And a tangent from the contents of the American Heritage Dictionary: Proto-Semitic
Proto-Semitic Language and Culture. Guide to Appendix II. Chart of the Semitic Family Tree. Semitic Roots Index.
What kind of a date are we talking about for Proto-Semitic? If late neolithic or early chalcolithic (per Huehnergard, above, paragraph 26), and if Jorn has those dates right in the Ancient Near East [cite], then we're looking in the timeframe of 5000-3300 BC. Compare that with a date of 1775 BC for Abram's migration (from my world history timeline [cite]).
My point? Proto-Semitic culture was probably at least 1500 years before Abram. What was that culture like? Huehnegard gives some linguistic clues. It was probably not a lot different from Abram's day - most things didn't change very fast back then. But it's fascinating to think about.
The implicit question for a man of faith like myself is: ok, how does this jibe with the Bible?
The simple answer is: I don't know. The slightly more complicated answer is: I'm not worrying about it.
A bit more: I don't know how all of this stuff fits together. I'm pretty inclined to take most of the archaeological findings as reliable (though some of the interpretations are surely mistaken). I'm pretty inclined to go with geologists' take on the age of the earth. Does that cause me to doubt the Scripture? Nope. I don't think we're clear on what Scripture is actually claiming. The implications for faith are clear: God created the world. Human choice has brought ontological and existential catastrophe. We must trust God. We need God. Beyond that, the pre-Abrahamic parts of Genesis (before chapter 12) are murky when it comes to science and history, at least to me. Are they claiming to be historic, really? To what degree?
The trick comes in walking the line of Biblical authority between literalism on the right(wrong), and liberalism on the left, where the Bible is never history. I feel confident of where I'm walking. Conservatives get nervous because this kind of approach opens the door to liberalizing. True. But I'm also convinved it's the only way to move forward and take the Scriptures as they were intended by their authors and by God.