Saturday, October 17, 2009

Was Abraham a Liar?

Alice C. Linsley

When Abraham asked Sarah to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, was he asking her to lie? When he told her to “say that you are my sister so that it might go well with me” was he attempting to deceive? That is the common claim, but one that Scripture does not support.

The point is that Abraham was not a liar. Sarah was indeed Abraham's half-sister. They had different mothers, but the same father. This was the Horite marriage and ascendancy pattern. In this pattern we find that each of the rulers of Genesis had two wives. One was a half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. She was taken at an early age, probably around age 20. The other was a patrilineal cousin as was Keturah to Abraham. This wife was taken later in life.  Abraham was married to Sarah and Keturah at the same time. Keturah was the mother of Abraham's first born son Yaqtan (Joktan).

Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy structure of Abraham's family reveals the distinctive pattern of the Horite ruler-priest caste. Abraham's father had two wives. Moses' father had two wives. Samuel's father had two wives. Moses' Kushite wife was his half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. The pattern of Moses' family is identical to that of the rulers listed in Genesis 4, 5 and 11, and to that of Abraham's father Terah and Samuel's father Elkanah." It appears that all of these great men of the Bible were Horites.

The Horite marriage and ascendancy pattern can be traced from Genesis 4 to Jesus, proof that Jesus is a direct descendant of Abraham.

The sister wife motif

E.A. Speiser writes, “All three passages [Gen. 12:10-20; Gen. 20:1-13 and Gen. 26:1-14] give essentially the same story: a patriarch visits a foreign land in the company of his wife. Fearing that the woman’s beauty might become a source of danger to himself as the husband, the man resorts to the subterfuge of passing himself off as the woman’s brother.” (Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis, p. 91. Italics mine.)

Speiser would lead us to believe that Abraham was both a lair and a coward. He misses that there is a difference between what Abraham says and what Isaac says. Isaac does lie when he claims that Rebecca is is sister.  She was his patrilineal cousin.

Abraham explains that Sarah “is really my sister, my father’s daughter though not my mother’s” (Gen. 20:12). This piece of information would surely have caused Pharaoh to ask more questions since kinship was a matter of great concern to rulers. This would have given Abraham the opportunity to explain his people's kinship pattern and since this pattern is unique to ruler-priests of the Horites, Pharaoh would have been forced to recognize Abraham as one to be protected as family. The Horites worshiped Horus (known also as the “Son of God”) and Egypt was the main center of Horus worship.

The Horites were a caste of ruler- priests who married the chaste daughters of other Horite priests. Joseph, the first-born son of Jacob by Rachel, married Asenath, the daughter of the "priest of On" (Gen. 41:45). On is Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. It was perhaps the most prestigious shrine city of the ancient world and it was under the direction of Horite ruler-priests.

When Abraham explained his kinship pattern, the Pharaoh would have recognized it as that of the Horite ruler caste. The Pharaohs also married sisters, as is evident in Egyptian texts. The beauty of the sister bride is praised throughout Egyptian poetry and in the Song of Solomon. Abraham married his half-sister, as did his father Terah and his grandfather Nahor. This was a characteristic of their ruler-priest kinship pattern, as analysis of the Genesis genealogies reveals.

In Genesis 26, we find that Isaac employs his father's method to gain Abimelech’s attention in Gerar which was in the heart of Horite territory (see map). It is significant that only Isaac does this, since he was the son designated to rule after his father. Though Abraham had 7 or 8 other sons, none of them are reported to have tried this ruse. This suggests that these stories are not about deceit and cowardice, but about gaining the ruler’s recognition and favor. This would be necessary to become established in the land, which he did. Abraham's territory was between Sarah's settlement in Hebron and Keturah's settlement in Beersheba.

This is further substantiated by the fact that Abraham and Isaac were not visiting “foreign” lands as Speiser claims, but were in territory under Horite - Egyptian control. Kadesh and Shur (Gen. 20:1) were in Horite territory under the control of the Pharaohs. Abraham's mother's people controlled territory between Mt. Hor (northeast of Kadesh) and Mt. Harun (near Petra). Genesis 10:30 tells us that these were the clans whose dwelling place extended from Mesha “all the way to Sephar, the eastern mountain range.” They are called Horites in Genesis 14:6, 36:20 and in Deuteronomy 2:12.

Numbers 33:27-28 mentions 'Terah' as a place near Mount Harun in Jordan. Besides being the name of Abraham's father, Terah is also the name of an Arabian tribe (Terabin) that dwells chiefly between Gaza and Beersheba. So clearly Abraham was not in a foreign land. He was in territory ruled by his ancestors and he deserved to have his status recognized, which chiefly would have been done by verifying his kinship.

The Egyptians took pleasure in sex, but regarded adultery was an grave offense, especially for a ruler since such an unrighteous act would put his kingdom under divine judgment. This is why both Pharaoh and Abimelech were angry that Abraham should put them at risk, but in both instances the God of Abraham protected Sarah and the ruler long enough for Abraham to accomplish his objective of gaining the ruler’s favor.

In the ancient world, Horite rulers were known for their pure conduct and sobriety. They were known for their devotion to the High God whose emblem was the Sun. Plutarch wrote that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

Related reading: Who Were the Horites?; Abraham and Job: Horite Rulers; Who was a Bigger Liar: Abraham or Isaac?; Abraham's Complaint


Jonathan said...

But how is it, if Abram was so sure that all all his rightful status and privileges as a Horite ruler would be readily recognized by the Egyptians and their pharoah, as soon as they caught on to the sister-bride phenomenon that Abraham was instructing Sarai to make big show of, that Abram was nonetheless behaved so cowardly ("they will kill me!" he utters in Gen. 12:12), and goes and allows Pharoah to take her right into his house (I mean, really! How far did he get with her (!) before the onset of great plagues sent by God (v. 17) alerted him that something was not quite right about this relationship?) In other words, even accepting your thesis about the sister-bride being a mark of a special credential for Abram, I still am having trouble when I read the Genesis text, arriving at the conclusion that Abram was acting all on the up-and-up. If he was telling Pharoah a partial truth, in order to draw Pharoah off track and allow another significant part of the truth to lie unrevealed, it is still a lie. Maybe he didn't tell a whoppper, but Abraham is still very much a liar, don't you think?

Alice C. Linsley said...

I think Abraham had reason to fear for his life, but I don't think he was a liar. Gen 20:11 makes this clear. Here Abraham states, "I thought there is surely no fear of God in this place and they will kill me because of my wife. Besides, she is in truth my sister..."

I rather agree with Speiser that the 3 similar accounts have meaning that may not be readily apparent to us since the events are recorded long after they took place. Given the similarity between the kinship of Abraham's Horite people and the Egyptian ruling classes, my hypothesis is credible. I believe the key is this phrase: "Say that you are my sister that it may go well with me..." (Gen.12:13)