Also, Rosalynde previously asked about what translation we'd be using. I suggest that we begin with the KJV but freely draw upon any other translations we find useful and upon the Hebrew itself where possible or profitable. I've found Robert Alter's very literal and literary translation of and commentary on Genesis to be especially helpful and may often come back to it (Alter's famous The Art of Biblical Narrative is well worth taking a look at if you're unfamiliar with it).
I'd like to begin, then, with a question that I hope will not be trivial and that I hope will open in several directions at once.
Why are God's first words to Abraham/Abram (12.1 - "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house") aimed precisely at puncturing the security and harmony of Abraham's connection to his family and homeland? And, is this a fair way to pose the question?
Notes and Additional Questions
Genesis 11.1-9, It's useful to include all of chapter 11 in our reading for this week (even though it does not directly concern Abraham) because the story of the tower of Babel functions as a useful foil for the opening of chapter 12 and the question I pose above. Just as the builders of the tower were scattered and their language was confounded, Abraham is also scattered by God from his native land (and his native tongue?) and is mute in response to his scattering (he makes no reply to God). However, where in the first instance this scattering is experienced as a curse and as what ruins the attempt of the tower-builders to "make a name" (11.4) for themselves, for Abraham the dislocation comes as a blessing by means of which he is blessed and his "name will be made great" (12.2). Abraham is here promised the very thing the tower-builders wanted (a name that would last), but he is promised it by the very means that denied it to the tower-builders. Or, we could say, the tower-builders want a name so that they won't be scattered, but this is the very thing that prompts God to scatter them.
Genesis 11.32-12.1, We should also note that God speaks to Abraham immediately following Abraham's father's death. ". . . Terah died in Haran. And the Lord said to Abraham . . ." This connection doesn't strike me as accidental (God speaking to Abraham out of the void of the father's death) and seems connected to the way that God is dislocating Abraham from hearth and home (though we perhaps need to be careful in talking about Abraham in this way due his relatively nomadic lifestyle - he certainly doesn't have a mortgage).
Genesis 12.4, As I've already noted, Abraham, living in a world that has seen its language broken (as Alter translates 11.1, what has been lost is "one set of words" or the possibility of univocity), is mute in response to the blessing. He simply "departs." Does this loss of univocity, the dislocation of home and language, spell the end of theology (so that we must be mute), or does the possibility of a relation to God (and perhaps the possibility of theology) open only in the light of plurivocity and the loss of general equivalence?
Genesis 12.7, Abraham goes without knowing where he is going: the place is specified only when he arrives there without knowing it. Does this also say something about the im/possibility of theology?
12.10-20, Alter notes that this pericope has long been interpreted as a miniature version of the exodus (going down into Egypt because of a famine, the plagues on Pharaoh's house because he splits a family, his cry for Abraham and Sarah to "get out!"). Can we milk this tale of tangled family relationships for any useful information in addressing the general question I pose above?
12.19, Pharaoh's words "Get out!" echo God's opening words to Abraham (12.1) of "get thee out of the land," so that Abraham is reunited with Sarah only at the price of being dislocated once again.
Connections to More General Questions
My discussion question relates most clearly to our third key question: "How do our family relationships shape our fidelity to God and, potentially, the kind of theology we pursue?" It is clear, I think, that Mormon theology requires us to think the family as central to religious experience as such. The difficulty is that Abraham's story (at least thus far) is no story about protecting the sanctity of hearth and home. There does not seem to be a straightforward way of finding in Abraham a paradigm for our everyday conservative Christian discourse about the theological centrality of families. Abraham is, I think, central to trying to think about the way in which God, family, and individual are essentially tied to together in a religious knot, but I suspect that these relationships may get knotted together in a way that is, at least at first, somewhat surprising and (perhaps) not at all conservative.
In addition, the function of language in these two chapters, highlighted by the inclusion of the story of the tower of Babel and its parallels in the opening of Abraham's story, offer some material for thinking about the possibility of theology in general as indicated in the second key question: "What can Abraham's relationship with God tell us about the nature and possibility of theology?" However, they don't appear to be encouraging.