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Abram to Abraham

A Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative


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 11: Sodom’s Destruction and Lot’s Rescue (19)


Lot’s name is omitted from the dialogue about the destruction of Sodom. In fact, at this point the reader might be skeptical about Lot’s whereabouts. Abraham had returned the captive people and possessions to the King of Sodom in ch. 14, but the text failed to specify where Lot settled after his release. Clearly Lot did not return to Abraham’s home, since he is absent from all narratives after ch. 14, but the narrator does not comment that Lot returned to Sodom. Chapter 19 determines that Lot had indeed returned to Sodom. From this point forward the story follows two linked threads, and Lot’s fate becomes one of the focal points of the narrative: What will happen to Lot if Sodom is destroyed? The second story thread relates to the investigation and fate of Sodom. The angels go to Sodom to conduct an investigation, which will lead to the destruction of the city unless ten righteous people are found.1

The narrative concludes with a guilty verdict for Sodom, and the city is destroyed for the sins of its residents, though Lot and his family are saved. The narrator reasons Lot’s escape by stating, “Thus it was that, when God destroyed the cities…God was mindful of Abraham and removed Lot from the midst of the upheaval” (29). Lot’s rescue is attributed in this verse to the merit of Abraham. This reading is supported by the concentric structure of the Abraham cycle (see ← 295 | 296 → Introduction), which...

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