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Abram to Abraham

A Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative

Series:

Jonathan Grossman

Abram to Abraham explores the Abraham saga (11:27-22:24) through a literary lens, following the legendary figure of Abraham as he navigates the arduous odyssey to nationhood. Rather than overlook the textual discrepancies, repetitions and contradictions long noted by diachronic scholars, this study tackles them directly, demonstrating how many problems of the ancient text in fact hold the key to deeper understanding of the narrative and its objectives. Therefore, the book frequently notes the classic division of the text according to primary sources, but offers an alternative, more harmonious reading based on the assumption that the narrative forms a single, intentionally designed unit.
The narrative’s artistic design is especially evident in its arrangement of the two halves of the story around the protagonists’ change of name. The stories of Abram and Sarai in the first half of the cycle (11:27-16:16) are parallel to the stories of Abraham and Sarah in the second half (18:1-22:24). A close reading of this transformation in the biblical narrative illuminates the moral and theological values championed by the figure of Abraham as luminary, soldier, family man, and loyal subject of God.

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Chapter 1: The Line of Terah (11:27–30)

Extract

Our hero is introduced at the end of a description of the genealogy of Shem, which culminates with the birth of Terah’s three sons of: “Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran” (Gen 11:27). Whereas bibli- cal genealogies usually mention the firstborn son alone, Terah’s three sons are named, indicating that the list has been leading up to him. A similar model is found in Cain’s brief genealogy, which culminates in the three sons of Lamech (Yaval, Yuval, and Tuval Cain – Gen 4), and in the genealogy of Seth (Gen 5), which culminates with Noah’s three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth).1 Noah marks the tenth generation of Adam’s genealogy; Terah marks the tenth in Noah’s. While it is problematic to infer conclusions about the book’s formation based on the connections between the lists, their parallels nonetheless produce a literary effect: their similarity generates anticipation that a leader might emerge in the next genera- tion.2 The very next verse, however, relates a family tragedy: the death of Terah’s son.3 This recalls the story of Adam, who had three sons – Cain, Abel, and Seth – but lost one in his lifetime.4 The connections to Adam, as well as Noah, create anticipation of the birth of a new hero; the allusion to two previous biblical “beginnings” implies that the reader is on the brink of a new era.5 1 See: von Rad 1963, 152; Hamilton 1990–95, 362. 2 See further: Hasel 1980. 3 The claim that Haran died “in confrontation with Terah...

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