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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 4: The Separation from Lot (Gen 13)

Extract

Defining the unit regarding Abram’s separation from Lot is a complex task. The previous unit had described Abram’s journey to Egypt, and concluded with the return of Abram and his family to Bethel, to “the site of the altar that he had built there at first” (13:4).1 Based on the conclusion of the previous unit, the current unit seems to begin in v. 5: “Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.” Abram’s significant wealth is essential to understanding the quarreling of the herdsmen; some scholars therefore believe this verse begins the current unit.2 But the earliest possibility for beginning the unit is 13:1, since Lot is specifically mentioned in the context of Abram’s return to Canaan: “From Egypt, Abram went up into the Negev, with his wife and all that he possessed, together with Lot ” (13:1). Lot is incorporated into the story of Abram’s return to Canaan, despite the fact that he is not mentioned among those who traveled to Egypt. The fact that Lot is the only character mentioned by name aside from Abram fore- shadows Lot’s central role in the following story. Leibowitz compared 1 Cf. Cassuto 1989, 248. Cassuto viewed Lot’s mention in 13:1 as an introduc- tion to the following episode (ibid. p. 248). However, v. 5 begins with the word םגו (also), which is unusual in an independent unit (Samet 2004, 46; Cohen 2011, 9, note 3). This difficulty will integrate into the analysis of the...

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