BABEL to AVRAM
Wednesday, June 20:
Genesis Chapter 15
Here’s yet a third round of promise from God to Avram. Avram is childless, doubting the original promise of offspring. The rules of inheritance are unclear to us, but legitimate offspring, sons of the correct spouse or adopted according to accepted practice, are required. In a tribal household including kin and slaves, Eliezer has lots of operational authority, and some heirship, despite being Damascene and born to a slave in Avram’s tents.
God makes another promise, pointing to the stars of the sky to count Avram’s descendants. Avram’s trust in that promise is ‘counted as righteousness’, a phrase relished in our tradition. This was not a logical speculation, but risking against the odds to believe that a legitimate heir, and a future people, would follow despite much concurrent evidence to the contrary.
Avram has no title to the land, save this ritual of slaughter sacrifice – compare that to the root of our word ‘indenture’ for legal titles. Split those animals in half, and walk between the halves – nobody will forget the wasteful gesture of confidence that God will make him whole for the lavish expenditure.
In a dream, God tells Avram of a prospect of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, then Exodus when judgment comes on their slave-drivers.
The shorter cycle of patriarchs is also previewed, till the Amorites get theirs.
The ritual ends with fire and smoke passing between the halves of the slaughtered sacrifices, and intoning the dispossession of the neighbouring tribes in favour of Avram’s clans.
What gives us title to our land, to the exclusion of first nations’ claims, and the rejection of immigrants and refugees from away?
Check the geographic scale of this promise: from the Nile to the Euphrates! This is not the modest endowment of Palestine, or Canaan, but far wider, across many more competing land claims.
If you don’t stick with exclusive possession and control in the sense of a pre-exilic claim to a nation state or empire, this claim is less crazy. In post-exilic times, as scripture took its shape, Alexandria was a rooted Jewish community, and so was Nineveh and the cities of former Babylon, along with everything in between.