[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Oct 18 15:18:35 EDT 2007

Isaac  Fried: 
You wrote:  "Abimelech, his pompous name not  withstanding, was a mere speck 
the dusty horizon of southern  Israel. But the first Hebrew couple had  
a similarly harrowing  experience upon entering Egypt---the America of  
the ancient world  [Genesis 12:11-20]. Her beauty was such that as  
soon as they crossed  the border into the land she was spotted by the  
national Egyptian GSA  [girl spotting agency] who wrote [all in neat  
little pictures] such a  glowing report about her that the mighty  
Pharaoh himself could not  wait to accept her in his chambers. Just  
Sarah of all the millions of  good looking Egyptian girls!
Do you deem it plausible that LABAN HA-)ARAMI  was the blondy of Aram?" 
The author of the Patriarchal narratives,  and everyone else in the ancient 
world, knew that a pharaoh of Egypt would never  make a grab at a woman who was 
not a virgin and who was beyond the normal age of  childbearing in the 
ancient world.  That is not because pharaohs were particularly moral or high-minded, 
but  rather is because it would have been considered a mortal insult for a  
non-virgin, older woman to be offered to, or lusted after by, an august  
There is no chance that the author of the  Patriarchal narratives wants us to 
think that (i) Pharaoh lusted after old  Sarah, and would have been willing 
to kill Abraham to get at old non-virgin  Sarah, or that (ii) Abraham and Sarah 
may have mistakenly thought that Pharaoh  might think that way. 
Just in case someone (like you) might miss  the point, the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives makes it all absolutely  clear in the Abimelech episode.  
Sarah is stated age 90 "years".  Sarah has stopped having the periods of women. 
 Sarah is "withered".  Abraham falls down laughing at YHWH's  statement that 
Sarah may still, at her old age, be able to bear a child.  Chapter 20 of 
Genesis never says that  Sarah is beautiful, and never says that young ruler 
Abimelech had any lust for  Sarah at all.  Even a small-time  ruler would not lust 
after a woman who was so many, many years past the normal  childbearing age in 
the ancient world. 
Isaac Fried, you completely misunderstand  what is going on at the end of 
chapter 12 of Genesis and in chapter 20 of  Genesis.  Neither Pharaoh nor  
Abimelech has any lust for old Sarah.  On neither occasion does Abraham have any 
bona fide fear that Abraham's  life may be in danger, whether on Sarah's account 
or  otherwise. 
In both cases, as part of a carefully  planned out cover story, Abraham says 
publicly that Sarah is his sister.  In the Abimelech case explicitly, and in  
Pharaoh's case implicitly, Abraham says that Abraham feared being killed by 
the  ruler on Sarah's account.  That  cover story neatly enables each of Pharaoh 
and Abimelech to claim that the ruler  did not knowingly take a married woman 
into his household.  Absent such a cover story, neither ruler  would have 
been willing to take old Sarah into his household.  In each case, the ruler and 
Abraham and  Sarah have in fact jointly agreed upon a plan of action.  Never is 
Abraham in fear of his life  from either ruler, and in neither case does 
either ruler lust after old Sarah,  for heaven's sake. 
I do not know why so many people on this  b-Hebrew list insist on viewing the 
Patriarchal narratives as if they were  "fairy tales".  Old Sarah excites no  
lust in any Gentile ruler.  Given  Sarah's age, that would be nonsensical.  
Rather, the Pharaoh and Abimelech episodes are similar to the famous  binding 
incident:  unpleasant,  awkward, controversial, and seemingly immoral, yet 
absolutely critical tests of  Abraham's suitability to be what YHWH has planned 
for  Abraham: 
"'[I]n thee shall all the families  of the earth be blessed.'"   Genesis 12:  
It's not easy being  Abraham.  Abraham has to go through  these three 
gut-wrenching tests, each of which is more unpleasant than the  last.  But Abraham 
never feared for  his life, on account of Sarah or otherwise, regarding either 
Pharaoh or  Abimelech, and neither ruler lusted after old Sarah. 
If  you don't understand any of that, you will never understand why Genesis 
20: 1  presents Abraham and Sarah as making a beeline for Abimelech's place in  
Gerar.  Abraham and Sarah want to interact with Abimelech, just as Abraham  
and Sarah had previously wanted to interact with Pharaoh.  
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston,  Illinois

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