Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chayei Sarah: The Eliezer Doublet

The bulk of Parshas Chayei Sarah is the well known account of Avrohom sending his servant, whom we are told is Eliezer (see Genesis 15:2), to find a wife from among Avrohom’s family for his son Yitzchok (Genesis 24). After traveling to Aram Naharim he waited by the well and prayed that God would send Yitzchok a proper shidduch to be identified by responding to his request for water with an offer to water his camels also. Rivka arrives and exceeds expectation.

When Rivka and Eliezer arrived at her home to meet her family, relatives of Avrohom, we are confronted with one of the clearest examples of a repetitive narrative to be found in the Chumash. Sixteen pesukim, almost as much as either of the two other narratives in this parsha, are dedicated to Eliezer telling Rivka’s family about the events we have just read about, with a few small differences.

From a purely stylistic standpoint this is hugely redundant. It, for all practical purposes, could be described as a doublet, “A doublet is a case of the same story being told twice. Even in translation it is easy to observe that biblical stories often appear with variation in detail in two different places in the Bible. There are two different stories of the creation of the world. There are two stories of the covenant between God and the patriarch Abraham…” (Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliot Freedman, page 22). Why was it necessary to give a full review rather than simply a generic one similar to that found in verse 30, “Thus has the man spoken to me”? Certainly this passage is much more repetitive, and more noticeable, than the account of creation found in Genesis 2.

But while this narrative has the stylistic difficulty which otherwise suggest to academics that we have multiple sources, such a position isn’t really helpful here. This repetition is totally dependant upon the original. The context of the account is clearly one of Eliezer telling the story, which requires the events to have already transpired. Furthermore, we might note, that the use of the divine names in either part of the narrative is consistent.

Presumably for these very reasons this narrative, despite its repetitive nature, is attributed in its entirety to “J” by Freidman (ibid page 248) and is not really considered a doublet. So while it may be argued that generally it is easier to attribute such “redundant” accounts to multiple sources in this case we are simply faced with the fact that the author/editor/redactor was content with presenting the material in a way that we would not choose stylistically. And when one notes the subtle differences I would argue that at least in this case “Those who defended the traditional belief” and argued that the differences “came to teach us a lesson by their ‘apparent’ contradiction” where correct. (see ibid page 22).

יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות לפני המקום מתורתן של בניהם

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