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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 9: Angels Eat and Sarah Laughs (18:1–16)


By all accounts, Gen 18:1 marks the beginning of a new literary unit. Stephen Langton began a new chapter; the Jewish division into portions began a new section (15); even the Babylonian division began a new reading portion (“Vayera”). Nonetheless, the story is linked to the previous narrative from the outset: “The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot” (18:1). Abraham is not mentioned by name but by the preposition אליו (“to him”), and this anonymity is retained in the following verses: “he was sitting,” “he saw,” “As soon as he saw them, he ran,” “bowing to the ground, he said.” This assumes that the reader knows the protagonist’s identity, since the unit relies upon a preceding narrative;1 Rudin-O’brasky suggested that the preceding unit in question concerns Abram and Lot, which ends “And Abram moved his tent and came to dwell at the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and he built an altar there to the Lord” (13:18). Verse 18:1 seems to be a direct continuation of this narrative: “The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre.”2 This raises the question, however, as to why the location “the terebinths of Mamre” is repeated; alternatively, if Rudin-O’brasky is correct in claiming that the repetition is the result of redaction, one would expect repetition of the protagonist’s name as well as his location.

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