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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 10: The Debate over Sodom’s Destruction (18:16–33)

Extract

One of the complex issues of this episode relates to the bounda- ries of the text. Can the discussion about the destruction of Sodom (18:16–33) be separated from the divine visit to Abraham (18:1–15)? The difficulty is particularly apparent in v. 16, which closes one unit and opens the next, thereby linking the two: “The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off.” Most scholars saw the verse as an introduction to the Sodom narrative,1 while some regarded it as the conclusion of the previous story.2 Others suggested a division of the verse, so the first part can conclude the previous narrative and the second can serve as an introduction to the next.3 The verse “disbands characters” from the previous scene, thereby concluding the divine visit with Abraham.4 Additionally, the phrasing of the verse relies on the previous verse: “the men set out from there.” The location “there” can only be understood in relation to the previ- ous episode. The description of Abraham, who accompanies them to “see them off,” is a direct continuation of his role as a host. How- ever, the verse also has the angels looking toward Sodom, clearly intro- ducing a new chapter; the angels go to Sodom for the purpose of 1 E.g., Skinner 1930, 303; Speiser 1964, 132; Coats 1983, 139 (he emphasizes the profound connection between the two units); Wenham 1994, 40 (he provided one general caption for...

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