Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

By Jon D. Levenson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Call and Commission

For it is hard for a person to leave the land in which he dwells
and in which his friends and companions are found. All the
more so if it is the land in which he was born, and all the more
so if his whole family is there. That is why it was necessary to tell
him to leave everything for the sake of his love for the Holy One
(blessed be He!).

—Nachmanides1

WITH THE INTRODUCTION of Abraham (called “Abram” until Genesis 17), the narrative of the Torah subtly yet momentously changes direction. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are marked by a pattern of human rebellion followed by divine punishment, which is then tempered by divine forbearance. By the end of chapter 11, the high hopes that God had held for the human race seem dashed. He had created them in his image and charged them with worldwide dominion under his sovereignty, yet they had repeatedly disobeyed him—in the Garden of Eden, with Cain’s murder of Abel, with the evil that had brought on the great flood, and now with the Tower of Babel, with which they arrogantly hoped to reach the heavens and “make a name for [themselves]”—but with the result that the various nations were instead deprived of the ability to understand one another and were scattered “over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4, 9). In the cases of Adam, Eve, and Cain, however, grace tempers the divine judgment, as the miscreants are sentenced to exile but not to the immediate death that had been expected. And in the case of the flood, God lowers his expectations of humanity, promising not to destroy it—though the human inclination to evil remains intact—and solemnizing his gracious promise in a covenant with all mankind and even

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