As already noted (see ‘The Lands of the Bible’ and ‘The Setting of the Genesis Stories’ ) the biblical narrative presents Abraham (originally called Abram) as having set out from Ur in southern Mesopotamia and having travelled via Haran to the land of Canaan. (It is worthy of note at the outset that a number of the stories of the Patriarchs make reference to the construction of altars and the digging of wells, suggesting that part of their significance lies in the authentication of holy places and the establishment of rights over important water supplies.) Abraham is presented as having arrived at Shechem where he built an altar (Gen. 12: 6–7 ), then moving on to a point between Bethel and Ai where he erected another altar (Gen. 12: 8 ). Thereafter he headed south for the Negeb (Gen. 12: 9 ) and on into Egypt (Gen. 12: 10–20 ), before returning via the same route to the spot between Bethel and Ai (Gen. 13: 1–4 ). It is in this context that the biblical narrative sets the decision of Abraham and Lot (his nephew) to separate; Lot chose the Jordan valley and settled at Sodom, while Abraham remained to the west of the Jordan, moving his encampment to Mamre near Hebron (Gen. 13 ).
Gen. 14 presents an account of an episode which it sets in the days of King Amraphel of Shinar. Attempts to identify the named characters with those known from other sources (for example, Amraphel with Hammurabi of Babylon) or to place the events in a historical context have not generally been found convincing. The chapter describes how a group of kings of the so‐called Cities of the Plain (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar) had rebelled against King Chedorlaomer of Elam, and gathered in the Valley of Siddim (which the biblical narrative identifies with the ‘Salt [that is, Dead] Sea’). Chedorlaomer and his allies subdued Ashtoreth‐karnaim, Ham, Shaveh‐kiriathaim, the Horites in the hill country of Seir, the territory of the Amalekites, and the Amorites who lived in Hazazon‐tamar. They put to flight the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and plundered their cities, taking Lot captive. When Abraham heard of his nephew's capture, he and his allies pursued the enemy north to Dan, and on to the north of Damascus, and recovered Lot and the plundered goods. It was after his return that he received the blessing of King Melchizedek of Salem (that is, Jerusalem). Later, Abraham is described as leaving Mamre and journeying through the Negeb to Gerar, where he encountered King Abimelech with whom he entered into a treaty over the ownership of the well at Beer‐sheba (Gen. 20; 21: 22–34 ). It was while in the Negeb that Sarah bore Abraham a son, Isaac (Gen. 20: 1–8 ). The narrative also records God's testing of Abraham by instructing him to take Isaac to ‘the land of Moriah’ (Gen. 22: 2 ; probably Jerusalem—see 2 Chr. 3: 1 ) and to offer him as a sacrifice, and the provision of a substitute in the form of ‘a ram caught in a thicket’ (Gen. 22: 13 ). Abraham is also described as purchasing the cave of Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in which to bury Sarah (Gen. 23 ); subsequently he too was buried there (Gen. 25: 7–10 ).