Archaeology is rewriting the secular life of Abraham. We now know him as a “big business man” of the nineteenth century B.C. engaged in international commerce.

Abraham followed in the steps of his father Terah, who specialized in trade coming from the Persian Gulf via Ur, up the Euphrates and Balikh rivers to Harran. Sometime before Ur was destroyed by the Elamites (in the lifetime of Terah or Abraham), Terah seems to have sensed trouble and to have moved his headquarters from Ur to Harran. Harran was the ideal transfer point for commerce going east to Assyria and Persia, north to the Hittite country and the Lake Van area, west to the Mediterranean, and southwest to Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Apparently Terah planned to enter the Harran-Canaan trade lane, but he died before the new venture got under way. Yahweh then appeared to Abraham and marked out the plans and specifications for a new business venture for him. Abraham fulfilled them faithfully, and later God sealed a covenant with Abraham embracing ownership of the land between the Euphrates and the river of Egypt.

Abraham was a caravaneer—the original meaning of the word “Hebrew.” In his time all land commerce moved on donkey back. The caravan donkeys were large animals that carried 150- to 200-pound packs. Anatolian and Syrian caravans numbered up to 3,000 donkeys. Egyptian caravans ran about 300 to 1,000 donkeys, and Abraham’s was probably in this range.

Every city mentioned in the Abraham story was a key caravan city. Shechem lay at the junction of the north-south ridge road and the east-west pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal that linked the Mediterranean with the Transjordan plateau via the Jabbok River. It was a Hurrian enclave where the ass was the sacrificial ...

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