Abraham, Prince of UR. By W. G. Hardy. 376 pp. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. $2.50.
The Hebrew patriarchs have appeared frequently as literary heroes from that great miracle play of the Brome cycle, “Abraham and Isaac,” down to Thomas Mann’s recently published “Joseph and His Brethren,” but never so vividly and lustily, never so humanly and enjoyable, as in this superb Biblical novel, “Abraham, Prince of Ur.” Although the story follows closely such facts as are provided by the Bible, Mr. Hardy has reconstructed his people and events with archaeological accuracy, and filled in the everyday details of life with a wealth of imagination. The result is a robustious epic of slaughter, rapine, tribal warfare, love, intrigue and hate; a story which, though it is filled with action, is shrewdly psychologized, strongly motivated, and not lacking in the nobility inherent in any account of Abraham’s quest for the One God whose least wish could shatter the images of Nunnar, god of the Sumerians, or Baal, god of the Amorites.
Mr. Hardy takes as his jumping-off point the Biblical statement that the Lord called Abraham from Ur, city of the Chaldees. He provides a rich, colorful description of that great trading center of the Sumerians, of the priestly caste which spun its intrigues and actually ruled the city, of thriving trade in the Street of the Image-Makers, of whom one was Terah, father of Abraham.
Terah was a wandering Aramean who had been drawn to Ur ### the prosperity of the city. His wealth multiplied, but his children, at school and in the streets, were subjected to the taunts of their fellows because they were strangers, much as Jewish children of today. Abraham was taught to pray to the gods who had made his father’s business prosperous, but he soon learned that a Sumerian god could not protect an Aramean. He began to feel a great loneliness, which was magnified by his sensitivity. One night in a delirium he dreamed that there must be one God, the Most High, who could knock the heads of these little clay gods together. He dedicated himself to the quest of this One God.
Many times he weakened, and turned aside from his quest. He forgot it for a time when he married Sarai, the daughter of the princess of the Habiru, a fierce, rude desert tribe. He forgot it when the Sumerians made him a Prince of Ur, to flatter him into lending them money to withstand the onslaught of Hammurabi, the Babylonian. For by this time he had become a merchant more successful than his father, a worldly man who thought little of the gods. But when misfortune beset him and he was forced to flee to his wife’s tribe, the Habiru, he remembered again, and dreamed that his God had appointed him to lead the Habiru into Canaan.
How Abraham proved his right to rule, how he led the Habiru through lean years into Egypt, how when Sarai remained barren he took to himself the Egyptian girl, Hagar, and how he came back to Canaan and led his fierce tribesmen into victorious battle for the rights of pasturageâ€”these and other incidents rise vigorously and realistically from mere suggestions in the Bible.
It is impossible to convey here the magnificient gusto of this bookâ€”the finely spun relationship between Abraham and Sarai and her jealousy of Hagar, the pathos of the childless marriage and Abraham’s virtual adoption of Lot, the savageness of Abraham’s victory over Hammurabi when the Babylonian invaded Canaan, and the loftiness of the moment of the reconciliation of Abraham and Sarai and the conception of Isaac.
Only in the story of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord do I think that Mr. Hardy has missed out in his dramatic implications. But that is a detail which can hardly suffice to mar a fine book. There will be some who will quarrel with Hardy’s conception of Abraham as a supreme egomaniac; there will be others who will deny the implication that the strongest impetus of Abraham’s monotheism may have come from his conversations with cultured Egyptians or from the priest, Melchisedek. But these things may be passed over in a novel that should be read primarily for its epic quality and its shrewdly drawn characters.
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