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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 13: Abraham and Sarah in Gerar (20)

Extract

The brevity and omission of explanations imply that this episode of “the endangered ancestress” relies on the narrative in ch. 12.1 There is no need to explain why Abraham tells his wife to pretend she is his sister, or why the king of Gerar took Sarah (20:2). The information provided in the parallel narrative in ch. 12 is presumed in ch. 20. Some suggested that the purpose of ch. 20 is to moderate the criticism of Abraham in ch. 12. The moderation is perceived in four central areas: 1. In ch. 12 Abraham leaves the Promised Land, while in ch. 20 he remains within the borders of Canaan. Therefore, “the question which was posed on the religious and moral analysis of the story, regarding Abraham’s descent to Egypt, does not exist in the sec- ond story.”2 2. Chapter 12 leaves the question of Sarah’s violation open: “in addi- tion to avoiding stating explicitly whether such actions took place, the narrative uses ambiguous terms such as ‘the woman was taken to the house of Pharaoh,’ and ‘I took her to be my wife.’3 Even if God had afflicted Pharaoh before he had had a chance to do anything to Sarah,4 there is no explicit statement to that effect. In contrast, in ch. 20 God Himself says: “I knew that you did this with a blameless heart, and so I kept you from sinning against Me. That was why I did not let you touch her” (20:6)...

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