The Patriarchal Tragedy

  • Ulrich Simon


Abraham enters the world of history after the Deluge. He does not write history, but he is written about. He is no hero and avoids conflict if at all possible. He parts from his nephew Lot when their servants favour battle. Only once is Abraham involved in a battle, which he leaves victorious so that he is greeted with homage by the priest of Salem (Genesis 14:18ff.). He leads cattle and wives and servants from north to south and back again into Canaan, but he establishes no safe home, let alone a polis. Around Hebron and by some oaks of Mamre his life comes to a peaceful conclusion. Abram is the blessed one of the High God; he has become the Abraham, the Father of the peoples. He is old and childless despite the promise of fecundity. At length Hagar bears his son Ishmael, and when Abraham is one hundred the laughable and impossible occurs: Isaac is conceived by Sarah and born, aptly named Laughter. But sadness and threats fill the childhood of the Laughing One. Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed, despite Abraham’s pleas, for even he cannot bargain for the polluted cities of the plain (Genesis 19). It is a dangerous world in which to achieve greatness and solid numbers.


Dark Side Safe Home Polluted City Greek Tragedy Human Sacrifice 
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  1. 1.
    See C. Westermann, Genesis 12–36 (English tr. 1985). ad loc;Google Scholar
  2. R.-P. Schmitz, Aqedat Jishaq (1979).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Thomas Mann’s Joseph und seine Brüder has elicited massive commentaries and views. See Käte Hamburger, Thomas Manns biblisches Werk (1981);Google Scholar
  4. Manfred Dierks, Studien zu Mythos und Psychologie bei Thomas Mann, vol. 2 (1972); Mann’s Tagebücher, ed. Peter de Mendelssohn (1979–82) and Letters of Thomas Mann, tr. Clara Winston (1970).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ulrich Simon 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrich Simon
    • 1
  1. 1.Emeritus ProfessorUniversity of LondonUK

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