Mythological Elements in the Story of Abraham and the Patriarchal NarrativesFrom obviously mythical characters such as Adam and Eve and Noah we come now to characters that even the more “liberal” Christians accept as historical. We will look at the patriarchal narratives, the stories in Genesis about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
These characters are accepted as historical primarily because they refer to elements in their story which seemed historical. Thus we find in the patriarchal narratives stories relating to domesticated camels, caravan trade routes, neighboring peoples (Philistines, Ishmaelites etc) and actual cities (such as Gerar). Certainly some of these, domesticated camels and camels used as beasts of burdens, can still be seen in the Middle East today. The neighboring peoples were real and the cities have been found.
It is "historical" elements such as these that separate the stories in the patriarchal narratives from the myths of many other religions in the region. Let us see how strong this position is today.
It is obvious from the verse above, the author was writing at a time when the Israelites already had, at least, a king. The first king of the Israelites was Saul who became king around 1025 BC. [a] Thus the earliest possible date for the composition of the Pentateuch, or parts of it, would be the tenth century B.C. Scholars vary in their estimate on exactly when the oldest portion (called the “J” document) of the source document for these books was written. Some estimate the document to be written as early as the tenth century BC (during the reign of Solomon, David’s son), while others estimate it to have been written as late as the sixth century (during the time of the Babylonian exile). These estimates are not relevant to our current analysis. The only point worth noting is that the verse above, have set an upper limit on the date of composition of the Pentateuch. 
Now calculating from our table of biblical chronology, Abraham lived around the twentieth second century BC. (As a mark of the historical uncertainty surrounding this date, there exist many different estimates for these dates. Abraham has been estimated to live in the 25th, 21st, and the 16th century BC; i.e. the estimates fall within a span of 1,000 years! ) Taking the latest estimated dates for these patriarchs and the earliest estimated date for the composition of the “J” document -in other words the “best case” scenario for believers- we still have a gap of 600 years between the “historical” Abraham and his story in Genesis! The historian Robin Lane Fox (b.1946) has this to say about the effect of this time gap on the historicity of the Pentateuch:
Thus save for very rough social memories of major events or turning points in the history of these people, we should dismiss all the rest as myths accreted through the centuries of oral transmission. Note that we are not simply dismissing the rest as myths without any evidence. In fact in many cases where references were made to events or things that could be verified historically, we find the stories in the Bible to be false or anachronistic. Such is the case with the following examples taken from the patriarchal narratives.
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As noted earlier, Abraham’s lifetime has been estimated anywhere between the 25th century BC and the 16th century BC. The above passage implies that camels were already domesticated and in use during that time.
However, based on every other available evidence we have, tame camels were simply unknown during Abraham's time. Egyptian texts of that era mentioned nothing of them. Even in Mari; the kingdom that is situated next to the Arabian deserts; which would have had the greatest use for camels; and of which archaeologists have a large collection of documents; not a single mention is made of camels in contemporaneous text.
In fact, it was only in the 11th century BC that references to camels started to appear in cuneiform texts and reliefs. After the 11th century, references to camels become more and more frequent.  This suggests that camels were domesticated around the 12th or 11th century BC. [b]
Thus there could have been no domesticated camel during Abraham’s lifetime. It must be, then, that the above stories are later additions to the legend of Abraham.
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Before analyzing further we need to make known some archaeological facts.
In the first place, as we have shown in anachronism #1, camels were not yet domesticated during that time. Furthermore excavations in the southern coastal plain of Israel found that camel bones increased dramatically only in the seventh century BCE. More importantly these bones were of adult camels, as one would expect of beast of burden used in traveling to different places. For if they were bred there one would expect to find a scattering of young camel bones as well. This means that camels were commonly used in the caravan trades during that time.
This is further supported by Assyrian sources that mentioned camels being used as beast of burdens in caravans during that time. The items being traded, gum, balm and resin, [written as "spicery, balm and myrrh" in the KJV above] were Arabian exports that were traded commonly only from the eight and seventh century BCE under the control of the Assyrian empire.
Now on to a bit of chronology. Even if we accept the rather unusually long ages of the patriarchs, we will see that the incident referred to must have happened only around 260 after Abraham was born (refer to the biblical chronology). Thus during the time of Joseph, camels were still not domesticated, there were still about (at the very best case) another five hundred years before Arabic (Ishmaelites was the Bible name for Arabs) camel caravan trade in gum, balm and resin, could be referred to in an "incidental manner" as above. 
Thus the story of Joseph's abduction, specifically the mention of the Arab camel caravan trade and the Arab traders buying Joseph, is also littered with anachronisms.
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This is definitely another late accretion to the Abraham legend. We know that circumcision was widely practiced in ancient times in the fertile crescent; in particular, the Egyptians and the Canaanites, the people Abraham would have had most contact with, practiced the rite.
Thus the question arises, how could the act of circumcision be “a sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham when everyone else is doing it? It was only during the time of the Babylonian captivity, during the sixth century, that this custom could have set the Jews apart. For the Babylonians of that time did not practice circumcision. 
Thus, the story of circumcision being a sign of covenant between God and Abraham is also mythical.
Now Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21:5). Thus the events narrated above happened (if it did happen) somewhere between 24th and 15th century BCE, depending on where Abraham is located in time. (The Biblical chronology points to 24th century BCE.)
Archaeological evidence shows that the Philistines did not have any settlements in the coastal plain of Canaan until after 13th century BCE. Archeological excavation at Gerar (now identified as Tel Haror northwest of Beersheba) shows that it was no more than a "small, quite insignificant" village during the initial settlement of the Philistines during the Iron Age I (1150-900 BCE). Gerar only became a significant city only in the seventh century BCE.
Thus there would have been no city of Gerar and no king of the Philistines to meet with Isaac during the historical period in which he would have lived.
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Firstly, at the very least, we can conclude that many elements in the patriarchal narratives are unhistorical. The story of Isaac meeting the Philistine king in Gerar for instance could not have happened because there was simply no Philistine settlement in Canaan during that time and Gerar has not yet existed. The story of how Joseph got shipped to Egypt is in the same boat (pardon the pun). For there were simply no Arabic camel caravan trade groups during the time of Joseph.
Secondly, there is a more disturbing (for believers) conclusion. Thomas Thompson, Professor of Old Testament at the University of Copenhagen, noted that if the specific references in the patriarchal narratives have been shown to be anachronistic, then they add nothing to the story; but these very references were the historical anchors that supposedly rooted the narratives into history in the first place. Without them how are we to distinguish the narratives from other completely mythical folk tales?
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