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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 2: Abram’s Journey to Canaan (12:1–9)

Extract

The Omitted Introduction Learning from omission is challenging, particularly with regard to the succinct style of biblical narrative. Nonetheless, sometimes the silence of the text is so powerful that it cannot be ignored.1 The fact that no details are given regarding Abram’s character prior to God’s revelation is surprising. The reader is supplied with Terah’s genealogy, including such details as Sarai’s barrenness and the tragedy of orphaned Lot, but no information is supplied about Abram himself to explain why he stands out, and why he is an appropriate choice for the position assigned to him by God. A comparison between Abram and Moses will reveal this notable difference: Moses’ story is complex, and includes such components as his birth and escape from Pharaoh’s edict, as well as a rare and highly evolved moral personality that is expressed through his actions in Egypt and Midian (Ex 2). These stories are an appropriate introduction, which provides the reader with the infor- mation necessary to understand God’s revelation to Moses through the burning bush (Ex 3). The absence of a similar story about Abram, and the reason behind God’s choice, is troubling. Early midrashic lit- erature sought to fill this void, and integrated foundations of Abram’s devotion and escape from the edict of a king, similar to Moses.2 The midrashic literature might reflect earlier traditions that were rejected in 1 Cf. Bachar 2007. He studied the silence of characters who do not respond when addressed. In these instances, attributing a literary purpose to...

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