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Harvard’s Levenson on Abraham and Gods


The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide explores the tensions in faith, the laws of hospitality, and the important numerology of intercession in the growing story of Abraham.

“Abraham is a father, he is not a founder,” states Jon D. Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School. In this lecture delivered for the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago, Levenson draws on the stories in the Book of Jubilees, a.k.a., Little Genesis, and Midrash to get beyond life application approaches to understand the question: why Abraham? About halfway through, Levenson remarks that the Genesis story of Abraham begins in a “Lutheran mode and ends in a Catholic mode. It begins in sheer pure grace and ends in grace and works working conjointly.” Levenson goes on to interrogate some key theological problems as well as explore how Abraham sees beyond the material to divine the divine.

·       Why does God choose Abraham?

·       What is grace and what is arbitrariness?

·       What is Abraham’s search?

·       How does one approach sensory descriptions of ascertaining God?

·       Do the shapeshifting variety of biblical anthropomorphisms prove the sovereignty of God over human image-making?

You can watch the full lecture below. Warning, Levenson likes to play with words and sprinkles some puns throughout his talk. 


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum

Title image: Three Angels Visiting Abraham by Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619), public domain.

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