[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. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois  

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