Avraham's Friends and Allies: Mamre, Eshkol, & Aner
Summary: This sheet begins to explore the status of three of Avraham's friends and raises questions concerning how the ancestors of the Jewish People were in community with others who were not their kinsfolk. This brief reflection on Avraham's three best friends: Mamre, Eshkol, and Aner, raises some consideration over their inclusion in Avraham's war and the constitution of his community. Plus a short reflection on the link between this war and the earlier kidnapping of Sarah.
The stories of Avraham's three friends: Mamre, Eshkol, and Aner (ממרא אשכל ענר) provide an interesting aspect of the origin story of the Jewish People. In Torah and Midrash, these men are described as righteous people, who serve as friends, allies, confidants, and also students of Avraham. They offer him advise on deeply personal matters, and join him in war against his enemies. Avraham allows them to take part of the spoils of war (while Avraham himself abstains). Clearly, these individuals are important enough to have their names preserved in the text of the Torah (in contrast to the 318 men who follow Avraham in battle) and who receive additional attention in the Midrash. Still, the Torah and Midrash do not appear to provide a great amount of biographical data regarding these three friends of Avraham. Mamre is alone in this regard for being described in Torah as an Amorite while the others receive no details of their families of origin. But despite the lack of specific biographical information, their importance should not be understated.
Of the trio, Mamre the Emorite, appears to be Avraham's closest friend as he alone advises Avraham to accept God's request to circumcise (eventually all the friends follow and are circumcised). The image we have here is one of a very close circle of friends who can advise Avraham on matters of faith. The three are also willing to risk their lives to help Avraham rescue his nephew and a plain reading of the text implies that they were experienced in battle tactics. Here the Midrashic view should raise a question. If the three friends followed Avraham's lead when it came to establishing the foundational Jewish ritual of circumcision, might they be imagined as part of the Jewish People? On the other hand, the later decision to have Yitzchak marry Rivkah might be a sign that some divide between them took place and caused these families to remain apart from Abraham's family? Nonetheless, these individuals and their families - together with Eliezer, Lot, Hagar, Malchitzedek, Shem, and Ever - represent the original community of Avraham and Sarah.
N.B.: I can not help think through the uniqueness of this scene where one of the Avot gets ready to wage war and his allies are prominently mentioned as being linked to the motivation behind this war effort, namely, the kidnapping of Lot. Perhaps this is an indication of the level of seriousness which Avraham treats the issue. But this itself causes question as to Avraham's earlier response when Sarah is taken captive in Egypt....