Genesis Overview: Abraham, Circumcision & Promise

a) Circumcision (17.1-14 in P)

Chapter 17 in P with significant "seams", cf. 15.7 ff. In contrast to the deeply psychological account in J where Abraham's feelings are fully recognised, 17.1-14 does not mention Abraham and is purely theological. Contrast the economy of 15.7 with this "ponderous" passage.

17.1: Only P has a chronological framework. Whereas J always addresses God, even the God of the patriarchs, as Yahweh, P makes a distinction between Patriarchal and post Mosaic understanding. We have already noted that Abraham "walks about" or "walks ahead" whereas Enoch and Noah "walked with" God.

17.2-3a: In this covenant, and 15.18; "God binds himself; Abraham remains the dumb recipient of the promise." (p199). Whereas the covenant is two-sided in J it is God-sided only in P.

17.3b-6: Originally, only P had a name change but the redactor then had to make the change back to Abram in J up to 16.16. Although P formally retains J's concern with a universal extension of God's salvation beyond the limits of Israel (cf. 12.3), P's main concern is the cultic inner circle.

17.7-8: The covenant has timeless validity. "I will be God to you" is an antedating of Sinai; the two older promises are posterity and land.

17.9-14: covenants require external signs; distinct from the covenant with Noah, this requires man's visibly assenting act. It appears that the commitment through circumcision was a late, status development during the Babylonian exile when most cultic machinery had been dismantled.

b) The Promise of a Son (17.15-27)

17.15-21: A concrete promise of a named son, parallel to Sarah in Chapter 18. The laugh, with its element of horror, brings belief and unbelief close together. Deeply puzzled, Abraham diverts to Ishmael, clarifying that the covenant is more than national greatness.

17.23-27: This block originally followed 17.15 but was moved to accommodate the insertion of the passage on Sarah and Isac. "Chapter 17 ... thus appears as a theological corollary of Priestly tradition regarding God's covenant and promise to Abraham." (p203).

((VR does not specify a source but it is most likely P - KC))

c) God's Visit with Abraham (18.1-16 in J)

J begins at 18.1 and runs to 19.38. The nature of the three visitors is problematical. 18.22 and 19.1 suggest that Yahweh was accompanied by two messengers but taken at face value, VR believes that Yahweh is present in all three, though he thinks this very strange cf. the appearance of Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes to the childless Hyrieus of Boeotia and the birth of Orion.

18.1-5: Abraham is taken by surprise but grasps the importance of the men, shown by his speaking in the third person; "My lord" may simply be that; we do not know that Abraham recognises Yahweh in the men.

18.6-8: A traditional debate about whether Yahweh ate.

18.9-16: The visitors know about Sarah and a promise is made which she rejects but the divine figures know her feeling though she says nothing aloud and they cannot see her; Yahweh is laughed at and Sarah comes out, rashly lying about her disposition: "The contrast between the little woman, who has now slipped out of hiding in fear, trying to lie, and the abrupt, unfriendly 'no' of the Lord is an effective, serious conclusion to the scene" (Procksch) (p207). The unruffled, somewhat sombre guests, depart, anticipating Sodom.

Sodom has already been mentioned and a "new moment of great suspense has appeared" (p208). This narrative has undergone change in incorporation but nobody can read 18.10 without thinking of 12.2, 13.16 and 15.18. Before the appearance, Abraham is at his lowest and the fulfilment is delayed by P 17.15 ff. Sarah's laugh marks her out from the mutely attentive Abraham. "Abraham's silence is beautiful; it gives the reader time for many thoughts." (Gunkel) (p208-209).

KC V/14

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