Sarah, she explains, was a priestess in Mesopotamia, before she chose to leave her family and homeland behind and journey with Abraham to Canaan. Frymer-Kensky and Teubal both use historical evidence from the ancient Near East to come to different conclusions regarding the Sarah-Hagar story. But when Hagar realized that she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. She explains that Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham in keeping with ancient Near Eastern tradition. Do to her what is good in your eyes” (Genesis 16:6). Frymer-Kensky argues that although the Bible portrays a patriarchal social structure, it has a gender-neutral ideology. Five books of story, law, and poetry divided into 54 weekly portions. Teubal argues that Sarah, in taking this active role in the Hagar story, is preserving the ancient Mesopotamian tradition of priestesses, a privileged class of women who play a greater role than their husbands in directing their families’ lives. 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. 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. At Isaac’s weaning ceremony, Sarah sees Ishmael “playing” (it is unclear exactly what he was doing) and again, Sarah takes the initiative. Hagar comes across a spring, where an angel of God appears to her. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. 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. These stories are generally understood by scholars as legends, but that does not sever their link with history. Savina J. Teubal, in Sarah the Priestess, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, in Reading the Women of the Bible, both draw on historical evidence from the ancient Near East in order to address this question, but come to different conclusions. 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 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. Frymer-Kensky interprets the story of Hagar in keeping with this theory. Deborah is unique in that, as one of Israel Judges, she led an army against the Canaanites. 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. 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. These supernatural beings appear widely throughout Jewish texts. ... Sarah lived to be 127 years old and her burial is the first one to be mentioned in the Bible. 1. Read. Do to her what is good in your eyes” (Genesis 16:6). Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers, OT Law: Genesis 16:4 He went in to Hagar and she (Gen. Ge Gn) Christian Bible Study Resources, Dictionary, Concordance and Search Tools. That proved doubly distressing for her because God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son. Home. 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. 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. Frymer-Kensky argues that Hagar, too, symbolizes Israel. 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. Hagar returns and gives birth to a son, Ishmael. Hagar’s story shows that the path to redemption leads first through degradation. For Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time God had told him. Frymer-Kensky provides a different theory to explain Sarah’s behavior. How can we account for Sarah’s independent behavior in the patriarchal biblical world in which she lived? 4 And he slept with Hagar, and she conceived. She asks Abraham to send Ishmael away. Genesis contains the greatest concentration of female figures in the Bible (32 named and 46 unnamed women). 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. In this story, Sarah acts independently, taking the initiative to decide the future of her family, even against her husband’s wishes. 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. How historical evidence shapes our understanding of this biblical matriarch. Is there another way to account for Sarah’s active role in the Hagar story? 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. If Sarah is merely acting according to ancient Near Eastern law, what is the significance of the Hagar story? Why does the Bible portray women in such a positive light? 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. 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. The Genesis narratives thus form a bridge between the matriarchal pre-historic world and the patriarchal historic world. Hagar becomes pregnant, and Sarah sees that she “is diminished” in Hagar’s eyes (Genesis 16:4). 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. All Rights Reserved. However, some do not know that Sarah had another name before she was named Sarah. In treating Hagar as she does, Sarah asserts the authority granted to her as priestess by the legal code of her homeland. Teubal draws on historical evidence from the ancient Near East to prove that, in the Hagar story, Sarah asserts her traditional role as priestess. For Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time God had told him. Sarah abuses Hagar, and Hagar flees. Their story can be found in the book of Genesis and serves an important role in the later stories of the Bible. This Bible Story features Abraham and Sarah, two prominent characters from the Old Testament. Once Sarah arrives in Canaan, argues Teubal, she struggles to preserve the matriarchal traditions of her homeland against the patriarchal society in Canaan. Psalm 23:1-4. 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. Hagar becomes pregnant, and Sarah sees that she “is diminished” in Hagar’s eyes (Genesis 16:4). He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Biblical Sarah, Abraham’s wife and the matriarch of the Jewish people, is a strong and independent character. Sarah (originally named Sarai) was one of several women in the Bible who were unable to have children. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Copyright © 2002-2020 My Jewish Learning. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be upon you! Worship of goddesses did not lessen the actual social subordination of women. If she has not borne sons, her mistress may sell her. M ost people who are familiar with the Bible are familiar with the fact that Sarah was the wife of Abraham. And clues from the larger realm of ancient Near Eastern history can help us understand biblical characters. For Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time God had told him. Abraham and Sarah were quite old when Sarah was pregnant. 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. Why does Sarah, the woman, act to determine her family’s future while her husband, Abraham, is passive? And she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
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