable to conclude that the Amurru in the Akkadian and Assyrian records are the indigenous Aramaeans of Mesopotamia.]  

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