All right, I looked it up, and apparently scholars do definitely think that this and chapter 12 come from different sources, and that this might be the older one. That makes sense, in a way. Here Abraham lets his wife get stolen by the king of Gerar (where??) whereas in the other one it’s the Pharaoh himself. I suppose it’s better to start humble.
This is certainly the more detailed and interesting story. God steps in and stops King Abimelech from even touching Sarah, warning him that if he steals the wife of God’s “prophet” (more in just a moment) he’s going to die. Meanwhile, apparently, all of the king’s female staff are now infertile, though given how quickly this all goes down, I’m not sure how anyone noticed. So at least we know this time around that Sarah didn’t get raped.
But better yet, we get to hear Abraham’s response when Abilemech chews him out, an opportunity we didn’t have with the Pharaoh. And boy is it lame:
- “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” (v 11) Baloney. Obviously these people fear God. Abilemech’s freaking out after just a unconfirmed dream, and his servants are “very much afraid” when he tells it to them. (v 8) Besides, just because they don’t happen to worship your God doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically kill you and take your wife. No, that’s King David job (2 Samuel 11; I’ll get there next year).
- “Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” (v 12) First of all, this was probably a lot less squicky to its initial audience, who would have been used to hearing about this sort of thing happening in wealthy families with big harems. It does make you wonder whether some of their difficulties conceiving were genetic in nature, though. But the more important point is: equivocation is just a fancy word for “lying.”
I have to say, Abimelech comes off looking better than Abraham in some ways. He apologizes to Sarah and gives her a thousand shekels and vouches that she could in no way be construed as “cheating” on Abraham. I mean, yes, he does seem to pluck up random women and take them to his harem, but he draws the line at women already married, which I guess is something.
Actually, ignoring the documentary hypothesis, ignoring my own biases, here’s my theory: God was using Abraham as a tool for teaching rulers not to pick up random women for their harem. You never know when that “sister” might actually be a wife.
Back to “prophet” for just a moment. Prophet in Japanese is yogensha, which is unfortunate since yogen means “prediction.” The word “prophet” in Greek means something more like “spokesperson,” as does the Hebrew navi. A prophet is someone who speaks on God’s behalf. Sometimes predictions are involved, but not always. Still, I can’t think of any examples thus far where Abraham is depicted as speaking for God, though perhaps it happened in stories that didn’t make the cut. And I’m not sure that anywhere else Abraham is referred to as a prophet, though I’ll keep my eyes peeled. He’s apparently the first of 48 prophets as numerated in the Talmud, along with seven prophetesses.
The Japanese for this chapter: meshiireru “to call in” (v 2), yamashii “guilty,” shudan “means” (v 5), kakugo suru “to be prepared” (v 7), sasurai tabi “wandering journey” (v 13), shouko “proof” (v 16), jijo “lady attendants” (v 17), tai “womb” (v 18).