I finished John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition yesterday. I feel a “nap attack” coming over me, so I don’t want to write too much.
Van Seters dates most of the Abraham story to the exilic and post-exilic periods. He thinks that Genesis 15’s statement that the Promised Land would extend from the Nile to the Euphrates dates to the Neo-Babylonian period, when Babylon possessed that land. He also says that God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 15 was crafted specifically to appeal to Jews during the exile: they had just blown the conditional covenant, in which they had to obey God’s commandments to occupy the land, so they needed assurance that they were still God’s people; God’s promises to bless Abraham’s descendants on account of Abraham (e.g., Genesis 22) gave them that assurance. Later, according to Van Seters, the priestly author added his contribution. He was responsible for Genesis 17, the circumcision chapter, which encouraged every Jewish family to affirm the covenant by circumcising its newborn boys. The priestly author fits Israel’s post-exilic period, Van Seters argues.
Van Seters has problems with the Documentary Hypothesis, which posits four independent sources in the Pentateuch: J, E, P, and D. He supports more of a Supplementary Hypothesis, in which there’s a story that later authors add on to. He thinks that J (the Yahwist) handled earlier sources about Abraham, and that P added his stuff to J.
Did I find Van Seters convincing? I didn’t look up all of his Scripture references, so I’m not entirely clear about where he’s coming from. His statement about the parameters of the Promised Land in Genesis 15 fitting the Neo-Babylonian Period reminded me of a similar claim by Jacob Milgrom, only Milgrom stated the Israel’s promised boundaries in Numbers 34 resemble the Egyptian empire of the thirteenth century B.C.E., meaning it reflects a very early source. Numbers 34’s boundaries don’t go from the Nile to the Euphrates, though.