Posted on: October 22, 2012
Lekh Lekha, Genesis Chapters 12:1-17:27, is one of the most pivotal texts in the Torah. It’s the text in which Gd speaks to Abram and tells him to go into the wilderness to the land that He will show. It is this passage that is at the crux of the dispute between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Who owns the land? To whom was it promised? Who has the rights to it?
We’ve traveled over 13,800 miles! Let’s talk about that first and the land ownership…issue? later.
The purpose of the Jewish Geography Project is to paint a picture of what our earliest Jewish ancestors looked like to challenge the notion of what a Jew looks like using Torah, the backbone of our faith, as a guide. We left our ancient people right around modern-day Turkey.
We’ve added another 1075 miles to Canaan and we haven’t stopped yet!
Abram was 75 years old when he listens to Gd and journeys towards the land of Canaan, a large land mass that includes the modern state of Israel, portions of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.
We’ve traveled there from Haran, which is universally understood to be in modern day Turkey. Abram, Lot and Sarai travel through the land as far as the site of Shechem (Genisis 12:6) which is understood to be modern day Nablus, a city in Palestinian territories. We are told in the same verse that The Canaanites were then in the land. According to archaeologist Jonathan N. Tubb, “Ammonites, Moabites, Israelites and Phoenicians undoubtedly achieved their own cultural identities, and yet ethnically they were all Canaanites” “the same people who settled in farming villages in the region in the 8th millennium BCE.”
From this point Abram moves further east to the hill country and pitched a tent with “Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.” We’re unsure of how long Abram lives in this tent. Is it over night? Is it for a year?
Some time later Abram continues through the Negev to Egypt to avoid famine. Abram stays for a time in Egypt and becomes fairly wealthy. Because he deceived Pharaoh into thinking his wife is his sister Abram is sent back into the Negev. The chapter tells us that he went back to the location between Bethel and Ai. “Et-Tell is an archaeological site in the West Bank that is popularly thought to be the Biblical city of Ai.”
Around this point Lot and Abram go their separate ways and for the purpose of tracing the Jewish people we’re only going to focus on Abram for the time being. Don’t worry, Lot comes back!
After Lot leaves, Gd tells Abram to look north, south, east and west telling him, “I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:15). A few verses later Abram moves again to dwell at the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron(Genesis 14:18) and makes an alter to Gd. Hebron (Arabic: الخليل (help·info) al-Ḫalīl; Hebrew: חֶבְרוֹן (help·info), Standard Hebrew: Ḥevron, Tiberian: Ḥeḇrôn ISO 259-3: Ḥebron), is located in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 mi) south of Jerusalem. Nestled in the Judean Mountains, it lies 930 meters (3,050 ft) above sea level. It is the largest city in the West Bank and home to approximately 250,000 Palestinians, and between 500 and 800 Jewish settlers concentrated in and around the old quarter.
The next few verses spans for fourteen years and tells us we’ve made allies. “Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner (Genisis 14:13).
“Amorite (Sumerian , Akkadian Tidnum or Amurrūm, Egyptian Amar, Hebrew אמורי ʼĔmōrī) refers to an ancient Semitic people from ancient Syria who also occupied large parts of Mesopotamia from the 21st Century BC. The term Amurru in Akkadian and Sumerian texts refers to them, as well as to their principal deity. In the earliest Sumerian sources, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites (“the Mar.tu land”) is associated not with Mesopotamia but with lands immediately to the West, including what is now modern Syria and Canaan.”
An interesting tidbit for later.
When Abram learns that Lot has been overcome by enemies Abram and his 300 members large house, go north of Damascus to bring back Lot and his possessions what happens next is interesting. Two kings meet with Abram-the King of Sodom and King Melchizedek. We learn that King Melchizedek is a priest of God Most High. Wait? Someone else is worshiping Gd?
Another interesting tidbit for later.
As we end Lekh Lekha Gd makes a lot of promises. He promises Abram his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. We learn that Abram will die an old man. It is here that we see the boundaries of the piece of land that Gd promises: “To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates the Kenites and the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites (Genesis 15:18-19).
We also learn that Hagar, Abram’s mistress, Sarai’s handmaid gives birth to a son, Ishmael, when Abram is 86. While in the desert, cast away by Sarai, an angel of Gd speaks to Hagar and makes the following promise to her son, Ishmael. “I will greatly increase your offspring, and they shall be too many to count” (Genesis 16:10).
It is also towards the end of this Parsha that Abram accepts Gds covenant. “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations…I will make you exceedingly fertile, and make nations of you; and kings shall come forth from you. I will maintain my covenant between me and you, and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages…I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding” (Genesis 17:4-8). The Parsha ends with Abraham circumcising himself, his son and everyone in his camp. Gd also promises that Ishmael will be a leader of 12 nations.
So what does it mean?
To me, I see a large population of people of varying ethnicities and nationalities that have joined themselves to Abraham. Either through war or through travel. As a people we’ve traveled from the west coast of Africa, through the top of the continent into modern day Iraq to modern day Turkey to modern day Palestine to Egypt and back to modern day Israel. The territory of the Hittites is of particular interest, as it’s the first time a group of people from southern ares of modern Europe are mentioned. As these peoples come together and form community they inevitably do what people do-they have sex and produce children. Abram doesn’t have a child until he’s nearly 100, yet he has a household of over 300. Can we presume Hagar wasn’t his first mistress?
Now this varied people have formed a covenant with Gd…these are our ancestors.
© Erika K. Davis