Out of the Fire
Recovering the Story of Abraham’s Origins
The Pentateuch is content with a laconic mention of Abraham’s birth: “Now this is the line of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran” (Genesis 11:27). We rapidly learn of Abram’s marriage to Sarai and of Sarai’s barrenness (vv. 29–30), of the journey of Sarah and Abraham (as they will later be called) and Abraham’s father “from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan,” and of their arrival to Haran (vv. 31–32), at which point we are ready to accompany the Patriarch on his journey to Canaan after God commands him to “go forth [lekh lekha]” (12:1).
Indeed, we are left to wonder why the Torah dodges this opportunity to tell us about Abraham’s birth, seeing that the Bible relates many tales about the miraculous births of its heroes (most of them sons of barren women: Isaac, Jacob, Samson, and Samuel). Why was this part of the biography of the first forefather so diminished? In fact, it is not only Abraham’s birth story that is missing from the Torah; his childhood and adolescence are also left unmined. Our first glimpse of Abraham as an active character comes only when he is already in Canaan and a (relatively) old man of seventy-five years (Genesis 12:4).
Before we address these questions directly and try to reconstruct the missing tradition about Abraham’s youth, let us consider three distinct explanations that the book of Genesis offers for Abraham’s leaving his father’s home and journeying to Canaan.