Period Described, Written
Exd & Cnq


Genesis: The Patriarchal Narratives

Gen 12-50 covers 4 generations of the Patriarchal Period

  • The Patriarchs are the 'fathers' of Judaism:

    • Abraham

    • Isaac, 2nd-born son of Abraham

    • Jacob, 2nd-born son of Isaac,

    • the 12 'sons' of Jacob, namesakes for the 12 tribes of Israel:

      • (but not all 12 sons end up as eponymous founders of tribes)

    • 10 tribes = 'Northern kingdom':

      • Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher

        • [sons born of Zilpah & Bilhah]

      • Issachar, Zebulun

        • [sons born of Leah]

      • Reuben [Leah], a tribe nearly wiped out by neighboring nations.

      • Simeon [Leah], initially a tribe, later part of Judah

      • 2 sons of Joseph  [Rachel] become founders of tribes:

        • Manasseh, the elder

        • Ephraim, the younger, = dominant tribe in (& namesake of) the northern kingdom.

      • Levi [Leah], looses its tribal territory, but becomes the tribe from which all priests are descended.

    • 2 tribes make up the 'Southern kingdom':

      • Judah [Leah] = dominant tribe in (& namesake of) the southern kingdom.

      • Benjamin [Rachel], a smaller southern tribe, is allied with Judah.

  • Many of the names and the stories in which they appear are both eponymous and etiological:

    • An eponym is the namesake for a tribe, race, or nation.

      • [Examples:

        • Cain/Kennites

        • Israel/Israelites

        • Canaan/Canaanites

        • Moab/Moabites

        • Ammon/Ammonites]

    • An etiology is a story that explains the origin of something. (in this case, a tribe, race, or nation)

      • [Examples:

        • Kennites nomadic because of the curse of Cain

        • Israel born out of Jacob's wrestling with the divine

        • Canaanites cursed because of Noah

        • Moabites & Ammonites born of incest]


  • Abraham is chosen as the 'father' of Judaism:

    • [He is one of 3 sons of Terah,

      • Abram, Nahor, Haran]

    • Terah migrates to Haran from 'Ur of the Chaldeans'

      • anachronism: 'Chaldeans' don't appear for another millennium.

    • He takes with him

      • Abram (and Abram's wife Sarai)

      • and Haran's son Lot

    • Abram is called by God to settle in Canaan

      • but he does not possess it.

      • instead, land is promised to him in covenant with God:

        • mentioned 3x

        • associated w/2 sacred sites:

          • Shechem (key shrine in the North)

          • Hebron (key shrine in the South)

      • Like he did with Adam, God makes a promise to Abram:

        • To make of him a great nation

        • with countless descendents

      • In return:

        • Abram agrees to circumcise all male children when they are 8 days old.

        • circumcision becomes the 'mark of the covenant,'

          • a physical indication of one's inclusion among the 'chosen people.'

    • Why Abram?

      • he is not perfect-

        • passes his wife off as his sister

        • hastily has a child w/Hagar

      • but:

        • he is obedient, and trusting.

        • he does what God commands, even if he is not sure why he is doing it.

        • God 'credits' this to him as 'righteousness.'

          • meaning...?

          • Adam, not burdened with sin and death, chose disobedience.

          • Abram, despite these burdens, is obedient.

          • But God will not simply reward him with a great nation and many descendants-

            • Abra(ha)m becomes the father of the people through whom God will act to redeem humanity.

    • Isaac is the son through whom the covenant is continued:

      • Why not Ishmael?

        • Not the son promised.

        • yet he is made a great nation as well,

          • also becomes the father of 12 tribes.

          • founder of Arab nations,

          • later considered a patriarch of Islam,

            • which, like Christianity & Judaism, is considered a religion of Abraham

            • though in Islam, Ishmael is legitimate, Isaac is 'illegitimate.'

            • [he is also considered the son almost sacrificed]

      • The 'Binding of Isaac'

        • Difficult & important:

        • difficult, b/c God commands a human sacrifice.

          • but probably meant to refute this,

          • and certain kings who practiced it (esp. Manasseh)

        • Important, because it is the 'test' of Abraham's faith that proves his righteousness.

          • James 2:20-21


    • Jacob = younger brother of Esau,

      • stories where he outwits Esau make him appear deceptive, but

      • they are etiological-

        • Esau = eponymous founder of the Edomites, rivals of the Israelites.

        • stories portray 'Edom' as dimwitted when compared to 'Israel'

          • explaining why Israel deserves Isaac's blessing/birthright

    • Finally, the Joseph cycle explains why the Israelites migrate to Egypt.

      • considered a miracle child.

      • One of 12 brothers.

      • has the power to interpret dreams.

        • prophesizes that he will rule over his brothers.

      • When the brothers are sharing a meal together, Judah (Gk.  0Iudaj) proposes selling him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver.

        • Ironically, this betrayal enables him to rise to power in Egypt,

        • and to save the tribes (the nation of Israel) from a famine...


    • Some relevance to NT:

      • Abraham is Paul's model for faith, and basis for his concept of 'justification by faith'

        • see Gal 4:21-31

      • 'Binding of Isaac' is seen as prefiguring Jesus' sacrifice:

        • Isaac is described as 'beloved son.'

          • Gk. agaphtoj uioj

          • a rare construction in the LXX,

          • used in reference to Jesus in the NT

            • see Mk 1:11

        • The sacrifice takes place 'on the third day.'

        • Abraham 'took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders.'

          • In the synoptics, Simon carries Jesus' cross.

          • In Jn, Jesus carries it himself.

      • Joseph cycle is important in Mt:

        • Jesus is born miraculously.

        • Jesus' adoptive father Joseph:

          • has a father named Jacob (Heli in Lk)

          •  interprets dreams

            • incl. a dream where he takes the family to Egypt.

        • Judas betrays Jesus at the Last Supper, for 30 pieces of silver.

          • but this betrayal leads to Jesus' crucifixion and victory over death (his resurrection)

          • by means of which he saved humanity...