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Biblical Sarah, Abraham’s wife and the matriarch of the Jewish people, is a strong and independent character. For Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time God had told him. Just as God tells Abraham that He will multiply Abraham’s progeny, but first his descendants will be degraded slaves, so too God promises Hagar that He will multiply her progeny, but first she must return to Abraham to be exploited as a slave. Sarah brings this problem to Abraham, and Abraham, rather than deciding himself what to do, lets Sarah choose how to deal with Hagar, saying: “Here, your slave-woman is in your hands. Do to her what is good in your eyes” (Genesis 16:6). In this story, Sarah acts independently, taking the initiative to decide the future of her family, even against her husband’s wishes. 1 Samuel 1:6-8 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb…. Frymer-Kensky provides a different theory to explain Sarah’s behavior. 2 Samuel 6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. Hagar comes across a spring, where an angel of God appears to her. Psalm 23:1-4. Sarah, she explains, was a priestess in Mesopotamia, before she chose to leave her family and homeland behind and journey with Abraham to Canaan. The Bible, through its portrayal of female characters, provides a model for how the people of Israel, despite their lack of political power, are not essentially inferior and can play an active role in determining history. Genesis contains the greatest concentration of female figures in the Bible (32 named and 46 unnamed women). Like Teubal, she cites historical evidence from the ancient Near East in her interpretation. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. My Jewish Learning is a not-for-profit and relies on your help. Abraham and Sarah were quite old when Sarah was pregnant. Bible Verses for a Healthy Pregnancy and Safe Delivery Bible Verses for a Healthy Pregnancy. Sarah brings this problem to Abraham, and Abraham, rather than deciding himself what to do, lets Sarah choose how to deal with Hagar, saying: “Here, your slave-woman is in your hands. This Bible Story features Abraham and Sarah, two prominent characters from the Old Testament. Hagar returns and gives birth to a son, Ishmael. That proved doubly distressing for her because God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son. Five books of story, law, and poetry divided into 54 weekly portions. Is there another way to account for Sarah’s active role in the Hagar story? These supernatural beings appear widely throughout Jewish texts. Although Teubal cites an impressive array of circumstantial evidence for her theory that Sarah is a Mesopotamian priestess, there is no direct evidence in the biblical text. Why does Sarah, the woman, act to determine her family’s future while her husband, Abraham, is passive? Three ancient Near Eastern marriage contracts state that if the wife remains barren after a specified number of years, she gives her husband her slave to have children on her behalf. M ost people who are familiar with the Bible are familiar with the fact that Sarah was the wife of Abraham. Frymer-Kensky argues that Hagar, too, symbolizes Israel. The Birth of Ishmael … 3 So after he had lived in Canaan for ten years, his wife Sarai took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to Abram to be his wife. Frymer-Kensky interprets the story of Hagar in keeping with this theory. She asks Abraham to send Ishmael away. These stories are generally understood by scholars as legends, but that does not sever their link with history. Hagar becomes pregnant, and Sarah sees that she “is diminished” in Hagar’s eyes (Genesis 16:4). Why does the Bible portray women in such a positive light? She explains that Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham in keeping with ancient Near Eastern tradition. When she cannot have children, Sarah takes the initiative and gives her maid-servant, Hagar, to Abraham so that he can have children through Hagar on Sarah’s behalf. Abraham and Sarah provide an inspirational tale of how trusting in God will lead to favor in life. How can we account for Sarah’s independent behavior in the patriarchal biblical world in which she lived? We use cookies to improve your experience on our site and bring you ads that might interest you. Teubal draws on historical evidence from the ancient Near East to prove that, in the Hagar story, Sarah asserts her traditional role as priestess. Frymer-Kensky explains that women serve as a paradigm for the people of Israel after the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion from the land of Israel. Teubal argues that Sarah is asserting her traditional role as Mesopotamian priestess, while Frymer-Kensky argues that both Sarah and Hagar serve as paradigms for Israel: one exercising great influence despite her secondary social status, the other beginning a journey to redemption. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. For Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time God had told him. 4 And he slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When Hagar conceives, she “goes about making herself equal to her mistress”– Sarah is lowered in her eyes–so Sarah “puts the mark of a slave on her” by abusing Hagar. Proverbs 30:20,21,23 Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness…, Conjunctive waw | Verb - Qal - Consecutive imperfect - third person masculine singular, Conjunctive waw | Verb - Qal - Consecutive imperfect - third person feminine singular, Verb - Qal - Perfect - third person feminine singular, Noun - feminine singular construct | third person feminine singular. Sarah abuses Hagar, and Hagar flees. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. Archaeological evidence shows that both Ur and Haran, the cities from which Sarah and Abraham emigrated, were centers of goddess worship; pictures of Mesopotamian goddesses appear on pottery plaques unearthed from both areas. ... Sarah lived to be 127 years old and her burial is the first one to be mentioned in the Bible. However, some do not know that Sarah had another name before she was named Sarah. Sarah takes her maid and gives her as a concubine to her husband. Abraham is reluctant to do so, but God tells him: “Whatever Sarah tells you to do, listen to her” (Genesis 21:12), and he agrees and sends Hagar and her son away. Hagar becomes pregnant, and Sarah sees that she “is diminished” in Hagar’s eyes (Genesis 16:4). Frymer-Kensky also cites the passage from Hammurabi’s Code regarding the priestess, but she does not conclude from this parallel that Sarah was a priestess; the other marriage contracts describe a similar situation, and they do not refer to priestesses. Read. And she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. She argues that written records from the beginning of writing in ancient Sumer show that patriarchy was well-entrenched in the ancient Near East over 1500 years before the Bible; the Genesis narratives are not a bridge between some matriarchal pre-history and patriarchal history. Copyright © 2002-2020 My Jewish Learning. Likewise, in the light of who Abraham was, Sarah held an important position and played a great role in the establishment of the Jewish people. The forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people. The women in the Bible are socially subordinate but not essentially inferior; they have strong, independent personalities, and they often act to guide the course of events. Women who governed include Deborah (Judges 4:4), the Queen of Sheba (1Kings 10:1 - 13) and Queen Candace (Acts 8:27). In treating Hagar as she does, Sarah asserts the authority granted to her as priestess by the legal code of her homeland. And clues from the larger realm of ancient Near Eastern history can help us understand biblical characters. At Isaac’s weaning ceremony, Sarah sees Ishmael “playing” (it is unclear exactly what he was doing) and again, Sarah takes the initiative. Deborah is unique in that, as one of Israel Judges, she led an army against the Canaanites. Frymer-Kensky and Teubal’s differing interpretations of the Sarah-Hagar story provide two ways to understand the strong and independent women of the Bible in the context of the patriarchal world in which they lived. The families depicted in Genesis may or may not represent actual people, but these literary portraits are valuable sources for understanding the general social and cultural world that produced them. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be upon you! The fact that Genesis consists of a series of family stories (including several genealogies) accounts for the remarkable concentration of female figures.

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