Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find the previous posts HERE. This post is a recap of the last few chapters in an FAQ form.
From Abraham’s name change through the Binding of Isaac FAQ
FAQ is probably being generous. We’ll say “Occasionally Asked Questions.” This is not a definitive list. I reserve the right to add to this list and/or change my answers over time. I hope that this list of questions and answers will cover the ground we have traveled in this section:
- What does El Shaddai mean?
* The first time we see this in the text is at Genesis 17:1: 17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty;
* God Almighty = אֵל ʼêl, ale; shortened from H352; strength; as adjective, mighty; especially the Almighty (but used also of any deity):—God (god), × goodly, × great, idol, might(-y one), power, strong. Compare names in ‘-el.’; שַׁדַּי Shadday, shad-dah’-ee; from H7703; the Almighty:—Almighty.
* El Shaddai (Hebrew: אֵל שַׁדַּי, IPA: [el ʃaˈdaj]) or just Shaddai is one of the names of the God of Israel. El Shaddai is conventionally translated into English as God Almighty (Deus Omnipotens in Latin), but its original meaning is unclear.
The translation of El as “God” or “Lord” in the Ugaritic/Canaanite language is straightforward, as El was the supreme god of the ancient Canaanite religion. The literal meaning of Shaddai, however, is the subject of debate. The form of the phrase El Shaddai fits the pattern of the divine names in the Ancient Near East, exactly as is the case with names like “‘El Olam”, “‘El Elyon” or “‘El Betel”. As such, El Shaddai can convey several different semantic relations between the two words, among them:
* El of a place called Shaddai
* El possessing the quality of shadda
* El who is also known by the name Shaddai
i. Kidner: “A traditional analysis of the name is ‘God (el) who (sa) is sufficient (day).”
ii. Clarke: “El shaddai, I am God all-sufficient; from shadah, to shed, to pour out. I am that God who pours out blessings, who gives them richly, abundantly, continually.”
iii. Barnhouse: the Hebrew word shad means “chest” or “breast.” It may have in mind the strength of a man’s chest (God Almighty) or the comfort and nourishment of a woman’s breast (God of Tender Care).
iv. Leupold: Shaddai comes from the root shadad, which means “to display power.”
v. We do know the Septuagint translates the word with the Greek pantokrator “Almighty,” the “One who has His hand on everything.”
* Notice in the verse that we are are told that The Lord (יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh) named Himself as God Almighty. This should remove any questions about whether The Lord Yahweh is a different entity altogether than God Almighty “El Shaddai.” It should also cast doubt on the notion that Yahweh was a subsequent deity injected into an earlier Elohistic text.
* Notice also that in 17:3, “And God said to him.” – The word from which God is translated is אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:—angels, × exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), × (very) great, judges, × mighty.
- What is the significance of the name change from Abram to Abraham?
* No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham: To encourage Abram’s faith in the promise of descendants, God changed Abram’s name from Abram (father of many) to Abraham (father of many nations).
* Abraham = Father of a multitude, “raham” being an Arabic word, perhaps current in Hebrew in ancient times. Another interpretation of Abram is that it is equivalent to Abi-aram, Father of Aram, or Syria. This too is an Arabic form, like Abimael in Genesis 10:28. By some commentators the stress is thrown upon the insertion of the letter “h,” as being the representative of the name Yahveh or Yehveh. (Compare the change of Oshea into Jehoshua, Numbers 13:16.)
* It is worth noting that Abraham’s name changes before his wife Sarai (soon to be Sarah) is pregnant with Isaac. The long wait continues on and God continues to up the ante with respect to what will eventually happen.
- When/why did circumcision begin?
* Genesis 17:10: 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
* (10) Shall be circumcised.—It is stated by Herodotus (Book ii. 104) that the Egyptians were circumcised, and that the Syrians in Palestine confessed that they learned this practice from the Egyptians. Origen, however, seems to limit circumcision to the priesthood (Epist. ad Rom., § ii. 13); and the statement of Herodotus is not only very loose, but his date is too far posterior to the time of Abram for us to be able to place implicit confidence in it. If we turn to the evidence of Egyptian monuments and of the mummies, we find proof of the rite having become general in Egypt only in quite recent times. The discussion is, however, merely of archaeological importance; for circumcision was just as appropriate a sign of the covenant if borrowed from institutions already existing as if then used for the first time. It is, moreover, an acknowledged fact that the Bible is always true to the local colouring. Chaldæan influence is predominant in those early portions of Genesis which we owe to Abram, a citizen of Ur of the Chaldees; his life and surroundings subsequently are those of an Arab sheik; while Egyptian influence is strongly marked in the latter part of Genesis, and in the history of the Exodus from that country. In this fact we have a sufficient answer to the theories which would bring down the composition of the Pentateuch to a late period: for the author would certainly have written in accordance with the facts and ideas of his own times. If, however, Abram had seen circumcision in Egypt, when the famine drove him thither, and had learned the significance of the rite, and that the idea of it was connected with moral purity, there was in this even a reason why God should choose it as the outward sign of the sacrament which He was now bestowing upon the patriarch.
The fitness of circumcision to be a sign of entering into a covenant, and especially into one to which children were to be admitted, consisted in its being a representation of a new birth by the putting off of the old man, and the dedication of the new man unto holiness. The flesh was cast away that the spirit might grow strong; and the change of name in Abram and Sarai was typical of this change of condition. They had been born again, and so must again be named. And though women could not indeed be admitted directly into the covenant, yet they shared in its privileges by virtue of their consanguinity to the men, who were as sponsors for them; and thus Sarai changes her name equally with her husband.
* “circumcision” = מוּל mûwl, mool; a primitive root; to cut short, i.e. curtail (specifically the prepuce, i.e. to circumcise); by implication, to blunt; figuratively, to destroy:—circumcise(-ing), selves), cut down (in pieces), destroy, × must needs.
* Genesis 17:26 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
* “That very day.” Abraham and his entire household complied with God’s covenant immediately.
- What is the significance of the name change from Sarai to Sarah?
* Sarai means “my princess” (Gesenius); “princely, noble” (Ikenins, Rosenmüller, Keil, Delitzsch); “the heroine” (Knobel); “strife, contention” (Ewald, Murphy), with special reference to her struggle against sterility. (Kalisch.) Sarah means “princess” (Gesenius), the meaning being that, whereas formerly she was Abram’s princess only, she was henceforth to be recognized as a princess generally,
- Why was Abraham’s son named Isaac?
* Genesis 17:17 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
* Genesis 17:19 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
* Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed: Abraham’s laugh didn’t seem to be one of cynical doubt, but of rejoicing in something he knew was impossible by all outward appearance, but that God could perform.
* “Isaac” = יִצְחָק Yitschâq, yits-khawk’; from H6711; laughter (i.e. mochery); Jitschak (or Isaac), son of Abraham:—Isaac. Compare H3446.; צָחַק tsâchaq, tsaw-khak’; a primitive root; to laugh outright (in merriment or scorn); by implication, to sport:—laugh, mock, play, make sport.
* 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”
- Who are the three men of Genesis 18?
* The text “three men” translates from the following Hebrew words:
three = שָׁלוֹשׁ shâlôwsh, shaw-loshe’; or שָׁלֹשׁ shâlôsh; masculine שְׁלוֹשָׁה shᵉlôwshâh; or שְׁלֹשָׁה shᵉlôshâh; a primitive number; three; occasionally (ordinal) third, or (multiple) thrice:—+ fork, + often(-times), third, thir(-teen, -teenth), three, + thrice.
men = אֱנוֹשׁ ʼĕnôwsh, en-oshe’; from H605; properly, a mortal (and thus differing from the more dignified 120); hence, a man in general (singly or collectively):—another, × (blood-) thirsty, certain, chap(-man); divers, fellow, × in the flower of their age, husband, (certain, mortal) man, people, person, servant, some (× of them), stranger, those, their trade. It is often unexpressed in the English versions, especially when used in apposition with another word. Compare H376.
* This word for man is related to the name given to the son of Seth, Enos:
אֱנוֹשׁ ʼĔnôwsh, en-ohsh’; the same as H582; Enosh, a son of Seth:—Enos.
There reference here to H582 leads us directly back to our definition above. As a result, we can also read “the men” as being references to the son of Seth. This is a break from our first introduction to the word “man” which was:
אָדַם ʼâdam, aw-dam’; from H119; ruddy i.e. a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.):—× another, hypocrite, common sort, × low, man (mean, of low degree), person.
English fails to render a distinction between these two words but they are two distinct words in Hebrew.
* Jehovah’s Witnesses view the distinction as important. (Check out the article at the link)
* “ADÁM” – the name used in the Creation chapters of Genesis (see also: Exodus 4:11; Leviticus 1:2; Number 3:13; Deuteronomy 4:28; Joshua 11:14; Judges 16:7; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Kings 4:31; 2 Kings 7:10; 1 Chronicles 5:21; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Nehemiah 2:10; Job 5:7; Psalms 8:4; Proverbs 3:4; Ecclesiastes 1:3; Isaiah 2:9; Jeremiah 2:6; Lamentations 3:36; Ezekiel 1:5; Daniel 8:16; Hosea 6:7; Amos 4:13; Jonah 3:7; Micah 2:12; Habakkuk 1:14; Zephaniah 1:3; Haggai 1:11; Zechariah 2:4; Malachi 3:8
* “ENÓSH” – the name used after the fall (also: Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Samuel 2:33; 2 King 25:19; 2 Chronicles 14:11; Job 4:17; Psalms 8:4; Proverbs 29:8; Isaiah 8:1; Jeremiah 20:10; Joel 2:7
* “GEBER” – גֶּבֶר geber, gheh’-ber; from H1396; properly, a valiant man or warrior; generally, a person simply:—every one, man, × mighty. (used throughout, including in Job 38:3; Exodus 10:11; Joshua 7:14; Judges 5:30; 2 Samuel 23:1; Psalms 34:8; Proverbs 6:34; Isaiah 22:17; Jeremiah 17:5)
* The Lord (tetragrammton / Yahweh) appears to Abraham in verse 1.
* Then, after the Lord appears, Abraham lifts his eyes in verse 2 and sees three “men.”
* Abraham refers to one (or maybe all) of the three men as Lord / Adonai.
* Abraham rushes off to prepare a meal for the three “men” and the three men then eat what he had prepared for them.
* Curiously, adonai, as also with ‘elohiym, is plural.
* From theopedia: One of the names for God is Adonai, which is Hebrew for “Lord”. Formally, this is a plural (“Lords”), but the plural is usually construed as a respectful, and not a syntactic plural. The singular form is Adoni (“lord”). This was used by the Phoenicians for the pagan god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis. Jews only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person.
Some suggest that “Adonai” and other names of God may be written in the plural form to point out that this one God embodies all of the many gods that were worshipped by the ancestors of the Israelites and concurrently by the surrounding peoples.
* From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary: Jewish commentators explain the number by saying that, as no angel might execute more than one commission at a time, one of the three came to heal Abraham, the second to bear the message to Sarah, and the third to destroy Sodom. More correctly one was “the angel of Jehovah,” who came as the manifestation of Deity to Abraham, and the other two were his companions, commissioned by him afterwards to execute judgment on the cities of the plain.
* Ellicott argues that the three men are angels – one of them being The Angel of the Lord. However, this interpretation has the trouble of not being what the text actually says.
* From an article at aish.com: Although the Torah does not mention the names of the angels that went to visit Abraham, the Talmud tells us they were Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. (Bava Metzia 86b)
Throughout most of their interaction, the Torah does not refer to them on an individual basis, but rather as a group, as it is written, “[Abraham] stood over THEM beneath the tree and THEY ate. [Afterwards,] THEY said to him…” (Genesis 18:8-9)
There are, however, instances in which the angels act as individuals. For example, only the angel Michael told Sarah that she was going to have a baby (Genesis 18:10). In Sodom, only the angel Raphael told Lot to flee from the city (Genesis 19:17). Similarly, it was only the angel Gabriel that informed Lot that the city was going to be destroyed.
* The angels are also spoken about within the text as though the are God. Assuming then that the Talmud account is correct, the angels are spoken about as God, because they are acting on behalf of God. This is akin to speaking to the messenger of a King as though the messenger *is* the King.
* Genesis 18:22 22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
* We see in the subsequent section that two men/angels visit Lot. That creates the impression at least that the third is the Lord Himself, who stayed behind to bargain with Abraham. However, we can also interpret this to mean that the angel/man here is acting on behalf of the Lord and is thus addressed as Him in the text.
The word here translated as Lord is the tetragrammaton – spoken as either Yahweh or Jehovah. This is problematic for many Bible scholars inasmuch as we are told that men cannot look on God’s face and live.
Exodus 33:20 – But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
* It is possible that the rules regarding seeing God changed over time. Genesis 2 and other pre-Flood chapters seem to imply a personal face-to-face existence for humanity alongside God, initially in the Garden and subsequently at the border of the Garden (where Cain and Abel delivered sacrifices on an alter.) Abraham may simply live at a time before those rules changed.
* The two men who left Abraham are referred to as angels in Genesis 19:1: 19 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.
* מֲלְאָךְ mălʼâk, mal-awk’; from an unused root meaning to despatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically, of God, i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher):—ambassador, angel, king, messenger.
* If the ENÓSH (men) are performing the tasks of a malak (angel), it does not necessarily follow that they are not “men” also. Angel is a job description.
* Note: the people of Sodom who surround Lot’s house ask for the ENÓSH to come out.
- What is the Two Jehovah’s theory?
* This is mentioned in a couple of the studies from this section due to some confusion regarding Yahweh/Jehovah, angels seeming to speak and act on His behalf, and Abraham eating with a man/angel who seems to speak and act on behalf of Yahweh/Jehovah. The confusion relates to the ability of people to see and interact with God without dying. One of the explanations for this is that there are two Yahweh/Jehovahs.
* Carl D. Franklin published an article in 1996, revised in 2007, based on the notion that there are two Jehovahs (tetragrammaton God) in the Pentateuch. He wrote a previous paper arguing for the same in the Psalms.
* The paper is noteworthy for a lot of reasons – perhaps noteworthy to some readers as heresy – inasmuch as it draws attention to the possibility that earlier Judaism viewed the godhead differently than is the case now:
One writer who acknowledges that the name Elohim is referring to God views Elohim as a lesser God–subordinate to a Supreme Being. Notice the following comments: “Thus the title Jehovah or YHWH is applied in a hierarchical structure from YHWH of Hosts, God Most High…to the Elohim of Israel who is a subordinate God….The Angel of YHWH was termed elohim, Jehovah, and The Angel of Jehovah….This subordinate Being was not omniscient” (Cox, The Elect As Elohim, p. 4). Cox asserts that this view of the Godhead was taught by the Jews of old: “Judaism acknowledged a duality of the Godhead, namely one supreme God and a subordinate God down to the Middle Ages…” (Comments on K.J. Stavrinides The Modern Trinitarian Problem, p. 4).
* The Franklin article rejects some of Cox’s conclusions.
* All of this is to point out though that the theologically understood boundaries between God, man, and angels are not as clear as one might think. Hence, you get confusion about who and what the men are in Genesis 18 as discussed in the previous section.
* If there are Two Jehovahs within the text of the Old Testament, that might go some distance in explaining some of the more difficult to comprehend sections of verses. (I am not endorsing that perspective – merely bringing it to your attention.)
- What is the sin of Sodom?
* From the text, we know that a mob formed outside of Lot’s house and that the mob wanted to rape his guests. As a result, the “sin” of Sodom is usually deemed to either be sexual sin (homosexuality and/or rape) or more generally “poor hospitality.”
* Linked is an article on what The Talmud perceives to be the sin of Sodom at chabad.org. Here, Tzvi Freeman writes that the great sin of Sodom was a particular form of isolationism. I’ll share a little of it here but I encourage reading the whole thing at the link.
A pinch of Lurianic Kabbalah could help us here. When the world was created, it was at first, as Genesis says,6 “tohu.” Tohu is generally translated as “chaos.” Rabbi Isaac Luria, however, describes tohu as a state of isolated ideals.7
A world of tohu is a world where no two things can work together. A world where the weather is either hot or cold but never warm, where people are either super-friendly or hostile but never just chill, where either I run things or you run things but we can’t cooperate, where I don’t need you and you don’t need me and so no one has any business with the other.
Before this world was created, G‑d first created a world of tohu—a world of absolutes. Absolute benevolence, absolute justice, absolute light and absolute darkness. G‑d was not pleased with that world. But that was okay, because it rapidly erupted on its own. In Lurianic terms, “the light was too great for containment.” We moderns might say that when the parts of the whole work independently of one another, they generate far more energy than the whole can contain. In Rabbi Luria’s narrative, that eruption left fragments of tohu that fell to become our world, a world where harmony, or tikkun, is possible.
The souls of the people of Sodom originated from the realm of tohu. That explains why they were isolationists, wishing neither to benefit anyone nor to receive from anyone. In this way their land was isolated from all other lands, and they managed their own resources so that they didn’t need to receive any goods from any foreign land. Even amongst themselves, each one was isolated and independent.
How do we see this among the people of Sodom? Well, they weren’t hospitable. Not only did they not take in guests, they couldn’t even allow others to have guests stay in their home. That’s the central point of the story with Lot, Abraham’s nephew who lived in Sodom. When Lot had some guests over to his home, the people of Sodom staged a protest outside his door and threatened to harm the guests and their host
* The notion that the souls of the people of Sodom originated from the realm of tohu is interesting. Let’s keep in mind also Genesis 14 (HERE and HERE). We read in that chapter that in THE BATTLE OF NINE KINGS Sodom and the surrounding Canaanite city-states sent giants as part of their military effort. Giants – it might be argued – are a return of the Nephilim we met in Genesis 6. The impression given for Sodom through a reading of Genesis is that the people there are corrupted beyond perhaps even remaining fully human.
* Genesis 6:1-4
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, z“My Spirit shall not abide in1 man forever, afor he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim2 were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
* Numbers 13:33
And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
* From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
an’-a-kim (`anaqim; Enakim, or Enakeim; also called “sons of Anak” (Numbers 13:33), and “sons of the Anakim” (Deuteronomy 1:28)): The spies (Numbers 13:33) compared them to the Nephilim or “giants” of Genesis 6:4, and according to Deuteronomy 2:11 they were reckoned among the REPHAIM (which see). In Numbers 13:22 the chiefs of Hebron are said to be descendants of Anak, while “the father of Anak” is stated in Jos (15:13; 21:11) to be Arba after whom Hebron was called “the city of Arba.” Jos “cut off the Anakim. from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab,. and from all the hill-country of Israel,” remnants of them being left in the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath and Ashdod (Joshua 11:21, 22). As compared with the Israelites, they were tall like giants (Numbers 13:33), and it would therefore seem that the “giant” Goliath and his family were of their race.
* Remember from Genesis 14 that several of the tribes involved in the Battle of Nine Kings – a battle that included Sodom – translate to mean “giants.” Among the tribes mentioned as participating in this battle are the Rephaim. So… above, we see a textual connection between the Nephilim, Anakim, and Rephaim. Thus, perhaps Sodom was home to people who are not entirely human in the traditional sense. Whether Nephilim, or not, a consistent theme of Genesis seems to include rooting out and destroying inhuman giants. Sodom is no different.
* The Jewish Talmud describes an event that allegedly precipitated the city’s punishment:
A certain maiden gave some bread to a poor man, [hiding it] in a pitcher. On the matter becoming known, they daubed her with honey and placed her on the parapet of the wall, and the bees came and consumed her. When the dying cries of this maiden pierced the heavens final judgement was rendered to destroy the cities.
According to a Midrash, this maiden was non other than Plitith, one of Lot’s daughter’s.
- Is Lot actually a righteous man?
* It seems fair to say that the answer to this question is complicated. For the purposes of the destruction of Sodom, he was righteous enough to be saved.
* Lot implores the strangers to stay with him and it seems clear that he does so under a belief the men will not be safe otherwise.
* Lot faces down a mob when they arrive at his door and demand that he send the men out to them.
* Lot offers the mob two daughters in place of the two guests.
* Lot’s married daughters do not take their father’s warnings about judgment on the city very seriously – which implies that as a father he allowed them to be corrupted.
* Lot’s own wife did not take the angelic warning seriously.
* Lot lives in the city of Sodom – that is an indictment of his judgment in and of itself.
* Lot fathers children by both of remaining daughters. Despite those children growing into nations, this is the last event mentioned in the text regarding his life.
* Jewish Women’s Archive has some additional information on Lot’s daughters.
According to the midrash (Tanhuma, Vayera 12), Lot, from the outset, decided to dwell in Sodom because he wanted to engage in the licentious behavior of its inhabitants. His negative behavior comes to the fore when the townspeople mill about his door, demanding that he hand over the angels, and he instead offers his daughters to the mob. The Rabbis observe that a man usually allows himself to be killed in order to save his wife and children, while Lot was willing to allow the townspeople to abuse his daughters. In response to this, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to Lot: By your life, the improper act that you intended to be done to your daughters will indeed be committed, but to you. This midrash sharply focuses the reversal between these two episodes. In the first event, in Sodom, Lot was ready to force his daughters, against their will, to engage in sexual relations with the townspeople. In contrast, in the second episode, which takes place after the upheaval of Sodom, Lot’s daughters engage in relations with their unwitting father. Consequently, these acts of incest are Lot’s punishment for his unseemly behavior.
Another midrash (Aggadat Bereshit [ed. Buber] 25:1) regards the daughters’ act as punishment for their father’s own sexual promiscuity. Lot thought that if he were to dwell in Sodom, he could engage in licentious behavior without anyone’s knowledge. He accordingly was punished by his daughters engaging in intercourse with him; this episode became common knowledge and is read each year during the public Torah reading of the verse: “Thus the two daughters of Lot came to be with child by their father” (Gen. 19:36). R. Nahman adds: “Whoever is driven by his hunger for transgression will eventually be fed from his own flesh” (Tanhuma, Vayera 12). Lot was eager to engage in promiscuity; in the end, his daughters played the harlot with him.
Another Rabbinic view was that Lot secretly lusted after his daughters. He was intoxicated when the elder sister lay with him, but he was sober when she rose, as is indicated in the Torah by the dot over the word u-ve-komah (“when she rose”). Despite his knowledge of what had transpired, he did not refrain from drinking wine the next night as well, and lying with his younger daughter (Gen. Rabbah 51:8–9).
* So to answer the question of whether or not Lot was righteous: On the one hand, the last we hear of him, his daughters get him intoxicated and have intimate relations with him. On the other hand, the mystics point out, the descendants of Moab include Ruth, King David—and eventually the Moshiach himself.
- Is there extra-Biblical evidence (other ancient texts, archaeology, etc.) for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?
* The best answer to this question is… maybe. There are numerous archaeological studies which claim to have possibly located the ancient Canaanite cities. No one can say definitively that they *are* the same cities. Ex: HERE
* Some of the trouble with identifying the cities is that the Bible does not provide a lot of details concerning the cities that would help an archaeologist definitively ID it thousands of years later. There have been several claims about finding those cities. It just cannot be proven.
* Regarding extra-Biblical writings, none exist that I have been able to find. Given the uniquely evil nature of the inhabitants, and the shocking nature of how the cities ended, you might expect that writings from other people exist that document the cities or the events of its destruction. The trouble though is that the writings need to survive thousands of years to present day. The one account we have which did survive is the Bible. It is also problematic that according to the one source we have, the Canaanite cities were notoriously hostile to outsiders. If they were not open to outsiders, the opportunities for tales about them to spread are more limited.
- What’s the deal with Sarah’s beauty and her age? Did God make her young again?
* From Jewish Women’s Archives:
The Rabbis praise Sarah’s beauty, including her among the four most beautiful women in the world together with Rahab, Abigail and Esther (BT Megillah loc. cit.). Even Abishag the Shunammite was not half as beautiful as Sarah (BT Sanhedrin 39b). In order to portray Sarah’s beauty, the Rabbis say that, in comparison to her, all other people are as a monkey to humans. Of all women, only Eve was comelier (BT Bava Batra 58a). The exegetes also learned of her beauty from her name Iscah, since all would gaze [sokim] upon her beauty (Sifrei on Numbers, 99). It is further related that throughout the ninety years that she did not give birth, Sarah was as beautiful as a bride under her bridal canopy (Gen. Rabbah 45:4).
The rabbis wondered why Gen. 12:14 states: “When Abram entered Egypt,” without mentioning Sarah. In the midrashic explanation, Abraham tried to conceal her from the Egyptians by putting her in a chest that he locked. When he came to the tax collectors, they ordered him: “Pay the tax,” he said: “I will pay.” They asked him: “Do you have vessels in the chest?” He replied, “I will pay the tax on vessels.” They asked him: “Are you bringing silk garments?” He replied: “I will pay the tax on silk garments.” They asked him: “Are you bringing pearls?” He said: “I will pay the tax on pearls.” They told him: “We cannot let you go on your way until you open the chest, and we see what it contains.” When they opened it, all the land of Egypt was resplendent with her beauty [literally, light] (Gen. Rabbah 40:5; see the variant in Tanhuma, Lekh Lekha 5). This exposition defends Abraham’s conduct as it is described in the Torah. The midrash presents Abraham as one who cherishes his wife and is not willing to part with her. Abraham is willing to pay any amount of money in order to keep Sarah. Sarah, in turn, is portrayed as someone whose value is greater than all the money in the world. The light that she radiates when the chest is opened graphically illustrates that she is worth more than all the pearls in the world.
* From TheTorah.com:
In reaction to God’s announcement about Sarah giving birth to a son, Abraham thinks to himself (Gen. 17:17), Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?
Sarah is described by the narrator as old and postmenopausal, and by Sarah herself as withered.
And yet, in chapter 20, this very same post-menopausal withered Sarah is kidnapped by Abimelech, king of Gerar for the purposes of marriage. Reading this story as a parallel with the Pharaoh kidnapping story of chapter 12 (as Claus Westermann does), the reason for the taking of Sarah would be because she was beautiful! As difficult as it is to understand Sarah as young and beautiful in the first kidnapping story (Pharaoh in Egypt), where she would be 65, it is impossible to understand her as young and beautiful in the second kidnapping story (Abimelech in Gerar), where she would be 90 years old and has already described herself as withered and elderly!
Noticing the problem that Sarah is withered and old in chapter 18 but young and beautiful in chapter 20, Rav Chisda (b. Baba Metzia 87a), suggests that God performed a miracle:
Rav Chisda said: “After the flesh became weak (נתבלה) and filled with wrinkles it became young again (נתעדן) and the wrinkles were erased, and her beauty returned to what it was.”
In order to understand the timeline, Rav Chisda returns to Sarah’s comment and offers a novel interpretation of it. According to Rav Chisda, the root ע-ד-נ is not about pleasure or delight, but about the smoothness or delicacy of her skin. Sarah, in this reading, is not referring to the absurdity of an elderly woman beginning to function sexually (including, presumably, a return of menstruation) like a young woman, but also to her body looking young again.
According to this interpretation, immediately upon the declaration by the visiting angels that Sarah would have a child, her skin became smooth and she miraculously returned to her youthful figure. This is why she laughed and this is what she expressed by saying, “how can it be that a wrinkly old woman now has smooth and delicate skin?”
Accordingly, the academic perspective suggests that the reason Sarah’s age and appearance in chapter 20 doesn’t work with that of chapters 17 and 18 is that it comes from a different source. Once the division is made, the overall storylines for each source become clear, and the timeline problem of Sarah’s age is solved.
In short, whereas in P and J, Sarah is elderly when she gives birth to Isaac, there is no reason to believe this to be the case in E. It is only when the redactor combined these sources, that Sarah’s age becomes a narrative problem. This contradiction forced the later interpreters to add the (new) miracle of Sarah’s beauty to the (original) miracle of Isaac’s birth.
From the text, it appears that Sarah was an unusually beautiful woman. The text is clear that she is *restored* enough physiologically to have a child – namely Isaac. It is unclear whether or not her beauty was restored in the process. The reason that this comes up is related to the events with Abimelech and Chapter 20.
One argument for the events of her kidnapping not being the result of restored youth relies on combining sources/authorship within Genesis. The idea is that an author mixed in a story from her younger days in the midst of stories from her older days. However, an argument against can be found within the text of Chapter 20. 1) It makes perfect sense within the narrative that Abraham would move south and away from the ruined Canaanite cities, and 2) the section of verses ends with Abraham praying to God and the curse on Abimelech and his people (barrenness) being lifted.
Is it not compelling that the chapter leading into the birth of Isaac – to a previously barren woman – ends with barrenness being lifted from Abimelech’s household? The two chapters are linked by subject matter.
* From Chabad.org:
Shortly after this, a miracle occurred, and at the age of 90 Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac.
The famous biblical commentator Rashi explains: “Scripture places this section after the preceding one to teach you that whoever prays for mercy on behalf of another, when he himself is in need of the very thing for which he prays on the other’s behalf, will himself first receive a favorable response from G‑d.”
And so, it was because of the abduction, and Abraham’s prayers on behalf of Abimelech and his people to be healed from the plague, that Sarah was ultimately healed from her barren state and conceived a child.
* From another article at Chabad.org:
And, in fact, G‑d performed many miracles for Sarah related to the birth of Isaac. Although she was ninety and had obviously aged, her hair turned black again.15 It is also said that she experienced no pains during childbirth.16 To disprove wagging tongues, Isaac was created in the image of his father.17 Further, G‑d dried up the breasts of all noblewomen, so that they had to bring their babies to Sarah to nurse. She had an abundance of milk and nursed them all. It is said that the infants nursed by her were rewarded in this world, and grew to be rulers. All of these miracles were performed by G‑d to ensure that the parentage of Isaac would be indisputable as being both legitimate and miraculous. And only this allowed her to truly begin the dynasty of Abraham and Sarah, thus fulfilling her destiny of being a princess to the nations.
- Why were Hagar and Ishmael cast out?
* From Genesis 21: 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she (Sarah) said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you.”
* The verb for laughing: יִצְחָק Yitschâq, yits-khawk’; from H6711; laughter (i.e. mochery); Jitschak (or Isaac), son of Abraham:—Isaac. Compare H3446.
* From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary: Mocking.—The verb used here is the same as that rendered to laugh in Genesis 21:6, but in an intensive conjugation. What exactly Ishmael was doing is not said, but we may dismiss all those interpretations which charge him with abominable wickedness; for had he been guilty of any such criminal conduct, the sending him away would not have been so “very grievous in Abraham’s sight” (Genesis 21:11).
* We are reminded here that this is the second time Hagar has wandered in the wilderness after being cast out by Abraham and Sarah. Just as with the first time, Hagar is visited by an angel.
* The angel of God.—In Genesis 16:7 it was “the angel of Jehovah” which appeared unto Hagar; here it is the angel of Elohim. It is impossible not to be struck with this exact use of the names of Deity. Hagar was then still a member of Abraham’s family; here she is so no longer; and it is Elohim, and not Jehovah, the covenant God of the chosen race, who saves her.
* The distinction re: the name of the angel draws attention to the deeper mystery of the name of God and when/which name is used in Scripture.
- How does Ishmael’s story differ in Islam?
* I should point out that my knowledge of this is limited.
* From Wiki:
Ishmael and Hagar being taken to Mecca by Abraham in Islamic texts is an important part in the story of Ishmael, as it brings the focus to Mecca and is the beginning of Mecca’s sanctification as a holy area.:61 Islamic tradition says Abraham was ordered by God to take Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, and later Abraham returned to Mecca to build the Kaaba. In many of these accounts, the Sakina (something like a wind or spirit sent by God), or the angel Gabriel (Jibral) guides them to the location of the Kaaba, at which point Abraham builds it and afterwards, leaves the other two there (other versions discussed below say the construction of the Kaaba occurred later and that Ishmael took part in it). Generally, it is said that Hagar asks Abraham who he is entrusting herself and Ishmael to as he leaves them. He answers that he is entrusting them to God, to which Hagar then makes a reply that shows her faith, stating that she believes God will guide them. Hagar and Ishmael then run out of water and Ishmael becomes extremely thirsty. Hagar is distressed and searches for water, running back and forth seven times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. Hagar is later remembered by Muslims for this act during the Hajj, or pilgrimage, in which Muslims run between these same hills as part of the Sa’yee. When she returns to Ishmael, she finds either him or an angel scratching the ground with their heel or finger, whereupon water begins flowing and Hagar collects some or dams it up. This spring or well is known as Zamzam. At some point, a passing tribe known as the Jurhum sees birds circling the water and investigates. They ask Hagar if they can settle there, which she allows, and many versions say as Ishmael grew up he learned various things from the tribe. There are numerous versions of this story, each differing in various ways. The versions used in this summary, as well as others, can be found in al-Tabari’s history and are recounted in Reuven Firestone’s Journeys in Holy Lands.
- Why does God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?
* There is no simple answer to this question.
* One interpretation is that God was displeased with Abraham’s oath with Abimelech in Chapter 22. The test – according to this interpretation – was designed to see if Abraham was truly faithful after all. From an article at thetorah.com:
Another prominent peshat commentator, Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir, c. 1085–c. 1158), explained the text as follows:
Rashbam reads “And it came to pass at this time” (אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, Gen 22:1), which might be seen as a simple transition between units, as indicating a causal relationship between the story of the binding of Isaac and the narrative that preceded it, which described a treaty that Abraham made with Avimelech. In making this treaty, Abraham was arrogant to think that he could make a covenant with Avimelech’s people on behalf of his descendants, when God actually plans to have Abraham’s descendants annihilate them in the future. Thus, Abraham here is punished for misreading God’s intention in granting him land and progeny.
* Many Christian writers state that the decision is made to intentionally provide a foreshadowing to Christ’s death. Just as Isaac is described as Abraham’s one and only son, Jesus is described similarly in relation to his being God’s one and only son. The ram, with its horns caught in thorns, which eventually take the place of Isaac on the sacrificial pyre, is also viewed as representative of Christ. The sacrifice is said to have occurred in “the land of Moriah.” For centuries, Jewish and Christian scholars have linked the land of Moriah with Mount Moriah – the site of the Temple Mount.
* In the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 4a, the Rabbis pick up on the concept of testing and take the next step. They assume that God never intended Isaac to be a burnt offering, and attempt to prove this through a midrashic reading of Jeremiah 7:31, in which the prophet states that God never wished for child sacrifice.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 89b, Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra interprets this phrase as “after the words of Satan.”
[To what does “after” refer?] Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yossi ben Zimra: “After the words of Satan.” For it says (Gen 21:8), “And the child grew up and was weaned.” Satan said to the Almighty: “Sovereign of the universe! To this old man You graciously granted the fruit of the womb at the age of a hundred, yet of all that banquet which he prepared, he did not have one turtle-dove or pigeon to sacrifice before you!” God replied, “Yet were I to say to him, ‘Sacrifice your son before me,’ he would do so without hesitation.” Straightway, “God did test Abraham… And he said, ‘Take, I pray [נא], your son’ [Gen 22:1].”
* So according to the above point, some in Judaism view this testing of Abraham as being instigated by Satan – in similar fashion to the testing of Job which is instigated by Satan.
* The answer might be one of these explanations above, none of them, or all of them at the same time. This has been debated for thousands of years because there is no simple answer.
And with that, I will conclude this section. I reserve the right to amend answers, change answers, delete questions/answers, or add new questions/answers at a later date if they occur to me.
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