Genesis Overview: Babel, Shem to Abraham, Abraham's Call and Departure; End of Primeval History

a) Babel (11.1-9 in J)

11.1-4: The last great J primeval narratives and, like the others, it contains older material to be hewn and re-cast. The story begins by contradicting what has just been written in that it pre-supposes one, not the many nations in the preceding table. Its observation that nationalities emerge from great migrations is acute. Migrants become sedentary ((empires of grain and brick - KC)). They have great energy (cf 11.3,6), the city representing self-reliance, the tower their lust for fame. Their building is celebrated in puns. The author, who knows about building in stone, gives them perishable materials. Some will identify the roots of culture, the author, on the other hand, detects the fruit of unfaithfulness, a concealed titanism (cf 11.6).

11.5-7: J invokes the Lord without embarrassment: "Yahweh must draw near, not because he is near-sighted, but because he dwells at such tremendous height and their work is so tiny. God's movement must therefore be understood as a remarkable satire on man's doing" (Procksch (p149). Any extravagance is possible so God opts for the punitive and preventive. Man says "Come let us" and God replies with "Come let us" in the sense of the heavenly council (cf 1 Kings 22.19; Job 1.6).

11.8-9: Again, the purpose is etiological both explaining multi linguality and the term "babel" ("medley") which shows that J took over a late and complicated version. The etiology made concrete in Babylon but the story does not originate from there but it is cast as the embodiment of sinful arrogance.

b) Epilogue to the J Primeval History

This final story is seen as the keystone to the whole primeval history. J is concerned with the gradual separation of man from God, to which 'he' reacts with severe judgment. Is the catastrophe of 11.1-9 final? Yet God's activity of succour and preservation is revealed; the creation story ends with a "... mysterious, protective relationship between God and Can ..." (p153); and, again, there is covenant after the flood. None of this is theological, i.e. referring to salvation or grace, but is factual. But after Babel "The whole primeval history, ... seems to break off in shrill dissonance, and the question we formulated above now arises even more urgently:" (p253). This question, posed in all its severity, prepares us for the wonderful new thing which is the story of Abraham; we are at a vital crossroads; 12.3 will show that the grace is not confined to the covenant, having universal meaning for all people on earth. Thus the key to the primeval history is 12.1-3. The link  between the primeval and sacred history only exists in P.

c) The Fathers from Shem to Abraham in P (11.10-28,31-32)

11.10-27: This section is from the Toledoth book; the tradition takes us to near the end of the second millennium when the Israelites were part of the Aramean migration into north-western Mesopotamia and Northern Syria. Inconsistency between 5.32 and 7.11 on the one hand and 11.10.

11.31-32: The shortening of life and earlier procreation point to degeneracy but also the miracle of Isac's birth.

d) Abraham's Origin and Call (11.28-30, 12.1-3 in J)

11.28-30: Sarai's father not named, perhaps because J knew her as Abraham's sister (cf. 20.12).

12.1: The narrator does not explain the choice of Shem and then Arpashad and then Abraham who is to leave land, clan and then family; Israel is led down a road entirely in Yahweh's hand.

12.2-3: The key word is blessing, concerning Abraham and then those who associate with him. Blessing primarily concerns increase of life and fruitfulness. God brings salvation and judgment into history, determined by man's response, the whole over-arched by "blessing". 12.3b "reaches far out toward the goal of God's plan for history, but still it refuses any description of this final end. ... This points to fulfilment lying beyond the old covenant, was especially important to the retrospective glance of the New Testament witnesses." (p160-161) (cf. Acts 3.25; Romans 4.13; Galatians 3.8, 16).

e) Abraham's Departure in J (12.4-9)

12.4-5: 12.4b,5 perhaps from P. Abraham goes "blindly. Such a departure was almost impossible in the ancient world. J not interested in the cultic difference between Abraham and others, he is simply the subject of divine command; Lot is included to prepare for 13 and 19.

12.6-7: Shechem a very old settlement, probably mentioned by Pharaoh Sesostris III (1887-1849 BCE). The unsuitability of the land, cf 12.6b which makes Yahweh's promise somewhat strange; the building of the first altar in the chosen land.

12.8-9: Between Bethel and Ai Abraham builds a second altar before moving to the Negeb. The detail is sparse, a transition from primeval to sacred; the promise not to be fulfilled in Abraham's day.

The primeval history ends here.

KC V/14

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