Ancient Jewish History I : the Patriarchs

Before the Hebrews arrived in Egypt, the history of the Jewish faith includes the actions of a handful of influential figures that include Abraham and Jacob. In this article, you will learn about their involvement in the religion , which was called the Patriarchal Period (or Age).

Patriarchal Period (or Age)

The Patriarchal Period (or Age) highlights the time before the Hebrews went to Egypt and is technically mentioned as the period that represents pre-Jewish history since the people involved were not known as Jews at the time. This time period took place from around 1800 BC to approximately 1500 BC.


Abraham (or Abram in earlier text) was a Semite who came from Ur in Mesopotamia. Today, his homeland is believed to be where you will find modern Iraq. Abraham goes to Canaan to make a covenant with God, which includes the circumcision of males and the promise that his wife Sarai (later called Sarah) would conceive. It is then that Abram is renamed as Abraham. His wife becomes Sarah.
Sarah gives birth to Isaac and Abraham is told to sacrifice his son to God. Although nothing was offered for this sacrifice, Abraham obeyed and was promised prosperity and more offspring. However, Isaac was never killed. He was part of a test to assess Abraham’s loyalty and obedience to God.

Abraham is known as the patriarch of the Israelites and Arabs. Before Sarah gives birth to Isaac, Abraham has a son named Ishmael with his wife’s maid, Hagar. It is through Ishmael that the Arab line is carried on. In later years, Abraham has more sons , Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The children come from his union with Keturah, who he marries when Sarah dies. Abraham’s grandson Jacob is renamed Israel, and his offspring become the fathers of the 12 Hebrew tribes.


The second Hebrew patriarch was the only son of Abraham that he had with Sarah. According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, while Sarah was well beyond the years that she could bear children. Isaac is different from the other patriarchs because he is the only one who did not undergo a change of name. He also was the only one that did not leave Canaan. When he died, he was 180 years old , the oldest of the patriarchs to live.

When Isaac was 40, his father sent his steward into Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son. The steward selected Rebekah for Isaac. The two married and after many years of marriage, it became apparent that Rebekah had not given birth to a child. It was thought that she was barren. Isaac prayed for her and she later conceived. Isaac has two sons (twins) with Rebekah , Jacob and Esau. He was 60 years when his sons came into the world. Isaac favored Esau, while Rebekah was closer to Jacob.  It was Jacob that became the third patriarch.