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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 17: The Sons of Nahor (22:20–24)

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The binding narrative is followed by an account of the birth of the sons of Abraham’s brother Nahor. Genealogical lists are generally presented for the reader’s benefit, but the list of Nahor’s sons was delivered to Abraham: “Some time later, Abraham was told, ‘Milcah too has borne children to your brother Nahor’” (22:20). The caption links the sons of Nahor with the previous episode: “some time later” (or literally, “after these things”).1 While some commentators view the binding narrative as a background for the list of Nahor’s sons,2 others believe the concrete literary unit should not be separated from the greater narrative context, and read the list in light of the birth of Isaac: just as Abraham had a son, his brother Nahor also had sons.3 This possibility is supported by the phrase “Milcah too has borne.”

The juxtaposition of Nahor and Abraham’s sons is, of course, ironic. Abraham and Sarah waited many years for their son, who finally came in their old age; after Isaac was born, Abraham almost lost him again. Nahor, on the other hand, has twelve sons. While Abraham took Sarah’s maidservant to overcome Sarah’s fertility problem, and ultimately had to send that son away, his brother Nahor took a concubine ← 499 | 500 → so that he could have twelve sons instead of eight (at this point in the narrative, the reader has not yet been introduced to Keturah, who bore six more sons to Abraham).The link between the...

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