A Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative
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.
Chapter 7: Hagar’s Flight (16)
Abram was promised in ch. 15 that he would be given a son and heir. The follow-up in Gen 16 focuses on this detail; but instead of emphasizing God’s promise, the chapter concerns human initiative in achieving this goal. Sarai is the driving force of the plot in her initiative to offer her maidservant Hagar to Abram: “Consort with my maid; perhaps I shall have a son through her” (2); however, due to the dynamic of the story, the narrative follows Hagar to a greater extent than Sarai. This is expressed by the various suggested captions for the chapter, which all focus on Hagar and her son. Many entitled the story “The Birth of Ishmael”;1 Hamilton offered the caption “Hagar and Ismael” for the entire chapter,2 and Skinner entitled the chapter “The Flight of Hagar and Birth of Ishmael.”3 Westermann mentioned Sarai, but indicated that the focus of the story is Hagar: “Sarah and Hagar: Flight and Promise of a Son.”4 This focus is reinforced in the conclusion of the story, when Abram names his son instead of Sarai. This conclusion is fundamental to the narrative, and relates to the purpose of the story. ← 187 | 188 →
“Her mistress was lowered in her esteem” – “Sarai treated her harshly” (1–7)
The exposition describes Sarai’s distress, and thereby introduces a possible solution: “Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar” (1). The verse...
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