[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Oct 17 11:12:52 EDT 2007

Let me first set forth in two posts some additional information from the  
Amarna Letters that impacts on chapter 20 of Genesis.  Then at the end of the 
second post I  will come back to the question of where Abraham was going and why 
when he left  the Hebron area. 
1.  Was Abraham Afraid of  Being Murdered by Abimelech? 
Abimelech of Gerar is either a local ruler in the Negev Desert, or, on my  
controversial view, Abimelech of Gerar is closely modeled on historical  
princeling ruler Abimilki of historical Garu, whose city-state was the tiny  island 
of Sur just off the coast of southern Lebanon.  We know that Abraham is 
portrayed as  having 318 armed retainers at Genesis 14: 14.  Could a man with 318 
armed retainers be  honestly afraid of being murdered by Abimelech/Abimilki? 
In secular history, the princelings in Canaan during this time period  
fielded incredibly small militias.  We see this in the Amarna Letters from Abimilki 
of Sur, where it is  assumed that a mere 20 soldiers sent out from Egypt would 
be enough to impose  law and order on the city-state of Sur and its violent 
"May the king [pharaoh Akhenaten], my lord, give 10 palace attendants  
[military fighters from Egypt] to guard his city [of Sur]…."  EA 148: 4-17  "I write 
to the king [pharaoh], my lord,  because every day the king of Sidon has 
captured a palace attendant of  mine."  [Note the reference to the  rival 
princeling ruler of the city-state of Sidon as being a "king".  The princeling rulers 
routinely referred  to each other as "kings", including hated rival princeling 
rulers.]  "Since he ["the king of Sidon"] has  acted hostilely, has he not 
violated his oath?  There is not another palace  attendant."  EA 148: 18-26,  
34-40  "May the king [pharaoh] send 20 palace attendants [military fighters  
from Egypt] to guard his city [of Sur]…."  EA 149: 6-20  "Should a  single 
soldier guard the city [Sur] of the king [pharaoh], my lord, then I would  go in to 
behold the face of the king, my lord."  EA 150: 4-13  "May the king [pharaoh], 
my lord, give  me 20 men to guard the city [Sur] of the king, my lord…."  EA 
151: 12-24  "[A]nd may he [pharaoh] give me 80  soldiers to guard [Sur], for 
the war against me is severe."  EA 152:  47-57  "Moreover, since the departure 
of the  [Egyptian] troops of the king [pharaoh], my lord, from me, the ruler 
of Sidon  [north of Sur] does not allow me or my people to go to land to fetch 
wood or to  fetch water for drinking.  He has  killed one man, and he has 
captured another."  EA 154: 11-20 
Thus when Abraham, with his 318 armed retainers, loudly says to Abimelech  
and Abimelech's assembled people that Abraham was afraid of being murdered by  
Abimelech on Sarah's account, we are to understand that as being an obvious  
cover story.  Abraham, Sarah and  Abimelech know full well that Abraham is in no 
danger of being murdered by  Abimelech, because Abraham's militia is much 
stronger than Abimelech's tiny  militia. 
2.  Did Abimelech and  Abimilki Have a Fertility Problem Like Abraham? 
Abimelech's willingness to deal with Abraham and Sarah cannot be  understood 
apart from Abimelech's terrible fertility problem.  Abimelech is a young 
princeling ruler  who wants to impregnate the women of his palace, in order to show 
that he is a  virile ruler.  But prior to the  arrival of Abraham and Sarah, 
Abimelech has frustratingly been unable to  impregnate any woman in his 
"God healed Abimelech, and his  wife, and his maid-servants;  and  they bore 
children.  For the LORD  [YHWH] had fast closed up all the wombs of the house 
of Abimelech, because of  Sarah Abraham's wife."   Genesis  17-18 
The reference to "because of Sarah Abraham's wife" at the  end means that 
Abimelech's own fertility problem was what gave Abraham and Sarah  leverage to 
deal with Abimelech.  Abimelech was willing to do almost anything to get the 
holy man Abraham  to offer a profound fertility prayer on behalf of Abimelech, 
which is exactly  what ends up happening:  "And  Abraham prayed unto God;  and 
God  healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maid-servants;  and they bore 
children."  Genesis 20:  17 
What about historical  princeling ruler Abimilki of Sur, in southern Lebanon? 
 It is noteworthy that in the 10 Amarna  Letters that Abimilki wrote, not 
once is there any mention of Abimilki having  any children.  In 8 letters,  
Abimilki complains that there is no water to drink.  He mentions that his people 
are "wailing  in the streets" for water (EA 150: 32-37), but he never makes a 
comment  such as asserting that his own children were asking for water.  In EA 
155, Abimilki repeatedly refers to  pharaoh Akhenaten's daughter, 
Mayati/Meritaten, but he never once mentions any  child of his own. 
Thus the 10 Amarna Letters we have from Abimilki are consistent with the  
portrait of Abimelech in chapter 20 of Genesis:  a young princeling ruler who 
wants to  impregnate the women in his palace, but who to date has had no success 
in doing  so. 
Jim Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois

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