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Genesis 11:31-12-1 appears to indicate that Abram left Haran after his father Terah had died. (The author of the New Testament book of Acts certainly saw it that way.)

Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.

However, according to Genesis 11:26 Terah was 70 years old when "became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran." Subtract this from the 205 years Terah is said to have lived according to Genesis 11:32, and Abram would have been 135 years old when his father died.

But according to Genesis 12:4, "Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran."

How can these statements be reconciled? Or is one of the numbers simply wrong?

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One possibility, hinted at in your title, is that Avram left while his father was still alive. Are you asking how to reconcile this with Acts? Or is "Acts is wrong" a possible consideration from your perspective? –  Gone Quiet Apr 10 '13 at 19:39
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@MonicaCellio I'm interested in any possibilities, including "Acts is wrong". –  Bruce Alderman Apr 10 '13 at 21:57
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4 Answers

Short Answer: Abram did indeed depart from Haran after his father died, as the Old Testament indicates, and as the New Testament explicitly claims. (Terah was 130 years old when Abram was born.)


Good question. (This happens to be one of the most commonly asked -- and addressed -- "discrepancies" in Scripture.)

The problem is in the modern Western reading of an ancient Hebrew text. First, a note about Hebrew chronologies...

A lesson from Noah's sons: Genesis 5:32 states, “Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Every time Noah’s sons are listed, they are listed in this order (Genesis 6:10, 7:13, 9:18, 10:1). One might think Shem was the oldest and Japheth was the youngest based on the order in the text, but that is incorrect. Genesis 9:22-24 indicates Ham was the youngest. Genesis 10:21 indicates there was also an "oldest" (There is some question whether Shem or Japheth was older, due to the differences in translation.) So we are not looking at twins or triplets, since there was an oldest, and Ham was the youngest. Thus, the age given probably refers to the age when Noah became a father (i.e. the birth of the firstborn), and is not meant to be read as all three being born in one year, in that order.

A second look at Terah's sons: Genesis 11:26 is similar. It indicates that Terah was 70 years old when he became a father, and that he was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was most likely the oldest since Abram was traveling with Lot (Genesis 12:5), Haran’s son (Genesis 11:27), and Nahor married Haran’s daughter (Genesis 11:29.) Regardless, we have a similar situation to Noah's sons, where we ought not to take this as an indication that three sons were born to him in the same year, in that order. The text is not claiming they were all born when he was 70.

Obvious solution: Abram left after his father died, as you indicated in your question. So, Abram seems to have been born when Terah was 130, which makes him 75 years old when he left.


The most common objection: When this solution is rejected, it is usually out of a difficulty understanding why Abram fell on his face and laughed at the idea of having a son when he was 100 and his wife was 90 (Genesis 17:17). Several things need to be noted here:

  • Though the chronologies are all bunched together in the text, keep in mind that Abram said this 100 years after Terah fathered a child at an old age -- that is a long time! The lifespans had been rapidly declining since the time of the flood (which was very recent for Abraham), so things may very well have looked bleak to Abram -- regardless of how old Terah was when Abram was born.

  • We're talking about the words of a man struggling with his faith in God's promises... not exactly something you want to build doctrine on.

  • Abram didn't seem to have any trouble believing he could bear a child by Hagar, who was 86 (Genesis 16:16).

  • We already know that the birth of Isaac had to be miraculous because of Sarah's physical condition, so it is conceivable that Abram's health was also deteriorated. This may partially explain his unbelief. (cf. Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:12)

  • Some have noted that Abram had now been living with Hagar for 13 years without bearing additional children... he may have had the idea that he was no longer able to "beget."

  • After his wife Sarah had died at the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1-2), Abraham -- who by now would have been over 140 years old -- took another wife and had 6 more kids by her (Genesis 25:1-6)!

  • Abraham's grandson, Jacob, became the father of his son Benjamin when he was 100 years old.

In summary, Abram's comment does not seem to have had as much to do with Terah's life (or anyone else's) as it did with his own life and Sarai's.

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Thank you for this (expanded) answer. You make some good points here, particularly about the likelihood of Haran being much older than Avram. –  Gone Quiet Apr 11 '13 at 13:23
    
By the way, you haven't been in chat recently enough to receive a ping, but you might want to see this: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/8933104#8933104 –  Gone Quiet Apr 12 '13 at 13:15
    
I received two equally good answers, and I'm not sure which one to pick. –  Bruce Alderman Apr 21 '13 at 1:41
    
Just noticed: Terach's son is הָרָן ; the place is חָרָן. Not the same word, but imprecise transliterations (which are common) lose the distinction. So the city doesn't seem to have been named after him. (That doesn't affect your larger point, but you might want to edit that.) –  Gone Quiet Nov 29 '13 at 2:59
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@Jas3.1 the first letter is different -- hei versus chet. (They look very similar, which is why I didn't notice this right away.) –  Gone Quiet Apr 16 at 16:15
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As the text says, Avram was 75 when he left Haran. So, either Terach was 130 when Avram was born, or Avram left while Terach was still alive.

The medieval commentator (and compiler), Rashi, argues for Avram leaving during Terach's lifetime, based on Gen 12:4:

and Terah died in Haran: [This happened] after Abram had left Haran and had come to the land of Canaan, and had been there for over sixty years, for it is written (below 12:4): “And Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran,” and Terah was seventy years old when Abram was born, making Terah one hundred and forty-five years old when Abram left Haran. Accordingly, many of his [Terah’s] years were left.

But, you might ask, why does the text then give us things out of order? Rashi continues:

Why then did Scripture relate Terah’s death before Abram’s departure? So that the matter should not be publicized to all, whereby they would say: “Abram did not fulfill [the commandment of] honoring his father, for he left him in his old age and went away.” Therefore, Scripture calls him dead, for the wicked, even in their lifetime, are called dead, whereas the righteous, even in their death, are called living, as it is said (II Sam. 23:20): “And Benayahu the son of Jehoiada, the son of a living man.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 39:7, Ber. 18b.].

That's not exactly clear; why would scripture call Terach dead like that? Genesis Rabbah 39:7, an early midrash collection cited by Rashi, says (Soncino translation):

Now what precedes this passage? And Terah died in Haran, [which is followed by] NOW THE LORD SAID UNTO ABRAM: GET THEE (LEK LEKA). R. Isaac said: From the point of view of chronology a period of sixty-five years is still required. But first you may learn that the wicked, even during their lifetime, are called dead. For Abraham was afraid, saying, 'Shall I go out and bring dishonour upon the Divine Name, as people will say, "He left his father in his old age and departed "?‘ Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him: 'I exempt thee (leka) from the duty of honouring thy parents, though I exempt no one else from this duty. Moreover, I will record his death before thy departure.’ Hence, 'And Terah died in Haran’ is stated first, and then, NOW THE LORD SAID UNTO ABRAM, etc.

But suppose that's all wrong, and Terach really was 130 years old when Avram was born, per the claim in Acts? I offer the following original observations:

  1. After the flood God appears to set the normal human lifespan to 120 years (Gen 6:3). While this is not an upper limit (all the patriarchs lived longer), it serves as a guide. We generally expect people to have children before they die :-) , so, before 120 would be the norm.

  2. When God told Avraham that he would father nations, Avraham reacted thus: "Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart: 'Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?'" (Gen 17:17) If his own father had been even older, would he have reacted that way about his own prospects?

  3. Genesis makes something of a big deal about Avraham's old age at the time he sires children. The text says nothing at all about what would have been even more remarkable, had Terach done so at 130.

Conclusion: Terach was still alive when Avram left Haran, which we can see either from the plain text of Genesis or through logic. The text of Acts is mistaken -- or, perhaps, isn't particularly concerned with details of chronology.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Sarah died when Abraham was 135 years old per Gen 23:1, after which he married Keturah and sired no less than six more sons per Gen 25:1-2. Also, up until the time of the divided kingdom, some people still had lived to as long as 130 years of age per 2 Chr 24:15. –  Joseph Apr 11 '13 at 1:52
    
Avraham had been blessed by God at that point, so it is possible that it was still unusual for him to sire children with Keturah. Do you know of any other cases of such late children in tanakh? (Certainly some lived past 120; the patriarchs were meant as examples, not the complete list.) –  Gone Quiet Apr 11 '13 at 1:59
    
I respect your interpretation of Genesis 6:3 as one possibility, but it is not the only possibility. I have heard two others -- one of which seems to fit the context better (to me); that man's days were numbered; there would be 120 years left before the Flood would destroy humankind from the face of the planet (save Noah's family, of course.) –  Jas 3.1 Apr 11 '13 at 4:52
    
FWIW I up-voted your answer; it was very good and represented your view well. –  Jas 3.1 Apr 11 '13 at 4:53
    
I received two equally good answers, and I'm not sure which one to pick. –  Bruce Alderman Apr 21 '13 at 1:40
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Quite simply Teraach was 70 years old when he begot abram, nahor and haran. (maybe they were triplets), All three born in UR, Haran dies in Ur . Then Terach and his two remaining sons head out to Canaan; but they came as far as haran. Now Haran was named Haran by the family in memory of their son. Clearly he was murdered in Ur and thats why his father decided to leave Ur to go to Canaan, but they liked the land of Haran and settled there. Terach dies in Haran at 205. making abraham 135 years old so it contradicts the idea that abraham left when he was 75 so it means he left before his father died when his father was 145.

One interesting point is that the samaritan Torah says that that terah lived 145 years, which would make sense that abraham left exactly after the death of his father like when they left Ur after the death of haran.

And when God spoke to abraham to go to CANAAN, the first place he goes to to build an altar is SHECHEM, (mount gerizim), the place where israel was commanded to make the blessings. According to samaritans this place is also BET -el, and is the chosen place. and Jacob also worshipped god there and say angels etc. Now the story of isaac when he is to be sacrificed is a mystery, his father and his son both worshipped at bet el which is in shechhem, and to him it just says he went to ERETZ MORIAH, now it doesnt specify which mountain, just a landform, now the difference between ALON MOREH and MORIAH is only a yud, since these places were in the land of the amorites, AMORI, MOREH, MORIAH, they are all connected . JErusalem was JEBUSITE so it doesnt make sense, and also why would isaac be taken to a different place to the place abraham chose and jacob too. and joseph was burried there, and joseph whos land was blessed, has the blessing of the burning bush or the presence of god. IE THE TABERNACLE.

Conclusion - The Samaritans indeed worship at the right site, The kingdom was divided ONLY after SOlomon built a temple in jerusalem. Since the other 11 tribes worshipped at Mount gerizim, SCHEM/BEt-el, elon moreh etc etc. 11 tribes of israel and JUDAH, JUdah was cut off from the rest of Israel, and if you say God chose Judah over the other 11 tribes, i say rubbish, firstly Bot King david and Solomon were not men of God, King DAVID FOUGHT all his wars him self, without the help of the angel of God. He Sinned horribly in the eyes of god, having multiple wives and collecting much gold and murdering etc etc etc. FOr god to make an everlasting covenant with david would seem insane. More so to allow a man like King solomon TO suddenly build a temple, after they had been 400 years worshipping god just fine in the tabernacle of moses, since to god it doesnt make a difference, temple or tabernacle, as long as its kept holy. He doesnt desire GOLD and RICH BUILDING, he is HUMBLE, he dwells in a tent. Solomon we know worshipped many gods, so it would seem crazy for god to choose his seed to make an everlasting covenant.

COnclusion, as this weeks portion is the story of Judah deciding to send Joseph away to the ishmaelites and COVER -UP josephs DEATH, so maybe he will take the glory over the rest of his brothers, the same story happened in the nation of ISrael. Judah tried to cover-up the original place of the tabernacle , and take the kingship from Joseph, but Joseph was given the blessing from jacob already. It cant be taken back.

The idea of a moshiach ben Yosef and a moshiach ben david is quite funny. I would say since joseph had two dreams about ruling over his brothers, first in EGypt when there was a famine, and secondly in the end of days when the chosen place is re-established, and TRIBE of joseph made King over his brothers, especially over JUDAH, the betrayer. Amen

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Abraham may easily have left Haran both before and after his father Terah died. While he left the city of Haran at one age, he also had a brother with the name Haran. Not everything is Scripture is in chronological order. Also, sometimes one name is used more than once.
Haran was name of the city he left, but he also had a brother by the name of Haran.

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So you're saying there were two departures, but the text only tells us about one of them? –  Gone Quiet Oct 30 '13 at 20:00
    
Forgive me. Let me clarify. I'm saying that Haran was the name of a city but also the name of a brother of his. He could have left Haran the city at one point and Haran the brother at another point. –  John Martin Oct 30 '13 at 21:42
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Thanks for the comment. I only see the text mention leaving Haran once, in 12:4, where it says "and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran." Is there another passage that talks about this, and you think one means the place and one the person, or are you filling in a detail not in the text (a la aggadah/midrash)? There's nothing wrong with the latter; I'm just trying to understand your method. Does that help? –  Gone Quiet Oct 30 '13 at 22:12
    
I'm just suggesting the use of the same name for more than just one person can be confusing (e.g. Mary's in the New Testament). Here it is just the name of the city, but also the name of Abraham's brother. –  John Martin Oct 31 '13 at 14:44
    
Terach's son is הָרָן ; the place is חָרָן. Not the same word, but imprecise transliterations (which are common) lose the distinction. –  Gone Quiet Nov 29 '13 at 3:07
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