What cultural, textual, and archaeological sources can tell us about this patriarch

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The earliest reference to Abraham may be the name of a town in the Negev listed in a victory inscription of Pharaoh Shishak I (biblical Sheshonk). The campaign occurred in about 925 B.C.E. during the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:2-12). A place name in the Negev section of the inscription is pa'ha-q-ru-a 'i-bi-ra-ma, which is best read "the fortification of Abram," or, more simply, "Fort Abram."

The location and chronological context of this site make it plausible that the Abram after whom the site was named was the Abram of biblical tradition. Although we cannot be certain of this identification, the place name probably indicates the presence and importance of the Abram/Abraham tradition in the tenth century B.C.E.

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P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. is the William F. Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Ronald S. Hendel is an associate professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University. Hershel Shanks is founder, editor and publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review, Archaeology Odyssey and Bible Review.