Friday, January 9, 2009

Today's "What the blog entry COULD BE"
Who put the sqeezie cheese into the refrigerator?

Now, on to the real blog entry;

My Thoughts on Biblical figures; a layman's psychological perspective as I read my Bible this year

(Note: I am not a Bible scholar. I will try to do a little research into the person I present, but may sometimes just post my own musings. They may at times seem irreverent. I am not trying to be iconoclastic, just take these people are often made into symbols and take as real a look at them as I can. These were human beings, and they were special. I want to understand them, as people.)

(Note II: I am skipping Adam and Eve because I do not find them interesting right now. I may come back to them later.)

Abraham and Sarah (also Abram and Sarai)

Traditionally Abram was a merchant's son. (There is an interesting story about his father's shop, but I do not find mention of it in the Bible. I will research it more before presenting it.) I really do NOT get the feeling that he was particularly rich when God told him to leave his home and go to Canaan. After not too long though he was very blessed and did get to be quite wealthy. That is obvious as one reads more about him.

Whenever we studied Abraham in Sunday School (or sang silly songs while waving our arms about) the focus seemed to be on an OLD MAN. He wouldn't have been old at the outset, though. The same goes for Sarai. She is described as being exceptionally beautiful. That is not the image in my mind when I think of the barren woman who gave birth to her son in her 90's.

It is interesting to think of them when younger, kind of like thinking of your grandparents as youths. (As a side note, if you read Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad (and I recommend you do.) Twain was 31 when he wrote it, not the white-haired old man we all think about when his name comes up.)

A man and his wife, along with some servants and such, take to the life of nomads. They travel to Gerar and Egypt at various points. This is an interesting bit. Abram tells Sarai to say she is his sister rather than his wife, fearing that the local leaders would kill him to have her. Abram seem a little insecure about having such a lovely wife. Maybe his fear was founded. Did men often kill other men for their wives? I'll have to keep track. Abraham feared it twice, Isaac feared in (also in gerar, as it happens) and David did it. (Poor Uriah, if only he could have just said Bathsheba was his sister...)

In Egypt (Genesis 12) God brings troubles and plagues to Egypt when Pharaoh takes Sarai. I cannot believe Abram actually went through with the charade. Was he not jealous at all? It doesn't say, but I cannot help but imagine he was upset but felt he couldn't do anything about it, and better upset than dead.

Later in Gerar (Gen. 20) Abraham does the same thing. This time God gives the king who starts courting Sarah a dream that he shouldn't. He gives Sarah back and even tosses in some treasure and gifts.

I find the Gerar narrative more confusing than the Egyptian. How powerful was Abimilech? Abraham has become quite the powerful chieftain. When Lot gets caught up in a war between allied factions, Abraham attacks to rescue him. That is, he and his men take on an alliance of kings' armies (albeit AFTER a war, so numbers may have been down) to get his nephew back. And this man is so afraid of ONE local king 6 chapters later that he pulls that "she is my sister" stunt again?

I have two thoughts on this. Number 1: The biblical narrative may be out of order. It sometimes happens. I could totally buy this happening before Abram's forces were so many. The problem I have with that is that his name was changed between the rescue of Lot and the episode with Abimelech. The Egyptian encounter was before, but this came after.

My other thought is this: (don't stand too close, this is where the lightning strikes) I am not sure the Gerar episode in Genesis 20 happened at all. (wait for it...wait for it...Ok, I am still here, I'll continue.) I just cannot imagine Abraham doing this twice. Would he not have learned his lesson? Plus, like I said, his forces were much more powerful at the time of Genesis 20 than in chapter 12 (although I doubt they would have been strong enough to take on the Egyptian Pharaoh) a local Philistine king should have been no worry as far as being killed over a woman.

Genesis 26 is what also leads me to think that the Abraham/Abimilech episode may not have happened. In it we have the same happenings but with more details. Isaac is told during a famine NOT to travel to Egypt, as his father had. Things go as before, beautiful wife, fear for personal safety, pass her off as sister. This king is also called Abimilech. I doubt it is the same man. He'd have been ancient, and he would have known better than to trust those lying nomads again! (joking there, sorry) It could have been a son. Judging by the genealogies given, naming a son after his father was not common at the time, but those are Hebrew families, what Philistine customs were, I do not know. Still, you'd think the story would have been told. "Watch which women you court, Sonny. Sometimes men are lying about who is who."
However, if Abraham was not in Gerar for the other story, and there is just this Abimilech, it makes more sense. Isaac is no warrior. Even with his inherited wealth and household, he isn't going to take on a king.

OK, let's talk about the lightning striking me...I really don't want to go into the "infallible truth of the Bible." I do believe the Bible. But I have also studied ancient myths, carvings, and writings. It is totally conceivable that over time one story developed into two versions.
Even Moses, who is traditionally credited with having written Genesis, came hundreds of years later. Faced with two versions he may have simply made the choice to include both. Recording centuries later an oral narrative would explain the use of the name Abraham in a story which, even if it did happen, I am sure happened to Abram the nomad rather than Abraham the chieftain.

My view? The story HAPPENED, once, and it happened to ISAAC. How much does that change my faith or belief in God's word? Not at all. How much does it affect anything? Not much.

Next time - Sarah (and Hagar) and perhaps some insight into the psychology of women

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