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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Aug 21 10:35:47 EDT 2008

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III :
You wrote:  “Abraham lied.  He did not trust God to get him out of the 
situation with the Egyptians and Abimelech.”
Not true.
1.  Abraham did not lie when he said that Sarah was his sister (although 
Sarah likely was only Abraham’s sister by adoption, and perhaps Terakh did not 
adopt Sarah until the eve of her marriage to Abraham, per a Hurrian custom from 
the Late Bronze Age).  Genesis 20: 12
2.  Abraham did not fool Pharaoh as to Sarah’s marital status.  Pharaoh knew 
from the get-go that Sarah was Abraham’s wife.  Pharaoh’s claim to the 
contrary at Genesis 12: 18-19 is official Egyptian government propaganda, which the 
Hebrew author intends us to realize is largely false.
3.  Abraham never would have allowed Sarah to go into Pharaoh’s harem unless 
Abraham had complete faith that YHWH would soon return Sarah to Abraham, so 
that pursuant to the grand divine promises Abraham had just received at Genesis 
12: 1-4, Sarah, as Abraham’s beloved original main wife #1, would in due 
course bear Abraham a grand line of descendants.
The Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives well knew that absent divine 
intervention, once a woman went into Pharaoh’s harem, that woman was never 
heard from again.  Even the Kassite King of Karadunise/Kasdim (misleadingly 
referred to by modern scholars as the King of Babylon) could not get a report as to 
his  s-i-s-t-e-r  who was in Pharaoh’s harem (being the very same old Pharaoh 
whom Abraham meets in chapter 12 of Genesis):
“…‘my sister whom my father gave you was (already) there with you [with 
Pharaoh, that is, in the old Pharaoh’s harem], and no one has seen her (so as to 
know) if now she is alive or if she is dead.’”  Amarna Letter EA 10-17
4.  There is no way that Abraham honestly feared for his life in Egypt.  In 
3,000 years of pharaonic Egypt, there is not one report that a pharaoh had a 
man killed in order to take the man’s widow into pharaoh’s harem.  The reason 
for that is not that the pharaohs were particularly moral.  Rather, the reason 
is that a pharaoh would have considered it the ultimate insult to have to kill 
a man to get a non-virgin widow into pharaoh’s harem.  Most of the women who 
came into a pharaoh’s harem were young virgins.  Only on the rarest of 
occasions would an exception perhaps be made for a diplomatic marriage, in the case 
of an important ally of Egypt.
5.  Abraham is being divinely tested in Egypt, just as Abraham is divinely 
tested in the binding incident.  If Abraham righteously has complete faith in 
YHWH, then Abraham will trust YHWH’s implicit promise to take care of Sarah as 
Sarah goes into Pharaoh’s harem, and Abraham will trust that YHWH will make the 
right things happen regarding the binding incident as well.  If Abraham had 
been faithless, as you allege, then there is no way that Abraham would have 
allowed beloved Sarah to go into Pharaoh’s harem, because then Abraham would have 
thought that he would never see his beloved main wife #1 again.  Then Abraham 
could never have had a proper male heir.
A Hebrew author is not going to portray Hebrew Patriarch #1 Abraham as being 
the ultimate cad.  No way!  The Hebrew author knows that his audience will 
have to figure out how it is that Abraham is acting honorably here, rather than 
being cowardly or immoral.  Abraham’s false claim that Abraham fears getting 
murdered in Egypt, and Pharaoh’s false claim that Pharaoh did not know Sarah’s 
marital status at the beginning, are part of an elaborate cover story designed 
to shield Pharaoh from moral censure by the Egyptian public, so that Pharaoh 
will be willing to go along with this divine testing of Abraham.  Both Abraham 
and Pharaoh know what is really going on at all times.  Abraham is being 
divinely tested, to see if he trusts YHWH to protect Sarah in Pharaoh’s harem.  
Pharaoh’s motivation to participate in Abraham’s divine testing is to try to 
send a diplomatic message to the too-rich polytheistic cult of Amen that Egypt 
is moving in a monotheistic direction now, as Pharaoh publicly favors the 
monotheist from Canaan (Abraham).  Pharaoh pays top dollar for the lapis lazuli 
Terakh had bought in Ur, Pharaoh takes non-virgin middle-aged Sarah into his 
harem, in a unique type of diplomatic (temporary) marriage, Pharaoh does not 
impale or imprison Abraham, and Pharaoh allows Abraham to depart Egypt with all the 
vast wealth that Abraham had garnered in Egypt.  Moreover, all of Egypt would 
be buzzing about that powerful NG( (which I view as being “a mysterious, 
harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, that had significant meaning”) that had made such a big 
impression on Pharaoh’s entire household at Genesis 12: 17, a divine action 
apparently designed to favor the monotheist (Abraham) from Canaan, in that it 
promptly leads to Sarah being returned to Abraham.  Pharaoh wanted that buzz, in 
order to try to avoid the all-out religious war that his son/successor would 
otherwise likely wage against the too-powerful polytheistic cult of the 
ram-headed god Amen.
6.  At all times, Abraham has faith in YHWH.  Abraham’s moments of doubt come 
regarding whether YHWH will be able to enable old Sarah to bear Abraham a 
son, and whether Abraham can be certain who the biological father of Isaac is.  
But righteous Abraham never lacks faith in YHWH.  There is no way that Abraham 
would have allowed Sarah to go into Pharaoh’s harem unless Abraham had full 
faith that YHWH would take good care of Sarah in Pharaoh’s harem and soon return 
beloved Sarah to Abraham.
7.  Since a Hebrew author is telling this story to a largely Hebrew audience, 
we can be confident that great Hebrew Patriarch Abraham will not be presented 
as playing fast and loose with his beloved wife’s physical integrity.  Do not 
trust the official Egyptian government propaganda that Pharaoh puts forth for 
consumption by the Egyptian public at Genesis 12: 18-19.  Rather, “consider 
the source.”  That is how the Hebrew author wants us to analyze this 
mesmerizing story.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois    

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