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

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  CONTENTS - 61? v1 kc tr\S3pp p h. E PA NT -1 1 Clh?rxWCHon  1-\c 21{S4 hi Q   m p   C5 c7k -  tb\e 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 srcin 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 srcinMoabites and Ammonites are traced (19:30-38). Abraham's relation to the land is also paramount in two other epi-  102  HE PENTATEUCH THE STORY OP THE ANCESTORS (GEN  27-50:26)  103 sodes. The first (21:22-34) records a troubled period when he was residing in a part of the Negev controlled by Abimelech, later identified as king of the Philistines (26:1, 8). The question at issue was the disputed ownershipof a well dug by Abraham, and the issue was settled in Abraham's favor bya solemn oath sworn by Abimelech. Thus the first installment of the prom-ised land was nothing more than a hole in the ground. The second episodehas Abraham negotiating with Hittites for the purchase of a cave and field in the neighborhood of Mamre north of Hebron (23). This was to be the burial site for the recently deceased Sarah and, in due course, Abraham himself and his descendants (25:9-10; 49:29-32; 50:12-13). The importance of this transaction is indicated by the close attention to the legal formali- ties. It takes place in the open plaza by the city gate and in the presence of the property-owning citizens; the distinct stages of the negotiations are carefully noted and the dialogue recorded, as in certain contracts extant from the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. The exact price is re-corded, a very high price which Ephron either thought Abraham would not be able to raise or which was intended as the overture to the kind of negotiations still conducted in Middle Eastern souks. Finally, the payment of the price in full is put on record. Apart from a parcel of land purchasedby Jacob from the Shechemites (33:19-20; cf. the alternative tradition in Gen 48:22, according to which he seized it by force of arms), this was to bethe only part of Canaan legally appropriated by the ancestors. And this, in its turn, suggests that the land theme in the ancestral stories would more naturally refer to the reappropriation of land after the return from exile than to the conquest tradition in Joshua. The mission of Abraham's servant going to Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac (24) assures the continuity of the line uncontaminated by Canaanite intermarriage. But the focus is no longer on Abraham but on Isaac, and it is with Isaac in the Negev, not with Abraham at Mamre, thatthe return journey terminates. There remains only to record the Arab line through Abraham's second wife, Keturah, the disposal of his goods, his death, and his burial in the field bought from Ephron (25:1-11). II. 25:12-18 IshmaelThe title of this second panel has been prefixed to a list of twelve Arab settlements—described as sons of Ishmael and princes—which has its own title and concluding formula (25:13-16). The Ishmael toledot itself is rounded off in the conventional way with the length of his life span and his death (17). The final notice about his location is an expanded form of information given previously (16:12b). The reader mindful of the contem- porary situation in the Middle East cannot fail to be impressed by thesense of a close ethnic bond between the descendants of Abraham in direct line and the Arab peoples (cf. 10:25-30; 25:1-4).The role of Ishmael in relation to Isaac parallels that of Esau in rela- tion to Jacob, hence the correspondence between the second and the fourth panels of this second pentad. Both embody the common motif ofthe elder son supplanted by the younger, and this in spite of the fact that Ishmael is circumcised, and therefore enters the covenant, before the birth of Isaac (16:15-16; 17:23-27). It is also important that both Ishmael andEsau, following the example of Lot, are removed outside the boundariesof the land promised to Abraham (cf. 36:6-8). Both too are recipients of asubsidiary blessing (cf. 27:39-40), though the promises addressed to Ish- mael on several occasions (16:10; 17:20; 21:13, 18) have more substance. In the overall scheme, however, the relative absence of narrative in the Ish-mael and Esau toledot serves to emphasize their function as counterpointto the development of the main theme.III. 25:19-35:29 Isaac (Jacob)This central panel begins by recapitulating the birth of Isaac and his mar- riage to Rebekah (cf. 21:2-5; 24) and ends in the usual formulaic way with his life, death, and burial (35:28-29). The narrative in between, however, deals almost exclusively with Jacob and his relations with his brother Esau and his cousin Laban. This story is told with compelling psychologicalinsight and narrative skill—not least in combining a personal life story with the representative function of the characters. It has understandably attracted a vast amount of literary analysis to which, unfortunately, wecannot do justice in this study? Close attention has also been paid to structure, the key to which is often sought in a chiastic arrangement (Fishbane 1979, 40-62). While there is no doubt that chiasm is a feature of some biblical narratives, it suffers somewhat from overuse; and in thisinstance the attempt is vitiated either by lumping distinct episodes to- gether or by selecting only those that fit the scheme. What is clear at leastis that this story, like the story of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey, is organized around the journey away from the homeland and the eventual return to it. The point of departure is Beersheba, with Isaac ostensibly on his deathbed (26:23; 28:10). The terminus is Mamre, where Isaac finally dies (after atwenty-year interval) and is buried (35:27-29). The deeper level of mean- ing is revealed through numinous encounters at the points of departure and return (28:10-22; 32:2-3 [32:1-2]; 32:23-33 [22-32]; 35:9-15). Theseexperiences also invite us to read it as a story of transformation throughsuffering and conflict—to pathei mathos, as the Greeks would say—theoutcome of which is that Jacob is enabled to bear a new name and the destiny that goes with it.
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