Koog P. Hong, «Abraham, Genesis 20–22, and the Northern Elohist», Vol. 94 (2013) 321-339
This article addresses the provenance of the Elohistic Abraham section (Genesis 20–22) in order to clarify the divergence between the source and tradition-historical models in pentateuchal criticism. Examining arguments for E’s northern provenance demonstrates that none of them applies directly to E’s Abraham section. The lack of Abraham tradition in early biblical literature further undermines the source model’s assumption of Israel and Judah’s common memory of the past. The southern provenance of Genesis 20–22 is more likely, and the current combination of Abraham and Jacob traditions is probably a result of the Judeans’ revision of Israelite tradition.
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ABRAHAM, GENESIS 20â€“22, AND THE NORTHERN ELOHIST
I. Examining Arguments for the Northern Provenance
of Genesis 20â€“22
I would like to begin by reading Genesis 20â€“22 without any method-
ological prejudice to see if it betrays any northern trait. This section
contains accounts of Abrahamâ€™s confrontation with a local chieftain re-
garding his wife (20,2-18; cf. 12,10-20), the birth of Isaac (21,1-7),
Abraham sending away Ishmael and Hagar (21,8-21; cf. Genesis 16),
making a covenant with Abimelech (21,22-34), and the sacrifice of
Isaac (22,1-19). Read with a candid eye, that is, without an overarching
source-critical system such as the divine-name principle, one hardly
finds northern traits in Genesis 20â€“22. In fact, it is easier to find evidence
of southern orientation. The main character in these accounts is Abra-
ham, whose southern orientation is well established 17. All the incidents
occur in places in the south (Gerar and Beer-Sheba). There is no partic-
ularly pro-Israelite or anti-Judean tendency in any of these accounts. If
this section had been written by the northern Israelites after they escaped
from Solomonâ€™s despotic rule, one would expect to see a polemical
stance against Abraham, whose tie with David was no secret.
Moreover, this section appears to constitute an integral part of the
pre-P Abraham story. A structural unity of the pre-P Abraham tradi-
tion as a whole (i.e., including Genesis 20â€“22) has long been ob-
served, and does not bear repeating here 18. The mere fact that this
structural unity has been so easily supplanted by the supposed unity
of E reveals the ideological nature of source-critical readings. More-
over, Genesis 20â€“22 includes the climax of Abrahamâ€™s life. It in-
cludes the eventual birth of Isaac, the fruit of the divine promise
(12,1-3; 15,1-5), and Isaacâ€™s sacrifice and eventual deliverance. All
of these have tremendous implications for the life of later Judeans,
the ultimate recipients of the promise given to Abraham. Without this
part, the initial promise is left unfulfilled 19. It is incomprehensible
E.g. R.E. CLEMENTS, Abraham and David. Genesis XV and Its Meaning
for Israelite Tradition (SBT 2/5; Naperville, IL 1967).
J.P. FOKKELMAN, â€œTime and the Structure of the Abraham Cycleâ€, New
Avenues in the Study of the Old Testament. Festschrift M.J. Mulder (ed. A.S.
VAN DER WOUDE) (OTS 25; Leiden 1989) 96-109. See CARR, Fractures, 198-
199, esp. n. 44 for a list of earlier literature. Contra: R.G. KRATZ, The Com-
position of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament (London 2005) 260-261
[German original: GÃ¶ttingen 2000].
M.E. BIDDLE, â€œâ€˜The â€œEndangered Ancestressâ€™ and Blessing for the Na-
tionsâ€, JBL 109 (1990) 599-611; ALEXANDER, Abraham, 102-110, 127.
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