Memory and Identity: The Promises to Patriarchs in Genesis 17


Author: CHEN Guangchun, Assistant Professor, School of Literature and Communication, Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University.


The theme of the Promises to Patriarchs is a unique and important cultural memory in Jewish-Christian tradition, which has shaped the identity of faith communities throughout history. Through a close reading of Genesis 17, this article explores how the redactors of this chapter recalled the promises of the pre-Priestly texts and rewrote them into three aspects: the promise of descendants, land and covenant-making. Firstly, the promise of a son that Yahweh gives Abraham and Sarah is transformed into the promise of many nations in Genesis 17. Secondly, where the pre-Priestly texts attempt to portray a “new Israel” with clear geographical boundaries, the Priestly texts use the vague concept of “the whole land of Canaan”. Thirdly, Genesis 17 includes the promises of descendants and land into the “New Covenent” established by Almighty God and Abraham. In this way, Israel both maintains the same relationship with other nations, that is, they share common ancestors and God, and is also distinguished from other nations by its relation to creation and the temple of God. The identity of Israel as represented by the priests was thus reformed in the early period of the Persian empire.


The Promises to Patriarchs, Genesis 17, Abraham, cultural memory, community identity

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CHEN Guangchun

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CHEN Guangchun