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109 CHAPTER 6 Fruitfulness The Emergence of a New Identity beyond Insider/Outsider Dichotomies Genesis presents the radical vision of community into which God calls the family of Abraham, as well as their struggles to navigate the distance between that vision and the circumstances in which they find themselves. In this way, the book offers abundant resources for contemporary readers navigating the world defined by the social ladder. Rather than regarding identity as a bodily fact, the book recognizes the way in which it develops through lived experience, forged through a process of negotiation with the way in which one is perceived by others. Those who are receptive to a divine word that calls people into a new identity and a new way of being in the midst of those negotiations can find in Genesis insight for living faithfully in the present racial world while also living into the transformation of that world. Steeped in the conventions of the social ladder, discussions of Gen 12–­ 50 tend to focus on connections expressed in vertical relationships of descent (e.g., Sarah and Isaac) and on conflicts expressed in lateral relationships of difference (e.g., Isaac and Ishmael). However, the book does not construct its family of focus through such neat dichotomies of inside and outside. Its family tree assigns great importance to connections across lateral relationships of difference.1 1 Claus Westermann finds such an emphasis in the creation account: “Basically soil and people are related to each other inasmuch as they are assigned to each other. Just as the 110 Belonging in Genesis The family tree confounds modern sensibilities because it presents divergence without dissociation. The social ladder derives its structure from division and separation. Its utility depends on strong rungs (boundaries between groups) and a framework to hold them in place. In contrast, the coexistence of divergent branches and a common root define a tree. While a tree diagram might consign the common root to history, allowing each part of the tree to be considered separately, Genesis features a family tree that is dynamic and alive, still in the process of growing and taking shape. In such a living tree, the branches and the root coexist in such a way that neither can really be understood apart from the other. Only a living tree can bear fruit, and only when its branches diverge while remaining connected to the root, and thereby one another. Isaac, the Elusive Patriarch A peculiar interruption in the story of Jacob and Esau reveals how the expandednotionoffamilyestablishedintheearlypartofGenesisinforms the rest of the book. After the episode in which Esau sells his birthright and before the one in which Jacob deceitfully obtains their father’s blessing , Genesis engages in an extended discussion of the exploits of Isaac in which the rival brothers do not figure at all (Gen 26:1-­ 33). Squeezing Isaac’s story into the cracks of his sons’ story, the detour corresponds to Isaac’s particular role in the text. He emerges as a distinct figure among the patriarchs and matriarchs, or more precisely, he emerges as a strikingly indistinct character.2 Compounding the situacultivation of the land, which is more than simply the acquisition of food, is part of human existence, so too the hmda is what it is because of the attention that people give it. Soil and people are associated with each other in agricultural life in such a way that each is determined by this mutual association” (Genesis 1–­ 11: A Continental Commentary [trans. John J. Scullion; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994], 199). 2 Commentators have often remarked that the portrayal of Isaac pales in comparison to the portrayals of his father, son, and wife. E.g., Walter Brueggemann suggests, “he is primarily remembered as the precious son of a great father and as the beguiled father of a scheming son” (Genesis: Interpretation [Atlanta: John Knox, 1982], 221). In keeping with this perspective, schematizations of Genesis frequently associate major sections of the book with Abraham and Jacob respectively, leaving Isaac’s story to be told as a byproduct of theirs. E.g., John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (ICC; 2nd ed.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1930); E. A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (AB 1; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964); Brueggemann, Genesis. Skinner dismisses the recurrence of twødVlwøt as providing a suitable structure for the book, remarking, “the schema is of no practical utility . . . and theoretically it is open to objection. Here it is sufficient to point...


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