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TitleCommentary on Abraham 2
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsSmoot, Stephen O.
Book TitleThe Pearl of Great Price: A Study Edition for Latter-day Saints
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT

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2:1 The name is rendered Nahor in both the Kirtland and Nauvoo-era manuscripts

2:3 As with 1:16–17, the name is given as Abram in the manuscripts and T&S printing.

2:4 The city (and land) of Haran has been widely identified with a city by the same name in southern Turkey near modern Urfa (Şanlıurfa). The name is attested in records from ancient Ebla. According to this verse, it appears that the city (and land) got its name from Abraham himself in memory of his brother who perished in the famine mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.

2:5 Abraham’s father reverts to his idolatry, forcing Abraham to leave him behind, thereby fulfilling the commandment he received from God to leave his “country” (that is, his homeland; ʾāreṣ), his “kindred” (that is, his ethnic group; môledet), and his “father’s house” (that is, his family; bēyt ʾāb). This both raises the stakes of the narrative and demonstrates Abraham’s great faith, as he obviously sacrificed much to secure the blessings promised to him by God.

2:6–11 The Abrahamic covenant. As promised at 1:18–19, and in parallel with Genesis 15 and 17, here Abraham enters a covenant with God. In its most basic definition, covenant in the biblical and ancient Near Eastern sense means something like “pact” or “treaty.” It involves, at a minimum, two parties, one of which typically sets the terms and conditions of the covenant, which the other is obliged to uphold. Numerous treaties or covenants between political entities (kings or rulers of city-states or empires) from the ancient Near East have been recovered. In the Hebrew Bible, as in here, it is God who sets the terms and conditions of the covenant and who acts as the ultimate authority to either revoke or sustain the covenant depending on how well His servants execute their obligations. The covenantal pattern. Ancient treaties or covenants typically followed a set pattern. The structure of the covenantal pattern evolved over time, but typically featured a solemn oath or ceremony, a preamble, a historical prologue, named witnesses to the covenant, stipulations, promised blessings for keeping the covenant, and promised curses for breaking the covenant. The covenant Abraham enters with God here features several of these elements, including a solemn ceremony (Abraham 2:6), a preamble (2:6–8), stipulations (2:9–10), and blessings and curses (2:11). Lot as witness. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is present with him during the covenant ceremony, thus fulfilling the need for witnesses. The Lord, however, appears only to Abraham in the theophany. Jehovah as cosmic deity. In the ancient Near East, various gods were believed to have specialized control over the forces of nature (for example, in ancient Canaanite religion Baal controlled rain and vegetation, and Yamm controlled the sea). Jehovah’s mastery over the elements demonstrates His cosmic dominion and His preeminence among the gods of the heathen nations. The true name of God. As at 1:16, the Lord reveals His true name to Abraham, thereby granting him special access to the divine and forming a special covenantal bond. Covenant and priesthood. Importantly, the covenant blessings promised to Abraham are said here to include priesthood blessings, a detail missing in the biblical record. In return for being made “a great nation” and “great among all nations,” Abraham and his descendants are expected to bless the whole earth with priesthood ordinances. Those who enter and accept Abraham’s covenant and priesthood are blessed to be counted as his descendants and thereby as heirs to the covenantal promises. The glosses, which clarify the Lord’s instructions, provided at 2:11 make it clear that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are conceptually tied to the priesthood. It is unclear who provided these glosses—whether Abraham himself in his record or Joseph Smith in his translation. Blessings of salvation. The culmination of the Abrahamic covenant is nothing less than “the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.” As with Doctrine and Covenants 132:29–33, the text here emphasizes that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant extend into the eternities.

2:12–13 Abraham recognizes that his miraculous delivery out of the hands of the murderous priest of Elkenah (see 1:12–19) serves as proof that God could fulfill His covenant promises.

2:14–20 This material parallels the account in Genesis 12:4–9 but with some notable differences, including at least one named location along the journey and Abraham’s age at the time of departure.

2:14 Here Abraham is said to have been sixty-two when he left Haran. In the Genesis account (Genesis 12:4), he is said to be seventy-five. Ancient and medieval extra-biblical sources put Abraham at, variously, fifty-two, sixty, seventy, seventy-five, and eighty years old at the time of his departure.

2:15 Those journeying with Abraham into Canaan are his wife, Sarai; his nephew, Lot; and a group of “souls” (compare Genesis 12:5) of unspecified number. In the Genesis account, Abraham “gets” these “souls” from Haran, whereas here he “wins” them; presumably meaning he converted them through his preaching and numbered them in the covenant. (In fact, this is precisely how ancient Jewish interpreters understood Abraham’s acquisition of these persons into his party.) Traveling in large numbers with plenty of provisions would have ensured an overall safer journey into the “strange” (foreign) land of Canaan.

2:16 Jershon (rendered Jurshon in Ab4, probably reflecting how it was pronounced) is named as a location Abraham and his party passed through on their way to Canaan. The location of Jershon is unknown and is not named in the corresponding chapter in Genesis. From the description given here, it appears to be located somewhere between Haran in northern Mesopotamia and Sechem in Canaan (perhaps in Syria or Lebanon). This Jershon should not be confused with the Jershon of the Book of Mormon (see Alma 27:22–24).

2:17 Abraham builds an altar at Jershon and offers sacrifice to the Lord, an action he will repeat at Sechem and Bethel (see Abraham 2:18, 20; Genesis 12:7–8). In the first instance, Abraham offers sacrifice in a sort of intercessory prayer for his father, demonstrating his continued love for him despite his idolatrous (and murderous) behavior. Besides this, Abraham’s offering of sacrifice expresses gratitude to God for safe entry into Canaan and consecrates this new land, thereby making it suitable for sacred ritual activity. (This is necessary because Canaan is said to be an “idolatrous nation” at Abraham 2:18.) The text does not specify what kind of sacrifice Abraham made. Both animal and vegetable or cereal sacrifices were ubiquitous in the cultures of the ancient Near East and could be offered as tokens of gratitude or as gifts for a deity, to fulfill ritual duties, in funerary practices, in divinatory and exorcism practices, and to ratify covenants and treaties. (This last category appears to explain Abraham’s actions in Genesis 15:9–11.)

2:18 Sechem. Rendered Sichem in the King James Version. The name of this location is attested in Egyptian sources from Abraham’s day and is widely identified with Tell Balata in the modern West Bank. The plains of Moreh. Sechem is said to be situated adjacent to a location called the plains of Moreh (compare Genesis 12:6), or more properly, the “oak” or “terebinth” (ʾelon) of Moreh (or, even more literally, “the oracle/teacher oak”). The rendering here is most likely dependent on the King James Version (at Genesis 12:6). But the text captures something quite authentic. Several authorities agree that the oak of Moreh was probably a local Canaanite shrine (a sacred tree). Unlike in the Kings James Version Genesis account, here Abraham identifies the land of Canaan as an “idolatrous nation” and explains that he offered authorized sacrifices and called upon the Lord “devoutly” to, it appears, counter this local idolatry.

2:19 In response to Abraham’s devotion, the Lord appears to him and gives him his own oracle (right there at the “oracle tree,” as it were) that his “seed” would inherit this land. The play on horticultural imagery cannot be missed.

2:20 Bethel. This location is widely identified with modern Beitin in the West Bank (with a minority favoring the site of el-Bireh not far from Beitin as an alternative candidate). It is here that later, in Genesis 28:10–22, Abraham’s grandson Jacob would experience his famous dream and theophany. Hai. Also rendered Ai in modern biblical translations (meaning “the ruin”), this site, a sort of sister city to Bethel, is identified by most scholars with et-Tell just east of Beitin in the West Bank. It plays a prominent role in the book of Joshua as a city captured by the Israelites (Joshua 7–8).

2:21 The motivation for the journey to Egypt is, as with the motivation to leave Haran, to escape a famine. In the extant text of the book of Abraham, however, the patriarch never actually sets foot in Egypt.

2:22–25 Unlike in the parallel account in Genesis 12:11–13, here the Lord instructs Abraham to call Sarai his sister instead of his wife. The concern behind this subterfuge is clear from the text. Given that ancient Egyptian texts depict pharaohs as taking any women they wanted, and given the capacity for callousness in ancient royalty, this fear was not unrealistic. The text is taking advantage of an ambiguity in ancient Egyptian language and culture. In ancient Egyptian, the word for wife (ḥmt) meant “wife,” but the word for sister (snt) could mean either “sister” or “wife.” In any case, Genesis 20:12 identifies Sarai as Abraham’s half-sister. The Lord was thus not instructing Abraham to lie but rather to be evasive or purposefully ambiguous. Interestingly, a text recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls depicts Abraham as being warned of this impending danger in a dream.

Scripture Reference

Abraham 2:1