In this article I sketch out a new theory of reading from a phenomenological point of view, and proceed to use it to explore underlying assumptions of certain types of biblical criticism. I argue that readers live through a non-deliberate synthesis of the way sentence meanings in a text relate to each other. This synthesis is best understood as a special case of the largely non-conscious synthesis that characterizes experience more generally. Such »passive« syntheses can become selectively transformed into explicit interpretations through the reader's reflection on them, and they form the reader's encounters with textual coherence and incoherence. The meaning contents of tacit syntheses, once partially articulated by readers, are linked to historically situated assumptions about the world and texts, including culturally prevalent or trained habits of reading. Trained habits can include the expectation of textual inconsistency, as in some branches of biblical studies, and the expectation of divine allusiveness, as in the case of rabbinic Midrash. Re-reading a text or memorizing it can influence what readers passively synthesize. I use these theoretical positions to explore my experience of reading Genesis 12, in the light of Genesis 20 as its »inner-biblical exegesis.