Thursday, 1 December 2011

Discussion & analysis #1: How many sons did Abraham have?

As part of my research into biblical contradiction, I have posted the 439 instances as presented by Project Reason.

I am not wholly convinced of their validity, so in the interest of intellectual honesty, I am examining the more spurious claims in individual posts. This is the first such 'Discussion + analysis' (or D+A), and I welcome all the feedback I can on all of the following questions that arise from this project.

3. How many sons did Abraham have?
Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
Genesis 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.
Genesis 4:22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
Genesis 16:15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.
Genesis 21:2-3 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.
Genesis 25:1-2 1 Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah.2 She bore him ZimranJokshanMedanMidianIshbak and Shuah.
On the face of things, Abraham had many more than one son. In fact he had a total of eight over his lifetime, but the premise of this contradiction has an obvious initial flaw;
Did Abraham have only one son when God tested his faith? [1]

I think for the purposes of this discussion, we can disregard the reference from The Epistle to The Hebrews, and concentrate on the chronology as set forth in Genesis. Hebrews was written centuries after Genesis, and was clearly relating to the Pentateuch for its authority, so I don't see the need to go down that path. Let us concentrate on what is considered to be the 'source' material.

Genesis 4:22

Taking the first alleged contradiction in Genesis 4:22, there is no mention of either Abram or his a.k.a. Abraham. The character Zillah is the wife of Lamech, a sixth generation descendent of Cain, with only a passing causal link to Noah, but not Abraham (see below). On this basis alone, I can tentatively dismiss this as a valid contradiction.

Whence came Abraham from?

Biblical chronologies can be frightfully dull, so I shall spare my reader the monotony of repeating them here, but It is only right that we frame things chronologically so that the context becomes apparent. I shall list them for those that care to research further and with the minimal of fuss, but they are somewhat of an aside to the issue at hand. They do, however, make for an interesting contradiction in their own right!

There appears to be two distinct genealogies for Abraham; one leading back to Adam through his son Seth to Lamech, the other leading back to Adam through his son Cain to Lamech;
Seth Line
Adam · Seth · Enos · Kenan · Mahalalel · Jared · Enoch · Methuselah · Lamech ·Noah · Shem
Cain line
Adam · Cain · Enoch · Irad · Mehujael · Methusael · Lamech
Wikipedia informs us that these two Lamechs are, in fact, different people, but looking at the similarities between some of the names in each of the lineages, and upon studying the generations of Adam for this post, I find this highly questionable. That said, this is a subject for another D+A entirely [2]. 

It is generally accepted that the line of Seth is the more likely, and considering that it bears little or no relation to the post directly, I shall use that genealogy alone.

The line of Seth

Abraham was the son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Salah, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, 

Noah was the son of Lamech (see above), son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainon, son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam.

The Life of Abraham as it is chronicled in Genesis

Introduction - His lineage aside, it is not until Genesis 11:29 that we are introduced to the first piece of the puzzle, where it states that Abram - as he was known at this time - had a wife called Sarai (or Sarah as she was to become known). In 11:30 we are informed that Sarai has no children because she was not able to conceive (whatever that means). Nothing more of much note can be said of the chapters 12-15 with regard to this investigation, but in chapter 16 we learn that Abram fathers his first-born son, Ishmael, by his wife's slave Hagar,

Genesis 16:15-16 15So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Moving on straight to Genesis 21, we find that Abraham has another son 
Genesis 21:2-5 2Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
We have now established a timeline for the birth of two of Abraham's sons; Ishmael the first-born, and Isaac the second some fourteen years later.

In verses 8-21 we learn that Sarah wishes Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, for she did not want this son to share in the Abraham's inheritance. Despite being troubled by this, Abraham was assured that God would make a nation of his son, and that he should heed Sarah's wishes. At an age of no less than fourteen years of age, Hagar and Ishmael left Abraham's household and Ishmael became an archer in the Desert of Paran, which is today regarded by Muslims to be where Mecca lies.

In Genesis 22:2, we now approach the second contradiction, where God tests Abraham [1] and asks him to Take your son, your only son, whom you loveIsaacand go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.

This is clearly a contradiction, as the narrative of the text clearly states that Abraham has two sons at this time.

Some may argue that in sending Hagar and Ishmael away as requested by Sarah, Abraham somehow gave up his rights to paternity, but this does nothing to change the reality of his paternity, and God would have known this.

With regard the the introduction of his six other sons by Keturah in Genesis 25:1-2, we can disregard them as irrelevant to the argument, as these children were born after God's proclamation that Isaac was Abraham's only son; at the time Abraham had two sons, hence the contradiction.

[1] Does God test people? (not yet written)
[2] How is Noah related to Adam? (not yet written)

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