Thursday, September 12, 2013



Abraham deceives Abimelech (Photo credit: The Brick Testament)
As I continue to prepare my lectures on the Pentateuch books, I am thinking on the relationship of the Torah's important characters with the Prophetic corpus. First it comes to mind the figure of Abraham, "the father of faith" of three world religions. In Gen 20:7 Abraham is called a "prophet" (נביא ) nabi' , which is the very first instance this term is used in the Bible (and the only one in the whole book of Genesis). 

The context in which Abraham is called a prophet is rather curious if not shocking. Gen 20: 1-18 shows "our father in faith" in not such a good light. Here again as in Gen 12, the text presents the patriarch asking his wife Sarah to lie so they can remain alive. And even if this story from the Elohist tradition parallels the account of the Yahwist one, Abraham is to be blamed for endangering his wife. Because of his deplorable action, YHWH has to come and save the day for everyone. Still, even when the patriarch has acted wrongly, he displays for a second time his power of intercession before the Lord (cf. 18:17-33) while at the same time God gives Abraham the title of prophet.[1]

For some readers, there is no doubt they would find this account of Abraham perplexing to say the least. However, and as I proposed in another blog post, we should not shy away from this text. On the contrary, a more careful look at it should be of great help in finding a sound meaning to this passage.

I suggest two possible ways of approaching this text. One proposes keeping in mind that in Abraham’s cycle accounts, a central theological theme is the context of the Abrahamic covenant. As YHWH has promised him a land, a numerous offspring and a blessing to those who bless Abraham (cf. Gen 15:18; 17:1-9), YHWH himself makes sure to keep and protect his end of the bargain. Therefore, whether Abraham has done right or wrong, YHWH’s covenant always stands. He would always find a way to keep that promise intact. The other approach to this text complements the first one. As we study the origins of the final written form of this account (redaction criticism), we notice that several other Pentateuchal figures are called prophets: Moses (Num 12:2-8; Deut 24:10), Aaron (Ex 7:1), and Miriam (Ex 15:20).  Like many others scholars, I believe that the title of נביא (nabi'is been given to these people ex post facto. These characters played roles that in centuries later were considered as prophetic (cf. Num 11:16-30).

One thing remains clear: for the OT writers, the Lord’s covenant will always stand and prevail independently of the holiness of his people.

Juan Miguel Betancourt
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[1] It is also worth noting that the term “to pray” (פללpalal) is used only this time in the book. This verb is used principally referring to intercessory prayer (cf. Num 11:2; 21:7; Deut 9:20; Jer 7:16; 11:14).
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