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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 15: The Treaty of Abraham and Abimelech (21:22–34)


The next episode in the Abraham–Abimelech relationship is postponed until after the birth of Isaac and expulsion of Ishmael (21:1 21), despite the fact that this episode is a direct continuation of the “sister-wife” episode in ch. 20. Continuity is apparent from Abimelech’s request that Abraham “will return the kindness that I have done for you, to me and to the land in which you have sojourned” (21:23),1 and from literary links between the texts.2 The significance of this delay should presumably be found in the link between the current unit (the treaty of Abraham and Abimelech) and the previous or following units (the birth of Isaac and expulsion of Ishmael or the binding of Isaac). The treaty narrative begins with a time reference to the previous episode: “At that time…” (21:22).3 However, textual links also exist between the treaty narrative and the binding of Isaac,4 and the episode might have been moved so that the binding narrative can be read on the background of the treaty narrative.5 Another possibility is that postponing the ← 437 | 438 → treaty episode enabled the juxtaposition of the closed wombs of Abimelech’s household and Sarah’s birth. Additionally, the significance of the treaty between Abraham and Abimelech is validated with the birth of Isaac; had the treaty taken place before his birth, the responsibilities of the treaty might only have obligated Abraham and Ishmael. Forging the treaty after Isaac’s birth means that Isaac is included in the...

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