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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 6: Looking to the Stars and the Covenant between the Pieces (15)


Gen 15 can be read as either one or two literary units. In the first part of the chapter (vs. 1–6) Abram is promised a son, while the second part (7–22) describes the Covenant between the Pieces – the covenant of the land. Many scholars believe the two accounts are unrelated, and some believe they stem from different sources, or two different literary layers.1 Anbar wrote: “The chapter is the result of a combination of two different stories: the first comprises vs. 1–6, and the second vs. 7–21…each of the units is an independent composition, inspired by ancient sources. The first story is based on two motifs: the promise of a son, and the promise of a multitude of offspring, while the second story centers on the motif of the Promised Land.”2 Others argued that the story is unified: “Thus, at both levels of theme and literary composition, Gen 15 is a coherent and closely knit whole, whose unity has been remarkably worked out by its author.”3 And in a more extreme formulation: “There is no real break of continuity but, ← 161 | 162 → on the contrary, an unbroken thread ties up all the verses and themes into a neat whole.”4

Three textual elements indicate that the two promises should be viewed as two separate units:

However, there are other parameters that indicate a unified story, or at the very least a strong link between the two episodes....

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