To inaugurate our new fiction and creative works section, Associate Editor Ed Hurst provides a thoughtful dramatization from the Old Testament. The text comes from Genesis 12:1-3. Join Ed in following a bit of the life of the man who would become Abraham, the story of whom begins in media res (already in progress).
The road stretched away before them, disappearing over the next ridge, or around the next hill, or down some wadi. Yet it seemed to go on forever. This time the distance in days was shorter, but the distance in other terms was far greater.
Everything that could be moved was packed on whatever could move. Now they had come to rest, having reached the limit of travel for the day. As he sat in the doorway of his tent, he saw around him many more tents, and within audible distance a wide array of heard animals all making their distinctive sounds. He had seen these traveling villages in his homeland, and they always signaled bad news. Those tent dwellers, the Emori, were so very foreign to his people. They dressed differently, spoke odd variations of the common Semitic tongue, smelled unclean, and had barbaric practices. Surely, they always brought things people wanted and needed, but it was almost certain much of what they brought had been stolen from others. Then, they sold it to the urban valley folks at outrageous prices. Not satisfied with mere trade, they would steal what they could not trade for, and leave so very quickly and quietly. Now he was one of them, in a manner of speaking. His was now a household of tents, and a people that wandered with their herds. His it was, indeed, for he was the master of this massive household. He had kept all his slaves and servants, all the herd animals, and anything small enough to pack into carts, or on the backs of animals and people.
Yet it seemed little compared to what Abram had left behind. Most importantly, he left behind his birthright as the first born son. While he wouldn't much miss his father's craft in the Temple of Cin, it was the Temple Academy that he would miss. As with all temple academies, it was sponsored by the wealth of its patron deity, but was hardly restricted in what religion one studied. Indeed, it was a mark of honor to have a collection of resident scholars covering every religion known to man. To be a scholar of any deity required spending time in worship of that deity. It was beyond description the richness and depth of knowledge and wisdom one found in the august company of these scholars. When he had been seized by a curiosity about the one simply called "El," Abram felt he had found the legendary One True Religion. In his research, he stumbled across the assertion that all other gods were -- well, they simply were not. They were not real gods, but at best corrupted manifestations of the original One. Some were alleged to be not gods at all, but rather demons manifesting falsely as gods. While the idea itself was intellectually incomprehensible, Abram left behind all the other gods in his obsession to pull out more details from this shadowy One who permitted no images of Himself.
He learned revelations were rare, and seldom more than mere bits and pieces. The practice of El's devotion was simple, yet compelling. More than just the enthusiastic promotion of his teacher, there was something in the religion of El that both defied all logic, yet made more sense than anything else. Indeed, the one key seemed to be a lack of details, the indefinability of it all, wrapped in the demand to hold absolute trust and commitment to El. Then, during that one quiet evening, just like this quiet evening, the time between one day and the next, the first vision came. He could hardly tell if he were awake or asleep, entranced, or quite what it was. He lost all awareness of his surroundings. He knew he was completely free to dismiss the vision and walk away, but he dared not. As the night insects from the nearby sea swamp began to dart in and out the window, kept at bay by the smoke of incense, Abram saw his future life. It was a place far away, a place he had never seen, but might have heard telling of it. It was a whole kingdom that would be his, and would be given to his descendents, who would fill it from border to border. It was a vision so full of meaning, yet devoid of details, like the religion of El itself. It was a revelation to him personally, joyously confirming much that he suspected, yet heartbreaking in the demands it presented.
While he considered how he would tell his father he had decided to leave Ur, his father beat him to it. Terah was one of that peculiar race of men that lived seemingly forever. Thus, even as he approached the latter half of his second century of life, he was still young enough to actively rule his household. That household extended beyond the mere family property, and included noble titles. This high position had been conferred on him by the Akkadian Imperial Court. His father held more personal property than some whole cities in the empire, and controlled a good bit more. Visitors were required to address him as "Prince," but he was far more. He was also the head of the local Temple Academy of Cin, Patron Deity of Ur. Terah was also a highly respected scholar in his own right. He had sought, and received, permission to take over the academy in Charan, another city of Cin. That trip had taken years, from the very mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers where they disappeared into the swampy salt marshes, all the way up near their sources, near the ancient home of the Akkadians. As news from their old home caught up with them, it turned out they had left none too soon. Before they had even arrived in Charan, the Almi had come down from the eastern mountains and begun fighting. It seemed Ur was their eventual target. Knowing his father, Abram had no doubt Terah had heard through the academic grapevine of the trouble brewing, and left Ur to avoid it.
Then, after all had been settled in Charan, and Terah had taken up the office of Prince and High Priest there, Abram wondered if this was what the vision had indicated. He had a nagging doubt about that. Like all major cities, Charan was always building or rebuilding. The latter because of raids that came from time to time. The Hittites far off to the northwest were reputed to have new weapons not seen in the Valley. The Hurri in the mountains to the northeast swept down from time to time, carrying off slaves and movable goods. There were other, lesser raiders, and malcontents within the empire itself, and all seemed to delight in destroying one or more buildings in the process of their pillaging. An older townsite nearby, long in ruins, was to be cleared off for a new project. As the eldest son of the city's new ruler, Abram had stood a chance to head the project and even perhaps to name it for himself. It was yet again the time between two successive days, as the sun settled just upon the horizon in the west, he was contemplating his role, and wondering why it didn't feel right. Then the vision came, not quite the same vision, but obviously connected, and obviously from El. Charan was not his home, he learned.
Rather than leave his mark on one mere city, he was to leave his mark on the whole of humanity. That part was both vague and certain. He was to adopt the lifestyle of Emori, live in tents, and wander to a new land yet farther from his ancestral home. More importantly, it was confirmed beyond all doubt that El was his Lord and Master. Rather than take up the headship of his father's eclectic religion academy, he was to be El's chief representative to mankind. While his father was one of several high priests of Cin, Abram was to be the new high priest of El. While others no doubt revered El, and gave Him worship as pure as they knew, Abram was his one closest representative now. Inasmuch as this One was Lord of Heaven, Ruler of all Creation, Abram's commitment in service to El would be a blessing to all humans ever after.
As he sat this evening, many months later, in the time between two days, not far from the Land of Promise as told by El, Abram found he could not fathom all it meant. He was troubled enough by the demand of full trust in things so ill defined that he could have dismissed it all as the product of wild imagination. For this, he had passed the birthright to his brother, Nahor, disposed of all his land holdings and titles, and become the one thing his people despised most, a wandering tent dweller, an Emori. There was no turning back now.
Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business. Ed operates a computer ministry in Oklahoma City. He loves computers, runs FreeBSD and GNU/Linux and reads all sorts of things. You can reach Ed at email@example.com.