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Now there was1 a famine in the land and Abram went down to Egypt2 to sojourn there

because the famine was oppressive3 in the land.

When4 he was about to enter Egypt5 he said to Sari his wife, "6I know7, you truly are a beautiful looking
When9 the Egyptians see you they will say this is his wife and they will kill me but10 you they will keep
Say12 you are my sister so that it will go well for me because of you and I may live on account of you13.
When Abram entered14 Egypt the Egyptians saw15 that the woman was very beautiful.
The court officials of Pharaoh saw15 her, praised16 her to Pharaoh, and the woman was taken17 to the
house of Pharaoh.
He dealt well with18 Abram on account of her, and he had19 sheep and cattle, male-donkeys, servants and
maid-servants, female donkeys and camels20.
Then the LORD struck21 Pharaoh and his house with mighty plagues because of22 Sari, wife of Abram.
So Pharaoh called23 for Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me
that she is your wife?
Why did you say she is my sister so that I took24 her to me for a wife
Now! Your wife, take her and leave.
So Pharaoh gave his men orders25 concerning him, and they sent away: him, his wife and all that he had.
1 3ms Qal imperfect vav consecutive (vav con.) from ‫היה‬. vav con. used to begin narrative sequence. Now seems to provide
a slight break with proceeding text while not losing the conjunctive nature of vav (Arnold and Choi, 86)
2 directional ‫ ה‬on Egypt translated as to. The fact Abram is moving toward Egypt is clarified in next verse.
3 oppressive follows BDB, 458.
4 3ms Qal imperfect vav. con. from ‫ היה‬with ‫ כאשר‬translation follows BDB, 455.
5 BDB suggests ‫ קרב‬in Hiphil as to bring near in relation to time (898). Therefore, about follows BDB (cf. TNK, NRSV)
6 Understands ‫ הנה‬as a logical particle used to introduce command of v. 13 with ‫ נא‬reinforcing this sense of the particle,
any translation seems to impose what is not there (Waltke & O'Conner [W&O], 578). ‫ הנה‬can also introduce movement in
narrative away from narrator to the perspective of a specific character (Arnold & Choi, 157).
7 1cs perfect with present meaning following Wenham, 284. (cf. W&O, 485)
8 Admittedly shuffles the Hebrew, but beautiful looking for fair of appearance (per BDB) seems fair.
9 3ms Qal perfect vav conversive (often future action of verb) from ‫ היה‬with ‫כי‬, which can be used temporally. When = will
come to pass [‫ ]והיה‬and ‫ כי‬as introduction to temporal clause. (W&O, 519-20; BDB; Westermann, 161)
10 ‫ ו‬followed by noun or pronoun often adversative
11 3mp Piel imperfect from ‫ חיה‬which moves from a intransitive/stative in the Qal to a factative (transfer to state of) in the
Piel (W&O, 401-2)
12 2fs Qal imperative from ‫אמר‬. The ‫ נא‬is not seen as precative following Lambdin, 170 and W&O, 578-9.
13 ‫בגללך‬/‫ בעבורך‬understood as synonyms goes along with symmetry of two clauses led by imperfect and connected with a
perfect form converted to non-perfective by the vav (W&O, 529).
14 3ms Qal imperfect vav. con. from ‫ היה‬and it came to pass redundant with ‫ כ‬+ infinitive construct which has a temporal
sense translated when (Arnold & Choi, 110).
15 3mp Qal imperfect vav con. from ‫ראה‬
16 3mp Piel imperfect vav con. from ‫ הלל‬follows BDB, 238
17 3fs Qal Passive vav con. from ‫לקח‬. This location and translation of the verb follows W&O, 374-5 & Lambdin, 253
18 3ms Hiphil perfect from ‫ יטב‬translation follows BDB, 405 and translates preposition ‫ ל‬based on its relationship to the verb
also following BDB, 405
19 renders in smoother English it was to him
20 There are a couple of variations on this verse in Sam. Pent. that with the syntax and mention of camels suggests editing
but these and other variants found in 11, 17, 19 & 20 are considered inconsequential.
21 3ms Piel imperfect vav con. from ‫" נגע‬to touch". Piel intensive = strike. Then vav con. read as sequential
22 renders the literal concerning the matter of following BDB, 184
23 3ms Qal imperfect vav con. from ‫ קרא‬So understands a consequential use of vav consecutive
24 1cs Qal imperfect vav con. so that understands a consequential use of vav consecutive
25 3ms Piel imperfect vav con. from ‫ צוה‬translation follows BDB, 845 and So understands a consequential use of vav con.

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Literary Character of the Text
There is almost universal assent that Genesis 12:10 marks the beginning of the literary unit. The
verse begins with ‫ ויהי‬which is often used to introduce a narrative (Koch, 116). The question of the end
of the literary unit is much more contentious. Ultimately, convincing arguments for 13:1 as the
conclusion of the unit are as follows: Genesis 13:2 begins with a disjunctive clause, "travel agenda
necessary" to return party to Negev (Peterson, 34), after the conclusion of a tale Hebrew often offers a
"short narrative remark on the further fate of the hero" (Koch, 116). On the one hand, this tale could be
lifted from its place in the text and stand on its own as a "self contained unit" (Van Seeters 170). On the
other hand, the insertion of the story into the itinerary seems to send ripples out to at least 12:7 before
and 13:4 after (see table). Even so, as Gunkel suggests, 12:10 to 13:1 are the central passage and a
complete literary unit (Gunkel, 168).
12:10 to 13:1 Endangered Ancestress -- ‫כבד הרעב‬ 13:2 Abram ‫כבד מאד‬
12:9 by stages to Negev 13:3a Stages from Negev
12:7-8 promise, altar, Bethel & Ai, invoke the LORD 13:3b-4 Bethel & Ai, altar, invoke the LORD
Structure and flow.
Narration in the Land: Exit, Evidence of Marginality, ‫וירד מצרימה‬
12:10 There's a severe famine in the land and Abram must go down to Egypt
First "Dialogue": Fear and Facade at the Border
12:11-12 Abram's fears: Sarai, his wife is a beautiful woman & his wife's beauty will get him killed.
12:13 Proposed facade: "Say you are my sister"
Narration in Egypt: Fear's Realized & Financial gain from Facade
12:14-15 The woman is seen as beautiful. The woman is seen, praised, and taken by Pharaoh
12:16 Abram gains wealth because of her
Narration of Divine Intervention: The Matter of Sarai
12:17 Pharaoh is struck with plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife.
Second "Dialogue": Interrogation and Expulsion by Pharaoh
12:18-19 Why didn't you tell me she's your wife. I took her for my wife. Your wife Take Go!
12:20 Abram, his wife, and all that he had sent away
Narration of Return: ‫ויעל ממצרימ‬
13:1 Abram, his wife, and all that he has go up from Egypt

The structure of this unit resembles a folktale with the following elements and plot flow:
problem, plan, execution, complication, and outcome (Niditch 42; cf. Van Seeters 168). This unit builds
suspense with a multi-layered statement of problem: famine, foreigner in foreign land, fear of abduction
and murder. Suspense is intensified by the ambiguity of the plan. The execution seems to legitimate the
fears and offer an initial relaxation of suspense but maintains the ambiguity concerning the fate of Sarai.
The complication immediately rebuilds suspense again as the duped superpower is confronted by the
LORD and then confronts Abram. The outcome provides a surprise reversal of fortunes as the famine

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stricken ‫ גר‬is escorted out with his life, wife, and incredible wealth to return to the land.
The use of ‫ אשה‬throughout the narrative is interesting (11 times). As the outline suggests,
specifically during the execution phase Sarai is referred to as the woman. The shift of this use does not
come until the LORD intervenes because of Sarai or following Trible's non-idiomatic rendering of the
Hebrew ‫על־דבר שרי‬: "because of the word of Sarai" (36). This is the first time Sarai is named since her
introduction will henceforth be wife of Abram. While the surface of the text focuses on the reversal and
wealth, the author's use of this word highlights the innocence of Pharaoh and seems to suggest the LORD'S
concern for the ambiguity running throughout the text - the fate of Sarai.
Form and Genre & Literary Context.
This narrative can be described as a tale or more specifically a folktale (Coats 1985, Niditch
1987, Van Seeters 1975). Gunkel suggests that the brevity of the narrative, the clear arrangement of
events, and its naivety point to the legends oral composition (172 & 224). But as Niditch warns, the
composition of the story demonstrates an economical traditional style that may be a mark of oral
composition, but along with repetition is not a guarantee of oral composition (31). Niditch and Van
Seeters both suggest that Genesis 12 is textbook folk literature, while Niditch further stresses the generic
and universal appeal of the economic traditional style (40). This universal appeal makes it difficult to
elaborate a particular Sitz im Leben for this narrative. Genesis 20 with its more complicated style and
Genesis 26 with its less direct narrative structure seem to have a more limited setting in which they
might have first circulated, but Genesis 12 would seem entertaining to anyone who is part of the folk of
the folktale and many who are not. Rhetorically, the tale seems to be intended to entertain as opposed to
relating grand theological themes. Recognition of and reading as an example of the genre 'folktale'
causes one to engage specifically with the events of the story(ies). Coats further elaborates on this point:
The focus of the genre on event, not theological proposition, shows the intention of the story to
be a description of circumstances that obtain for people who deny support for the patriarch.
Even in the face of the patriarch's involvement in causing the strife, strife with the patriarch leads
to curse. And the genre of 'tale' functions depict the events that show the reality of
that strife with dramatic clarity (81).

Briefly, the above quote segues into the work of Biddle (1990) with the endangered ancestress
tales. Through tight focus on the events of the text, recognition of the proximity of the divine promise to
these tales, and the potential for curse or blessing explicated by Coats, Biddle shows how these three
tales function "in terms of a Sitz im Buch" to interpret the promise initially given in 12:1-3 (611). These
tales detail through narrative how "the nation's point of contact with either blessing or curse" resides in
the person of the patriarch (Biddle, 611). These tales relate tense interrelationship with mutual
responsibility to "behave toward one another" between the blessed and the nations (Biddle, 611).

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Arnold, Bill T., and John Choi. A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003.
Biddle, Mark E. "The "endangered ancestress" and blessing for the nations." Journal of Biblical
Literature 109.4 (Wint 1990): 599-611.
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English
Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic; Coded with the Numbering System
from "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible". Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997.
Coats, George W. Saga, Legend, Tale, Novella, Fable: Narrative Forms in Old Testament Literature.
Journal for the study of the Old Testament, 35. Sheffield: JSOT, 1985.
Gunkel, Hermann, and Mark E. Biddle. Genesis. Mercer Library of Biblical Studies. Macon, Ga: Mercer
University Press, 1997.
Koch, Klaus. The Growth of the Biblical Tradition: The Form-Critical Method. New York: Scribner,
Lambdin, Thomas Oden. Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. New York: Scribner, 1971.
Niditch, Susan. Underdogs and Tricksters: A Prelude to Biblical Folklore. New voices in biblical
studies. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
Peterson, David. "A Thrice-Told Tale: Genre, Theme, and Motif." BR 18 (1973): 30-34.
Trible, Phyllis, and Letty M. Russell. Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim
Perspectives. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.
Van Seters, John. Abraham in History and Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Michael P. O'Connor. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake,
Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1990.
Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary, 1. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis 12-36 : a commentary. Minneapolis : Augsburg Pub. House, 1985.

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