Genesis 16-20

I really must organize these new posts into a topic page. I’ve been busy, traveling for Thanksgiving and looking for a new job.

16: Hagar and Ishmael. Earlier, the commentary said that Hebrew slaves were not chattel, but it’s unclear if Hagar has any choice in sleeping with Abram. she is given to Abram “as a wife”, perhaps in contrast to being a concubine, but she is still a slave to Sarai and when Sarai blames Abram for impregnating her, Abram doesn’t defend her.

In the code of Ur-Nammu, a law code coming from the land that Abram once lived, the penalty for Hagar’s behavior was actually less than the way that Sarai appears to have treated her. It says: If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.

If these stories are meant to demonstrate the justice of God, they fail to do so for me. When Hagar runs away from Sarai, God tells Hagar to return and suffer abuse at her hand. It disturbingly reminds me of the way that certain Christians believe that divorce is not warranted by abuse. Hagar does return and “the LORD’s messenger” promises to multiply her seed, but Sarai remains the chosen wife. The moral that we were given in Sunday school and Bible classes was that God picked flawed humans to receive his grace, but what I’m getting from it so far is that if God likes you for inexplicable reasons, you can be an asshole without consequence.

Although the other being is first titled the LORD’s messenger, he is later identified as the LORD and Hagar calls him El-Roi. It’s not clear whether she considers the messenger to be a god, although I believe that later when angels are worshiped as such, they tell the worshiper to stop. It’s also unclear whether the name is a further descriptor for the God of Abram or if Hagar does not know the name of the LORD.

17: God covenants with Abram. Here God identifies himself as El Shaddai, although it is said that Abram had already invoked the name of the LORD, that is YHWH. How does God appear to Abram, in what form? God renames Abram Abraham and promises him that he and his seed will have the whole land of Canaan as an everlasting holding, but the Jews have never held the whole land of Canaan as described in Genesis.

Abraham does not seem biased toward having a son with Sarah instead of having Ishmael be his heir. He’s skeptical that he and Sarah can have children, but his response is “would that Ishmael might live in your favor”. He promises Ishmael twelve chieftains, and I looked up where they are named later, but I don’t remember ever noticing that list before. Abraham is circumcised at ninety-nine and Ishmael at thirteen. The commentary says that circumcision was practiced in several West Semitic tribes and in the priestly class of Egypt, but would have been a new procedure to Abraham, having come from Mesopotamia.

18: Angels visit Abraham and Sarah, and God and Abraham discuss Sodom. The Terebinths of Mamre is an excellent name for a place. Abraham sees three men, and one of them is God. The story switches between one speaker and plural speakers in referring to God and the other two unnamed men. God has appeared to Abraham several times now, does he have an appearance by which Abraham can recognize him? Alter mentions that the story appears to be an adaptation from the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat. A translation of the story can be found here: http://frumheretic.blogspot.com/2008/11/tale-of-aqhat.html

This story comes immediately before Sodom and Gomorrah, and those towns’ treatment of strangers is contrasted with Abraham’s hospitality. Among other things, Abraham gives God some cottage cheese. He serves meat and milk together. After talking with Sarah, God then talks to Abraham about Sodom and again sounds less than omniscient. He says he will go down and investigate Sodom, to see if the outcry that they have dealt destruction is true. He says he will know if it is not so, as if it’s something he needs to find out. Where does the outcry come from – are people in the area calling upon God? What do guilty and innocent mean in this context? He appears to take Abraham’s pleas for more mercy seriously instead of it being a test of Abraham that he already knows the answer to.

19: The destruction of Sodom. The Sodomites aren’t merely gay but want to rape the angels. In the New Testament, Jesus identifies the sin of Sodom as inhospitality, which was a serious offense in ancient Near Eastern culture. It’s so important that Lot’s “innocence” that leads to him being saved is probably the virtue of hospitality, even though he offers his own virgin daughters to be raped.

Lot begs to be allowed to flee to a nearby town instead of going to the high country, lest evil overtake him and he die. What is he afraid of that will happen in the high country that makes him feel safer in Zoar? He may have become unfamiliar with the rural setting, but it seems unlikely since he came with Abraham all the way from Mesopotamia.

It’s long been assumed by many moralists that Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt was a supernatural punishment from God for disobedience or wishing to be back in Sodom. I’ve heard sermons about how she must have been materialistic and wished for the luxurious but sinful life of the city. However, the sons-in-law who Lot talks to but are left behind are married to different daughters than those who come with Lot, so she had left children in Sodom. But it makes as much sense to think that she was caught in the brimstone because she didn’t leave fast enough without any special judgment.

Lot decides that it’s safer in the high country after all and he lives in a cave. Why did he not go to Abraham for help? His daughters don’t believe there is anyone left alive, get Lot drunk and sleep with him. This story may be to insult the tribes with the offsprings’ names. That’s the last we hear of Lot.

20: Abraham and Sarah in Gerar. This is almost an exact retelling of the story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt. Again Abraham tells the king that Sarah is his sister, and again the king discovers the lie. This sounds to me more like the retelling of a fable than a historical event, especially since Sarah was now over ninety and appeared to be infertile. This time, God appears to the king, Abimelech, in a dream, the only time that I can think of that he appears to a non-Hebrew, and he has shut the wombs of all the king’s household.

Abimelech is afraid of Abraham and wants Abraham’s intercession, even though Abraham was the one to wrong him. He even offers to let Abraham settle on his land. Abraham explains that Sarah is his half-sister, the daughter of his father. In chapter 11, Lot’s father marries his niece, but Sarah is merely described as being Abram’s father’s daughter-in-law. When he tells his story, he says “when the gods made me a wanderer from my father’s house”, using a plural verb with gods and suggesting that he might not consider God the only god.

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