A Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative
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.
Chapter 13: Abraham and Sarah in Gerar (20)
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.
The narrative lends itself to a dual reading, and the final verse reveals a critical detail that was previously concealed from the reader. The new information creates a demand for a second reading of the ← 366 | 367 → story.8 We will therefore attempt to read this episode with emphasis on the narrative’s criticism of its characters; once we reach its conclusion, however, we will be forced to...
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