Notes on Genesis (xxxii) Abram leaves home
‘Get out from your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land I will show you.’ (Gen 12:1)
Abram’s departure from Haran to Canaan stands at the beginning of the patriarchal narratives. His father Terah had led the family from Ur of the Chaldeans to the northwest along Mesopotamia; now, following the death of Terah, God commands Abram to continue to the southwest into the land of Canaan. Like that followed in the exodus, the route into the Promised Land was certainly not direct. Given its position towards the west of the great Eurasian landmass, eastwards movement was natural in that part of the world; hence the waves of migration to which Europe has been subject across the millennia. And for a people settled in what was to become Palestine who tended to be non-seafaring, a sense of being at the western part of a broader area, known recently as the Fertile Crescent, came easily. It persists throughout the Old Testament; the very different state of affairs in the New Testament, especially Acts, will be made possible by the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Abram is told ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you…’ (12:2) Didymus the blind asks: ‘As for the promise to make of him “a great nation”, is it necessary to give a meaning other than the literal one? Because it is clear that it was realised in its historical sense. But, having become a people, it is truly great when it is adorned with virtues.’ The notion of blessing is reiterated with great intensity in 12:2f, perhaps another sign of the pivotal nature of this passage . The migration to Canaan that ensues will have big effects on those who were already there (‘The Canaanites were then in the land’ 12:6; what had happened to them by the time this text was written?) Despite them, biblical history sees Canaan as a promised land: ‘To your seed I will give this land.’ (12:7) And the history of the rest of the Old Testament starts here..