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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 8: The Covenant of Circumcision (17)

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The two commitment narratives in chs. 15 and 17 are both termed “covenant” (15:18; 17:2). McComiskey showed that these two covenants serve as prototypes of all the biblical covenants that come afterwards – in his terms, other covenants are all “admistrations” of Abraham’s covenants with God.1 Despite the similar terminology, the two covenants could not be more different. In the Covenant between the Pieces, Abram is portrayed as a passive character who practically commits to nothing. His passivity is highlighted by the fact that he “falls asleep” while God passes between the cut pieces. Additionally, the only information Abram was given that would directly affect his life related to his death at an old age; in other words, Abram would not witness the fulfillment of his covenant with God. While he believed God’s plan and commitment to his offspring, the covenant had no direct impact on his life. Some defined the covenant as a “political-national-historical treaty,”2 in contrast with the Covenant of Circumcision.

The Covenant of Circumcision features a mutual commitment between Abram and God. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, indicating a changed status before God, and he is called to take action and circumcise himself, his son, and the men of his household. The covenant is implemented immediately – “on that very day” (17:23), and not 400 years later, as in the Covenant between the Pieces.3 The ← 217 | 218 → Covenant of Circumcision is not a “national covenant,” but rather a “personal/family covenant...

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