Either the infallible Book screwed up and recycled the same story, or Abraham is participating in the strangest scavenger hunt ever, checking a box for every king he tricks into sleeping with his wife. Chapter 20 has Abraham telling King Abimelech of Gerar that Sarah (who is now over 100 years old, by the way) is his sister in a virtual repeat of the Chapter 12 story involving Pharaoh. Sarah must be the hottest centenarian ever to still be catching the eye of every king she comes across.
In the Abimelech episode, God flies into a similarly unjustifiable rage, although at least he targets his vengeance more narrowly this time around. Instead of striking Pharoah’s people with plagues, he goes all Sly Stallone on Abimelech, coming to him in a dream and telling him “thou art a dead man, because of the woman whom thou hast taken.” Seriously, that’s actually what it says “thou art a dead man.” If that’s not the work of some exiled biblical author hundreds of years later acting out at the impotence of his deity, imagining the good old days when God used to come to Earth and whoop some ass, then I don’t know what it is.
I’m alluding, of course, to modern biblical scholarship that suggests that the Pentateuch was not a homogeneous manuscript with a single author (Moses), but rather a compilation of texts from multiple authors that was later cobbled together. This is usually referred to as the “Documentary Hypothesis” or “Wellhausen Hypothesis.” The Documentary Hypothesis posits that the Pentateuch had at least four or five authors, generally referred to as J, E, P, and D who wrote at different times and from different perspectives. The underlying story would have been passed to them through oral tradition, and drifted somewhat according to each distinct culture. J and E are thought to have lived relatively early, while D and P came later.
J: The Yahwist: c. 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
E: The Elohist: c. 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
D: The Deuteronomist: c. 600 BCE in Jerusalem during a period of religious reform.
P: The Priestly: c. 500 BCE by priests in Babylonian exile.
This multiple authorship can explain many contradictions (although it doesn’t resolve them). For example, the divergent characterizations of God as an ephemeral being on another plane of existence but also a being that can easily be confused as a human. Kugel says:
The God described in J and E was very much the God of Old, human-sized and possessed of human traits. In the Bible’s most ancient texts, this God was principally a divine warrior fighting Israel’s enemies (and its enemies’ gods), a wise counselor and a champion of justice, and in general the deity associated with one particular people, Israel.
The God of Deuteronomy, in contrast,
was more abstract and distant than that of J and E: He did not even really “dwell” on earth. His abode was heaven, and His temple was merely the place where He caused His name to dwell.
I say the Documentary Hypothesis doesn’t resolve the contradictions, because although the multiple authorship saves Moses from looking schizophrenic due to his contradictory concepts of God, the Bible should still be homogenous regardless of how many authors it had. It is purportedly the word of God, with the “authors” serving only as scribes to copy and paste God’s words, and it should be free of adulteration by the humans who wrote it down. So why do we have a God who is sometimes anthropomorphized, a humanoid who walks around and eats food and visits with people, and sometimes an abstract who exists on a different plane and doesn’t intervene in Earthly affairs?
With that in mind, back to the text. Abimelech tells God that he hasn’t touched Sarah, and he doesn’t understand why God is going to destroy his nation when he was lied to and deceived into thinking she was not married. God, facing a tough question about why he would destroy an entire nation based on a transgression (1) that never actually happened, and (2) would have been the fault of the lying Abraham and Sarah anyway. God pulls a tricky move, saying:
Yea, I — I have known that in the integrity of thy heart thou hast done this, and I withhold thee, even I, from sinning against Me, therefore I have not suffered thee to come against her;
He basically says, “yeah, umm, I totally knew you didn’t do anything with that chick, because, uh, I am super powerful and I know everything, and I prevented it from happening! So, you know, I won’t punish you as long as you return her. You’re welcome.” Then God compliments Abraham, the fucking pathological liar, for praying for Abimelech to be forgiven for the offense that didn’t happen and that Abraham tried to trick him into. Does this story make any fucking sense? In his wife-swap scam, Abraham appears to be trying to dupe God, who is not actually omniscient, and is not even as smart as a human, into destroying Abraham’s enemies by planting his wife in rival kings’ beds and then squealing to God about it. What a hero. What an amazing God. What a great fucking religion.
Abimelech summons Abraham and says “what the fuck dude, what is your fucking problem, why did you trick me and sic your mad-dog asshole God on me?” And Abraham has the most fucking asinine answer I have ever heard, for any question, ever. He says (A) because you were going to kill me if I called her my wife (same excuse he tried with Pharaoh and it was bullshit then too), and (B) besides, she IS my sister, not my mother’s daughter, but my father’s daughter. In other words, he says he married his half-sister, and claims that he didn’t really lie so much as he just didn’t tell the whole truth. Which is otherwise known as a fucking lie.
Abimelech sends the fucking liar on his way (again) with cattle and 1,000 shekels of silver AND SLAVES. What a great lesson. What a truly virtuous God. He showers a liar with rewards. With slaves and money. For lying.
As a cherry on top to this ridiculous story about the two biggest assholes in the universe running a scam on innocents, we learn that God had stricken all of Abimelech’s women barren “because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.”
I am so very glad God doesn’t exist.
1 And Abraham journeyeth from thence toward the land of the south, and dwelleth between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourneth in Gerar;
2 and Abraham saith concerning Sarah his wife, `She is my sister;’ and Abimelech king of Gerar sendeth and taketh Sarah.
3 And God cometh in unto Abimelech in a dream of the night, and saith to him, `Lo, thou [art] a dead man, because of the woman whom thou hast taken — and she married to a husband.’
4 And Abimelech hath not drawn near unto her, and he saith, `Lord, also a righteous nation dost thou slay?
5 hath not he himself said to me, She [is] my sister! and she, even she herself, said, He [is] my brother; in the integrity of my heart, and in the innocency of my hands, I have done this.’
6 And God saith unto him in the dream, `Yea, I — I have known that in the integrity of thy heart thou hast done this, and I withhold thee, even I, from sinning against Me, therefore I have not suffered thee to come against her;
7 and now send back the man’s wife, for he [is] inspired, and he doth pray for thee, and live thou; and if thou do not send back, know that dying thou dost die, thou, and all that thou hast.’
8 And Abimelech riseth early in the morning, and calleth for all his servants, and speaketh all these words in their ears; and the men fear exceedingly;
9 and Abimelech calleth for Abraham, and saith to him, `What hast thou done to us? and what have I sinned against thee, that thou hast brought upon me, and upon my kingdom, a great sin? works which are not done thou hast done with me.’
10 Abimelech also saith unto Abraham, `What hast thou seen that thou hast done this thing?’
11 And Abraham saith, `Because I said, `Surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they have slain me for the sake of my wife;
12 and also, truly she is my sister, daughter of my father, only not daughter of my mother, and she becometh my wife;
13 and it cometh to pass, when God hath caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I say to her, This [is] thy kindness which thou dost with me: at every place whither we come, say of me, He [is] my brother.’
14 And Abimelech taketh sheep and oxen, and servants and handmaids, and giveth to Abraham, and sendeth back to him Sarah his wife;
15 and Abimelech saith, `Lo, my land [is] before thee, where it is good in thine eyes, dwell;’
16 and to Sarah he hath said, `Lo, I have given a thousand silverlings to thy brother; lo, it is to thee a covering of eyes, to all who are with thee;’ and by all this she is reasoned with.
17 And Abraham prayeth unto God, and God healeth Abimelech and his wife, and his handmaids, and they bear:
18 for Jehovah restraining had restrained every womb of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.