Igor Lipovsky, in Early Israelites, has some interesting suggestions. He thinks outside the box. Here are some ideas he presents about the patriarchal stories of Israel.
Abraham: Perhaps the long life of Abraham means that the name refers to more than one patriarch. There were consecutive Czar Alexanders of Russia . Perhaps, oral tradition a thousand years later would have combined such memories into a story about one long reign.
Sarah: The stories about Sarah contain wildly improbable claims: that in old age she was still beautiful enough that Abraham was under threat of her being stolen away, or that she gave birth after menopause. A tribal leader like Abraham had many wives and these stories may have once been about other wives. But the compilers of the Pentateuch claimed descent from Sarah. So they made her the center of stories that were originally about other women.
Jacob: The name Jacob refers to the leader of some southern tribes who returned from Canaan to the vicinity of Haran, only to be mistreated by their kinsmen there. This story comes down to us as the story of Jacob and Laban. Lipovsky thinks that the tribes that occupied northern Canaan had gone to Egypt in the meantime to find water and grazing. This is the reason the tribes of Esau welcomed Jacob back–there was room for him now and an alliance strengthened them both.
Israel: The Bible presents Israel as a new name for Jacob. But actually it is a name related to a leader or mythical hero of the northern tribes. The name means “fighter against god”. Originally it meant a fighter against pagan gods. It corresponds to myths about human heroes who fought against the gods.
Lipovsky believes that the claims about Jacob and Israel being the same person represent a later attempt to give a common ancestor to two different peoples. The wives, concubines and children of Jacob/Israel also function to foster this artificial common genealogy.
Some of this is highly speculative. But it is not completely off the wall. Many scholars believe that the twelve tribe scheme was a construction rather than history. Lipovsky just details a way that this might have happened.
Essential for his argument going forward is that Jacob-Judah tribes existed in southern Canaan (Judah, Reuben, Simeon and Levi). These were closely related to Edom and Moab and not at all related to a group of northern tribes that had arrived in Canaan before Abraham, perhaps as early as the 23rd century BCE. Lipovsky calls the northern tribes Israel-Joseph.
According to him, the story of Joseph and his brothers comes from a northern legend and may relate to a historical fact: an early conflict between the Joseph tribes and the other northern tribes.
I have several questions and reservations about all this. But I will refrain for now. Lipovsky’s next section is about when the patriarchal stories were written. It should give a better idea of how he deals with the sources.