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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 16: The Binding of Isaac (22)


Introduction I: Did Abraham Pass the Test?

The binding of Isaac has been discussed broadly from a variety of perspectives throughout the generations, as Greenstein noted: “No narrative in the Hebrew Bible has evoked so many readings, and so many passionate ones, as the ‘masterpiece’ known to Christians as the sacrifice of Isaac and to Jews as the binding of Isaac or Akedah.”1 One particularly significant introductory question is whether or not Abraham passed the test to his faith. This issue was debated on both the moral-philosophical plane and the historical-literary plane. Emmanuel Kant is a prominent representative of the position that undermined the common conception of Abraham faithfully withstanding God’s test. Kant’s ethical philosophy was based on the values of freedom and personal autonomy. Kant wrote in the Conflict of the Faculties:

For if God should really speak to man, man could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure that the voice he hears is not God’s; for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion.2 ← 451 | 452 →

He related this matter specifically to the...

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