Good question...

...Was Terah 70 or 130 when Abraham was born?

[minor update: Nov/2005]

Someone got hit with this question, and 'passed it on'... A friend had recently sent me the following question and I would be interested in seeing what your response or answer would be to this question. I have already given him mine and would like to compare it with yours.

Let's look at the two texts first:

Gen 11.26ff: When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 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.

Acts 7.2-4: The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living.”

Let me make some initial observations about the texts, and then give the TWO-THREE different ways the passages are synchronized:

  1. Gen 11.26 is a summary statement--NOT the same formula that are in the preceding verses (i.e. "X lived Y years and begot Z, and he had OTHER sons and daughters"). Our verse is in a different form, as that at the end of a genealogy like Genesis 5.31: "And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.".

  2. 11.26, if interpreted by the other forms, would make Abe/Nahor/Haran all born in the SAME year (triplets, maybe? hmmm...a foreshadowing of the Trinity, eh? eyes glaze over in Christian frenzy here...)! Highly unlikely, esp. since they are apparently the ONLY male children of Terah.

  3. The order of names in 11.26 is probably only related to importance, not chronology. “Genesis 5:32 lists the three sons of Noah in this sequence: (1) Shem, (2) Ham, (3) Japheth. But this cannot be the order of the birth, for 9:24 identifies Ham as the youngest son of Noah.” [NICOT, in loc]

  4. It is possible than Haran was the oldest, since Nahor marries a daughter of his (11.29).

  5. Scholars generally believe that Terah had lived in Haran BEFORE migrating to Ur, and this might suggest that Haran was born there (and named from it as well), indicating his historical precedence over Abraham.

As I mentioned, there are three (but they boil down to two) ways to understand this: (1) Terah was 70; or (2) Terah was 130. And both are 'reasonable' approaches, although I personally side with Waltke and Bruce (i.e., that Terah was 70 and that “205” is a textual error, on the evidence of Philo/SamPent):

Three suggestions have been made to deal with Stephen's understanding of early events in the life of the patriarch. One explanation appeals to the SP, which has Terah dying not at 205 (as in MT and LXX) but at 145. This, we are told, is the source that Stephen was using, and thus the inconsistencies disappear. Terah was seventy when Abram was born. Seventy-five years later Terah died, and Abram left Haran for Canaan. This fact is then presented, with others, as evidence that Stephen's speech in Acts 7 is Samaritan in its interpretation of OT history. A second suggestion is a variation of the above. Rather than limiting Stephen's source to the SP, we are told that at this time a plurality of textual families or traditions existed, and the SP is but a representative of an expanded and reworked Palestinian text that differed from MT and LXX. Certainly Philo, who also gave Terah's age at death as 145, did not rely on the SP, for he would not use a sectarian Torah. A third approach harmonizes the Genesis data and Acts 7:4 without appealing to a text other than MT or LXX. The basic tenet of this approach is that 11:26 does not say that Terah was seventy years old when he fathered Abram. Rather, it says that Terah was seventy years old when he began to beget. Perhaps Abram is mentioned first because he is the most important of the three. Thus Terah was 130 years old, near the end of his life, when Abram was born!” [NICOT]

Bruce favors the “textual” solution:

The chronological data of Gen. 11:26, 32; 12:4 would suggest that Terah's death took place sixty years after Abraham's departure from Harran. J. Ussher and other chronologers of an earlier day harmonized the present statement of Stephen with the evidence of Genesis by the improbable expedient of supposing that Terah was seventy years old when his oldest son (Haran) was born, and that Abraham was not born until Terah was 130. That Abraham did not leave Harran until his father was dead is asserted also by Philo (On the Migration of Abraham 177), and is implied by the Samaritan Pentateuch, which in Gen. 11:32 gives Terah's age at death as 145, not 205 (MT, LXX). It would follow that Abraham, who left Harran at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:4), did so as soon his father had died. ... Possibly Stephen (or Luke) and Philo relied on a Greek version (no longer extant) which agreed with the Samaritan reading of Gen. 11:32. P. E. Kahle says with greater assurance that "not a single MS. of the Christian `Septuagint' has preserved in Gen. 11:32 a reading which Philo and Luke read in their Greek Tora in the first Christian century" (The Cairo Geniza [London, 1947], p. 144).” [NICNT, “Acts”]

As does Waltke, in his commentary on Genesis:

205 years. The original text probably read "145 years." This reading is attested in the Samaritan Pentateuch, which preserves an early text type and informs Acts 7:2-4. If the Masoretic text is original, Terah was 130 when Abraham was born (see 11:26; 12:4). This seems unlikely for three reasons: (1) it accords badly with the rest of the genealogy from Shem to Terah, who have their firstborn in their early thirties; (2) there would be nothing exceptional in Abraham fathering Isaac at 100 years of age; (3) Stephen could not have known that Abraham left Haran after his father's death, for Abraham could have left Haran before his father's death (see Acts 7:2-4).”

Now, normally, if the MT and LXX agreed, that would be strong data, but in this case they actually don't agree on the passage itself. The LXX says “and all the days of Terah in Harran were 205 years, and Terah died in Harran”--making Terah live another 205 years in Haran! But the MT has “And they were, the days of Terah, five and two hundred years; and Terah-died in Haran.” So there is some definite textual confusion in our existing sources.

Additionally, we might note that an ancient Rabbinic source even noted a possible 'dislocation' in the text--suggesting that sequence of events in Genesis was uncertain. Tov explains [OT:TCHB2,54f]:

In the printed editions one finds inverted nunim... the original meaning of these signs in Greek sources was that the section enclosed by the sigma and antisigma did not suit its present place in the text... An additional case, not attested in the [printed] manuscripts, is mentioned in Minhat Shay and the Mp of the second Rabbinic Bible on Gen 11:32 ('in Haran')... It is possible that the inverted nun in this place showed that the verse did not occur in its correct place, for a chronological calculation reveals that the death of Terah mentioned here ought to have occurred after what is recorded in the following sections (cf. Rashi).”

So, given the textual problems in our modern MT/LXX and the specific references/indications of 145 in Philo, Stephen(Luke), and the SP, I have to go with the “70 years old” conclusion.

[The NT indicates that Abraham's faith was shown in his confidence in God's provision of a son through Sarah. The phrase “his own body, good as dead” (Romans 4.19) presumably means “relative to Sarah” (it IS connected with the deadness of Sarah's womb in that same verse)--i.e., impossible to get her pregnant, under normal conditions. He had fathered Ishmael when he was 86, so he must have known his body worked generally. But he would have 'tried'(?) for another 13 years with Sarah--unsuccessfully-so his body was 'good as dead, as far as getting Sarah pregnant was concerned'.]


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