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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Wed Aug 20 16:21:48 EDT 2008

OK, you've lost me. Please explain, in a message short enough and in plain 
enough English for even me to understand, exactly how you think God 
"touched" Paharaoh, why, and what that has to do with Jacob's thigh.

Yigal Levin
----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 5:25 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 

> Yigal Levin:
> You wrote:  “Actually, Jim, you're ignoring the context.”
> O.K., so then let’s try out your theory of the case,  i-n  c-o-n-t-e-x-t.
> You wrote:  “[T]he verse continues to state what God "touched" Pharaoh 
> "and
> his house" with - "nega'im gedolim". So you have to look at the noun 
> "Nega'".
> The most common usage of this word in the Bible by far specifically refers 
> to
> leprosy.  In other cases it clearly refers to some disease.  It does not 
> appear
> elsewhere in Genesis,
> but it Exodus 11:1 it also refers to something that God is about to bring
> down on Pharaoh and on Egypt - we soon find out that it refers to the 
> death
> of the Egyptian firstborn.  So in my analysis, a "nega'" is (usually) a
> divinely-incurred disease, brought upon a specific person or persons in 
> order to
> punish them or to warn
> them (remember, this is how leprosy was viewed as well, which is why it 
> was
> "cured" by a priest and not by a doctor).”
> On your theory of the case, Pharaoh has brought Sarah into his harem.
> Pharaoh and his household then come down with leprosy.  Whereupon this is 
> what
> happens:
> “And Pharaoh called Abram, and said: 'What is this that thou hast done 
> unto
> me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?  Why saidst thou: 
> She
> is
> my sister? so that I took her to be my wife;  now therefore behold thy 
> wife,
> take her, and go thy way.'”  Genesis 12: 18-19
> On your theory of the case, why would Pharaoh associate the outbreak of
> leprosy upon Pharaoh and his household as having anything to do with 
> Sarah?  If
> Pharaoh had honestly thought that Sarah was an unmarried woman when he 
> brought
> Sarah into his harem (which I presume may be your theory of the case, 
> since many
> scholars make that assumption), why then would Pharaoh think about Sarah 
> when
> this outbreak of leprosy occurred?
> How did Pharaoh find out that Sarah was a married woman?  On your view, 
> did
> YHWH say that to Pharaoh?  If not, how could Pharaoh have guessed it?  If 
> said that to Pharaoh, then why does YHWH also cause an attack of leprosy 
> to
> infest Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household?  If Pharaoh had not known that 
> Sarah was
> a married woman, then what was it that Pharaoh did wrong in bringing into 
> his
> harem a woman whom Pharaoh honestly thought was an unmarried woman?
> But look again now at Genesis 12: 18-19 quoted above.  Isn’t that, in 
> point
> of fact, actually official Egyptian government propaganda?  Isn’t that 
> Pharaoh’
> s public, self-serving claim that Pharaoh is innocent of the charge of
> knowingly bringing a married woman into his harem?
> I hope you may agree with me that the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal
> narratives was sophisticated enough to set forth an accurate account of 
> what Pharaoh
> s-a-i-d  publicly, without expecting a Hebrew audience to assume that an
> Egyptian Pharaoh is necessarily speaking the truth.
> Since Sarah was a middle-aged woman who accompanied middle-aged Abraham 
> into
> Egypt, isn’t it much more realistic to think that Pharaoh knew darn well 
> from
> the get-go that Sarah was not a virgin, and was not an unmarried woman? 
> What
> is accurately set forth in the text at Genesis 12: 18-19 is not the
> unvarnished truth, but rather is an accurate, unvarnished account of an 
> official
> Egyptian government propaganda claim.  Although Abraham, Sarah, YHWH and 
> Pharaoh know
> better, Pharaoh is proclaiming to the Egyptian public that Pharaoh did 
> not,
> immorally, knowingly bring a married woman into his harem, because Pharaoh 
> has
> supposedly only just now found out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife.
> As I noted in my first post on this thread, it is likely that Abraham had
> predicted to Pharaoh, based on divine advice Abraham had gotten from YHWH, 
> that
> in due course Pharaoh would receive a divine indication as to the proper 
> time
> to return Sarah to Abraham.  (If Abraham had no such divine advice and 
> made no
> such prediction, and Abraham honestly believed that he was losing beloved
> Sarah forever, then Abraham would thereby be portrayed as being cowardly 
> and
> immoral, which does not make sense for a portrait of great Hebrew 
> Patriarch Abraham
> in Hebrew sacred scripture.)  Pharaoh (and Pharaoh’s household) duly got 
> that
> NG(/“mysterious, harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, which had great meaning”, just 
> as
> Abraham had predicted.  Pharaoh immediately complies with that divine 
> message.
> The reference to "nega'im gedolim" literally means “with great touchings”.
> That is needed at Genesis 12: 17, where Pharaoh’s entire household 
> receives
> this divine “touching”, whereas at Genesis 32: 25/26 it is only Jacob 
> alone who
> receives the divine “touching”.  That “touching” in chapter 12 of Genesis
> has to impact Pharaoh’s entire household, in order to guarantee that this 
> will
> be a public matter.  One key divine test that Abraham and Sarah are 
> undergoing
> here is being willing to put up with the malicious gossip that would have
> swirled around Egypt as Abraham and Sarah returned to Canaan.  That 
> malicious
> gossip was not accurate (Pharaoh never touched Sarah, and Abraham was 
> neither
> cowardly nor immoral), but that salacious gossip was very real, very 
> prominent,
> very unpleasant, and very predictable.
> On your view of the case, I fail to see how an outbreak of leprosy in 
> Pharaoh’
> s household (which also afflicted Pharaoh himself) would have caused 
> Pharaoh
> to think about Sarah, one way or the other.  Pharaoh might rather have 
> thought
> of any other number of vices, big or small, of Pharaoh’s own.  Whereas on 
> my
> view of the case, Pharaoh is waiting for the divine communication 
> regarding
> Sarah that the monotheist Abraham has sagely predicted.  Pharaoh’s harsh 
> words
> to Abraham at Genesis 12: 18-19 are for public consumption only, being 
> official
> Egyptian government propaganda, not the unvarnished truth, on my view of 
> the
> case.  (If Abraham had really been cowardly and immoral in Egypt, and had 
> been
> properly and righteously rebuked therefor by an Egyptian pharaoh, of all
> people, then why on earth would beloved Hebrew Patriarch Abraham be 
> portrayed as
> going to Gerar and doing the same cowardly, immoral thing a second time, 
> in
> chapter 20 of Genesis, right after Abraham has twice been told that YHWH
> guarantees that Sarah will bear Abraham a male heir less than 12 months 
> from now?  Is
> that a sensible theory of the case?  What Hebrew author would make up a
> horrible storyline like that?  Certainly that cannot be the correct 
> interpretation
> of what the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives is intending to 
> portray
> in these memorable stories.  Abraham is no coward, Abraham is not immoral,
> Abraham does not fear for his life in tightly-governed Egypt (the safest 
> place
> to be on the face of the planet at that time;  as to totally lawless, 
> dangerous
> Canaan, see the chilling Amarna Letters), Pharaoh does not lust after 65-“year
> ”-old Sarah, for heaven’s sake, and Abraham does nothing dishonorable
> regarding Sarah.  Rather, Genesis 12: 18-19 is public propaganda issued by 
> the
> Egyptian government for the benefit of the Egyptian public, which Pharaoh 
> well
> knows will be understood for the false official propaganda it is by 
> Abraham, Sarah
> and YHWH.)
> Interpreting the Patriarchal narratives in light of the Book of Exodus, as
> you have done (along with most other scholars), is fraught with danger, 
> because
> the authors of the much later Book of Exodus are anti-Egypt, whereas the
> author of the Patriarchal narratives is pro-Egypt, as I noted in my first 
> post on
> this thread.  The mindset of the Patriarchal narratives is very different 
> from
> the mindset of the Book of Exodus.  In Exodus, both Pharaoh and Egypt are
> evil, and richly deserve all the terrible plagues they get from YHWH. 
> (That fits
> the JEPD mindset perfectly.)  Whereas in the Patriarchal narratives, by 
> sharp
> contrast, the old Pharaoh’s actions make Abraham rich;  Pharaoh allows 
> Abraham
> to keep Sarah and all the great possessions that Abraham acquires in Egypt
> (Abraham not having tricked Pharaoh at all);  the young Pharaoh later 
> places
> Joseph in charge of all Egypt, even before the first feast year (much less 
> a
> famine year) has transpired;  the young Pharaoh graciously welcomes all 
> the
> starving Hebrews to live off “the fat of the land” in Egypt indefinitely 
> (despite
> the fact that Egypt notably faced 5 more terrible famine years, so that no
> other immigrants would have been welcomed into Egypt at that time); 
> Pharaoh
> personally meets with old Hebrew Patriarch Jacob on a cordial basis;  and 
> in the
> last chapter of Genesis, the young Pharaoh authorizes the finest funeral
> imaginable for great Hebrew monotheist Jacob/“Israel”, incredibly even 
> featuring all
> of Pharaoh’s top officials going all the long way to Canaan for that
> ultra-magnificent funeral for Israel.  (That is antithetical to the JEPD 
> mindset!)
> That is to say, in the Patriarchal narratives, so unlike the rest of the 
> Hebrew
> Bible, these two Pharaohs give “special treatment”, of a very positive 
> kind,
> to their fellow monotheists -- Abraham, Joseph and Jacob/“Israel”, whom 
> these
> two Pharaohs instinctively trust and admire deeply.  This pro-Egypt 
> feeling
> of the early Hebrews didn’t last long, but it’s there on full display in 
> the
> truly ancient Patriarchal narratives.
> YHWH “touches” Pharaoh at Genesis 12: 17, and likewise YHWH “touches” the
> great Hebrew Patriarch Jacob at Genesis 32: 25/26.  That’s the argument I 
> am
> making, based on the wording of the Patriarchal narratives, interpreted in 
> the
> context of the Patriarchal narratives.  To me, that is the natural reading 
> of
> the text, if one does not go astray by viewing the Patriarchal narratives
> through the anti-Egypt lens of the much later Book of Exodus.
> How one interprets the Hebrew word NG( at Genesis 12: 17 has a profound
> impact on one’s entire interpretation of the Patriarchal narratives.  To 
> my mind,
> NG( at Genesis 12: 17 and Genesis 32: 25/26 means that YHWH applied “a
> mysterious, harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, which has great meaning”.  NG( as a 
> verb means “
> touch”.  A translation of “plague”, though admittedly within the range of
> semantic meaning at Genesis 12: 17, is nevertheless not a good 
> translation, as it
> hides the intimate connection to the same Hebrew verb, NG(, at Genesis 32:
> 25/26.  Making that precise connection is, in my opinion, of critical 
> importance
> in understanding the Patriarchal narratives.
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois

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