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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 5: War of the Four Kings – Lot’s Liberation (14)


The Battle of Siddim has troubled many scholars: “One of the most unusual of the patriarchal stories, and at the same time one of the most perplexing, is that relating to the ‘battle of the kings.’”1 The chapter’s exceptional nature is evident in light of the fact that even diachronic scholars have despaired of determining its source, which cannot be ascribed to any of the usual document sources: “There is virtual unanimity that Gen 14 does not belong to any of the known sources…”2

This agreement is based on the style of the unit, specifically the first part, which is written in the style of a war chronicle (with the names of the fighting parties and geographical locations),3 but also on the fact that Abram the Hebrew is portrayed as a war hero and diplomat who negotiates with ancient kings. Throughout the story cycle, Abram is consistently depicted as a man of spirit, a prophet, a moralist who promotes justice, an excellent host, and above all as one who merits an everlasting covenant with God. This portrait is incompatible with the diplomatic strategist who divides his troops and leads them ← 131 | 132 → in a dangerous nighttime rescue operation. The portrayal of Abram as a military commander led some scholars to assert that the story was written after the Babylonian exile, when models of Israelite war heroes in foreign kingdoms were more prevalent (e.g., the book of Daniel, or Judith).4


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