This article examines the history of interpretation of Hagar’s story in Gen 16 within debates over slavery through the narrative frame of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The character Mr. Wilson echoes the hermeneutics of very real nineteenth-century apologists for slavery, a tradition that implicates Calvin. In contrast, George reflects the more sympathetic tradition of the abolitionists, which is traced back to Chrysostom and Philo. Drawing on modern literary genre theory, this article proposes that these different readings of Gen 16 really begin as different conceptions about the kind of thing we are reading: its genre. The high mimetic genre assumed by the apologists, or the low mimetic mode of the abolitionists, changes what assumptions they make about characters, setting, and what the gaps in characterization mean. Apologists and abolitionists cannot agree on what the Bible means because, first and fundamentally, they cannot agree on what the Bible is.

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