[b-hebrew] Genesis 20: 1
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Oct 19 10:49:00 EDT 2007
1. You wrote: "Please read carefully Genesis 20:2,3 very carefully:
2 And Abraham repeated concerning Sarah his wife: "She is my sister." With
that A·bim´e·lech king of Ge´rar sent and took Sarah. 3 Afterward God came
to A·bim´e·lech in a dream by night and said to him: "Here you are as good
as dead because of the woman whom you have taken, since she is owned by
another owner as his wife."
Do you or do you not accept that the text makes no mention of Abimelech
getting up and saying that this happened but that the text merely represents
this as a series of events? A simple Yes or No will do!"
(a) James, Genesis 20: 8 states: "And Abimelech rose early in the morning,
and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears; and
the men were sore afraid." In my personal opinion, the author wants us to view
Genesis 20: 2-3 as being what Abimelech said to Abimelech's servants, not as
necessarily being what actually happened.
(b) But now let us assume that I am wrong on this point and that you are
right. That would mean that the audience, Abimelech and Sarah would know that
in fact, Abimelech had never come near Sarah. But Abraham would not know
My whole point is that this chapter 20 story works historically only if
Abraham has honest doubts as to who the biological father of Isaac is. I think
that Abraham is in fact the biological father of Isaac. But I also think that
Abraham had some honest doubts about that.
The text could portray YHWH as telling Abraham in daylight that YHWH had
intervened to prevent Abimelech from coming near Sarah. But the text never says
that. Accordingly, Abraham could not be sure that something had not
happened between Abimelech and Sarah, even if in fact nothing had happened.
2. You wrote: "Please read carefully Genesis 12:10-13. …Do you or do you
not acknowledge that the narrator explicitly quotes Abraham as explicitly
stating his reasons being that Sarah is beautiful and that he fears for his
life? Again, a simple Yes or No will do? I am not interested in how you 'feel'
the narrator intends us to understand this because your 'feelings' are little
in the way of primary source evidence."
(a) When Abraham is at Gerar, Abraham says he feared for his life because of
Sarah. Genesis 20: 11. But that is a cover story. Abraham's 318 armed
retainers (Genesis 14: 14) mean that Abraham could not fear Abimelech's small
(b) Abraham and Sarah use a similar cover story in Egypt. No pharaoh would
ever kill a man to get at the man's old, non-virgin wife. That's not because
pharaohs were particularly moral or high-minded, but rather is because
pharaohs would have considered such a scenario an insult to the pharaohs' dignity.
Only a virgin young woman could be offered to a pharaoh. Abraham has no
honest fear of being murdered by Pharaoh. That is part of the cover story
that Abraham and Sarah will use in Egypt. However, as opposed to when Abraham
and Sarah meet Abimelech in Gerar, it does matter in Egypt what Sarah looks
like. Pharaoh will not be willing to take Sarah into his household if Sarah
looks too old and unattractive. It is important that Sarah looks good for her
age, and she does. However, Pharaoh has no lust for old Sarah. Chapters 12
and 20 of Genesis are not about lust (or murder). Rather, they are about
basic fertility issues, and the divine role played in fertility issues.
3. Your demand for simple answers does not fit the complex nature of the
Patriarchal narratives. If the text were simple and straightforward, mankind
would not still be discussing it, thousands of years later.
Neither Pharaoh nor Abimelech has any lust for old Sarah, and Abraham never
has any sincere fear that Abraham would be murdered by Pharaoh or Abimelech,
on account of Sarah or for any other reason. As I see it, those statements in
the text are, rather, part of the cover story that Abraham and Sarah are
Abraham and Sarah desperately want Sarah to bear a son to Abraham. That is
what the first third of the Patriarchal narratives is all about. The author
is discussing important fertility issues, not making irrelevant comments
about how immoral Gentile kings were in days of old.
I realize that these stories are unpleasant and awkward and troubling. But
the binding incident in chapter 22 of Genesis is likewise unpleasant and
awkward and troubling. All three stories have a happy ending. But none of
these three tests are easy. They are all gut-wrenching tests of Abraham's
fortitude and righteousness. And Abraham passes all three tests with flying
I am as big a fan of Abraham as anyone. But Abraham did not have an easy
life. It was not pleasant for Abraham to see his wife first in Pharaoh's
household, then in Abimelech's household. But Abraham wanted those things to
happen, because even if neither ruler ever touched Sarah, Abraham and Sarah
thought that they would receive the divine blessing of fertility, and Abraham
would be allowed to sire a son by Sarah, only if both Abraham and Sarah proved
to YHWH that they were willing to do anything to have a son, including being
willing to have Sarah spend a night in the household of each of Pharaoh and
Abimelech. It is not a pleasant story, but that's what the text says, in my
The whole reason for these unpleasant stories is that Abraham must be
portrayed as having honest doubts as to whether Abraham is the biological father of
Isaac. It's fine that Abraham turns out in fact to be the biological father
of Isaac. But the key is that Abraham must for many years have doubts on
that score. Otherwise, the Patriarchal narratives would not make sense in the
secular historical context of the mid-14th century BCE.
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