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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 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:

The Gerar narrative is therefore often portrayed as a moderation of the Egypt narrative, as Shammai Gelander noted: “Apparently the link between the three narratives [chs. 12, 20, and 27] indicates a correction and improvement of [Abraham’s and God’s] image.”6

However, an analysis of the narrative actually indicates greater criticism of Abraham in the Gerar story. Aharoni appropriately stated, “The second narrative shifts the focal point to the ethical plane,”7 but his conclusion that Abraham is portrayed in a more positive light is entirely incorrect.

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