THE STORY OF THE ANCESTORS (OEN 11:27-50:26)
course that here too the structure provides a clue to the situation which
the narrative reflects.
We now turn to a brief overview of each of the five panels, leavingaside for the time being the complex and controversial matter of their
I. 11:27-25:11 Terah (Abraham)
The first episode (11:27-32) begins and ends with familiar genealogicalformulas relating to Terah. Terah links the story of the ancestors with thefirst postdiluvians, a point clearly indicated by the much longer life spanallotted to him. It is therefore this brief notice about the Terahites ratherthan the programmatic statement of the deity in Gen 12:1-3 that connectswith the early history of humanity (Crilsemann 1981, 11-29). Starting out
from this point, and covering a period of 100 years, the following narrativemoves through a series of crises to a partial resolution. The forward move-ment of the story is not, however, entirely even and sequential. Subsidiarythemes are intertwined in such a way that any one of them can be droppedand picked up again at a later point without obscuring the central thrust of
the narrative line.
All of the themes that follow are present implicitly in this
the first stage of the journey to the promised land, the infertility ofSarah, the presence of Lot, son of Haran. Taken together, the prominenceof Lot as a participant in this two-stage journey and the notice that Sarah
is infertile suggest that Lot was at this stage the intended heir of Abraham.
We are in any case alerted to follow closely the fortunes of these two
characters as the story unfolds. What is only implicit in the first stage ofthe emigration is stated explicitly in the communication from YHWH toAbraham in Haran (12:1-3). This will be recalled as an important point ofreference at significant junctures of the ongoing narrative (18:18; 22:18;24:7; 26:4; 28:13-14). It is worth repeating that, contrary to a widely ac-
cepted assumption (e.g., von Rad 1961, 46; Wolff 1966, 131-58), thisprogrammatic statement does not provide the primary link between theearly history of humanity and the ancestral history. Nothing in Genesis1-11 prepares us for it, the blessing of Abraham does not remedy the
situation described in these early chapters (the curse on the soil, the confu-
sion of tongues), and the language and style have few if any commonfeatures. The juxtaposition of command ("go to the land") and promise
suggests that the commitment to make of Abraham a great nation and ablessing to humanity is contingent on occupation of the land, that this is
what first must be done. Hence Abraham's perambulations from one sanc-
tuary to another: from Shechem (12:6-7) to Bethel (12:8; 13:3-4), then
Mamre (13:8) and, later, Beersheba (21:32; 22:19). These apparently ran-
dom movements are explained by the command to walk the length and
breadth of the land in anticipation of possessing it (13:17). In this connec-tion, it is worth recalling that establishing a new cult ("calling on the name
of YHWH") was the standard way of staking a claim to the territory on
which the cult was established. Saul, for example, erected an altar to
YHWH immediately after conquering territory previously held by the Phi-listines (1 Sam 14:35).
The issue of an heir focuses, as we have seen, on Sarah and Lot. We
detect some tension between the roles assigned to these two, since the
infertility of Sarah (11:30) would seem to consign her to at best a walk-on
part in the unfolding drama. This, however, does not happen. Abraham istwice in danger of losing her to foreigners attracted by her beauty (12:10-20; 20:1-18). According to the logic of the narrative these are not parallel
versions of the same episode, since Abraham had anticipated that thiswould happen more than once (20:13). Something of the same must be
said about the narratives dealing with the attempt to have an heir throughHagar, Sarah's proxy (16:1-6; 21:8-21), for Hagar is cast out, returns, andthen is dismissed again for a quite different reason. The resolution comeswith the birth of a child to Sarai/Sarah against all odds (21:1-7), and thisleads to the most dramatic moment of the last-minute rescue of the childfrom an attempted human sacrifice. As John Osborne's Luther puts it, "IfGod had blinked, Isaac would have been dead" (22:1-19). There followsthe death and burial of Sarah in Ephron's field at Machpelah (23).The presence of Lot, Haran's son, is emphasized from the beginning
and at each stage of the journey in and through Canaan (11:27, 31; 12:4-5;
13:1). His separation from Abraham is part of a larger process by which
Abraham's descendants in direct line are set apart from the Aramean
kingdoms descended from Nahor (22:20-24), the Arabs from Abraham's
marriage with Keturah (25:1-6), those descended from Ishmael (25:12-16),the Edomites from Esau (26), and Moab and Ammon from Haran and Lot(19:30-38). The account of the actual separation (13:2-13) seems to imply
that by inviting Lot to occupy the land to the north or the south, Abraham
intended to share the land of Canaan with him as his presumptive heir.
Lot, however, chose the
instead, that part of the Jordan basin lying
outside the boundaries of the land (Vawter 1977, 184-85; Helyer 1983,78-
80). It nevertheless remained for Abraham to rescue his nephew from
enemy action (14) and from the effects of the divine judgment visited on
the cities of the plain (the
19:1-29). Lot does not come out too wellfrom all of this. To borrow an expression from Mark Twain, he was a good
man in the worst sense of the term. The last we hear of him is in the storyof the incestuous union with his daughters, to which disreputable originMoabites and Ammonites are traced (19:30-38).
Abraham's relation to the land is also paramount in two other epi-