BABEL to AVRAM
Thursday June 21:
Genesis Chapter 16
Evidence appeared to rebut God’s promise. Sarai’s barrenness leads her to offer Hagar to bear on her behalf. There is lots of matriarchal power in womens’ role to determine legitimacy and social sanctions of recognizing rank among the children of a tribal community like this. If we can suppress our subculture’s norms, this is an expression and exercise of power by Sarai.
We likely can’t get far with this theme this year, as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale has new life as a television series following the movies and book. We are shocked by this dystopia of the male tyranny over this dystopian Gilead, and the personal anguish of wives and of concubines. What did ancients hear?
This story says that once she had conceived, she looked upon Sarai with contempt, and it implies that Sarai looked on Hagar with envy and spite. Avram acknowledges Sarai’s power to do with Hagar as she pleases, without our sentiment of romanticized pregnancy or individual human rights. Instead, Sarai’s role in maintaining order in the household rules. Sarai abuses Hagar, and Hagar runs away.
An angelic messenger at the spring of Shur sends Sarai home, with instruction to submit to her mistress, maintaining social order. The messenger promises to Hagar, as God did to Avram, offspring too many to count. Specifically, Hagar is promised a son – though it may be qualified as a prediction of a ‘wild ass of a man’ who will be in conflict with many.
The story is summed up as an etiological legend for the place name of Beer-lahoi-roi. But the name to remember today is the baby boy: Ishmael.
This is an account of the origins of the Arabian neighbours of the bible writers. It has been adopted in the tradition of Islam as the account of Muslim origins from Avram. Barren Sarai, and fertile Hagar her slave, give more dimensions of the relationships among these peoples.
Go on back to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and “call me Ishmael”, or to Margaret Lawrence’s character Hagar Shipley in Stone Angel if you have more time! How do you construe or construct the ‘other’ – or identify as one