Was it Sarah who attracted the interest of King Abimelech?
by Robert Randle
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Many readers of the Bible are familiar with the story of a Pharaoh in Egypt as well as the Philistine king in Gerar [between Gaza and Beersheba on the border of the territory of Canaan], who was attracted to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, but is this story plausible? Could it be instead a confusion of the narrative account of Isaac and Rebekah attributed to being Abraham and Sarah; as in the following?
Genesis 12: 10-14
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass , when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarah his wife, “Indeed I know you are a woman of beautiful countenance. “Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife;’ and they will kill me, but they will let you live. “Please say that you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” And so it was, when Abram came to Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended (recommended) her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.
NOTE: Abram was at least seventy-five years old and Sarah sixty-five (Cp. Genesis 17: 17).
Genesis 12: 17-20; 13: 1
But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that they had. Then Abraham went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South [Negev].
Genesis 20: 1-2
And Abraham journeyed from there to the South [Negev??], and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
NOTE: Sarah was at least ninety years old (Cp. Genesis 17: 17) in this second account and it is highly unlikely that she would have attracted the amorous affection or attraction of a ruler or even the average younger male.
Genesis 20: 3-5, 8-12
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife [married to a husband]. But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “LORD, will you slay a righteous nation also? “Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ “In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called his servants, and he told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?” And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife. “But indeed, she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.
NOTE: In this account, the king gives Abraham sheep, oxen, female and male servants, a thousand pieces of silver in vindication of abducting Sarah and invites him to dwell anywhere in the land that pleases him.
Genesis 26: 1, 7
There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham [Cp. Genesis 12: 12: 10]. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister;” for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “Lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.
NOTE: This king Abimelech is seventy-five years older from in Abraham’s day.
Genesis 26: 8-11
Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac caressing [showing affection to] Rebekah. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’ ” So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall be surely put to death.”
CONCLUSION: In Genesis 21: 22-32, king Abimelech and Phichol the commander of his army meet with Abraham later over the matter of a well he dug that the king’s servants had stopped up. Abraham set aside seven ewe lambs as a sign or witness to his honesty of digging the well and he and king Abimelech swore an oath and called the place Beersheba [meaning either well of “oath” or “seven”]. This is almost verbatim regarding Isaac in Genesis 26: 15-33, with the addition of a friend of king Abimelech’s, Ahuzzath, along with the commander of his army, Phichol. In this last account Isaac or his servants redug the wells that his father Abraham initially dug earlier. So it would seem that the author or redactor used versions from several sources and interwoven them into separate, repeating narratives involving Abraham/Sarah and Isaac/Rebekah. It is certainly a better story when one sees a young Rebekah as attracting the desires of the average male, an unnamed Pharaoh of Egypt or Philistine King as opposed to a sixty-five or ninety-year old Sarah.
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