Monday, March 05, 2007

Gen 12-16: I Assume this Abram Guy is "Abraham."

When I left off at the end of Genesis 11 last week, I didn't realize I was at a major turning point. The next heading was "The Call of Abram" -- I'm assuming that "Abram" is the same name as "Abraham" -- and I assumed that the narrative would continue in the hyper-compressed fashion that I've described in the last few entries.

In fact, there's an abrupt change as soon as Abram is on stage. The text opens up, and we start to get a considerable amount of detail, some supporting characters, and a coherent flow of events. Many of the events, mind you, seem pretty arbitrary to modern ears -- e.g. why is there all of a sudden a war between the four kings and the five kings in 14:8 to 14:12? Don't you usually need a pretext for a war? [space here for your cynical comments.]

On the other hand, sometimes you can get a glimpse of real live humanity, thinking the same way that you might, and that is kind of new and exciting. In 13:5 to 13:13, Abraham and his brother Lot decide to go their separate ways, because their respective entourages are getting too big and the herdsmen are quarreling. And you think: "yeah! they were worried about overgrazing, and realized that together they were a more concentrated grazing enterprise than the land could support." Or, after Abram gets his wife Sarai's maid pregnant, Sarai is pretty pissed at the maid, even though the whole thing was her own idea. And you think, "yeah, that rings true. She'd still be pissed."

These five chapters follow Abram for years of wanderings, before God gives Abraham and his descendents all of the land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates. (15:18) [Note to Israeli nationalists: Think Bigger.] This is actually the third and grandest of three land-granting covenants God makes with Abram in this section [the historical interpreter of the Bible on my left shoulder keeps saying, "man, three covenants! They REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to get their claim to the land established]. It is also the most gruesome, capped by an apparition of a floating firepot and torch that glides between chunks of a cow, a goat, and a sheep that Abram had earlier killed, cut in half, and laid out in a symetrical pattern. [Note to wedding planners: this adds a nice touch of solemnity to any ceremony.]

The family values of Abram are not entirely squeaky-clean by modern standards. In addition to the business with the maid, which if I remember right will become important later, Sarai also has this episode to think back on as she reminisces about married life:

12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

This largesse -- let us be frank: the loot he gleaned from pimping his wife to the pharoah -- seems to be the basis of Abram's rise as a promenent man in political and economic life, if I'm reading this and subsequent verses right. So, when Sarai flashes some fairly serious 'tude in Gen. 16, I am disinclined to judge her harshly.

Much happens. There's a long journey, the episode in Egypt, a return journey, the split with Lot, a war, a mission to rescue Lot after he gets kidnapped, some diplomatic talks with other local kings, three big covenants, and the goings-on with the maid -- there is quite a bit going on in these five chapters. But, at the rate we've been charging through the Great Bible Storys up to this point, I thought we were going to have the sacrifice of Issac in Genesis 12 and be on to the next item by Genesis 13. Abram is clearly an important figure to merit this much text; I confess I hadn't realized just HOW important he is. I guess its a symptom of my irredeemable moderness that I wish I could find him a little more likeable.

Until next week, my friends.

1 comment:

chuckdaddy2000 said...

Very good entry MichaelMMMMM. I particularly liked the parts about Sarai getting understandably pissed,the Israeli nationalists, and Sarai getting pimped.