Tag Archives: genesis 20

One Abimelech or Two?

'King_Abimelech_Restores_Sarah_to_her_Husband,_Abraham',_Flemish_tapestry_by_Frans_Geubels,_DaytonTry to put yourself in King Abimelech’s shoes: He was eighty years young, having held sway over his kingdom for more than half a century through war and peace. He’s a Philistine, who the Egyptians called the “Sea People”, and a descendant of a tribe of seafarers and raiders that were not unlike the Vikings of their day. We might say that his olive complexion looks a bit Greek, but it’s hundreds of years before Homer composed his first stanza. At this time, the Philistines controlled a coastal area of Israel from what today would be Gaza to just south of Tel Aviv. Abimelech is ruling from a town called Gerar, though it’s not one of the principal Philistine cities. In the time since the Philistines had come to Canaan, the local customs had rubbed off on them: they still spoke a separate language, but were increasingly worshipping Canaanite gods.

One day, Abimelech’s kingdom was greeted by two wanderers, a brother and sister from Canaan who had fallen upon hard times. Something was familiar about them, but he couldn’t quite place it– they both had just the hint of a Mesopotamian accent. Where had he heard that accent before? But the young lady was attractive and even though Abimelech was too old for those kinds of thoughts, he didn’t see the harm in letting them stay in Gerar.

But Abimelech didn’t live to his eighth decade by taking chances: he kept a close watch on the couple. After all, they could have been spies or worse. Not that it was too much of a chore to keep tabs on the young lady, after all. But a few weeks later, as he watched from afar, he caught the supposed siblings in a lover’s embrace. Realization dawned: they weren’t siblings! He stormed out of his hiding place to confront the young man. “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” The king fumed. He paused for a second, his brow creased, “Wait a second… have we done this before?”

That narrative is a fabrication, a mix of details from historical and biblical sources. But Abimelech is undoubtedly one of the most unusual figures in Genesis: a polytheist who nonetheless talked with God and may have been rewarded by Him. But was the Abimelech who met Abraham the same man who met Isaac? The bible isn’t clear and there is some disagreement. Read on for a look at what the early Jews and Christians thought.

Continue reading One Abimelech or Two?

Biblical Price Index

In my last post, I asked whether or not Abraham was cheated out of his land deal by Ephron the Hittite. 400 shekels of silver mean nothing to us, but the early readers of the bible toiled in their labors for a few shekels and would have known immediately what one was worth. To answer this question, we need some basis for comparison, a pricing guide in shekels. I’ve scoured the bible for every listed price and put a few of them together for this chart:

Continue reading Biblical Price Index

Va-Yera – Abraham vs Abimelech: Part I.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… Abraham and his wife travel to a foreign country. They’re enjoying the sights, sampling the exotic food, but it doesn’t look good to be attached and so he asks his wife if she can, you know, pretend to be his sister for a few days… And then the leader of the country falls in love with her, abducts her, gets punished by God for his sin, and the couple get out as fast as they can. The end. Some jokes never get old.

We’ve reached the second of the three wife-sister narratives in Genesis. The first wife-sister narrative was in Genesis 12. This time, the guilty party is Abimelech, the King of Gerar.

Biblical Canaan was not a place for tourists. Abraham comes off as being weak-kneed. Read on for more.

Continue reading Va-Yera – Abraham vs Abimelech: Part I.

Lech-Lecha – Wife? Sister? What’s the difference?

I’m abandoned all pretense now: I’m just going to go at my own pace, but still based on the Jewish liturgical cycle as far as break-points are concerned. There’s just too much to write about and I hate to skip things. (Like I did Babel, for example.)

As I wrote a bit about a few posts ago, Genesis in particular features what to a modern ear sounds like bizarre textual echos. You can see this in the duplications in Noah, in the creation story, and elsewhere. These echos could be visible stitching as multiple versions of the early bible were edited together, or they could have a specific deeper purpose, but in either case one of the most bizarre echos are in the several stories in Genesis where a patriarch disguises his wife as his sister.

Genesis 12:10 begins the first of these echos with Abram, and to make it even more exciting, it’s a DOUBLE echo!

Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Wife? Sister? What’s the difference?