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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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As depicted in the introduction, the narrative is arranged in a concentric structure, with the Covenant of Circumcision and the protagonist’s name change at its center. Wenham appropriately questioned the significance of such structures: “But how significant this is for exegetical understanding of the material remains open.”1 Noting the existence of the parallels is not enough; contrasting the character of Abraham with Abram and examining the differences between the parallel stories in each half contributes to the analysis and development of the narrative throughout the cycle.

A.    The line of Terah: Abram, Nahor, and Haran (11:27–32).

B.   Abram’s separation from his father’s house: “Go forth…to the land” (11:27–32).

C.   Abram journeys through the land and invokes the name of God (12:1–5).

D.   Abram’s separation from family members: Sarah is taken by Pharaoh, but returned to Abram (12:10–20); Lot departs for Sodom and does not return (13:1–18).

E.   Lot is rescued from captivity (14:1–24).

F.   The promise of offspring and land (15:1–21). Abram complains (15:2: “what can You give me”) and the word zedaka (“righteousness”) is used in the context of his belief in God (15:6).2

G.   The angel’s tidings to Hagar regarding the birth of Ishmael (16:1–16).

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