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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Thu Aug 21 18:22:06 EDT 2008

WOW! All this would make a great novel, but it's bad exegesis and even worse 
history. Bryant has already commented on the exegetical part. The historical 
issues here are way beyond this thread. I suggest that if no-one has 
anything new to add, we move on.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2008 5:34 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 

> Yigal Levin:
> You wrote:  “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" Pharaoh, why, and what that has to do with Jacob's thigh.”
> 1.  How Did God “Touch” Pharaoh?
> When applied to YHWH communicating with a human, NG( refers (in my 
> opinion)
> to YHWH applying “a mysterious, harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, that has a 
> significant
> meaning”.  YHWH probably did not say any words to Pharaoh.  Pharaoh was
> waiting to see if Abraham’s prediction would come true that Abraham’s 
> deity would
> make some clear communication to Pharaoh, which if it happened would mean 
> that
> Pharaoh should promptly return Sarah to Abraham.  Moreover, in order to 
> make
> this a severe divine test for Abraham, and also for Pharaoh to get the
> diplomatic leverage that Pharaoh wanted to get out of this situation in 
> dealing with
> Pharaoh’s own local problems in Egypt (discussed below), the divine
> communication needed to be public.
> At Genesis 12: 17, both Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household get “a mysterious,
> harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, that has a significant meaning”.  The text never 
> tells
> us the exact nature of this mysterious divine “touch”, but it was 
> obviously
> powerful.  It alerted everyone in Pharaoh’s household, and hence 
> indirectly
> everyone in Egypt, that something important was up.
> Pharaoh promptly returned Sarah to Abraham.  That had been the original 
> plan,
> as long as Abraham’s deity came through with the divine communication, 
> which
> happened in spades.  Also, as planned, Pharaoh falsely told the people of
> Egypt that Pharaoh had not known Sarah’s marital status at the time 
> Pharaoh
> brought her into Pharaoh’s harem.  (See #2 below as to “why” this 
> procedure was
> used.)
> 2.  Why Did God “Touch” Pharaoh?
> Abraham righteously trusted in YHWH to make sure that nothing untoward 
> would
> happen to Sarah in Pharaoh’s harem, and that Sarah would soon be returned 
> to
> Abraham.  By acting pursuant to his faith in YHWH, Abraham took the first 
> step
> in proving himself to YHWH.  If YHWH had not come through and “touched”
> Pharaoh, Abraham would never have seen beloved Sarah again, and Abraham 
> would never
> have had a proper male heir.  So only if Abraham had full faith in YHWH 
> would
> Abraham allow Sarah to go into Pharaoh’s harem.
> Secondly, Abraham and Sarah had to prove themselves willing to be the
> subjects of unending salacious gossip, involving false accusations that 
> Abraham and
> Sarah could never directly disavow.  This again was a step toward proving
> Abraham and Sarah worthy of being Patriarch and Matriarch #1.  The 
> gossip-mongers
> in Egypt naturally gossiped that this monotheist’s wife was a loose woman, 
> and
> that this monotheistic man was cowardly and immoral in giving his wife to
> Pharaoh under the pretext of the wife being merely a sister.  Although 
> each of
> those accusations was untrue, they were part and parcel of Pharaoh’s 
> pre-arranged
> cover story.  Abraham and Sarah kept their promise (as an integral part of
> this divine test) never to disavow those vile rumors.
> Rumors, even though false, often have consequences.  Lot’s wife now 
> refused
> to have anything to do with Abraham and Sarah upon returning to Canaan. 
> Lot’s
> wife insists that Lot split from Abraham, which is the real reason why 
> Abraham
> and Lot split up so very very quickly upon their return to Canaan.  The
> diplomatic cover story that the parties told outsiders was that Abraham’s 
> and Lot’
> s flocks were too large to sojourn together, but we know that is just a 
> cover
> story, as the same diplomatic cover story is used by Jacob and Esau at 
> Genesis
> 36: 6-7, in a context where we know it is nothing more than diplomatic
> fiction.
> Those ugly rumors coming out of Canaan also go a long way toward 
> explaining
> Abraham’s very public, and otherwise peculiar, insistence at Genesis 14: 
> 22-24
> that Abraham and his 318 armed retainers will not take even a 
> “sandal-strap”
> of the booty of Sodom to which they were entitled after rescuing Lot and 
> the
> booty.  Abraham is effectively rehabilitating his image in Canaan, even as
> Abraham can never openly state that Pharaoh was not telling the truth when 
> Pharaoh
> told the Egyptian people that Pharaoh had not known that Sarah was Abraham’s
> wife when Pharaoh took Sarah into Pharaoh’s harem.
> Finally, what did Pharaoh get out of this?  Why was Pharaoh willing to
> participate in this divine testing of Abraham?  Pharaoh wanted the 
> Egyptian public
> to see Pharaoh as having a new-found devotion to a type of 
> semi-monotheism.
> Pharaoh’s reasons for this were mainly political, not religious.  Pharaoh 
> feared
> that unless he could use diplomacy to get the too-rich polytheistic cult 
> of
> the ram-headed god Amen to voluntarily relinquish some of its vast 
> landholdings
> along the Nile River, then Pharaoh’s son and successor (the young Pharaoh 
> at
> the end of Genesis) might well launch the first religious war in history, 
> for
> the purpose of confiscating Amen’s vast landholdings.  That in fact is 
> exactly
> what happened, both in secular history and at Genesis 47: 13-26.  In an
> unsuccessful attempt to prevent that from happening, the old Pharaoh in 
> chapter 12
> of Genesis goes out of his way to publicly favor a monotheist from Canaan
> (Abraham).  Pharaoh pays top dollar for the lapis lazuli that Abraham 
> brought from
> Ur, Pharaoh takes old Sarah into his harem under the above-described
> circumstances, Pharaoh soon returns Sarah to Abraham, as planned, and 
> Pharaoh publicly
> allows monotheistic Abraham to waltz out of Egypt scot-free with all of
> Abraham’s newly-acquired vast wealth.  Pharaoh was trying to get the cult 
> of Amen
> to realize that the winds were now blowing in the direction of monotheism, 
> and
> that the polytheistic cult’s vast landholdings along the Nile River could 
> not
> stand.  Pharaoh  w-a-n-t-s  the Amen cult priests to hear that Pharaoh and 
> all
> of Pharaoh’s household were duly impressed by an apparent divine
> communication from a monotheistic deity on behalf of a monotheistic man 
> (Abraham) from
> Canaan.  Pharaoh  w-a-n-t-s  that buzz to happen, as long as Pharaoh has a
> convenient cover story to purvey to the Egyptian public by which Pharaoh 
> can claim,
> without ever being contradicted by Abraham, that Pharaoh supposedly did 
> not
> know Sarah’s marital status when Pharaoh brought Sarah into his harem. 
> Abraham
> passes Abraham’s divine test, and Pharaoh makes an effective communication 
> to
> the Amen cult.  (By contrast, Abimelek’s motivation to participate in the
> second round of this type of divine testing of Abraham was to get Abraham 
> to utter
> a fertility prayer for childless Abimelek.  Genesis 20: 17-18)
> 3.  What Does YHWH’s “Touching” of Pharaoh Have to Do With Jacob’s Thigh?
> Both with Pharaoh, and with Jacob at Genesis 32: 25/26, YHWH communicates 
> by
> means of “a mysterious, harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, that has a significant
> meaning”.  In Jacob’s case, there is a mysterious being involved, as to 
> which we
> are not quite sure if it is a man, a dream, a semi-divine being, a divine 
> being
> other than YHWH, or YHWH.  Yet despite these ambiguities, it is clear that
> YHWH, acting directly or indirectly, “touches” Jacob’s thigh:
> “And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow 
> of
> his thigh;  and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled 
> with
> him.  …And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; 
> for
> thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.'”   Genesis 
> 32:
> 26, 29
> The mysterious divine touching of Jacob’s thigh is an integral part of the
> confirmation that Jacob will henceforth be the namesake of the Israelites, 
> as
> Jacob’s name is divinely changed to “Israel”.  That it is YHWH who 
> effectively
> made this important name change is soon confirmed at Genesis 35: 10-11, 
> where
> the reference to “God Almighty” clarifies that YHWH is the ultimate source 
> of
> this key name change.
> I fear this message has already gotten too long.  There is no room here to
> discuss further the famous incident in which Jacob wrestles with that 
> mysterious
> being.  As I noted before, however, Jacob is a successor monotheistic 
> leader
> with a severe limp, as a result of that divine encounter, and historically 
> the
> successor of the young Pharaoh at the end of Genesis is the only pharaoh I
> know of who had a severe limp.  The author of the Patriarchal narratives 
> seems
> to be saying here that having a severe limp should not disqualify a person 
> from
> being a monotheistic leader.  Everything about the Patriarchal narratives 
> is
> thoroughly redolent of the well-documented secular history of the Late 
> Bronze
> Age, and nothing in the Patriarchal narratives is redolent of J, E, P or 
> D.
> 4.  Why Does This Matter?
> I am trying to get people not to view Pharaoh as being “plagued” in 
> chapter
> 12 of Genesis in the way that Egypt, and “the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph”,
> are, properly, terribly divinely plagued by real plagues in the Book of 
> Exodus.
> I am also trying to show that Abraham is neither cowardly nor immoral in
> Egypt (or at Gerar).
> In the Patriarchal narratives, YHWH operates regarding both Pharaoh and 
> Jacob
> by means of “a mysterious, harsh divine  t-o-u-c-h, that has a significant
> meaning”.  That is why, in my opinion, we see the Hebrew verb NG( at both
> Genesis 12: 17 and Genesis 32: 25/26.
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois
> **************It's only a deal if it's where you want to go. Find your 
> travel
> deal here.
> (http://information.travel.aol.com/deals?ncid=aoltrv00050000000047)
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