Abraham: The Story of a Life

Abraham: The Story of a Life

Abraham: The Story of a Life

Abraham: The Story of a Life


In this discursive commentary Joseph Blenkinsopp explores the story of Abraham -- iconic ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- as told in Genesis 11-25. Presented in continuous discussion rather than in verse-by-verse form, Blenkinsopp's commentary focuses on the literary and theological artistry of the narrative as a whole.

Blenkinsopp discussses a range of issues raised in the Abraham saga, including confirmation of God's promises, Isaac's sacrifice and the death of Jesus, and Abraham's other beloved son, Ishmael. Each chapter has a section called "Filling in the Gaps," which probes some of the vast amount of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic commentary that the basic Genesis text has generated through the ages.

In an epilogue Blenkinsopp looks at Abraham in early Christianity and expresses his own views, as a Christian, on Abraham. Readers of Blenkinsopp's Abraham: The Story of a Life will surely come away with a deeper, richer understanding of this seminal ancient figure.


Reading is an art that, like writing, we have to learn. This is especially so with texts that come to us from unfamiliar cultures and ancient times, both of which situations apply to biblical texts. It is no secret that the critical reading of biblical texts, which comes under the rubric of the historicalcritical method, has fallen out of favor in large sections of the biblical studies guild, not least among English-language practitioners. Historicalcritical readings are indicted on the grounds that they objectify the text, reducing it to a potential source of information or a puzzle to be solved. This approach is also taken to imply that a text has only one correct interpretation, the one intended by the author, or dictated by the circumstances and contingencies in which the text was produced. Yet the historical-critical reading of texts was concerned, no less than any other method, with getting at the meaning of the text, not just identifying its historical referents — individuals, events, social situations, etc. The difference is that it operates on the assumption that the circumstances of the production and reception of the text are important ways of getting at its meaning.

The historical-critical method is located somewhere near one end of a spectrum to which corresponds, at the other end, the idea of the text as a sort of Rorschach ink blot that serves to elicit responses, insights, and emotions that may and often will differ from one reader to the next. On this view, meanings inscribed in texts are as fluid, indeterminate, and perspectival as the cloud to which Hamlet draws the attention of Polonius in Hamlet, act 3, scene 2:

H: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?

P: By th’mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed!

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