Harran and Mesopotamia were not the goal of the future father of the Israelitish people. He was bidden to seek elsewhere another country and another kindred. Canaan was the land which God promised to “show” to him, and it was in Canaan that his descendants were to become “a great nation.” He went forth, accordingly, “to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan he came.”
But even in Canaan Abraham was not beyond the reach of Babylonian influence. As we have seen in the last chapter, Babylonian armies had already penetrated to the shores of the Mediterranean, Palestine had been included within the bounds of a Babylonian empire, and Babylonian culture and religion had spread widely among the Canaanitish tribes. The cuneiform system of writing had made its way to Syria, and Babylonian literature had followed in its wake. Centuries had already passed since Sargon of Akkad had made himself master of the Mediterranean coast and his son Naram-Sin had led his forces to the Peninsula of Sinai. Istar of Babylonia had become Ashtoreth of the Canaanites, and Babylonian trade had long moved briskly along the very road that Abraham traversed. In the days of the patriarch himself the rulers of Babylonia claimed to be also rulers of Canaan; for thirteen years did the Canaanite princes “serve” Chedor-laomer and his allies, the father of Arioch is also “the father of the land of the Amorites” in his son’s inscriptions, and at a little later date the King of Babylon still claimed sovereignty over the West.
It was not, therefore, to a strange and unexplored country that Abraham had migrated. The laws and manners to which he had been accustomed, the writing and literature which he had learned in the schools of Ur, the religious beliefs among which he had lived in Chaldaea and Harran, he found again in Canaan. The land of his adoption was full of Babylonian traders, soldiers, and probably officials as well, and from time to time he must have heard around him the language of his birthplace. The introduction into the West of the Babylonian literature and script brought with it a knowledge of the Babylonian language, and the knowledge is reflected in some of the local names of Palestine. The patriarch had not escaped beyond the control even of the Babylonian government. At times, at all events, the princes of Canaan were compelled to acknowledge the suzerainty of Chaldaea and obey the laws, as the Babylonians would have said, of “Anu and Dagon.”
The fact needs dwelling upon, partly because of its importance, partly because it is but recently that we have begun to realize it. It might indeed have been gathered from the narratives of Genesis, more especially from the account of Chedor-laomer’s campaign, but it ran counter to the preconceived ideas of the modern historian, and never therefore took definite shape in his mind. It is one of the many gains that the decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions has brought to the student of the Old Testament, and