According to the narrative of Genesis, the land promise to Abraham begins modestly near Shechem.1

The promise appears in chapters 12–13, 15, 17, 22, and beyond chapter 25.

In the last phase of course, Abraham has died. But when Abraham’s descendants receive the promise, appeals back to Abraham still appear.

Interpreting the Promise(s)

But within Genesis, the different forms the land promise takes create intriguing intertextual connections within the book.

In addition, each form of the promise provided Genesis’s Second Temple readers with a distinct set of opportunities to read the scope of the promises still more broadly.

This tendency to read individual versions of the land promise more broadly appears in Ben Sira, Genesis Apocryphon, Jubilees, Philo, Paul of Tarsus, Pseudo-Philo, and R. Eliezer b. Jacob.

The broadening tendency appears differently in different authors. The Genesis Apocryphon, Pseudo-Philo, R. Eliezer b. Jacob, and most texts in Jubilees reflect more modest expansions.

The expansionist tendency in Ben Sira, Jubilees, Philo, and Paul is stronger. These witnesses find in the promise to Abraham of landed inheritance a claim for this promise to encompass the whole world.

It is by far commoner for the promise to be interpreted around the land of Canaan. But the expansionist minority reading is itself commoner than is often appreciated.

Conclusion

Within Pauline studies, scholars often note the parallel between Ben Sira and Paul when interpreting what Paul may mean when he identifies Abraham as “heir of the world” (Rom 4:13).

But Jubilees and Philo share the same style of reading as well, despite their giving it very different forms. And although not to the same degree, you can see similar interpretive outcomes in Genesis Apocryphon, Pseudo-Philo, and R. Eliezer b. Jacob.

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  1. Header image provided by Claudio Testa

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