The book of Genesis forms part of a series of ‘historical’ books that begins with the creation story and ends with the destruction of the kingdom of Judah (6BCE.) These narrated events are in a chronological sequence (Barton 2001:38).It is the first book of the Old Testament and Pentateuch (Barton 2001:12) . Jews name these five books the Torah or ‘the law’(Holdsworth 2005:71). The passage(Gen22:1-19) reveals God’s relationship through a trial with a major character, Abraham. Key themes that are central to the Pentateuch lie within the passage; the sovereignty and grace of God; sacrifice and obedience; the establishment and reaffirming of covenants and the redeeming nature of God. What lies before and after this encounter will be considered to try to determine the ‘original’ intended meaning and to examine its relevance and application for people today.
The biblical context of Genesis, divides it into two sections. Genesis 1-10 describes the creation story and the flood. Genesis 11-50 provides the genealogy of Abraham’s family, back to Noah, followed by the tradition of the earliest ancestors of Israel (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob known as the ‘Patriarchs’) wherein their faith is rooted and articulated (Brueggemann, 2003:43.) It is essentially a book of promises, a preface to the history of the Israel; identifying the nation of Israel and its God (Barton 2001:39).In Genesis 12 we see God choosing Abram, like Noah. A relationship ensues whereby Abram obediently follows God’s commands. God graciously acts in his life, providing him with a much wanted son and heir from his barren wife, Sarai. Abram pleases God who establishes covenants (God initiated agreements with man (Holdsworth 2005:59) with him, renaming him Abraham (and his wife Sarah); making them founders of the nation of Israel. The final chapter finds Jacob and his family in Egypt; precluding a central storyline the ‘Exodus’ ;the foundation of Jewish history and faith (Barton 2001:39).The books of Genesis and Exodus are seen as part of a continuous narrative.
Drane (2011:34-35) provides a possible historical date for Abraham’s lifetime around 2000-1820 BC. Much discussion has taken place over the historical context of the events and persons described in Genesis. Coogan(2008:1) describes ancient Israel as ‘a cultural backwater with one artefact remaining –its literature’; ancient laws stopped people of that period, using images, so usual creative archaeological finds are absent. Drane( 2001:40) explains that at the end of the 19th century these narratives were considered fiction. Historical knowledge however of Middle Bronze Age 2000-1500BCE show that the way of life described in Genesis was an authentic perception of what was happening in the lands at that time. Names found in Genesis were used by Amorites in various parts of Mesopotamia and customs such as marriage of sisters, illegal later, were acceptable then. Records (e.g ‘The Tale of Sinhue’) from places like Mari and Nuzi describe a semi-nomadic leader in 1900BC who took part in wars and made alliances. Coogan(2008:112) likewise describes (Gen12:6-9 and Gen13 :12-18) that Abraham’s family were ‘Semi Pastoralist’, wandering with their flocks on the fringes of larger urban centres of the day. Drane(2001:40-42) suggests there is evidence from Genesis 11 onwards for the appearance of ‘real’ history, summarising‘ Perhaps in reality ,though the most that can be claimed with certainty is that the experiences these stories describe correspond to what is known of population movements that were taking place in the Fertile Crescent throughout the Middle and late Bronze Ages(2000-1200bce)’
Historical anachronisms exist within the narratives, such as the presence of the Philistines and Chaldeans, and the appearance of domestic Camels in chapters 12, 24 and 30 of Genesis, who were not around in Middle Bronze age (Drane 2001:40). Drane(2001 39) demonstrates that in Hebrew manuscripts...