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Abram to Abraham

A Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative

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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 12: Lot and his Daughters in the Cave (19:30–38)

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The story of Lot’s daughters should be analyzed on three levels: (1) the design of the independent story, and particularly the evaluation of the characters; (2) in relation to Lot’s escape from Sodom; and (3) the incorporation of the narrative in the Abraham cycle, particularly as a continuation of previous scenes relating to the relationship between Abraham and Lot.1

The story can be read independently of the textual context, a fact that led Gunkel and others to claim that “the legend is ethnological in nature. It deals with the origin of the peoples of Moab and Ammon, Lot’s sons.”2 Moreover, Gunkel believed the development of the two nations from a drunken act reflects the Moabite culture, which is broadly linked with vineyards (Is 16:7 ff.; Jer 48:11 and 32 ff.).3 Gunkel viewed the story as a mockery of the culture of Ammon and Moab. This scorn is reflected in Deut 32:32: “Their vine is from Sodom, from the vineyards of Gomorrah; the grapes for them are poison, a bitter growth their clusters.” The enemy described in this verse is Ammon and Moab, who dwell near Sodom and Gomorrah.4

However, the narrative materials are deeply rooted in the broader context of the destruction of Sodom, as we will discuss in the chapter’s conclusion. ← 335 | 336 →

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