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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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History has seen few revolutionaries like Abraham, who left his home and crossed over to the “other side” of the Euphrates to found a new culture, changing the face of history. One man’s journey, at a specific point in time, was a giant leap for humanity. Religious and cultural history as we know it today was unquestionably shaped by the call to “Go forth,” which marked the first step of a national, ethical saga.

Often, exploration of origin awakens fundamental questions that touch upon the very question of existence. Abraham’s narrative cycle grapples with the very definition of the Israelite nation – or, to be more true to the spirit of the Genesis stories – the very definition of the Israelite family. Other raw, profound issues touch upon the tension between morality and nationality; and the tension between taking an autonomous stand against God and total, unquestioning submission to Divine authority.

This book was written in memory of Dr. Noam Shudofsky (1933–2005), an outstanding Jewish educator and activist. Noam began his career at the Ramaz School in Manhattan as a Bible teacher and served with dedication as Administrator for forty years. He was extraordinarily devoted to his students and faculty. One of the cornerstones of Noam’s Jewish identity was his love of Bible. Whether at the family's Shabbat table or in study sessions with Soviet refuseniks, teaching Bible was his passion. Writing this book in his memory was a special privilege for me. I was...

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