Methodology for the Mirror-Reading of The Elohist Source - Abraham Cycle

image: Wikimedia commons (  link  ). 

image: Wikimedia commons (link). 

The Abraham Cycle is primarily concerned with resolving issues between the Israelites and the descendents of Abimelech.  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Abraham Cycle. If you’re not familiar with the Elohist Source and it’s cycles, be sure to check out that podcast as well.


Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Elohist was addressing and is opposed to the Elohist narrative itself.

Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1: Who was Isaac’s father?

1. Abraham did not love Isaac
2. because Abraham was not the father of Isaac
3. because Abimelech was the father of Isaac
4. because Abimelech took Sarah
5. and because Sarah was not married to Abraham
6. because Sarah was married to Abimelech
7. and because Abraham said Sarah was his sister
8. and because Sarah did not bear a son to Abraham

Aspect #2: Did Abraham have more that one son?

1. Abraham had more than one son
2. because Hagar’s son was Abraham’s
3. Therefore [Hagar's] son shall inherit along with Isaac
4. because the two young men with Abraham were his sons

Aspect #3: Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac?

1. Abraham sacrificed Isaac
2. Which we know because two young men were with Abraham when he sacrificed Isaac
3. Who were there because Isaac did not carry the wood and the knife himself

Aspect #4: How should the Israelites treat the descendants of Abimelech?   
Angle #1: Israelite view  

1. Abraham's posterity were dealing with Abimelech's posterity falsely & not treating them loyally
2. because [Abimelech did not deal] loyally with [Abraham]
3. because Abimelech had seized Abraham's well

Angle #2: Abimelech Descendant’s view       

1. Abimelech did not seize Abraham's well
2. because Abraham did not dig the well

Aspect #5: Was Abraham native to Gerar? 

1. Abraham was an alien in Gerar

Aspect #6: Did Abraham serve Elohim while in Gerar/Beersheba?

1. Abraham did not [serve] God (Elohim)


Aspect #1: Who was Isaac’s father?

  1. Elohim declares that Abraham loves Isaac.  Also, Abraham made a great feast the day that Isaac was weaned - not something Abraham would have done is he didn’t love Isaac.
  2. The reason that Abraham didn’t love Isaac was because he wasn’t his father.  The Elohist counters with with the most frequent counter-argument in this cycle: 11 instances and 5 variations. Isaac is repeatedly referred to as Abraham’s son throughout the narrative.  Also, Abraham and Isaac repeatedly refer to each other as father and son in dialogue.
  3. The only other character in the narrative that could have been proposed as the father is Abimelech, who would have had the opportunity to impregnate Sarah as noted in #4.
  4. The Elohist doesn’t deny that Sarah was with Abimelech.  However, the word “took” could be an echo but more likely it is an alternate to the opposing narrative which was claiming that Sarah was married to Abimelech without such forceful language.
  5. The Elohist repeatedly mentions that Sarah is Abraham’s wife.
  6. There may have been two separate opposing narratives regarding whether Abraham was married to Sarah.  The first saying that Abraham only married Sarah later in life, after she was married to Abimelech (and thus the father of Isaac) and the second saying that he was never married to Sarah for the reason noted in #7.
  7. This is this the second of two possible opposing narratives (the other noted in #6) and it said that Abraham couldn’t ever have been married to Sarah because she was his sister but took care of her (and Isaac) after she was widowed.
  8. Sarah is repeatedly described as bearing Isaac to Abraham.  In 2 instances, it highlights that she bore him during Abraham’s old age, thus countering the idea that Sarah bore Isaac before she was married to Abraham as noted in #6. Also countering that idea that Abraham wasn’t around when Isaac was young is the statement of Isaac’s weaning (see #1).

Why does it matter who was Isaac’s father?  The descendants of Abimelech who seemed to have migrated to Israel (see Aspects #4 and #5), wanted to be treated as blood relatives and not aliens in the land.  More speculatively, the descendants of Abimelech may have been making a power play for the kingship.  Given that the kingly line of Jeroboam was not yet well established (see the Joseph Cycle), if the descendants of Abimelech could argue that they were blood relatives of the Israelites and that they were descendant from a king, they could try to lay claim to the kingship in Israel. 

Aspect #2: Did Abraham have more that one son?

  1. Elohim declares that Isaac is Abraham’s only son.
  2. Hagar’s son is one possible candidate for being Abraham’s son.  The Elohist does not mention the name of the son.  Referring to Hagar as a “slave woman” further delegitimizes Hagar’s son as a potential heir.
  3. If Hagar’s son is Abraham’s then he should inherit along with Isaac.
  4. Although speculative, the two young men could have also been argued to be Abraham’s sons. This could also be the reason why they are anonymous, since naming them would have given their descendents an excuse to claim they were sons of Abraham.

If Abraham had other son’s then they would have a claim to part of the inheritance and would be entitled to be allotted part of the land.

Aspect #3: Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac?

  1. There are those that believe the Elohist source implies that Abraham sacrificed Isaac.  However, that would be antithetical to the overall message that the Elohist was trying to make.  The Elohist is trying to prove that Isaac is Abraham’s son because of his descendents.  If the Elohist implied that Abraham had killed Isaac, it would defeat the purpose of promoting his descendants.
  2. The Elohist is sure to point out that Abraham and Isaac went to the site of the sacrifice alone. Yes, the two young men went most of the way with them but they didn’t see what transpired with Isaac.  The Elohist cannot say that Isaac returned with Abraham, because the two young men were witnesses that he did not return.  So the Elohist is caught between a rock and a hard place by omitting anything about Abraham sacrificing Isaac and not being able to show him not returning with Abraham.  Isaac’s fate is left ambiguous either by design or by it being edited out of the narrative at a later date.  In #3, it seems to indicate an older Isaac that could have theoretically traveled to a different destination after the sacrifice incident and could explain why Isaac did not return with Abraham.
  3. Isaac carrying the wood and the knife himself would bolster the idea in #2 that there were no witnesses to what transpired since the two young men would not be needed to carry the items.  This could also indicate that Isaac was older since he was able to carry the items.

If Abraham did sacrifice Isaac, then the Israelites are descendants of someone else. This line of argumentation would be of interest to aliens who had migrated to Israel and wanted to be seen as blood relatives with a common ancestor.

Aspect #4: How should the Israelites treat the descendants of Abimelech?  

Angle #1: Israelite view

  1. If the descendants of Abimelech were aliens in the land (for whatever reason, usually war or famine), they would have been vulnerable to being treated unfairly, including having wells that they dug seized by the Israelites.
  2. The Elohist does not argue that Abraham’s well had not been seized but rather it was Abimelech's servants and that he had no knowledge of it.
  3. The Israelites could have been using the narrative that Abimelech seized Abraham’s well as justification for treating Abimelech’s descendants poorly and seizing their wells.

Angle #2: Abimelech Descendant’s view

  1. On the other side of the argument, Abimelech’s descendants may have been saying that Abimelech didn’t seize Abraham’s well because it wasn’t Abraham’s and he wasn’t the one that dug it.
  2. The Elohist responds to #1 by making it clear that Abraham was indeed the one who dug the well.

The Elohist is trying to manage two sides of an argument here.  He is trying to keep the peace between the Israelites and Abimelech’s descendants. He appeases both sides by saying that Abimelech’s descendants should be treated fairly and by saying that Abraham dug the well.

Aspect #5: Was Abraham native to Gerar?

  1. This could address a couple of issues: First, it could be imploring the Israelites to treat aliens (the descendants of Abimelech) well because Abraham was an alien and Abimelech treated him well (related to Aspect #4). Second, this could be countering the idea that Abraham was native to Gerar and thus related to those who had migrated from there.

The Elohist once again is trying to manage both sides by arguing for the Israelites to treat the descendants of Abimelech well, but at the same time, severing any blood ties or common ancestry with them.

Aspect #6: Did Abraham serve Elohim while in Gerar/Beersheba?

  1. Abraham feared and prayed to Elohim according to the Elohist.  Those mirrors along with some denials make it clear that Abraham was faithful to Elohim while in an alien land.  The sacrifice of Isaac also demonstrates this faithfulness by showing that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to Elohim and his only son at that.

If the descendants of Abimelech had migrated to Israel, they likely brought their god(s) with them and would naturally entice the Israelites to worship them, encouraging them to do so with stories of how Abraham worshiped them when he was in their land.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  You can also view the spreadsheet here.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.