CONTEXT: The hypothetical J author launches the patriarchal narrative with Yahh’s radical call, lech l’cha–“get going,” and promise to Avram. A few lines later we have an insertion of vital statistics, typical of P, indicated here by indentation. J’s travelogue continues with a shifty and profitable excursion, the first of three “Wife? Sister!” stories. (See: chapters 20 (E) and 26:6-11.) See  them presented here in parallel columns.
Avraham's origins are said to be Ur, Kasdim, generally sited in south Iraq, on the Euphrates 50 miles from where it joins the Tigris. His father, Terach, leaves Ur on his way to K'na'an, stopping in Charan, thought to be in south Turkey, about 80 miles east of the Euphrates.  It is here, halfway between Ur and K'na'an that Avraham hears the call. (Gen 11:28, 31)
            Sh’chem Place I treat as a proper noun.  Makom, “place,” refers to a site, with a purpose, likely in this case a shrine as in the story of Jacob’s dream, Genesis 28:16.  ElonMoreh is “tree of oracle/revelation/teaching.” Likely a landmark, sacred, frequently translated “oak.”
            Sh’chem was the ancient name of present day Nablus, located in the mountains 40 miles by road north of Jerusalem.  BetEl was probably on the site of present day Arab village Beitin, 16 miles north of Jerusalem. K’na’an is the Hebrew pronunciation of Canaan.
            Mitsrayim, Hebrew for Egypt, is also closer to Matsr, as contemporary residents of that land refer to their country. The English name Egypt is derived from the ancient Greek Aígyptos (Αἴγυπτος), via Middle French Egypte and Latin Aegyptus. It is reflected in early Greek Linear B tablets as a-ku-pi-ti-yo.( Wikipedia) Gypsy: 1505–15; back formation of gipcyan, aphetic variant of Egyptian, from a belief that Gypsies came originally from Egypt. (
"Woman," isha, אִשָּׁה, can be interpreted as "wife," as in this story. I use the word as it shows up in Hebrew and let the reader/hearer do the interpreting.

LECH L’CHA (Genesis 12: 1-9)
            1Yahh said to Avram:
“Go you, from your land, your kin, your father’s house,
To the land that I shall show you.
2I will make you a nation, great, and bless you.
I will make your name great. Be a blessing.
3I will bless them who bless you and curse him who curses you.
Through you will all families of the earth be blessed.”
            4So Avram went as Yahh had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.
Avram was 75 years old when he left Charan. 5He took Sarai, his woman, and Lot, his brother’s son, and their possessions they had accumulated, and the persons they had got in Charan. They left to go to the land of K’na’an.
They arrived at the land of K’na’an. 6Avram crossed the land to Sh’chem Place, to ElonMoreh.  (The K’na’ani were then in the land.) 7Yahh appeared to him and said: “I give this land to your seed.” So he built there an altar to Yahh who had appeared to him.
            8He pulled up stakes for the mountain east of BeitEl where he pitched his tent.  (BeitEl was from the west and the Ai from the East.)  He built an altar there and called out in the name Yahh. 9He traveled on, trekking and journeying to the Negev (“south”).

WIFE? SISTER! (Genesis 12:10-13:1)
            10There was a famine in the land. Avram went down towards Mitsrayim to sojourn there for the famine lay heavy on the land. 11It was when he was approaching Mitsrayim that he said to Sarai, his woman, “Consider this: I have long known that you are a beautiful woman. 12When the Mitsrim see you they’ll say, ‘This is his woman,’ and they’ll kill me and keep you alive. 13Please, tell them you are my sister so it’ll be good for me for your sake. And my life will survive on account of you.”
            14It happened as Avram arrived at Mitsrayim, the Mitsrim looked at the woman for she was very pretty. 15Paroh’s courtiers saw her and praised her to him. The woman was taken to Paroh’s house 16and he treated Avram well for her sake, giving him flocks, cattle, and asses, slaves and handmaids, she asses and camels.
            17Then Yahh struck Paroh and his house with great plagues over the matter of Avram’s woman Sarai. 18Paroh summoned Avram: “What is this you have done to me! Why didn’t you tell me she is your woman? 19Why did you say, ‘She’s my sister?’ so that I should take her to myself as woman? Now here’s your woman: take and go!”
            20Paroh commanded people for him and they sent him away, his woman and all that he had.  Avram went up from Mitsrayim back to the Negev, along with his woman, all that he had, and Lot, as well.
© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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