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Sarah

SARAH

SARAH was the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. Abraham's self-serving presentation of her as his sister when they were visiting foreign lands (Genesis 12:1113 and 20:2) may be an attempt to justify his selfserving statement, "And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She [is] my sister" (Genesis 20:2). According to the Bible, Sarah was originally called Sarai until her name was changed as part of God's blessing to Abraham, formerly Abram. The two forms are generally regarded as dialectal variants of the same name, probably meaning "princess"; however, their rendering in the Septuagint (Sara and Sarra ) does not conform to the traditional Hebrew pronunciation. Sarah was married to Abraham in Mesopotamia and migrated with him to Canaan, where they wandered until her death at the age of 127; she was buried in the cave of Machpelah, near Hebron.

The narratives of Genesis focus on Sarah's beauty and infertility. Sarah's beauty is also praised in rabbinic literature and greatly elaborated in the Genesis Apocryphon, a preChristian text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Twice the Bible recounts Abraham's fear that her desirability would lead foreign kings to have him killed so they could marry Sarah. To avoid this fate, Abraham presents Sarah as his sister (Gn. 12:1020, 20:118). Documents from fifteenthcentury Nuzi (modern-day Yorghan Tepe) have sometimes been interpreted as suggesting that especially honored wives in this North Mesopotamian culture were granted the title "Sister;" however, these texts can be interpreted in other ways, and this theory has come to be generally regarded as unlikely.

Sarah's infertility is noted the first time she is mentioned in the Bible (Gn. 11:30). In accordance with a widespread ancient Near Eastern practice, attested in both Nuzi documents and the Code of Hammurabi, Sarah gave Abraham her slave girl Hagar with the intention that the offspring of this union be credited to her as owner of the slave. However, it is clear in Genesis that the chosen line was to proceed through Sarah, a point the New Testament emphasizes (Gal. 4:2131). When, in accordance with God's promise, Sarah herself conceived and bore Isaac, she insisted that Hagar and her son Ishmael be expelled from their home (Gn. 21); another version of this incident suggests that Hagar fled while still pregnant because of mistreatment at Sarah's hands (Gn. 16).

Rabbinic tradition ascribes prophetic powers to Sarah and identifies her with Iscah, Abraham's niece (Gn. 11:29), perhaps because the Bible provides no explicit genealogy. In the New Testament, Sarah is regarded as a symbol of faith (Heb. 11:11) and wifely submissiveness (1 Pt. 3:6).

Bibliography

An excellent survey of the patriarchal narratives is Nahum M. Sarna's Understanding Genesis (New York, 1966); his treatment of the wifesister theme should, however, be qualified by the summary of information in John Van Seters's Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven, Conn., 1975). Louis Ginzberg has collected rabbinic traditions in The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols., translated by Henrietta Szold and Paul Radin (19091938; reprint, Philadelphia, 19371966; 2nd edition, in 2 vols., Philadelphia, 2003); refer to the index s.v. Sarah.

Frederick E. Greenspahn (2005)

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