The Sar and the Sarah
What is a Prince and a Princess
Breeding People in Ancient Times
This article is very relevant for modern moral considerations. It concerns the right of government in interfering in the choice of sexual partners for the outcome of offspring with desired characteristics.
In Old Testament times sexual partners frequently had no choice who their partners would be. One famous example are Isaac and Rebecca. In Gen 24: 56 Abraham’s servant asks Laban and Rebecca’s mother to send him on his way immediately, but they said (verse 58), we will call the damsel and enquire at her mouth.’ So this did not go without saying. They could have sent her away without asking her and that seems to have been the expectation of Abraham’s servant. When she was asked whether she would go with Abraham’s servant to be given to Isaac, she said she would, even though she had never seen Isaac. Isaac was never asked regarding this matter.
Some might object that Abraham and Isaac might have talked about this in a conversation not recorded in Genesis, however, this is a topic of utmost importance for the ideals of the Jewish race and therefore this is very unlikely. Also there is a specific word for negotiations between the chieftains of tribes regarding the exchange of daughters. It is chathan. It can be used as a verb, as in Gen 34: 9. King James translated it as, ‘And make ye marriages with us ….’ Or it can be used as a noun, probably the chieftain of the tribe. The task of the chathan was to negotiate with chathans from other tribes about the exchange of daughters and to allocate them to members of his own tribe. In this meaning the translation is usually ‘father in law’, sometimes ‘son in law) even though it does not really match these concepts. It sometimes was translated as bridegroom in cases when a man took (there is not word for marrying in Ancient Hebrew, even though the translations use this word) a woman for himself, e.g.: 1. Kings 3: 1.
This also explains the confusion who was the ‘father in law’ of Moses, since the Tanakh mentions various names. As the chathan died, another man took over this role in the tribe and therefore the chathan changed. The chathan negotiated on behalf of his tribe, in Moses’ case on behalf of the Midianites. When the chathan of Median died and another took on this office, the chathan of Moses had changed.
Sometimes the chathan did not exchange a girl, but bought her for something, as Abraham’s servant bought Rebecca for valuables (Gen, 24: 53), Jacob bought Leah and Rachel for service which also Moses did for Zipporah (Ex. 2: 21). Dwelling in the latter case meant keeping sheep for him (Ex. 3: 1).
The chathan was not only a respected person, but he was loved by the members of his tribe for the protection and sense of right, he offered. He was respected to such a degree that he was used as a metaphor for God in the Tanakh! (Ps. 19: 5; Isa. 60: 5; follow this link about virginity!) The concepts of the chathan and the kallah, frequently translated as daughter in law, are discussed in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter of that title.
So the chathan allocated sexual partners to ‘his sons’ or the members of his tribe as a farmer did with animals also. How did he make the choice?
To consider this it has to be noted that in tribal society there were different classes of people. The lowest of those might not even have had personal names. In Gen. 18: 7 ‘Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave [it] unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.’ The man is not named. He belonged to Abraham, the tribe Abraham, not only in the sense of property, but also in the feeling of belonging to Abraham and Abraham taking care of him. At Muhammad’s time there was some Arabic poetry which shows some awakening of individuality, ‘I am Ghazziya (a name of a tribe). When he goes the wrong path, I go the wrong path, and if he is guided right, I go along.’ Or ‘Help your brother, whether injustice is done to him or whether he does injustice.’
The brother may not be an actual son of the same parents, but the whole tribe was a family unit. The chieftain saw himself in the members of his tribe since they (for example Gen. 46: 26) had come out of his loins. In Gen. 32: 10 Jacob said, when he subdivided his people in fear of Esau, .‘… with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.’ He said, ‘I am become ….’ He sees himself in his people, who had come forth from his loins. Another example of this way of thought is 2. Kings 10: 22, ‘And when he (King Jehu) came to Samaria, he slew all that remained unto Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed him, ….’ He destroyed Ahab, by killing his descendants. These descendants ‘were’ Ahab, since they had come forth from his loins or from the loins of his sons which had only grown in a woman who just was an empty container or good quality soil, but who had no influence on the hereditary outcome. Even today the country Israel is called after Jacob and the Tanakh often refers to the sons of Israel (King James children of Israel). They were regarded as this same man. How could they?
Well this was Ancient science. Where do the little boys and girls come from? In the Beginning, obviously they came out of the bellies of women. Women were seen as creating them. If a man would ask, ‘How do you do that?’ that would be her little secret. Women performed the divine function of creating life. Therefore they were sometimes referred to as goddesses, e.g.: Circe (Homer, Odyssey 10: 136) and Calypso (Homer, Odyssey 1: 14). Since Gen. 3 it was known how the little babies get into the woman’s belly. (This is explained in detail in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on the Original Sin.) From then on the Ancients believed that the gooey stuff that comes out of a man’s penis was the whole child and it developed only inside the woman’s belly. This is not that farfetched, since when you crack open a bird’s egg, there is some gooey stuff inside, however, if you do not crack it open this gooey stuff changes into a chicken. So probably the gooey stuff from the penis would change into a human being inside the woman. That is the reason why there is the death penalty for male homosexual intercourse between men ordained in Lev. 20: 13. The poor child would die! Homosexual intercourse between women is not forbidden anywhere in the Bible! Ancient men did not have microscopes to see that there are millions of sperm cells in one ejaculation, neither could they make any sense of all the internal organs of the woman. It was not contempt for women, it was an early stage of science!
Since it was known what makes women pregnant, their status changed from that of a goddess to an empty vessel. Not only is this an attitude of conservative Jews still today, this view is deeply engrained in Hebrew language. The word ‘bath’ means daughter, but on the other hand it also means a measure of volume of about fourty litres, so an empty container of that size used in Ancient trade.
The Quran sees women as a field. 2: 223: ‘Your women are a field for you, so go into your field when you like, and send forth (the text does not say ‘good deeds’, but many translations fill this in) for yourselves, and be careful of [your duty to] Allah, and know that you [will] meet Him, and give good news to the believers.’
The view of the woman as a field makes some allowance of influence of the woman towards the outcome. If good seed (a word which in Hebrew as well as in English refers to plant seeds as well as human seed) is sowed onto poor soil, the crop will not be good. It will only flourish in good soil.
Also Plutarch reports this attitude in Sparta in his law of Lycourgos. A Spartan could go without formality to another Spartan and tell him that he admires the other Spartan’s companion for the good offspring she has born and he then could ask permission to grow himself some offspring in the good soil of the other Spartan’s companion (Plutarch Lyc, 15: 7) Plutarch explicitly mentions the woman as a ‘good soil’. Also in his work on morals Plutarch describes the importance of the choice of woman for good offspring.
So in Ancient times the child was seen as the offspring of the father alone, with the woman having only minor influence on it. The son therefore was the father. For that reason the Israelites did grow ‘themselves’ also in foreign women. In Numb. 31 the captive girls, who had not known man by lying with him were distributed amongst the Israelites, including Levites and priests. Also in Jdg. 21 the Benjamites got themselves girls from another tribe, since otherwise they may have died out.
Taking women from other nations was forbidden in Deut. 7: 3 to 5, yet the reason was not a hereditary one, it was (verse 4), ‘For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.’
This is the attitude to reproduction in which we have to take into account, together with the concept of virginity, to look at the birth of Isaac.
Now Abraham and Jacob both had children with the hand maids of their women. Why did women take such pride in bearing children? ‘When Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.”’ (Gen. 30: 1) The reason was that children were important for the survival of the tribe. The attitude to children was completely different from today. Today children are seen as a burden, even a taunt to women, something that spoils a woman’s career. In those days children were an asset, they would help to work, the boys would help to fight (Ps. 127: 3 to 5) and the girls would soon bear children themselves. Many children was the way to go.
This is usually seen today as unfair and a burden to women, but as explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter ‘The Chathan and the Kallah’, having children at a young age was not a burden to the young parents, since the young mother would just live together with the other women and learn about motherhood and the children were kept together anyway. There was no lengthy education to become an adult.
Many children were seen as good. Were they all alike? Most of them yes, but there were special ones. In Gen. 5 there is a line of genealogy from Adam to Noah. One man begot (caused [a not mentioned woman] to bring forth) another and the son begot another and so on. For each man it then says, ‘And he begat sons and daughters.’ In other words one son was special. St. Augustine thought that this might not always have been the first born but the most important to this tribe who became the heir to his father’s possessions (see Greetings from Paradise, Chapter ‘The Great Darkness’). Possessions at that time meant the animals and the people of the tribe were the chieftains possessions. In reality these people could not have seen it like that. It was just the way they lived. A bunch of young boys today have a ‘chieftain’ or the one whose suggestions are mostly followed. He would not call his friends his possession, even though he would call them ‘his’. The word possession has to do with the word to sit on, meaning to live on a plot of land as a farmer and the first farmer was Noah (Gen. 9: 20). The people of Gen. 5 were nomads.
St. Augustine also doubted the long life spans of the patriarchs and said that a man with good intentions helps faith by making this chapter more believable. However he did not come to a solution. I have discussed the long life spans in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter ‘The Great Darkness’.
So how was the heir picked? He was the strongest and most influential amongst his brethren. The father might have chosen him, or he might have just slipped into the father’s role through his charisma or fighting after the father’s death.
There is the possibility that the heir was not even the father’s son. In the Gilgamesh Epic the Ale wife says to Gilgamesh, ‘…Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand. ….’ Gilgamesh was a Sumerian who is said to have lived about 2750 BC. The Gilgamesh Epic can be read in ‘Ancient Near Eastern Texts’ and I advise well you, Dear Reader, to go and borrow this book through a library. The translations there are the closest to the originals, sometimes not really well thought through to the end, but the insecurities are shown. Online versions often are permeated with modern morals to gloss over what is poorly understood. I also would like to recommend the little booklet by Dossin ‘La‘Palleur D’Enkidu’ on this subject. This is all discussed in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter ‘Living with the Sin’.
The Iliad reports that the mother of Achilles, the son of Peleus, was Thetis a goddess living in the sea. In other words, his mother was unknown. Now I have heard about fatherless children, but never about motherless. Nevertheless the mother of Achilles is unknown.
Now there may be two explanations for that, one is that he was a very strong boy born to a farmer or a labourer on the possessions of Peleus and when Peleus saw him and saw his valour in fighting and the way his friends would follow him, he took him up to his palace and raised him there to be his son, or in the words of the Gilgamesh Epic, he let Achilles take his hand. Achilles might have been a young boy, full of eagerness for fighting and overcoming others and he might have seen the big overlord Peleus as an example to emulate. Children might have played lord and servant, but Achilles might have taken being lord to perfection and therefore Peleus selected him as his son.
The other possibility is that Achilles was of high birth either of Peleus, or of a neighbouring king. Since the Iliad does not tell this story it would be more likely that he was born to a neighbour and that due to some oracle he was thrown into the ocean and was swept to land in the area of the Myrmidons, who found him and brought him to their king. This would be very similar to the story of Oedipus, who only found out at a very advanced age, that he had not been brought up by his natural parents. He was not thrown into the sea and the only hint that points that way in the case of Achilles is that his ‘mother’ was a goddess who lived in the ocean. As a matter of fact in Il. 16: 34 & 35 Patroklos taunts Achilles for his heartlessness, ‘Pitiless one, thy father, meseems, was not the knight Peleus, nor was Thetis thy mother, but the grey sea bare thee, and the beetling cliffs, for that thy heart is unbending.’ This may be a hint that Achilles was found when swept ashore from the sea. Patroklos was just saying something to taunt him, but maybe the truth was the reason for this particular metaphor. In the following sentence Patroklos spoke of Achilles shunning some oracle which may mean that he was exposed by his parents to die before the oracle could come to fulfillment and that is the reason why he was found in the sea.
Jesus himself was obviously not the biological son of Joseph, nevertheless does the New Testament give two genealogies which trace Jesus’ descent through Joseph as if he was his biological father. (Matt. 1: 1 to 16 and Luke 3: 23 to 38) The concept of a father was a cultural one, not a biological one.
I just would like to recommend the book by Otto Rank, ‘The Myth of the Birth of the Hero’, Vintage Books, New York, 1932, which compiles a number of ancient stories which seem to be intended to produce a genealogy where there is none, in particular when a king gets disposed by a subject who was not his son. The descent of Moses is also discussed in this book. The thesis is that Moses was an Egyptian, the grand – son of the Pharaoh, and since he took the people away, the story with the ark was invented. As support for this theory Rank says that the tribe of Moses, the Levites, frequently had Egyptian names. The Egyptian word Moses means son and there is the possibility that this name is short for something like Ram’ses, son of the sun god Ra, just like we call a person named Benjamin, Son of fortune, just Ben, son.
So with these attitudes in mind, let us look at what the Tanakh tell us about the birth of Isaac and the circumstances surrounding it.
The story begins in Gen. 11: 29. It says, literally translated, ‘And he is taking Abram and Nahor to them women. ….’ Who is he? He is Terah. This section of Gen. 11 tells his story. He is the chathan. There are scholars who think that Sarai’s real name was Iscah. Sarai means ‘my princess.’ Princess means Sarah and sar is the male version meaning ‘prince’. The verse continues, ‘… the name of Abram’s woman [was] Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s woman, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.’ (King James translated ‘Abram’s wife’, but there is no word for ‘wife’ in Hebrew.) These scholars think that Iscah is mentioned here, because she is the one given to Abram, while it was quite likely that Haran had begotten many more sons and daughters, Lot, who later travels with Abram, is one example (verse 31).
Now verse 30 informs us that Sarai was barren, she had no child. Now in chapter 12 Abram travelled first to Canaan and then, since there was a famine he went on to Egypt. As they approached Egypt, Abram asked Sarai, he did not tell her, he said, ‘I pray thee’, that she would say she is Abram’s sister (verse 3), because he feared that the Egyptians might kill him, if they thought that she was his woman (ishah, this word maybe related to fire, meaning his flame see ‘Greetings from Paradise’, chapter ‘In the Beginning’. It does not mean wife in the modern sense).
Verse 15 informs us that the ‘princes of Pharaoh’ saw her and commended or praised her before Pharaoh and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. He did not just take her, but he paid for her in Verse 16.
In verse 17, the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues and in the remainder of the chapter, the Pharaoh gives her back.
This is a story which recurs in a very similar form two more times in Genesis, in chapter 20 Abraham, as Abram then was called, went to Gerar and Abimelech, the king of Gerar, took Sarah, as Sarai was called then, the other time in Gen. 26, Abraham’s son Isaac went to Gerar and Abimelech took Rebecca, because Isaac had said that she was his sister. Each time the return of the woman becomes a longer conversation. In chapter 12 just the Pharaoh spoke, no answer by Abram is recorded. In chapter 20 Abraham actually answered Abimelech. Verses 11 & 12, ‘Because I thought, Surely the fear of God [is] not in this place; and they will slay me for my woman’s sake. And yet indeed [she is] my sister; she [is] the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my woman.’ This actually contradicts Gen. 11: 29 in which Terah had taken women for his sons Abram and Nahor (see above), implying Sarai was not his daughter.
Gen. 20: 16, ‘And unto Sarah he (Abimelech) said, “Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand [pieces] of silver: behold, he [is] to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that [are] with thee, and with all [other]:” thus she was reproved.’ Verse 4 said that Abimelech had not come near her, but what is verse 16 to mean then? Other translations say that it (the silver) is a covering of the eyes or a vindication. The Hebrew text says ‘he’ but it clearly refers to the silver which is a male noun in Hebrew and therefore it should be referred to as ‘he’ in that language, while in English ‘it’ is appropriate. Certainly this verse indicates that something had happened which should not have.
In Gen. 26 Isaac went to Gerar and he passed of Rebecca as his sister. In his case Abimelech saw them ‘sporting’ or ‘playing’ out in the open as he looked out of a window (verse 8). So Abimelech called Isaac and asked him why he had passed her of as his sister. In verse 10 Abimelech then said according to King James,
‘What [is] this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy woman, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.’
Now in Ancient Hebrew there is no conjunctive verb form, there is no ‘might’ or ‘shouldest’. ‘Might have lien’ in the Hebrew Text is just expressed in the normal qal verbform, the normal active. In other words, Abimelech said, ‘One of the young man lightly (maybe casually) lay with your woman.’ The second verb is in the Hiphil form, the causative active. So it does not say, ‘thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us,’ but ‘you caused guiltiness to come upon us.’ The Hebrew text says Rebecca had sex with some men of Gerar! The same appears true about Sarai in Egypt and Gerar, why else is the silver a covering of the eyes and from what was she reproved?
Haven’t you ever wondered how lightly Abram and Isaac gave away their women? Surely their lives were at stake, but there is no feeling recorded. In Gen. 21: 11 when Sarah had asked Abraham to cast out this bond woman, Hagar, and her son Ishmael, it says, ‘And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.’ The word for grievous is a verb, meaning to tremble. Abraham was trembling very much about his son! No such emotion is reported in Gen. 12: 11 to 16, Gen. 20: 2 or Gen. 26: 7. Would anybody today give his wife away without emotion?
Nobody at the time thought anything special about sex! These people were nomads and at night they huddled up together and let the Holy Spirit take his course. If you don’t believe that the Ancients thought that sex brings on the presence of God, read Where Did Abraham’s Servant put his hand?!
Even though by that time it was known that this lovely togetherness would cause the women to get pregnant, pregnancy was desired at the time. Children were labour or even military power. They were truly seen as a blessing, not as a burden. Only bethulahs were to be kept separate from this lovely cosiness. The Gesenius Dictionary says that the word means to be secluded from intercourse with men. The usual translation of this word is virgin, but it does not mean what we call a virgin today. As explained in the link on Virginity, any woman could become a bethulah, by being secluded from intercourse with men for a number of months during which she would have her periods. The clothing she stained with blood during her periods would be the bethulim, translated as the tokens of her virginity. Once she could show these, it was known that she was not pregnant and then she could be inseminated with an heir from a known father. This child would be that man’s heir.
Becoming a bethulah was seen as a major burden to the woman and to falsely accuse her of having been pregnant was severely punished (Deut. 22: 19). However, if she was found not to be a bethulah, but had pretended to be one, she was to be stoned (verse 21) because she would have given her owner’s (the word baal means owner, not husband) property to another man. The decision on the matter was made on the basis whether the bethulim, the blood stained cloths from her periods, could be found or not.
This method of establishing that a son is the son of his father and therefore his heir may be a later one. At Abraham’s time the method might have been that, as soon as a man acquires a woman, he will sacrifice her firstborn son. Maybe this was the reason behind the near sacrifice of Isaac in Gen. 22. Even at Moses time there was still child sacrifice (Ex. 13: 2), sometimes there was redemption for the firstborn son (Ex. 13: 13), but not in Ex. 22: 29. There are more aspects to that custom and those are discussed in the Introduction of Greetings from Paradise.
Therefore Abraham and Isaac were not that upset as we would think today to have their women taken of them, since, once they would have left the place again, if they ever did that, the woman could turn into a bethulah again and bear a known heir. Or they could have sacrificed the first son born by their women and then impregnate them themselves.
However that would have been, the sojourn in Egypt might have opened Abram’s eyes to something. In Gen. 11: 30 it was thought Sarai was barren, a field in which no seed would grow. But maybe after the sojourn in Egypt, after having spent some time with the Pharaoh and his princes she did bear one or more children, so it might not have been her who was barren, but Abram himself! Surely in Gen. 16 Sarai gave Abram her handmaid and she got pregnant, but Genesis does not say that she was a bethulah or that Abram ‘knew’ her. It just says, he went in unto her (verse 4, for the difference between knowing a woman and going in unto her, see Greetings from Paradise, chapter ‘The Original Sin’). So who knows where else this handmaid had been on her daily errands and what happened at night when she would sleep with the other servants?
The same applies to Keturah, the woman which Abraham took in Gen. 25. Verse 2 lists the sons she bore, but it does not say that she was a bethulah or that Abraham knew her. Her sons were not that important, since Isaac was Abraham’s heir. Verse 6 speaks of the sons of the concubines. The Hebrew, piylegesh, word implies softness and pleasure. So these were women kept for pleasure but not necessarily to oneself. Guest were invited to the piylegeshs at least. King Solomon had a son with the Queen of Sheba of whom the Ethiopian Royal house claimed its descent. So it appears that Abraham had a couple of women for pleasure and Chr. 1: 32 explicitly calls Keturah his concubine. So all the sons of the concubines may very well not have been Abraham’s sons, since concubines were shared around.
If Sarah had a child from an Egyptian, Genesis would probably not mention it as it just mentions the important children, the heirs, by name. In Gen. 5 it says about every patriarch, after the heir was named, that he begot sons and daughters. Likewise Sarah and Rebecca probably brought forth unimportant sons and daughters.
So the doubts might have plagued Abram, doubts about himself and doubts about Ishmael. There seems to be the attitude in modern times that it might have been important to Abram to get a heir from Sarai but, as explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on the Original Sin, the people thought until only few hundred years ago, that the child comes from the father alone and it only grows in the empty vessel or in the field, called the woman. So his desire to have a child from Sarai, was probably based on the fact that she was the only one who had no sex with other men.
So Abram might have looked for a solution to heal his own infertility. One solution might have been the circumcision which was introduced in Gen. 17. Maybe this was an attempt to make the transfer of the child in the form of the gooey substance which comes from the penis into the woman, where it would change into a newborn baby, more effective. Maybe Abram noticed that after intercourse there was a lot of that gooey substance still caught in his foreskin. The whole ejaculation was thought to be the new child. Those ancients did not know that there were millions of sperm cells in it. They didn’t even know there were cells! Abram might have thought that the reason why Sarai did not get pregnant was that too much of the child got caught in his foreskin and did not pass into the woman during intercourse.
The circumcision is introduced by the name change from Abram, father of elevation, to Abraham, father of a multitude (Gen. 17: 5) which is followed by the promise (verse 6), ‘And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.’
So, if Abram and his seed or offspring will stick to a covenant with God, God will bless him. How? With lots of offspring, of course. That was the blessing in Ancient times. Many children of Abram himself, but also of all other males in his tribe would mean many workers and warriors! That was the blessing. To get this blessing everybody, Abram and his offspring just as much as the slaves, the strangers bought with money, should be circumcised, since their children also would help Abram and his offspring in the daily chores.
Abram felt that God made this covenant with him on the basis of the circumcision (Gen. 17: 10). The circumcision should be done at eight days of age, maybe because later it would be more difficult to do, since the child would defend himself against it. Everybody, even the slaves whom Abram would buy must be circumcised (verses 12 & 13). This is the covenant. It maybe an attempt of understanding natural law! (For the difference between natural law and legal law in Genesis, see Greetings from Paradise, chapters ‘In the Beginning’ and ‘The Original Sin’.) In Gen. 17: 10, God said, ‘This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.’
Gen. 17: 14, ‘And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.’ This may not mean the death penalty. Why would you kill a child, if the parents did not circumcise him? It may very well be an attempt at understanding natural law. A man who is not circumcised will get his seed, his sperm, caught in his foreskin and therefore he will not have children. He will be cut off, he will not live on in future generations within that tribe. It actually says cut off, like cutting of the branch of a tree of genealogy.
Now Gen. 17 seems to run smoothly from verse 14 to verse 15, but maybe there is an intercession of one or more years and Abram found that, even though the explanation with the seed being caught in the foreskin was a good theory, Sarai still did not get pregnant.
So maybe at this point in time Abraham gave up and admitted to himself his own infertility. In verse 15, he felt God told him to call his woman Sarah from then on and not Sarai anymore. Then (verse 16) God will bless her and she shall be a [mother of] nations and kings of people shall be of her.
Kings of people, now we usually think a king should be a king’s son. But this could not possibly be meant here. The king here must be a charismatic leader, since he does not descend from a king. He must look good, he must be confident, he must speak well and he must be able to connect to his ‘subjects’ and make them want to follow him. He must be strong and win a couple of fights also, so that he would not be easily challenged by others. Some of these qualities are due to education, others are inherited. This is what it means that a king must be of good stock, he must bring certain qualities into his life! Of course these physical qualities are passed on to him from his biological parents so they must be of good and impressive appearance and have some physical strength and the father should have some fighting spirit.
This image of a king is supported also by the Gilgamesh Epic. He was the king of Uruk, he did not have a queen, but he had sex with whomever he chose. On his quest for immortality, he met an ale wife who foretold him, ‘The life thou pursuest thou shalt not find.’ Then she gave him some advice on life, very reminiscent of Eccl. 9: 7 to 9, ‘Thou, Gilgamesh, let full be thy belly, make thou merry by day and by night. Of each day make thou a feast of rejoicing, day and night dance thou and play! Let thy garments be sparkling fresh, thy head be washed; bath thou in water. Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand, let thy spouse delight in thy bosom! For this is the task of mankind.’ The word translated here as spouse just denotes a sex partner. Gilgamesh did not have a spouse in the modern sense. No woman in Uruk could withstand his charm and he was the object of quite some jealousy. The Gilgamesh Epic is discussed in detail in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter ‘Living with the Sin.’
What is relevant here, however, is the suggestion, ‘Pay heed to the little one that holds on to thy hand.’ Gilgamesh did not have an exclusive sex partner, he did not know which of the children in Uruk where his! To determine the king after him, he must have selected a boy who had the physical appearance and was intelligent and susceptible to education by Gilgamesh himself.
Today in modern Royal Houses there seems to be the expectation that the above traits are passed on from father to son through inheritance. This, however, has led to quite some decadence amongst Royalty. The Liddle Scott Jones Dictionary of Ancient Greek says that the word basileus, which frequently is translated as king, can mean ‘the first or most distinguished of any class.’
So it seems that the promise in Gen. 17: 16, ‘… kings of people shall be of her,’ means that her offspring shall have good physical properties, good looking, tall, strong, well – spirited and teachable.
Now the way to achieve this was the change of name from Sarai to Sarah. Sarai means ‘my princess’ while Sarah just means princess! Could this mean that Abram should not keep the woman to himself anymore? Should she have sex with other men to get pregnant as probably happened in Egypt before this?
In Gen. 12: 15 ‘The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.’ Are these princes of Pharaoh men with good physical attributes who would be able to beget offspring with good physical attributes? Did they need women, as Plutarch wrote about Spartans, who were ‘good soil’. Is such a woman, with good physical attributes a princess? Is that the meaning of prince and princess, men and women who would be used to breed people who are strong, impressive good looking, charismatic, able to get others to follow them or, if unsuccessful at becoming king, at least good officers of the king, good warriors and high ranking officers of the army?
This is how King Saul is described (1. Sam. 9: 2), ‘And he had a son, whose name [was] Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and [there was] not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward [he was] higher than any of the people.’ On this basis he was made king and being the first King of Israel, he was not the son of a previous king, but he had on top of his good looks a good descent. According to 1. Sam. 9: 1, his father was ‘a man of Benjamin, whose name [was] Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.’
Now Gen. 18 to 21 deal with Sarah getting pregnant. It starts of with the LORD appearing to Abraham in Gen. 18:1 or it might have been three men (enowch, which is a poetic form for man) in the following verse. Gen. 18 goes on to a conversation about the wickedness of the Sodomites and therefore Gen. 19 deals with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gen. 20 then deals with Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar. Again Sarah was taken from him and it is quite possible that she was made pregnant there. In Gen. 21, finally, ‘the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.’ Many believe that this was God and that he was the one who had spoken about this in Gen. 18.
Now may he who is sometimes called the LORD in Gen. 18 in other verses called a man have actually been a man? Could he have been a man of good physical qualities who hired himself out to give others offspring of his good physical attributes, as Homer would have put it, a god – like man (Od. 1: 20)? Plutarch wrote (Lyc. 15: 8), ‘He (Lycourgus) saw much folly and vanity in what other peoples enacted for the regulation of these matters; in the breeding of dogs and horses they insist on having the best sires which money or favour can secure, but they keep their wives under lock and key, demanding that they have children by none but themselves, even though they be foolish, or infirm, or diseased
How could a man be confused with God? The confusion might come from a change of meaning of the word god. In the Odyssey Circe (Homer, Odyssey 10: 136) and Calypso (Homer, Odyssey 1: 14) both were called goddesses. As explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter Ewomancipation, the reason for this title maybe twofold, first of all because of the divine feeling they would give to their sex – partners and secondly, maybe even more importantly, that for some unknown reason they brought forth children. The magic of bringing forth a living child to pre – historic people can hardly be understood by modern men and women. The creation of a living being certainly was seen as a divine act!
It is quite likely that the people living on these islands were not yet aware of the reason for pregnancy, even though Odysseus certainly was. The knowledge just didn’t spread as easily to people on remote islands. Men on these islands may have been even quite unimportant, because through their remote positions these people might have been protected from war. War is a male activity, since men can easily sacrifice their lives without a dint in the reproduction of the tribe. The woman of a man who dies without son is meant to be made pregnant by his brother (Deut. 25: 5 to 10). The tribe will live on with as many children as if the dead man was still alive, but if a woman dies, all her possible off – spring dies with her, since a man can fulfil his reproductive duty within ten minutes, while a woman needs to spend at least nine months and probably more on each child she bears. Therefore Circe and Calypso might just have been the queens of societies who were still worshipping women. The difference of worshipping women and being ruled by women is explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter ‘Ewomancipation’.
Could this attitude towards the process of bringing forth (Hebrew: yalad, KJV: to beget) children being divine be the reason that the man in Gen. 18: 2 was thought to be a god or God? Before people knew what made women pregnant and they just saw women bringing forth children, they held women to be the divine creators of life, but after the Original Sin (see the chapter on this in Greetings from Paradise) this creation of life had been transferred to the man. Men now were seen to create life in the form of the gooey substance coming forth from the penis. This gooey substance had to be inserted into a woman, so that it would develop into a baby. The woman was necessary but the creator of the gooey substance, of life, was the man! He was divine, while the woman just had been demoted from a goddess into an empty vessel or a field through this knowledge!
In Gen. 3: 16 God punished the woman for eating of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. He said, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy man, and he shall rule over thee.’ As explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on the Original Sin, this is the explanation for a natural law, not a legal law. This does not mean a woman should subject herself against her own will to her man. What this means is that, since the woman now realised what this most wonderful of all touches does, she can do this touch only in grave sorrow. Never again will she be able to do this divine activity without thinking of pregnancy and childbirth, conception and bringing forth children. But even if she would want to avoid pregnancy and childbirth, she will not be able to do so, because God said to her that her desire shall be towards her man and he shall rule over her. In other words women shall not be able to resist sex by God’s command!
Now there is another possible interpretation of this verse to do with the meaning of the word mashal, to rule. It is to make alike. There is a noun of the same consonants, which means parable, likeness or proverb (e.g.: Numb. 23: 7 and wherever it says that Balaam took up his parable in the following; Job 30: 19, ‘He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes.’)
Maybe the meaning of the word in Gen. 3: 16 was not to rule, but to become alike, making the ending, ‘…and thy desire [shall be] to thy man, and he shall become like thee.’ As explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on Ewomancipation, this could mean that now that the woman had realised what made her pregnant and had told men about it, now men became like women in the sense that they were the magical creators of life in bringing forth seed from their penisses, which just changed into a baby inside the woman. Therefore the woman lost her role as the divine creator of life and changed into an empty vessel and men took over this role the god – like creators!
This is very much in line with the above explanation of the Original sin. The possibility of varying interpretations of the same verse was addressed by St. Augustine and this is explained in Greetings from Paradise in the chapter on The Great Darkness.
So there is the possibility that the man in Gen. 18 was hiring himself out to produce offspring of good physical properties with the women of other people so that these people would get good quality children of a good pedigree, as Plutarch mentioned in Lyc. 15: 8. This man may very well be the father of Isaac. Gen. 21: 1 says, ‘And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.’ Consequently (verse 2), ‘For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.’ This was Abraham’s son, because his woman had born it, maybe after being impregnated by the god – like man, as Homer might have put it, from Gen. 18. Another possibility is that the father was a man of Gerar, since Abraham spent Gen. 20 there and Sarah had been taken from him. Something was done to Sarah there for which Abimelech gave Abraham Silver to be a ‘covering of the eyes’ to her.
The formulation in Gen. 21: 1, ‘And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.’ Follows on from Gen. 18: 10, ‘And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard [it] in the tent door, which was behind him.’ Now Sarah, who had heard this laughed, because she was already very old and it had ceased to be with her after the manner of women, meaning, she had her menopause. She actually said, ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ The word for pleasure is eden, like in the Garden of Eden, which must have been the garden of that type of pleasure. Anyway, that man seemed offended at the thought. He responded, ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.’
The ages of Abraham and Sarah should not be taken as a hindrance. It is quite likely that people in those days were not that good at counting and maybe not even that good at recognising when a year was over. The ages of the people in Genesis seem in general exaggerated, but if they are taken serious it should be noted, that even Shem begot Arphaxad at hundred years of age and lived another five hundred years afterwards (Gen. 11: 10 & 11). The word for year, shaneh just means time period maybe a season, and in Greetings from Paradise it is explained in the chapter on The Original Sin that the shaneh may be a much shorter time period, in the case of Jacob serving seven shaneh for Rachel and then for Leah again and then for his own flocks, it might actually mean months in that case. Anyway, counting up the shaneh from when Isaac asked Esau for a last meal, because he felt he would die (Gen. 27: 1 to 3) to his actual death and burial in Gen. 35: 29 there were more than twenty one shaneh.
Thus far the ages, but why was the insemination of Sarah not done straight away in Gen. 18? Well maybe it was. Gen. 21: 1 certainly implies that it was done by the man or the LORD. He visited her, not Abraham, and he did to her as he had spoken. He did not bless Abraham and made his effort prosper. He did it himself. Maybe this is just a review of what the god – like man did in Gen. 18, Gen. 19 dealt with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and parallel to that Abraham took Sarah to Gerar in Gen. 20. After he left there Isaac was born. So to pick up the threat of the story Gen. 21: 1 & 2 may be just retelling something that happened in Gen. 18.
But the man did say (Gen. 18: 10), ‘I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.’ Maybe this sprung from the attitude, that the son is the father, since the woman was thought not to have any hereditary input in it. It then meant that the man would visit Sarah in the form of the child.
Anyway, as the title of this essay says, all this is speculation, but it puts all the separate little occurrences into one logical threat, Sarai being seen as being barren, the sojourn in Egypt where she probably did get pregnant by an Egyptian, which may have led Abraham to the insight, that the problem was with him, not with her, and his way to overcome the problem by circumcision at first and then, admitting defeat, hiring a prize stud to inseminate his woman to get a worthy heir.
This way of explanation certainly clears up the confusion about Gen. 18, was it the LORD or was it a man or three men. It was a god – like man who was seen as god – like, not only because of his good appearance and conduct, but also because he was a specialist at creating life, not just any life but children of his own desirable physical properties. That’s why he might have been called a god initially, just as Circe and Calypso in the Odyssey were called goddesses, and later as the concept of a god was further removed from men and then monotheism occurred, this god was seen as God.
Were princes and princesses kept by the Pharaoh and other kings as breeders of children who would be suitable to be court attendants, and leaders of warriors? Were the Ancients breeding people? Did they actively select humans with good traits and allocated sex partners of equally good traits to them without personal consultation as they did with dogs, horses and other animals? They certainly did not feel as uncomfortable to give away their women to others as we would today. Would they get their women impregnated by an Albert Einstein or an Arnold Schwarzenegger? Plutarch certainly reported this of Sparta! Was this the case with Isaac?