In consideration of the story of Abraham, the book of Genesis largely meets the threshold for classification as an epic. Abraham was one of the three sons of Terah, who God called when he was seventy five years old, to leave his fathers family behind in order to start a journey of faith that spanned one hundred years, and covered much distance. We see the unfolding of divine occurences in this journey all the way to his death at the age of one hundred and seventy five.
In Abraham’s society, he stood for justice, selflessness and the sharing of opportunities. Abraham came out as a defender of the weak and as one not to fight over opportunities. When Lot, decided to go with Abraham, he did not stop him. Abraham was not seen to seek his own advantage by following up on God’s promise all alone.
Later on when there was strife between Abraham’s and Lot’s herdsmen Abraham, said, “lets not have any quarelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, Gen. 13.8).
Abraham went on to propose that they separate, giving Lot the upper hand in deciding on which areas to take. Lot chose the lush regions towards Sodom. Later, when the four kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim capture Lot, together with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorrah, Abraham got his men together and recued all the captives including his nephew Lot.
He went on to restitute to the captured kings all the loot plundered from them. These instances show that Abraham fought for justice and the opressed and was open to sharing opportunities.
God favoured Abraham. God picked on Abrahaham out of the entire human race to bless him. Before Abraham had anything of merit, God called him and promised to bless him. God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen 12.1). While Abraham’s future relationship with God depended on his obedience to this command, he was the only one that God gave the opportunity.
Before he had obeyed the command, God promised in Gen 12.2 to bless him, to make his name great, to bless those who bless him and to curse those that curse him. After Abraham left, God went ahead to make a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. Because of Gods favor, Abraham became a very wealthy man. This favor was so evident that Abimelech sought to get into covenant with Abraham so that Abraham, would “not deal falsely” (Gen 21.23) with him or his descendants. Abraham was also God’s confidant.
Because of Gods preferential treatment of Abraham, he learnt of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gommorrah, and had opportunity to plead with God on behalf of the two cities. God dealt with Abraham as a friend, and not necessarily as diety to human. In so doing, by God favoured Abraham, as He did no other human being at the time.
The distances Abraham travelled were long and winding. The travelling started when Abraham’s father, Terah took his sons and set out from, “Ur of the Chaldeans to go to caanan” (Gen 11.31). They settled midway at Haran. It was at Haran that God called Abraham to go to the land of the promise. Abraham travelled all the way to Shechem. From there he went past Bethel and on towards Negev. Later on, because of a famine, he went to live in Egypt for a while before returning to Negev after an interruption of his stay in Egypt.
From Negev, he went all the way back to Bethel where he parted with Lot and moved to Hebron. The distances Abraham covered spanned vast regions, and moving with herds and servants, it was not an easy thing to do. Each of these places was associated with a major event in Abraham’s life. Indeed Abrahams incessant travel routine qualifies Genesis for the classification as an epic.
Finally, it is evident from Genesis that in addition to favouring Abraham, God also took his side in several instances. When Abraham went to pursue Lots captors, he had three hundred and eighteen men to his side.
With this band of men, he conquered four kings! While nothing extraordinary is on record about how he did it, it is incredible that a man with that few men can defeat the armies of four kings. God must have intervened somehow. In another instance, God openly took Abraham’s side when Abraham went to Gerar and said Sarah was his sister.
King Abimelech of Gerar took her in for a wife innocently. God warned him to return Sarah to Abraham, but gave no rebuke to Abraham. In fact, Abraham went to pray for Abimelech to lift off a curse that subsequently befell him and his wives, “so that they could have children again” (Gen 20.17).
The classification of Genesis as an epic is not without problems. In Abraham’s time, there seem to be other persons that God was also showing favour.
One of them was Melchizedek who Abraham met after he had defeated the four kings. Abraham gave him a tenth of all he had because he was a priest of the most high. In addition, while Abraham travelled great distances, his nephew Lot was with him most of the time, which shows that it may have been a common thing for people to travel great distances in that day and time in search of resources.
Finally, while God seems to go out of his way to defend and show favour to Abraham, he obeys Him. This is arguably the reason God worked with Abraham and so he may easily have worked with anyone else who would have been able to walk in obedience as Abraham did. To a fair extent, Genesis is classifiable as an epic, but exceptions are necessary for the actions of the charaters involved. We therefore conclude that Genesis is an epic, but not on a strict criteria.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Fully rev. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, Gen. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.