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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Aug 21 14:44:37 EDT 2008

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III:
1.  You wrote:  “You are stretching it beyond belief that Sarah was adopted. 
It is total
 speculation that drives you to claim that Sarah was adopted in order to 
 your theory. It clearly states that Sarah was Abraham's sister through his
 father not his mother in Genesis 20:12. This was the SAME STORY given to
 Pharaoh. He did it TWICE. "Methinks that thou protesteth too much."”
It is possible that Sarah is Abraham’s half-sister by blood.  If so, that 
would not undercut anything else I have said on this thread.  Yet it is hard to 
imagine why Terakh would have arranged to have Abraham marry a blood 
half-sister of Abraham.
It is possible that Abraham adopted Sarah as his sister shortly before their 
marriage, pursuant to one Hurrian custom.  One problem with that theory, which 
was E.A. Speiser’s original suggestion, is that it would not be so clear why 
Sarah was Terakh’s daughter (while not being the daughter of Abraham’s 
More likely is that Terakh (but not Abraham’s mother, per Hurrian custom) 
adopted Sarah (as an adult) as Terakh’s daughter-in-law right before Sarah 
married Abraham.  The reason for that peculiar custom was to signify to the world 
that although Sarah may have somewhat less exalted bloodlines than Abraham, 
nevertheless the public was being duly informed that Sarah is to be Abraham’s main 
wife #1, not a minor wife.  In a polygamous world, only one wife, the main 
wife #1, would also be the man’s adopted sister.
Thus Terakh adopted Sarah as an adult for the express purpose of having Sarah 
become Terakh’s honored daughter-in-law.  On that theory of the case, note 
how naturally Genesis 11: 31 now reads:
“And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and 
Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife;  and they went forth with them 
from Ur….”  Genesis 11: 31
Sarah is mentioned first as being Terakh’s daughter-in-law (because Terakh 
adopted her as an adult for that purpose), and then secondly is stated to be 
Abraham’s wife (because only after Terakh adopted Sarah as an adult as Terakh’s 
daughter, for the purpose of becoming Terakh’s daughter-in-law, did Sarah then 
become Abraham’s wife).
In a polygamous world, a Hurrian nobleman may often have introduced his main 
wife #1 as being his “sister”.  In the Hurrian world of the Late Bronze Age, 
that was code for “my main wife #1”.  But by Abraham using this same exact 
wording, Pharaoh could then claim (albeit falsely) that Pharaoh had honestly 
thought that Abraham was saying that Sarah was Abraham’s real sister, which would 
seemingly imply that Sarah was not Abraham’s wife.
2.  You wrote:  “Furthermore, you have ignored clear evidence of Genesis 20 
before Abimelech and from Isaac doing the same with Rebekkah with another 
Abimelech later in Genesis 26:7-16 specifically vss. 7-11. "Like father, like son." 
 …(although it could be the same Abimelech which just makes worse since he 
has been fooled twice)….”
Yes, it’s the same Abimelek.  We know that Abimelek is young in chapter 20 of 
Genesis, as he has no children yet, but pursuant to Abraham’s fertility 
prayer, Abimelek then promptly impregnates, on a virile basis, all the many women 
in Abimelek’s palace.  Abimelek is likely age 20 at that time.  Isaac comes 
back 45 regular years later, when Abimelek is now age 65.  Abimelek is still spry 
enough to ride out all the way to see Isaac and make a peace treaty with 
Isaac.  Note that both in chapter 20 and in chapter 26 of Genesis, west 
Semitic/Canaanite Abimelek has the same foreign mercenary as the leader of his military 
force, Phicol, with a non-west Semitic name from Anatolia.  So it’s the same 
Abimelek we’re dealing with here.
3.  You wrote:  “All of these passages in Genesis do NOT show Abraham or 
Isaac in really good light. They lied. They tried to deceive. It was not one of 
their most glorious episodes of their lives.”
Abraham did lie in falsely saying that he was afraid he might get murdered in 
Egypt or Gerar on account of his wife Sarah.  But Abraham did not try to 
deceive Pharaoh or Abimelek, nor did Abraham deceive Pharaoh or Abimelek.  Each of 
Pharaoh and Abimelek knew from the get-go that Sarah was Abraham’s wife.  The 
purpose of each ruler’s false claim that he supposedly had not known Sarah’s 
marital status was to shield such ruler from a charge of immorality by his 
own people, since (at least under ordinary circumstances) a ruler should not 
knowingly bring a married woman into his harem.  Abraham had to agree to go along 
with that cover story in order to get Pharaoh and Abimelek to participate in 
these divine tests that Abraham was undergoing.  Abraham had to undergo these 
divine tests of his faith in order to prove to YHWH that Abraham deserved the 
divine blessing of having his main wife #1 (Sarah, who was now old and had 
long been barren) bear him a son as his sole proper heir.
4.  You wrote:  “In all three instances Pharaoh and both Abimelechs (although 
it could be he same Abimelech which just makes worse since he has been fooled 
twice) were made fools of by the lying of Abraham and Isaac.”
Not true.  Pharaoh and Abimelek knew what was going on all along.  Pharaoh 
wanted his household to receive a divine communication on behalf of a 
monotheist, in order to try to convince the too-rich polytheistic Amen cult in Egypt 
that Pharaoh was serious about his new-found support of the semi-monotheistic 
cult of Aton.  (It didn’t work, so that Pharaoh’s son later, upon becoming sole 
Pharaoh, famously launched an all-out religious war against Amen, the first 
religious war in history.)  Abimelek wanted to participate in Abraham’s divine 
testing so that Abraham, whom Abimelek views as being a “prophet”, would give 
Abimelek a much-needed fertility prayer.  Each of Pharaoh and Abimelek got 
exactly what they wanted out of Abraham’s unusual situation.  Abraham did not 
fool, or try to fool, either Pharaoh or Abimelek. 
5.  You wrote:  “Sarah and Rebekkah did not object to this duplicity.”
Do you view Sarah as being meek and mild?  I think not.  Why then doesn’t 
Sarah object to being placed in the harem of first Pharaoh, then Abimelek?  Can’t 
you see that Sarah and Abraham and either Pharaoh or Abimelek all agreed to 
the plan in advance?  Abraham and Sarah prove their faith in YHWH by putting 
Sarah in a situation where she will never see Abraham again absent a divine 
communication [NG(].  In each case, that divine communication quickly comes 
through.  Sarah believes that based on her old age and history of barrenness, the 
only way that Sarah will be able to bear Abraham a son is if Sarah and Abraham 
prove to YHWH that they deserve the divine blessing of fertility.  That is what 
happens.  This is the ancient foundational story of Judaism.  Abraham and 
Sarah always have faith in YHWH, though they sometimes wonder whether Sarah will 
ever bear that much-desired son.
As to Rebekah, why do you say that she does not object to Isaac telling the 
people of Gerar that Rebekah is Isaac’s “sister”?  Rebekah is the smartest 
woman in the entire Bible.  Don’t you suppose Rebekah asked dear Isaac why he had 
said that?  Don’t you suppose that Isaac then duly recited chapter 20 of 
Genesis to Rebekah, which Isaac had heard from his beloved mother Sarah?  Now you’
ve got the smartest woman in the Bible, Rebekah, hearing the chapter 20 story 
for the first time.  Although good-hearted Isaac, who was not the sharpest 
knife in the drawer, had never questioned that story, how do you think brilliant 
Rebekah would have interpreted that story?  Don’t you think that Rebekah, 
unlike Isaac, now worried about the biological paternity of Isaac, and hence about 
the biological bloodlines of Rebekah’s sons Esau and Jacob?  (Such disturbing 
thoughts had never crossed Isaac’s mind.)  That is why Rebekah (not Isaac) 
determines that in order to make sure of satisfactory biological bloodlines in 
the next generation, younger twin son Jacob is going to have to marry a woman 
who is a close blood relative of both Abraham and Rebekah.
Note how beautifully the storyline is plotted out.  On one level, it seems 
silly that Isaac, acting by rote in imitating what his father did at Gerar, 
holds out Rebekah to be Isaac’s “sister” at Gerar.  But that is precisely what 
causes Rebekah to hear the chapter 20 story for the first time, and upon hearing 
that story which has ambiguous implications about the biological paternity of 
Isaac, Rebekah decides to be safe not sorry, and insists that Jacob must 
marry a blood descendant of Terakh.  (It is very likely that Abraham in fact is 
the biological father of Isaac, but Abraham was not necessarily sure of that for 
some years, and Rebekah, not being privy to all the facts, was not sure of 
6.  You wrote:  “Rebekkah's duplicity gets even worse when she uses Jacob to 
 the blessing from Isaac.”
In the Patriarchal narratives, the firstborn son always gets the shaft, and 
properly so.  Harran, Ishmael, Esau and Reuben:  how can you miss that clear 
pattern in four straight generations?  Rebekah is acting in accordance with the 
divine Will in making sure that her younger twin son Jacob gets the blessing 
and becomes Patriarch #3.  Isaac is the one who fails to see that clear divine 
pattern.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah:  younger sons all.  That’s the 
divine pattern in the Patriarchal narratives.  (Egypt’s only monotheistic pharaoh 
famously was a younger son, who like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah was not 
his father’s favorite son.) 
7.  You wrote:  “Isaac, knowing of the prophecy regarding Esau and
 Jacob, still wanted to give it to Esau, but Rebekkah, like her brother Laban,
 used Jacob to deceive her husband Isaac.  It must run in the family.”
Rebekah’s dream while she was pregnant with the twins is totally ambiguous in 
Hebrew.  If the dream had been unambiguous, and Isaac had known of an 
unambiguous prophecy that Jacob should be the next Patriarch, then there is no way 
that good-hearted, righteous Isaac would have attempted to thwart the divine 
Will.  The story only works if one recognizes that in Biblical Hebrew, Rebekah’s 
dream is totally ambiguous on its face as to which twin son is to be the 
winner.  Brilliant Rebekah correctly interprets the meaning of the dream, by 
drawing upon an analogy to the previous patriarchal successions.  Abraham, unlike 
Harran, was a younger son who was not his father’s favorite son;  Isaac, unlike 
Ishmael, was a younger son who was not his father’s favorite son;  and now 
Jacob, unlike Esau, is a younger son who is not his father’s favorite son.  
Brilliant Rebekah brilliantly discerns the divine pattern, correctly interprets her 
dream on that basis, and then forcefully engineers the right result.  Thank 
goodness for Rebekah’s brilliance.
8.  You wrote:  “Of course, Jacob received the error of his ways when he 
himself was deceived on his wedding night!  O' to be a fly on the tent wall that 
next morning.”
Surely you must realize that Leah, not shapely Rachel, was divinely fated to 
be Jacob’s main wife #1, and to give birth to the leader of the next 
generation of the new monotheists (Judah).  Does Sarah have an older sister?  No.  Does 
Rebekah have an older sister?  No.  (Did Nefertiti have an older sister?  
No.)  Does Leah have an older sister?  No.  Do you catch the pattern of who 
qualifies to marry a younger son as Patriarch?  Now ask:  does Rachel have an older 
sister?  Yes!  So Rachel is thereby disqualified.
The divine pattern of Patriarchal succession in the Patriarchal narratives is 
that in each generation, a younger son, who is not his father’s favorite son, 
marries a firstborn daughter.
9.  Your view of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is surprisingly negative.  The 
Patriarchs and Matriarchs do what they’re divinely supposed to do, in the 
opinion of the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives.  If they had acted or 
done differently, the perfect match to the well-documented secular history of 
the Late Bronze Age wouldn’t be there.  For the new monotheists, whether in 
Genesis or in secular history, it’s always a younger son, who is not his father’
s favorite son, who properly marries a firstborn daughter, while the 
firstborn son just as surely gets the shaft.
That’s the divine pattern for the new monotheists.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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