This story with its strong characterization and vivid description, and, of course its focus on Yahh, reads like a J document. But three suggestive E usages stand out:
            1 A night vision as distinguished form a daytime experience typical of J. (cf. Gen 16:7; 18:1)
            2 Amorites rather than Canaanites for the indigenous population. (eg. Gen 24:3–J; 48:22–E)
            3 Use of a rare word, alatah for “darkness” (v.17). Unusual words and forms are more common in E’s style.
What we have here may exemplify a skillful combining of two versions of the narrative, apart from the redundancy in v.2/3 and the contradiction, v. 13/16, in how long the descendents will remain in Egypt. The alternatives, four hundred years or four generations, are best explained as indicating two traditions. I have parenthesized–and shifted–v.16, the four generation line, to suggest that it is external to the narrative. Along with the Amorite reference, the shorter term of slavery fits better with the story, attributed to E, of the two Egyptian midwives, Exodus 1:15-21.  The P version in Exodus 12:40 has 430 years.
            Verse 2b has puzzled the best scholars. The received text is seen as flawed beyond comprehension, or it includes two distinct glosses. I prefer the latter but the reading cannot be certain. Following a clear and dramatic opening, the line contains a singular word that I leave in its unfamiliar original, mesheq, מֶשֶׁק. Apparently this word was rare enough in antiquity that some editor explained it in a gloss based on the next verse. Another hand added a second gloss interpreting the word as meaning that Eliezer was from Damascus (though spelled with a sin, ֹש, instead of shin, שׁ.) Where there was no family heir, ancient practice allowed for a member of the household, say, the steward, to inherit, and thus it is stated in the next verse. Redundancy generally shows separate sources and E has a penchant for rare words.

            1After these events a word of Yahh came to Avram in a vision:
                        “Fear not, Avram,
                             I am a shield for you.
                                  Your pay shall be very great.”
            2Avram said: “My Lord Yahh, what can you give me while I go childless? A son of mesheq, (my house,) (he is Damascus,) Eliezer. . . 3For me? You have given no seed, and a son of my house inherits from me.”
            4And the word of Yahh went on: “This one will not inherit. Rather, one who comes from your body shall inherit from you.”
            5He brought him outside: “Look skyward and count the stars if you can. That’s how your seed will be.”
            6Avram relied on Yahh and Yahh counted it as righteousness. 7He said: “I am Yahh who myself sent you out of UrKasdim to give you this land to posses it.”
            8“My Lord Yahh, by what shall I know that I posses it?”
            9“Take me a three year heifer, she goat, and ram, and a dove and a chick.”
            10So Avram took for Yahh all these and he split them in half, setting each split facing its mate–he did not split the bird. 11Buzzards descended to the carcasses but Avram drove them back. 12When the sun was about to set a deep sleep fell on Avram. A great dark terror falls on him.
            13Yahh said to Avram: “Know for sure that your seed will be a sojourner in a land that is not theirs. They shall enslave and oppress them for four hundred years. 14But that nation, too, whom they serve, I judge. Afterwards they shall leave with great possession. (16A fourth generation shall return here, for the guilt of the Amori is not yet fulfilled.)
            15“As for you, you will come to your ancestors in shalom, buried with good grey hair.”
            17It happened that the sun set and turned to dark.  Then, see, a smoking oven, a flaming torch, that passed between these halves. 18That day Yahh cut a b’rit with Avram:
     “To your seed have I given this land:
          From the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates;
            19The Qeni, and the Q’nizi, and the Qadmoni,
               And the Chiti, and the P’rizi, and the R’fa’im,
               And the Emori, and the C’na’ani, and the Girg’shi, and the Y’vusi.”

© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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