The God of Abraham's promise

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bet2173

Senior Member
Turkish
Good afternoon all,

In the dialogue below (from Ivanhoe) I couldn't understand what Rebecca is saying by "the god of Abraham's promise". Does she simply mean ""our lord Abraham's promise" or is it "Abraham's God's promise"?

"Submit to my fate!" said Rebecca---"and, sacred Heaven! to what fate?---embrace thy religion! and what religion can it be that harbours such a villain?---THOU the best lance of the Templars! ---Craven knight!---forsworn priest! I spit at thee, and I defy thee.---The God of Abraham's promise hath opened an escape to his daughter---even from this abyss of infamy!" As she spoke, she threw open the latticed window which led to the bartisan, and in an instant after, stood on the very verge of the parapet, with not the slightest screen between her and the tremendous depth below."

Many thanks
 
  • Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Rebecca is a Jew. According to Jewish mythology Jehova, the God of Abraham, made promises to Abraham of behalf of all his descendants. (the Bible, Genesis 12:1-3) Edited for accuracy.

    In this communication from God to Abram, we discover three distinctive promises and we may refer to the three as - the land promise, the national promise and the spiritual promise.
    1. The Land Promise: "A land that I will show you."
    2. The National Promise: "A great nation."
    3. The Spiritual Promise: "All the families of the earth shall be blessed."
    http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-genesis-12-1-3.htm
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't agree. The way I read it --
    The God of Abraham's promise = The God who made the promise(s) to Abraham.
    .
    1. Your way doesn't work grammatically. "Abraham's promise" would be a promise made by Abraham to God. In fact it was the reverse.
    2. In Abraham's time there were lots of gods around. Jehova was in a real sense Abraham's tribal god. In that sense God is the god of Abraham.

    So the personal god of Abraham made a promise to Abraham that certain things would be granted to Abraham's descendants.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I go with Brioche's reading. 'The God of Abraham' is a set phrase, and frequently expanded to 'The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob' (eg Matthew 22:32). 'Of Abraham' identifies which God.

    It is strange to me to interpret 'Abraham's promise' to mean the promise made to Abraham rather than the promise that Abraham made.

    EDIT: Cross-posted with Biffo. Similar point.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I can see the phrase both ways: The God of {Abraham's promise} and {The God of Abraham}'s promise. With the first, it's God who has opened up an escape route; with the second, it's the promise that has opened it up.

    Perhaps it doesn't really matter:).
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I can see the phrase both ways: The God of {Abraham's promise} and {The God of Abraham}'s promise. With the first, it's God who has opened up an escape route; with the second, it's the promise that has opened it up.

    Perhaps it doesn't really matter:).
    But only the second is a correct interpretation of this text, from this book. It was the promise of the God of Abraham, not the God of the promise of Abraham. Abraham didn't give a promise. His god did.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, I don't want to prolong this - but "The God of {Abraham's promise}" could (to me) readily mean "The God who made the promise to Abraham".
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well, I don't want to prolong this - but "The God of {Abraham's promise}" could (to me) readily mean "The God who made the promise to Abraham".
    It could grammatically, but what would we mean by talking about the god of a promise? It would seem to trivialize a god who is supposed to have created the entire world. However I agree with Ben Jamin that the point is not what it could mean but what it does mean. That is decided by definition rather than by grammar.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    So it's the promise, not God, that's opened up the escape route then, Biffo? (Just checking:).)
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    It could grammatically, but what would we mean by talking about the god of a promise? It would seem to trivialize a god who is supposed to have created the entire world. However I agree with Ben Jamin that the point is not what it could mean but what it does mean. That is decided by definition rather than by grammar.
    I don't see how calling this particular god "the God of the promise made to Abraham" or "the God of the Covenant" or whatever would minimize or trivialize that god. It would just call attention to one facet of that God - his generosity without measure, for instance. At any rate, isn't it better than calling him "the God of Abraham," which just names him in relation to some mortal dude?

    All kidding aside, the real point is that "the God of Abraham" is a set phrase, which pretty much settles this argument for me. Brioche/natkretep/biffo's readings are perfect.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    So it's the promise, not God, that's opened up the escape route then, Biffo? (Just checking:).)
    A nice point but yes. I believe we can paraphrase it as follows:

    God's promise hath opened an escape to his daughter.

    To me this is an expression of faith in the promise.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Well, I don't want to prolong this - but "The God of {Abraham's promise}" could (to me) readily mean "The God who made the promise to Abraham".
    Could "the Wizard of OZ's promise" readily mean to you "the Wizard who made the promise to OZ"? ;)
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    1. Your way doesn't work grammatically. "Abraham's promise" would be a promise made by Abraham to God. In fact it was the reverse.
    2. In Abraham's time there were lots of gods around. Jehova was in a real sense Abraham's tribal god. In that sense God is the god of Abraham.

    So the personal god of Abraham made a promise to Abraham that certain things would be granted to Abraham's descendants.

    1. Why doesn't it work grammatically? I see nothing wrong with "The God who made the promise(s) to Abraham" as a way of distinguishing this specific god from all the other gods that were worshiped at the time.

    1.b. "Abraham's promise" could equally be 'the promise Abraham made' or 'the promise Abraham received'. In this case we know what the situation was. Go back to your own #2. Did Abraham promise to show God a land ? Or was it the other way round ?

    the personal god of Abraham made a promise to Abraham -- I am totally at a loss to understand how this differs in meaning from my The God who made the promise(s) to Abraham.


    Cross-posted with a whole lot of people.
    .
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    1. Why doesn't it work grammatically? I see nothing wrong with "The God who made the promise(s) to Abraham" as a way of distinguishing this specific god from all the other gods that were worshiped at the time.

    1.b. "Abraham's promise" could equally be 'the promise Abraham made' or 'the promise Abraham received'. In this case we know what the situation was. Go back to your own #2. Did Abraham promise to show God a land ? Or was it the other way round ?

    the personal god of Abraham made a promise to Abraham -- I am totally at a loss to understand how this differs in meaning from my The God who made the promise(s) to Abraham.
    .
    Sometimes we have to work our way through an argument and see how others react. In #2 I merely presented the facts as I understood them. Having read everybody's comments I now revert to the idea that whatever grammatical possibilities there are, it is usage that wins the day. The normal usage is for "the-god-of-Abraham" to be treated as a unit as a way of distinguishing Jehova from other people's gods.

    Therefore, regardless of grammar, I now prefer (the-god-of-Abraham)'s promise. It is what I thought at the beginning but my reasons have evolved somewhat.
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Rebecca is Jewish, and I am sure this has significance in the framing of the phrase, but I don't know enough about the tradition of Biblical interpretation to say what it is.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Rebecca is Jewish, and I am sure this has significance in the framing of the phrase, but I don't know enough about the tradition of Biblical interpretation to say what it is.
    I already explained this in #2 and natkretep answered the second part in #7.
     
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    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    I think Loob put her finger on it when she said
    I can see the phrase both ways: The God of {Abraham's promise} and {The God of Abraham}'s promise. With the first, it's God who has opened up an escape route; with the second, it's the promise that has opened it up.
    I prefer the first, and I see that you prefer the second, but I also think it's a hair-splitting distinction.
    .
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I can see the phrase both ways: The God of {Abraham's promise} and {The God of Abraham}'s promise. With the first, it's God who has opened up an escape route; with the second, it's the promise that has opened it up.

    Perhaps it doesn't really matter:).
    God's promises to Abraham were famous and were of two kinds: promises about the land which was to be his, and promises about his family, promising them peace and eternal life, among other things.

    Rebecca is here renouncing Bois-Guilbert's invitation to become a Christian and thereby ensure her escape from captivity in the castle. She is making an energetic affirmation of her Jewish faith.

    The subject of the sentence is, surely, the God, not the promise: The God will help me escape is what she's saying - she is his daughter, figuratively, of course.

    So this is Loob's first choice, The God (of Abraham's promise), not (The God of Abraham)'s promise - it's the God which is the subject of the sentence, not the promise, of God to Abraham, which was nothing about getting Rebecca out of the castle.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I don't think so, Thomas. She is certainly saying "my god is helping me to escape." But I don't think she's literally saying that:
    "Submit to my fate!" said Rebecca---"and, sacred Heaven! to what fate?---embrace thy religion! and what religion can it be that harbours such a villain?---THOU the best lance of the Templars! ---Craven knight!---forsworn priest! I spit at thee, and I defy thee.---The God of Abraham's promise hath opened an escape to his daughter---even from this abyss of infamy!" As she spoke, she threw open the latticed window which led to the bartisan, and in an instant after, stood on the very verge of the parapet, with not the slightest screen between her and the tremendous depth below."
    I think she is literally saying "The Jewish God made a promise to his people [his daughter] that, wherever they were, they would be able to go to the promised land - and that promise applies even here in your castle."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, I suppose I should come out of the closet....

    I agree with TT and Rival.

    :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I can't see how Rebecca might think that God would make her a promise to this effect.

    God's promise to Abraham is so famous that I'm surprised there's talk of other promises in this context.

    I don't see the wilds South Yorkshire as the promised land. Abraham's promised land was a specific piece of geographical territory.

    Actually the escape she is thinking of is, of course, suicide - she leaps up through the window onto the battlements to throw herself off, if I remember correctly. She's not planning flight down the Trent valley.

    These four considerations help incline me to the view that it's the god not the promise which is the subject of the sentence.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I can't see how Rebecca might think that God would make her a promise to this effect.
    ...Actually the escape she is thinking of is, of course, suicide - she leaps up through the window onto the battlements to throw herself off, if I remember correctly...
    As you yourself said, one of the promises was of eternal life. Because of God's promise she has nothing to fear by jumping. Therefore I continue to maintain my original position.

    Well, I suppose I should come out of the closet....
    I agree with TT and Rival.
    :)
    I don't think we can resolve this by voting and we can't ask the author. For that reason (and because no new points seem forthcoming) I shall leave the debate at this point with my views intact. :)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The expresssion 'Abraham's promise', considered on its own, can equally well mean 'the promise made to Abraham' or 'the promise made by Abraham'. The alternative readings offered by Loob in post 9 are therefore equally possible grammatically.

    If we widen our view to customary language, then lucas-sp's point that 'the God of Abraham' is a set phrase seems well made. It is natural, as Biffo and others have said, to read that as a unit. Besides, if Scott's intention was to make 'God' the subject of the verb 'hath opened', why include the word 'promise' at all? Would he not simply have said 'the God of Abraham'? This by itself expresses all there is to express about the relationship of the two.

    If we take into account the wider context of the novel, we find earlier in the chapter the sentence:
    Rebecca, however erroneously taught to interpret the promises of Scripture to the chosen people of Heaven, did not err in supposing the present to be their hour of trial
    This shows two things: first, that Rebecca had scriptural promises in mind at this time; and secondly, that there is a difference between the Christian and Jewish interpretations of the promises.

    Scott clearly expects the reader to understand this difference. Like Cagey, I do not know enough to be sure what it is: I have not tracked down what special significance 'their hour of trial' might have for the Jews in Scott's view.
    However, the analysis quoted by Biffo comes from a Christian page and presumably therefore does not represent the Jewish interpretation.

    Certainly, the summary of the promises given there, as Thomas Tompion observes, does not seem relevant to Rebecca's situation. However, the Genesis passage does contain a line not included in the summary on the Christian page:
    And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee
    (Genesis 12:1-3 King James Version - the text no doubt familiar to Scott).

    This suggests a possible meaning for God's promise that Rebecca could have had in mind. If she is forced to kill herself to escape rape and dishonour at her captor's hands, this might be seen as the equivalent of a curse by Brian de Bois-Guilbert upon Rebecca, particularly since this would prevent her as daughter of Abraham from having children, which God had also promised. Brian would be frustrating the divine promise. If that amounts to a curse by Brian, then the consequence would be that God would curse him and bless Rebecca. He would go to hell, and she to heaven. That would be her escape and his doom.
     
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