I. The Coming of the Patriarchs from Abraham to Jacob.
1. In the “fertile crescent.”
Four thousand years ago — continents asleep — the great cradle of our civilization — culture in the Ancient East — staged towers and pyramids had been built long before — giant plantations on the banks of canals — Arab tribes attack from the desert.
If we draw a line from Egypt through the Mediterranean lands of Palestine and Syria, then following the Tigris and Euphrates, through Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf, the result is an unmistakable crescent.
Four thousand years ago this mighty semi-circle around the Arabian Desert, which is called the “Fertile Crescent,” embraced a multiplicity of civilizations lying side by side like a lustrous string of pearls. Rays of light streamed out from them into the surrounding darkness of mankind. Here lay the center of civilization from the Stone Age right up to the Golden Age of Graeco-Roman culture.
About 2000 B.C., the further we look beyond the “Fertile Crescent,” the deeper grows the darkness and signs of civilization and culture decrease. It is as if the people of the other continents were like children awaiting their awakening. Over the Eastern Mediterranean already a light is shining — it is the heyday of the Minoan kings of Crete, founders of the first sea-power known to history. For 1,000 years the fortress of Mycenae had protected its citizens, and a second Troy had long been standing upon the ruins of the first. In the nearby Balkans, however, the Early Bronze Age had just begun. In Sardinia and Western France the dead were being buried in vast stone tombs. These megalithic graves are the last great manifestation of the Stone Age.
In Britain they were building the most famous sanctuary of the Megalithic Age — the Temple of the Sun at Stonehenge — that giant circle of stones near Salisbury which is still one of the sights of England about which many tales are told. In Germany they were tilling the soil with wooden ploughs.
At the foot of the Himalayas the flickering lamp of an isolated outpost of civilization in the Indus valley was fast going out. Over China, over the vast steppes of Russia, over Africa, darkness reigned supreme. And beyond the waters of the Atlantic lay the Americas in twilight gloom.
But in the “Fertile Crescent” and in Egypt, on the other hand, cultured and highly developed civilizations jostled each other in colorful and bewildering array. For 1,000 years the Pharaohs had sat upon the throne. About 2000 B.C. it was occupied by the founder of the XII Dynasty, Amenemhet I. His sphere of influence ranged from Nubia, south of the second cataract of the Nile, beyond the Sinai peninsula to Canaan and Syria, a stretch of territory as big as Norway. Along the Mediterranean coast lay the wealthy seaports of the Phoenicians. In Asia Minor, in the heart of present day Turkey, the powerful kingdom of the ancient Hittites stood on the threshold of its history. In Mesopotamia, between Tigris and Euphrates, reigned the kings of Sumer and Akkad, who held in tribute all the smaller kingdoms from the Persian Gulf to the sources of the Euphrates.
Egypt's mighty pyramids and Mesopotamia's massive temples had for centuries watched the busy life around them. For 2,000 years farms and plantations, as big as any large modern concern, had been exporting corn, vegetables and choice fruits from the artificially irrigated valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Everywhere throughout the “Fertile Crescent” and in the empire of the Pharaohs the art of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing was commonly known. Poets, court officials and civil servants practiced it. For commerce it had long been a necessity.
The endless traffic in commodities of all sorts which the great import and export firms of Mesopotamia and Egypt despatched by caravan routes or by sea from the Persian Gulf to Syria and Asia Minor, from the Nile to Cyprus and Crete and as far as the Black Sea, is reflected in their business correspondence, which they conducted on clay tablets or papyrus. Out of all the rich variety of costly wares the most keenly sought after were copper from the Egyptian mines in the mountains of Sinai, silver from the Taurus mines in Asia Minor, gold and ivory from Somaliland in East Africa and from Nubia on the Nile, purple dyes from the Phoenician cities on the coast of Canaan, incense and rare spices from South Arabia, the magnificent linens which came from the Egyptian looms and the wonderful vases from the island of Crete.
Literature and learning were flourishing. In Egypt the first novels and secular poetry were making their appearance. Mesopotamia was experiencing a Renaissance. Philologists in Akkad, the great kingdom on the lower Euphrates, were compiling the first grammar and the first bilingual dictionary. The story of Gilgamesh, and the old Sumerian legends of Creation and Flood, were being woven into epics of dramatic power in the Akkadian tongue which was the language of the world. Egyptian doctors were producing their medicines in accordance with text-book methods from herbal compounds which had proved their worth. Their surgeons were no strangers to anatomical science. The mathematicians of the Nile by empirical means reached the conclusion about the sides of a triangle which 1,500 years later Pythagoras in Greece embodied in the theorem which bears his name. Mesopotamian engineers were solving the problem of square measurement by trial and error. Astronomers, admittedly with an eye solely on astrological prediction, were making their calculations based on accurate observations of the course of the planets.
Peace and prosperity must have reigned in this world of Nile, Euphrates and Tigris, for we have never yet discovered an inscription dating from this period which records any large-scale warlike activities.
Then suddenly from the heart of this great “Fertile Crescent,” from the sandy sterile wastes of the Arabian desert whose shores are lashed by the waters of the Indian Ocean, there burst in violent assaults on the north, on the north-west, on Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine a horde of nomadic tribes of Semitic stock. In endless waves these Amorites, “Westerners” as their name implies, surged against the kingdoms of the “Fertile Crescent.”
The empire of the kings of Sumer and Akkad collapsed in 1960 B.C. under their irresistible attack. The Amorites founded a number of states and dynasties. One of them was eventually to become supreme: the first dynasty of Babylon, which was the great center of power from 1830 to 1530 B.C. Its sixth king was the famous Hammurabi.
Meantime one of these tribes of Semitic nomads was destined to be of fateful significance for millions upon millions throughout the world up to the present day. It was a little group, perhaps only a family, as unknown and unimportant as a tiny grain of sand in a desert storm: the family of Abraham, forefather of the patriarchs.