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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 7: Hagar’s Flight (16)

Extract

Abram was promised in ch. 15 that he would be given a son and heir. The follow-up in Gen 16 focuses on this detail; but instead of emphasizing God’s promise, the chapter concerns human initiative in achieving this goal. Sarai is the driving force of the plot in her initiative to offer her maidservant Hagar to Abram: “Consort with my maid; perhaps I shall have a son through her” (2); however, due to the dynamic of the story, the narrative follows Hagar to a greater extent than Sarai. This is expressed by the various suggested captions for the chapter, which all focus on Hagar and her son. Many entitled the story “The Birth of Ishmael”;1 Hamilton offered the caption “Hagar and Ismael” for the entire chapter,2 and Skinner entitled the chapter “The Flight of Hagar and Birth of Ishmael.”3 Westermann mentioned Sarai, but indicated that the focus of the story is Hagar: “Sarah and Hagar: Flight and Promise of a Son.”4 This focus is rein- forced in the conclusion of the story, when Abram names his son instead of Sarai. This conclusion is fundamental to the narrative, and relates to the purpose of the story. 1 Speiser 1964, 116; Wenham 1994, 1; Kiel 1997, 430. 2 In addition to the heading, Hamilton divided the chapter into two parts: “family feud” (1–7) and “the birth of Ismael” (7–16). See Hamilton 1990, 441–58. 3 Skinner 1930, 284. 4 Westermann 1995, 232. For the possibility of...

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