AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Tuesday June 26:
Yes, this story sounds familiar, yet strange. It was already told about Avram and Sarai in Egypt! Go back to chapter 12:10-20, the Jahweh God version, with Pharaoh showering Avram with gifts, and letting the gifts go when plagues result from Pharaoh marrying Sarai.
This one is attributed to the voice in Torah that calls God ‘Elohim’, associated with the northern prophetic traditions of Israel, and nomadic tribes settling in Ephraim, as distinguishable for the old Jahweh God roots of agrarian roots. There is lots of justification, dream revelation, and the use of ‘Elohim’.
This time, we’re down in the Negev when the ‘she’s just my sister’ ruse is proposed. It’s explicit that Abraham fears being murdered by host Abimelech as a means to take over Abraham’s clan and wife. We’re not fans of honour and shame ethics in a patriarchal clan culture – but what’s transferable about keeping your integrity and culture when you are a minority culture?
Our generation has begun a great experiment of intercultural living, beyond assimilation into WASP Christendom. We remain proud of our liberal support for individual freedom to choose intermarriage beyond our ethnic subculture. We have not yet engaged the legitimacy of communities’ incentives and discouragement of out-marriage, in terms of social coercion and sanctions.
Think perhaps of religious schooling, social services and supplementary health care, being permitted or provided tax relief or direct support from the public purse. In the current election cycle, grants for student summer jobs in agencies opposing birth control choice, or sex education in schools, are hot buttons. Is it more threatening if a religious patriarch/priest/imam runs the show, or if it’s all framed as ‘our sisters and their children’ in the border detention camps?
The Elohist God intervenes in dreams, (and often through angels) – and Abimelech, once warned off his good faith betrothal to Sarah, is scared by the divine warning and threat. This Abraham quibbles that Sarah is ‘technically’ his relation through his father….
Poor Abimelech. Here comes this Avraham and his family. Abimelech takes Sarah in good faith as his wife – and everything goes wrong. This ‘take my wife, please’ routine will be repeated, with less mincing around Avraham’s defence of his ruse. This time through, try it as a tale of immigration and settlement of two peoples in one land.
Assimilation is not the biblical option, rather peaceful coexistence where good fences make good neighbours, and the peoples are rarely equal in power. I think of Abimelech as an early liberal, abusing his power, not even aware of it - but Avraham is no moral titan either, eh? Sarah is left to bear the burden of the worst role. Imagine the tragic choices of racialized and cultural minority mothers and then start recognizing them all around us!