The Naming of Isaac: The Role of the Wife/Sister Episodesin the Redaction of Genesis -- By: John Ronning

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991)
Article: The Naming of Isaac: The Role of the Wife/Sister Episodesin the Redaction of Genesis
Author: John Ronning


The Naming of Isaac: The Role of the Wife/Sister Episodesin the Redaction of Genesis

John Ronning

The patriarchal narratives of Genesis contain three accounts of a patriarch passing his wife off as his sister out of fear for his own life (Gen 12:10–20; 20:1–18; and 26:1–11). For the source critic, this is a classic example of multiple versions of the same original story, demonstrating a multiplicity of sources underlying our present book of Genesis.1 For the OT form critic, they provide a rare opportunity to compare three parallel accounts and postulate an origin and development in the oral and literary tradition.2 For the redaction critic, they present a challenge to explain how the accounts function in their present contexts; i.e., not as variant versions of one event, but as different episodes in the lives of Abraham and Isaac.3

For ease of reference, K. Koch’s annotation will be followed, so that the three accounts will be A, B, and C, referring to the first, second, and third, respectively, in the order in which they appear in Genesis. The names Abraham and Sarah will be used throughout, even when referring to passages prior to their name change (Genesis 17).

I. Conclusions of Source Criticism

Numerous apparent inconsistencies with the respective narrative contexts, as well as the seeming redundancy of the accounts, are explained by source critics as due to the redaction of three sources containing variants of one story during the formation of the book of Genesis. Thus in A, where Sarah’s beauty puts Abraham in fear of his life in Egypt—a plausible theme in the story itself—the overall chronology imposed makes the whole episode incongruous; for we learn from comparing Gen 17:17 and 12:4 that Sarah had to have been at least 65 years old! There is a similar chronological problem in C, where, though we do not know Rebekah’s age, she must have been married for at least 35 years,4 and therefore presumably not one who would be looked at as a king’s marriage prospect. Furthermore, the same chronology indicates that Jacob and Esau were already born,5 so how could the parents feign brother and sister for “a long time”? Wors...

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