The Abraham Cycle*

Note: There have been several proposals for the structure of the record of the life of Abraham. The following is from Rachel Yudkowsky, “Chaos or chiasm? The structure of Abraham’s life“, Jewish Bible Quarterly, 2007, 35, No. 2, 109-114. The issue that comes up is the central place of Ishmael, a challenge because he is not the chosen seed. Some have suggested that the centre is a double centre with the covenants of chapter 15 and 17 each followed by the promise of a son – Hagar’s and Sarah’s. The text then would be posing  the choice between the son representing  law (Galatians 4) and the son representing grace (Romans 9).

 A The descendents of Terah (Gen.11:27)

B. Lekh Leckha [get thee out] (12:1)

C. ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’ (Gen 12:7). Abraham nomadic, unknown

D. Sarai is taken in Egypt; Pharaoh sends them away angrily (12:10-20)

E. Sodom: Lot chooses to live in Sodom, is captured by and rescued from the four kings, returns to Sodom (14:1-24)

F. ‘What wilt Thou give me, seeing I go hence childless?’ (15:2)

G. The Covenant Between the Pieces (15:12-21): promise of descendants and land.

H. Birth of Ishmael (16:1-16)

G’. The Covenant of Circumcision (17:1-27): promise of ‘I will be their God’.

 F’. Sarah is informed that she will have a child (18:10)

 E’. Lot rescued from destruction of Sodom and leaves (18:16-19:38)

 D’. Sarah is taken in Gerar; Abimelech welcomes Abraham to settle where he wills (20:1-18)

 C’. Birth of Isaac, the promised seed ( 21:1-21); treaty with Abimelech, Abraham respected and feared (21:22-34)

 B’. “Kakh na . . . ve’lekh lekha” [Take now … and get thee into]. (22:1-19)

 A’. Nahor’s descendents (22:20-24)

One thought on “The Abraham Cycle*”

  1. Is the center of the chiasmus Ishmael, or is it Isaac? Isn’t that Abraham’s dilemma? Maybe the confusion is intentional,written so that the reader also vacillates. Pretty genius. As I look at the chiasmus which proposes chapter 17 as the center (found at other sites), I also see its merits.

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