Okay, So Just Pretend Hagar Is Actually Sarai (Gen. 16)

In an earlier post I explored the bizarre introduction to Abram, and concluded that, if the account of Abram selling Sarai to the Pharaoh for a bunch of livestock is true, then Abram was not a very good dude. This post, then, could be seen as the sequel, although Ryan already pointed out another instance of morally questionable behavior by Abram.

The incident that I want to talk about: Hagar. A fairly famous Biblical character nowadays thanks to a multitude of fictionalizations and references, Hagar essentially gets a sour end of the deal in her life with Abram. Of course, this should be no surprise, as whether it’s Lot, Sarai, Pharaoh, or, later, Isaac, everybody around Abram seems to get screwed over bigtime (pun most definitely intended). Here’s what happens:

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. (Gen. 16:1-6)

To sum it up: Sarai sees that Abram’s pissed because she can’t get preggers. So she finds this attractive and young slave girl, and prostitutes her to Sarai’s own husband, telling him that they should conceive a child. Then, after seeing the slave girl and her husband do it, she gets mad at the girl and tosses her out.

That sorta makes sense.

Arguably, of course, this story does seem logical: after all, what woman wouldn’t get jealous in such a situation like that? But it seems, in fact, even more logical that it wasn’t Sarai pulling the strings at all — but Abram. Like the deal with the Pharaoh in Gen. 12, it seems well within the character of Abram to actually just start having an affair with Hagar on his own — no pimping necessary. This of course would still make Sarai jealous, and would probably lead to her tossing Hagar out.

In fact, I’d argue that this makes more sense than the Biblical version.

Notice that Abram has no scruples with starting to carry on with Hagar at all. After his track record, that should come as no surprise. But perhaps it’s even more evidence that he’s hardly a monogamous, committed lover. Instead he’s just obsessed with a male heir. An adopted one, or even once Hagar gets preggers herself with a (semi?) legitimate one that’s still not good enough for him. He seems, in other words, definitely concerned with the wrong things in life.

None of this, ultimately, may actually be true. The entire story may actually be a later insertion and/or tradition meant to make the “line” from the big time Genesis figures more pure and/or legitimate.

Regardless, it seems that both women around Abram — Sarai and Hagar — get a raw deal. Eventually things would be better for both of them, but at what cost? And why does Abram treat them both so poorly? And where was God when all of these problems were happening? Why didn’t he swoop in earlier to help Abram and Sarai out, so she and Hagar and everyone else wouldn’t be tormented as such? While I admit there are some possible answers to these questions, that doesn’t mean they’re particularly reasonable.

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