The Structural and Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative

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Literary Delimitation of the Abraham narrative

Before considering in detail the narrative structure and unity of the Abraham, it is necessary to decide upon the textual scope of the material under investigation. Where does the Abraham narrative commence and conclude?152 In fact, as Muilenburg affirms, it is most complicated to define the limits or scope of a complex cycle, and to recognize precisely where and how it begins and where and how it ends. For this reason, there exists great disagreement suggested by scholars on the literary scope of the present form of the narrative. (cf. Coats 1983:103-108153; Moberly 1992a:21-26).
But with the help of the criteria, a cogent argument can be made for the demarcation of the Abraham narrative. Here can be presented the external and internal criteria for deliminating the Abraham narrative from another and for integrating the units of the cycle in a tight structural pattern.
The external (i.e., surface structures) criteria are easily visible in a text as it meets the eye, that is, literary marker: disjunctive and conjunctive, within the text, which indicate structural divisions and structural techniques. The disjunctive markers distinguish cycles and are of various kinds: the markers of the beginning and end of cycles, which separate one cycle from another, and mark transitions between them, by shifts in time, geography, genealogy and character, as well as in theological viewpoints (Hayes & Holladay 1982:70-71; Robertson 1976:549). Conjunctive markers link various materials within a cycle by maintaining the continuity of thought or unity of presentation. Among these markers are inclusio, the repetition of vocabulary or phraseology at the beginning and at the end of a cycle, and echo, the recapitulation of important points within a cycle (Baker 1980:207-211).
The internal criteria can be identified in a structuralist view with deep structures, which have been coded in the text. All literary texts contain distinctive structures, which are coded expressions of the deep structures of the human brain (Dorsey 1999:15; Robertson 1976:549). By decoding these deep structures in the text, one can not merely set the boundaries of a cycle with more certainty, but discover the message of the cycle. Broadly speaking, in Genesis there are two kinds of deep structures coded in the cycles, which can be used as internal criteria for proving unity: chiasm and parallelism as an indication of unity and disunity (Breck 1999:255-256). Chiasm helps the reader to see a story’s boundaries that differentiate one story from another. In this sense, chiasm functions as a division marker (a framing device working) between (within) stories and the cycles and thus plays a crucial linking role within it. It also firms a complete story, a story with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end (cf. Wenham 1978:338). Meanwhile, parallelism both sets boundaries between cycles, and exhibits the thematic and theological connection between them. On the basis of these criteria stated above, the delimitation of the Abraham narrative will be discussed in what follows.

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The Starting Point of the Abraham Narrative (Gen 11:27)

It is a generally accepted fact that the narrative (or Patriarchal History) commences with Gen 11:27 (cf. Rendsburg 1986:27; Sutherland 1983:337-339; Vosloo 1982:15- 17; Waltke 2001:193-341; Wenham 1987:256-264; Westermann 1987:96). A close reading of Genesis actually reveals that the Abraham narrative forms an outer frame to the narrative.154 The boundaries of the narrative are defined by the twdlwt beginning at Gen 11:27 and the concluding report on Abraham’s death and burial at Gen 25:1-11.

The End of the Abraham Narrative (Gen 25:11)

In contrast, designating the close of the Abraham narrative is less problematic. Most commentators have assumed that the narrative closes with a description of the death of Abraham in Gen 25:11 (cf. Cross 1973:303-304; Westermann 1980:56).159 The limits of the narrative are visibly defined by another twdlwt formula in Gen 25:12, which begin with the list of the descendants of Ishmael.160 The genealogy contextually functions to separate the story of Abraham from the Jacob narrative in Gen 25:19 with the formula. This is an instance why genealogies in Genesis frequently play to separate narrative section (Fokkelmann 1991:239; Westermann 1987:95).

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1. Rationale for This Study: A Peculiarity of Methods
1.2. Methodological Considerations
1.3. Summary and Sequence
Chapter Two: The Structural and Literary Analysis of the Abraham Narrative
2.1. Introduction
2.2. The Abraham Narrative Within the Larger Context of the Pentateuch
2.3. The Composition of the Abraham Narrative
2.4. Conclusion
Chapter Three: The Intra (Inner-) textual Relatedness of the Abraham Narrative
3.1. Introduction: Methodological Indications
3.2. The Prologue: Terah’s Genealogy (Gen 11:27-32)
3.3. The Main Section (Gen 12:1-22:19)
3.4. The Genealogy of Nahor (Gen 22:20-24)
3.5. The Epilogue (Gen 23:1-25:11)
3.6. Concluding Summary
Chapter Four: The Intertextual Relationship of the Abraham Narrative
4.1. Introduction: Methodological Considerations
4.2. Thematic Links
4.3. Textual Links
4.4. Conclusion
Chapter Five: Conclusion
5.1. Hermeneutical Reflections
5.2. Theological Reflections
5.3. Conclusion


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