[b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 12: 17?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Aug 18 10:35:35 EDT 2008

Was Pharaoh “Touched” or “Plagued” by God at Genesis 12: 17?
1.  Q:  How did Pharaoh know that it was time to return Sarah to Abraham?
A:  God “touched” Pharaoh at Genesis 12: 17.  The traditional English 
translation that God “plagued” Pharaoh is unwarranted, as nun-gimel-ayin/naga 
simply means “touch”.
2.  Q:  Had Abraham, pursuant to divine advice, prophesized to Pharaoh that 
Pharaoh would at some point receive a divine communication, which would be the 
signal to return Sarah to Abraham?
A:  Probably (though that is not explicitly so stated in the text).  See #3 
3.  Q:  Why does the young Pharaoh at Genesis 41: 39 declare to Joseph that “
there is none so discrete and wise as thou”,  b-e-f-o-r-e  a single feast or 
famine year has occurred, based on that Hebrew monotheist’s prophesy that  
n-e-x-t  year will be the first of 7 feast years, to be followed, importantly and 
ominously (beginning a long 7 years from now), by 7 famine years?
A:  In part because the young Pharaoh’s father, that is the old Pharaoh in 
chapter 12 of Genesis, had apparently received a divine prophecy from a Hebrew 
monotheist (Abraham) that the old Pharaoh would be “touched” by God, as a 
divine signal that Sarah should be returned to Abraham.  That divine prophecy from 
a Hebrew monotheist in chapter 12 of Genesis had come true in that 
generation, as the old Pharaoh was indeed in due course “touched” by God.  So it seemed 
likely to that old Pharaoh’s son, the young Pharaoh at the end of Genesis, 
that Hebrew monotheist Joseph’s new, disturbing divine prophesy would also come 
Another factor, as is well known, is that Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer told 
Pharaoh that Joseph had, two years previously, correctly interpreted the chief 
cupbearer’s dream.  Genesis 41: 9-13  But note that the chief cupbearer, who 
unlike Pharaoh probably was not personally a committed monotheist, had not seen 
fit to pay any attention to Joseph, or to try to get Joseph out of jail, after 
the chief cupbearer had had his dream correctly interpreted by Joseph.  Genesis 
40: 23  The Pharaohs’ peculiar, positive reactions to Abraham and Joseph only 
make sense if the Pharaohs themselves are semi-monotheists, who instinctively 
admire and trust these unusual Hebrew monotheists from Canaan.
4.  Q:  Is the apparent double occurrence in the Patriarchal narratives of an 
Egyptian pharaoh receiving a correct divine prophecy from a Hebrew monotheist 
A:  Yes.  Joseph in effect tells us precisely that at Genesis 41: 32, as he 
emphasizes the divine importance of the same thing happening twice:  “‘And for 
that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is 
established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.’”
5.  Q:  Is the clear implication of these two stories, taken together, that 
the old Pharaoh in chapter 12 of Genesis was leaning toward a type of 
semi-monotheism at the end of his reign, and that the young Pharaoh at the end of 
Genesis was a full-blown semi-monotheist?
A:  Yes.  Even though those Egyptian pharaohs worshiped an entirely different 
deity (a sun god) than did the Hebrews, and even though many aspects of their 
religious beliefs were very different from (and slightly post-date) Hebrew 
monotheism/semi-monotheism, nevertheless those two Egyptian pharaohs and the 
Hebrews were the only semi-monotheists on planet Earth prior to the common era.  
Hence, those two particular pharaohs and the early Hebrews could, temporarily, 
if it suited their separate purposes, consider themselves to be “fellow 
travelers”, of a sort, on religious matters.  That explains why the old Pharaoh 
does not strip fellow monotheist Abraham of any of Abraham’s new great wealth at 
Genesis 12: 20, why the young Pharaoh at Genesis 41: 40-41 puts Hebrew 
monotheist Joseph in charge of Egypt’s entire food supply even before the first 
prophesized feast year has occurred (much less any famine years), and why in the 
last chapter of Genesis the young Pharaoh sends all his top officers all the 
long way to Canaan for a super-magnificent funeral for the namesake of the Hebrew 
monotheists -- Jacob/“Israel”.
Note that the Patriarchal narratives make good historical sense, and good 
logical sense, if we will simply pay close attention to what the text says, and 
recognize the overwhelming Late Bronze Age historical ambience of the 
Patriarchal narratives.  Pharaoh in chapter 12 of Genesis does not react to Pharaoh on 
the basis of irresistible lust for middle-aged Sarah, who not only was a 
non-virgin, but also was so old that she was almost past the time when a woman 
could give birth in ancient times.  That strange scholarly theory of the case 
(Pharaoh being motivated by irresistible physical lust for old Sarah) makes no 
sense on any level -- historical, logical, biological, theological or moral.  
(That peculiar theory of the case would portray Abraham as being cowardly and 
immoral, in giving Sarah to lustful Pharaoh in order to save Abraham’s own skin.  
No way!!!  Chapter 12 of Genesis is not anti-Semitic propaganda!)  No, that 
old Egyptian Pharaoh is reacting to Abraham as a fellow monotheist (not as the 
consort of an irresistible female beauty).  
We can tell who that old Egyptian Pharaoh was, historically, and figure out 
Pharaoh’s own political reasons why he would want all Egypt to be a-buzz about 
Pharaoh’s odd treatment of Hebrew monotheist Abraham, if we pay close 
attention to what the text says and does not say, and analyze the story in its Late 
Bronze Age historical context.  We can figure out not only who the Pharaoh is at 
the end of chapter 12 of Genesis, but also the exact year, near the end of 
his long, famous, grandiose, decadent reign, when this story would have taken 
place, because that is the one and only time in all history when this story 
could have occurred.  No other pharaoh in history would have reacted to a Hebrew 
monotheist like Abraham in that particular way.  
Whether the story told at the end of chapter 12 of Genesis is literally true 
or not, the Hebrew author of the story definitely wanted it to be a believable 
story, which his audience would find credible;  and the Hebrew author wanted 
to portray Abraham as being a righteous man, who is severely divinely tested, 
but who is most definitely and properly divinely blessed (not, for heaven’s 
sake, as being a scoundrel of the first order!).  That indeed is the case.
One key to understanding the Patriarchal narratives is to realize that in 
chapter 12 of Genesis, Pharaoh is reacting to Abraham as a fellow 
monotheist/semi-monotheist.  Sarah’s continued beauty in middle age is a relatively minor 
factor, its importance being that Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12: 11), Pharaoh’s 
ministers (Genesis 12: 15), and Pharaoh (Genesis 12: 16) genuinely believe that 
Sarah, despite her age, as a still-beautiful woman remains capable of bearing 
a son and heir for Abraham.  There is no pharaonic physical lust for Sarah in 
Genesis, and YHWH does not “plague” Pharaoh at Genesis 12: 17. 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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