Abra­ham: The Sto­ry of a Journey

Jonathan Gross­man

  • Review
By – October 23, 2023

This book pro­vides a close read­ing of chap­ters eleven through twen­ty-five of Gen­e­sis, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the life of Abra­ham. Dr. Jonathan Gross­man is the chair of the Bible depart­ment at Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty and the author of sev­er­al books on bib­li­cal nar­ra­tives. Trans­lat­ing Gen­e­sis from the Hebrew, he offers a detailed lit­er­ary analy­sis, using tra­di­tion­al com­men­taries and mod­ern lit­er­ary, philo­soph­i­cal, and polit­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions from Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish sources alike. 

In the intro­duc­tion, Gross­man address­es the his­tor­i­cal peri­od in which Abra­ham lived, the struc­ture of the book as a whole, and the birth of the nation of Israel, which the author under­stands to be the cen­tral theme of the Abra­ham nar­ra­tive. A siz­able por­tion of this chap­ter is devot­ed to unpack­ing the uni­ver­sal­ist and par­tic­u­lar­ist themes present in Abraham’s elec­tion by God. Gross­man also con­sid­ers the rela­tion­ship between nation­al­ism and moral­i­ty, con­clud­ing that the nation­al­ism found in Abraham’s elec­tion is pre­sent­ed as being con­tin­gent upon moral val­ues of jus­tice and right­eous­ness … and is explored through pairs of nar­ra­tives.” These nar­ra­tive pairs are high­light­ed through­out Grossman’s assessment. 

The Akedah, or the bind­ing of Isaac, is rec­og­nized as the apex of Abraham’s encoun­ters with God and the ulti­mate test of his faith. Gross­man explores the nine­teen vers­es of this nar­ra­tive in detail, pre­sent­ing both Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian inter­pre­ta­tions as back­ground for his analy­sis. He sug­gests that the Akedah is best under­stood in rela­tion to Abraham’s first test: leav­ing his father’s house to set­tle in Canaan. In the first test, Abra­ham is asked to dis­en­gage from his past, while in the final test, he is asked to aban­don his future.” Tak­en togeth­er, these tests demon­strate Abraham’s loy­al­ty in full. Gross­man also explores how the sub­sti­tu­tion of a ram for Isaac fore­shad­ows the sig­nif­i­cance of ani­mal sac­ri­fice. The change in God’s name, from Elo­him when God is seek­ing the sac­ri­fice to YHVH when Abraham’s hand is with­drawn, sig­nals a new inti­ma­cy between God and the Jew­ish people.

Abra­ham: The Sto­ry of a Jour­ney traces the patriarch’s life from his sep­a­ra­tion from his father, Ter­ah, to his sep­a­ra­tion from his son, Isaac. Gross­man con­cludes by sum­ma­riz­ing the struc­ture of these nar­ra­tives as two halves, one with a theme of nation­al bless­ing and the oth­er with a theme of moral bless­ing. Through these dual nar­ra­tives, Abra­ham is por­trayed as a com­plex char­ac­ter who suc­cess­ful­ly estab­lished a nation com­mit­ted to a covenant with God, while main­tain­ing moral sen­si­tiv­i­ty by instruct­ing his chil­dren and descen­dants to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is char­i­ta­ble and just.” Grossman’s analy­sis pro­vides a van­tage point from which to see these themes as part of an inter­con­nect­ed whole.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions