Monday, January 19, 2009

Sarah's Story


Alice C. Linsley

Sarah’s story is one of loss and long-suffering. She was born a princess in the house of a Habiru/Hebrew ruler associated with a shrine on or near Mount Nebo, near Jericho. Ruler-priests would have resided here as early as 7000 BC. The Talmud gives Sarah's father's name as Kar-Nevo/Kar-Nebo. This is a place name also. The words kar and har are archaic words for elevated shrines. Karnak on the Nile is an example.

Sarah enjoyed the life of a wealthy, highborn woman. Her name is derived from the Akkadian word for queen: šarratum. From childhood, she had servants to attend to her needs. Her father was a high-ranking priest. He is called "Terah" in Genesis. Terah means priest.

Sarah and her husband Abraham had the same father, but different mothers. After she married Abraham, Sarah had many servants, craftsmen, herdsmen, shepherds and warriors to supervise in the region of Hebron where she resided. It is possible that Sarah lost some of her status when she left her home in Mesopotamia, but she was recognized as a noble woman by Pharaoh who was told of her beauty.

Here glimpse some of the suffering Sarah endured. She would have to leave her home and all that was familiar. When Sarah set out with Abraham for the land of Canaan, she was Abraham’s only wife. As the first wife she bore the responsibility to produce Abraham's heir. This she finally did, by God's help. She was granted a higher status as the mother of the promised son, Isaac, and the queen from whose line the promised Son of God would come, Jesus Messiah.

Sarah's bitterness at failing to bring forth the heir was taken out on Hagar and Ishmael. Added this this, Abraham's other wife, Keturah, had brought forth six sons, though these were not a threat to Issac, the proper heir of Abraham's territory in Edom.


Abraham's two wives lived in separate settlements. Sarah resided in Hebron, at the northern edge of Abraham's territory in Edom, and Keturah resided at Beersheba to the south. Both Hebron and Beersheba were in Edom, the territory that the Greeks called Idumea, which means the land of red people.

Upon the death of Terah, Abraham's older brother ruled over Terah's holdings in Mesopotamia. as was the custom, Abraham was sent away. Sent-away sons often lived with or near their maternal uncles. This is called "avunculocal residence." Jacob was sent away to live with his maternal uncle Laban. There he gained the wealth and wives he needed to establish himself in another place (neolocal residence). He set out for his natal home in Edom, but after making peace with his estranged brother Esau, he finally settled in the area of Shechem. Shechem later became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Genesis doesn't say that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died. It simply states that “Abraham married another wife whose name was Keturah.” The idea that he married her after Sarah’s death is implied by the order of the accounts of marriage and is reinforced by rabbinic tradition. The rabbis always sought to ignore Abraham's other sons.

Keturah's fruitfulness and her own barrenness would have been difficult for Sarah. She lost status as a princess among her people in Mesopotamia, she lost Abraham's full affection, she lost status as a barren woman, and then she endured Hagar's presumption and Ishmael's hold on Abraham's heart. In this, Sarah's patience appears to have failed. In the account of her treatment of Hagar she appears ruthless and unreasonable. God, who looks on the heart, must have seen how she was suffering because the Almighty took Sarah's side in the argument.

In Canaan, Sarah settled in the area of Hebron. This is where Abraham sought guidance from the Moreh (seer) at the sacred Oak. The Scriptures don't tell us what guidance Abraham sought, but we may speculate that he hoped to gain a territory of his own; to become a ruler like his father and grandfather. Before this could happen, Abraham had to secure a second wife who would dwell to the south of Hebron, according to the tradition. Genesis 12:9 tells us that after seeking advise from the Moreh at Mamre, Abraham traveled south toward the Negev. It was probably at this time that he went to Beersheba and contracted marriage to Keturah, his patrilineal cousin. Both Abraham and Keturah were descended from Sheba (Gen. 10:7).

We have a good deal of information about Keturah's people. They are an extant people known as the Joktanite clans of Arabia.




Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Horite Hebrew rulers, shows that the proper heir to the father's territory was the first born son of the first wife, the half-sister wife. As Sarah was barren, Abraham had no proper heir. Eliezer, the son of the concubine Masek, was chosen to be the steward of the household, not the heir. Abraham took up his complaint with the Lord and was assured that one day Sarah would bring forth the proper heir (Messianic foreshadowing here).

The binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah appears to have been  the final straw for Sarah, and Abraham must have recognized this. It appears that he never returned to live with her in Hebron. He apparently lived out his days in Beersheba with Keturah.

According to Genesis 23:1, Sarah lived 127 years. She died in Hebron and was buried in a cave in a field which Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:1-20). In this final act, Abraham honored his wife and half-sister through a costly purchase of land. Genesis 25:9 tells us that he was buried there also.
And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; the field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

Related reading:  Sarah's Laughter; Abraham's Complaint; Abraham's First Born Son; Abraham's Concubines; The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew (Part 1)

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