At the time Abram lived in Ur of the Chaldees c. 1,900 years ago Cuneiform was the common way of writing. This script was also used along the trade route from Ur to Canaan. The Hebrews of the second millennium surely had scribes who could read and write cuneiform but there is no indication in Genesis that events were recorded. Further, the average Hebrew could not read and write, so how was the faith of Abraham passed on? The obvious answer is tradition.

Tradition is a complex phenomenon because the memory of the past is passed from generation to generation not only by word but also by the actions of the community. No doubt fathers told their remembered past to their children but in this task they were aided by men in their community who retained a great amount of memory of the past, the story teller. On certain occasions, most likely during religious gatherings of the Hebrews, the story teller would relate the the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His primary interest was to make the story come alive and show the action of God in human events.

Tradition means that the past becomes an integral part of the living community in such actions as Circumcision. "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me." (Gn 17:11-12) Each time Circumcision was repeated, it not only renewed in the Hebrew mind the memory of the covenant and its promises but also integrated a new human being into the Covenant community, the People of God.

The Covenant also obliged the Hebrew to worship the true God as we read: "God said to Jacob: 'Go up now to Bethel. Settle there and build an altar there to the God who appeared to you while you were fleeing from your brother Esau.' So Jacob told his family and all the others who were with him: 'Get rid of the foreign gods that you have among you; then purify yourselves and put on fresh clothes. We are now to go up to Bethel, and I will build an altar there to the God who answered me in my hour of distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.'" (Gn 35:1-4)

It was Jacob's large family and "all others who went with him" who arrived at Bethel. It was most likely at this sanctuary that the sons of Jacob and their families heard the stories of the Abraham and Isaac. It was here that they heard how God prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and that he sacrificed a ram instead. The people learned that God did not want human sacrifice but that of animals. Jacob himself at this sanctuary must have recounted his encounters with the God of Abraham and Isaac and must have exhorted his people to be faithful to the true God.

Another important historical site for the Israelites was Shechem. Here God revealed to Abram that he would give the land to his descendants, so Abram built an altar there. Here also Jacob's daughter was raped by Shechem, the ruler's son who fell in love with her. Shechem asked to marry Dinah; Jacob agreed only if the people agreed to be circumcised which they did. Jacob son's, however, took revenge by killing not only Shechem and his father Hamor but also sacking the city. The mummified body of Jacob was also buried at Shechem by Joseph who traveled from Egypt to honor Jacob's wishes.

Photo of Shechem located at the base of Mt. Garizim(left) and Mt. Ebal (right):
Courtesy of

After the Israelites had conquered the land, Joshua gathered the people at Shechem for the Renewal of the Covenant ceremony. Please click Oral Reading to hear David R. Reid rendition from the book of Joshua (8:30-35).

As you heard Moses had written down the Law and that Joshua was reading to the people from the Book of the Law of Moses. So tradition and scripture are now being combined in the process of passing on the faith from one generation to another.

The Word Becomes Man