Abraham by David Rosenberg

Abraham by David Rosenberg

Author:David Rosenberg [DAVID ROSENBERG]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Basic Books
Published: 2011-12-29T05:00:00+00:00

It had been many decades since Abraham's father, Terah, had decided to leave Ur and migrate to Canaan, following the reshaping of Babylon into an empire by Hammurapi. To have left all that behind, especially to have escaped what one feared was destroying the culture of Sumer, and then to hear of the kidnapping of his nephew Lot by a king from his homeland must have come as quite a blow to Abraham.

He is called to action on a completely secular errand, the rescue of Lot, and this calls to mind his Sumerian origin in another way: In order to take care of business, Abraham is able to put aside for a while the cosmic theater, a trait of an educated Sumerian. There is no Yahweh or covenant in this episode, no cosmic background; the motivating idea appears to be that it is just too much to bear that Lot is being carried back to Mesopotamia.

To a reader at the Jerusalem court, it might seem strange that, having reunited with Lot beyond Damascus, Abraham doesn’t continue on a bit further to Harran to visit his father (Terah was also Lot's grandfather, of course). What dispels the incongruity is that the reader knows that this is a non-Hebraic source, a writer to whom Abraham's family history is largely unknown. Instead, this writer, X, knows everything about the nearby bitumen fields of the Dead Sea—which J needs to remind her audience was in that day also a verdant wetland, a valley, rather than the desert it had become.

While bitumen may have been a part of Canaanite life, it was at the center of life and the arts in Mesopotamia. On the ark of life built by the precursor of Noah in the Sumerian flood story, bitumen is one of the few insentient things valuable enough to be brought aboard. In daily life, bitumen was an essential part of the waterproofing of the precious things made or held together by clay. But the most interesting connotation of bitumen is purposely reserved for the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. Emerging blackened from the pits, this image might have suggested nothing special to the X writer, but for J and her audience, these besmirched kings foreshadow what would soon happen to their kingdoms when Yahweh visits, hears their contempt for him, and responds as if justifying an earthquake and their destruction.

While this historical account seems legendary simply by virtue of its improbability, nothing supernatural comes into play. God is not invoked. We are meant to react as did J's audience: the earlier the history, the more fragmentary, and that in itself can be a sign of its authenticity.

An escapee brought the news to Abraham the Hebrew at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, who was related to the allies of Abraham, Eshkol and Aner. When Abraham heard that Lot his relative had been captured, he gathered his men—all those serving or born into his household, numbering 318—and pursued the captors as far as Dan. He


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