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Blenkinsopp - The Pentateuch Chap. 4, The Story of the Ancestors

Blenkinsopp - The Pentateuch Chap. 4, The Story of the Ancestors

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CONTENTS
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THE ANCHOR BIBLE REFERENCE LIBRARY
PUBLISHED BY
DOUBLEDAY
a division of Bantam Doubleday DellPublishing Group, Inc.666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103
THE ANCHOR BIBLE REFERENCE LIBRARY,DOUBLEDAY,
and the portrayal of an anchorwith the letters ABRL are trademarks of
Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday DellPublishing Group, Inc.
Book
design by Patrice Fodero
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Blenkinsopp, JosephThe Pentateuch : an introduction to the first five books of theBible / by Joseph Blenkinsopp.
p. cm. — (The Anchor Bible reference library)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Bible. O.T. Pentateuch—Introductions. I. Title.
II. Series.
BS1225.2.B544 1992
222'.1061—dc20
1-22988
CIP
ISBN 0-385-41207-X
Copyright 1992 by Joseph Blenkinsopp
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
October 1992
10987654321
Foreword
vii
Chapter 1.
wo Centuries of Pentateuchal Scholarship
1
Chapter 2.
he Basic Features of the Pentateuch:
Structure and Chronology
31
Chapter 3.
uman Origins (Gen 1:1-11:26)
54
Chapter 4.
he Story of the Ancestors (Gen 11:27-50:26)
98
Chapter 5.
rom Egypt to Canaan
134
Chapter 6.
inai, Covenant and Law
183
Chapter 7.
oncluding Reflections
229
Abbreviations
244
Bibliography
247
Subject Index
265
Author Index
268
 
CHAPTER
THE STORY OF THE ANCESTORS
THE STORY OF THE ANCESTORS (GEN 11:27-50:26)
9
(GEN
11:27-50:26)
between larger sections of the story. The characters receiving most atten-tion are Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. While the Abraham story consists
of about twenty fairly brief episodes (the one exception, Genesis 24, deals
rather with Isaac and his bride-to-be Rebekah), the nucleus of the Jacobstory is a lengthy and continuous account of a twenty-year exile in Meso-
potamia, with the events leading up to and following it described morebriefly (Chapters 27-33). The Joseph story, on the other hand, though
logically part of the Jacob narrative since Jacob is alive and well almost toits conclusion, has a highly distinctive novelistic character that sets it apartfrom the rest of the ancestral history. These prominent stylistic differences
would give some plausibility, initially at least, to the theory of distinct
origin and formation of the major components (Rendtorff 1977, 22; Blum
1984).
The
toledot
Structure
CONTENTS AND STRUCTURE
The fairly brief story that unfolds in these chapters is most simply de-
scribed, to begin with, as a family history traced through four generations.
In at least this respect, therefore, it could be compared with such fictional
but realistic works as Thomas Mann's
Buddenbrooks
or John Galswor-
thy's
The Forsyte Saga.
In contrast to the history of early humanity ,reced-
ing it, it has little of what Alter calls "summary" or what Westermannterms "the numerative element." Apart from the
toledot
superscriptionsand brief chronological markers, very few genealogies or lists interrupt thenarrative flow.
1
There is also very little authorial comment on the charac-
ters or their actions. These actions, described in episodes of varying length,are allowed to speak for themselves. The deeper significance of the eventsand their interconnectedness are brought out principally by means of stra-
tegically placed pronouncements of the deity or, less commonly, revela-
tory dreams.' It is also by these means that the ancestral history is inte-
grated into the larger narrative context—that of the Pentateuch in the firstplace, and then the entire historical corpus from Genesis to Kings.From the literary point of view there are also significance differencesWhile it is common practice to divide the story into three sections corre-sponding to the principal characters (12-25; 25-36; 37-50), the most ex-
plicit structural feature, as in Genesis 1-11, is the fivefold
toledot
arrange-
ment. Since this is the way the text is actually organized it would be
reasonable to take it as the starting point of our investigation. It is not, inany case, absolutely incompatible with the more usual arrangement. The
toledot
structure singles out Ishmaelites as a separate branch of the Terah-
Abraham line, and Esau as a separate but related branch of the Isaac
family, but with the advantage of bringing out more clearly the progressivenarrowing of the genealogy, begun in Genesis 1-11, to the seventy descen-
dants of Jacob who went down into Egypt.This second genealogical pentad is arranged as follows:
1.
11:27-25:11
2.
25:12-18
3.25:19-35:294.
36:1-37:1
5.37:2-50:26
Terah (Abraham)
Ishmael
Isaac (Jacob)
Esau-EdomJacob (Joseph and his brothers)The same structure as in the early history of humanity is therefore repli-
cated, with the difference that in 1, 3 and 5 the narrative deals with a
descendant or descendants of the eponym rather than with the eponymous
ancestor himself. Here, too, the fivefold structure directs attention to thecentral panel: in Genesis 1-11 Noah and the deluge, in Gen 12-50 Jacob,his exile in Mesopotamia and return to the homeland. We shall see in due
98
 
100
HE PENTATEUCH
THE STORY OF THE ANCESTORS (OEN 11:27-50:26)
101
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
formation.
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
mice enscene:
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
kikkär
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
kikkar,
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-

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