Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Telling an old Torah story from a feminine perspective ....
Sarai and Hagar
Uncle Abram was a greedy old man, who made up stories to justify his evil deeds. When he met my Aunt Sarai, he told her that God said to him that they would found a nation through their children, and she went to her mother to plead his case. Aunt Sarai's parents agreed to let her marry Uncle Abram, and they gave him so much wealth that he could have whatever he wanted, whenever he wished. They lived a very happy and prosperous life.
You would think that they'd be content, but no. When Uncle Abram was old (he must have been ninety in the shade), he had no children. Aunt Sarai was not much younger, and let's face it, she was past getting pregnant (let alone dealing with pregnancy, labour, and everything that would come after).
Apparently, Uncle Abram convinced his wife that God told him he should have sex with Aunt Sarai's slave handmaid, Hagar. Sarai, thinking that this would make Hagar her child's surrogate mother, because Hagar was just a slave, agreed. She was old. This way, she could have a good night's sleep for once, and Hagar could look after the posterity that Abram had promised her.
When my mother, Anna, told me this years later, I was astounded! How could a woman agree to let her husband commit adultery? This God of Abram's must be a man! Mother said, that actually, this was the story that was passed on by Abram, despite the fact that my mother saw and heard what really happened. Mother told me what she witnessed ...
Old Uncle Abram, lech that he was, coveted poor Hagar. She was a beautiful young woman and originally a princess; but now as his wife's slave, he could do anything he wanted to her. So, my mother whispered to me, "he raped her". She couldn't fight him off, because he owned her; but it was obvious that if she didn't submit, he'd kill her, and she was terrified. Mother tried to get Abram's guards to intervene, but they just stood there, resolutely barricading Mother from entering and stopping the assault herself.
Hagar found herself pregnant and decided to tell Aunt Sarai, who became jealous, and raged at her, "You seduced my husband! You plotted to seduce him, have his child, and banish me into the desert! You have underestimated me, young wench!", and with that, she stormed out of the tent. Aunt Sarai marched up to Uncle Abram and demanded that he "Get rid of that woman! Whip her, beat her, and leave her and her bastard child to rot in the desert!".
Hagar, terrified out of her wits, gathered what little she had and ran into the desert. She had nothing, and no-one to help her. How she survived was a mystery ... but I have always had the sneaking suspicion that Mother did what she could to help Hagar get away to Mother's family. Hagar's little boy, Ishmael, was a wild thing, and no wonder. And yet, he would become great among men in the end ...
Meanwhile, old Uncle Abram and Aunt Sarai realised that what they'd done was reprehensible, and changed their names, moving on to another part of their region where no-one else lived apart from their entourage and our family. Somehow, old Aunt Sarai apparently became pregnant (the biggest miracle yet) and her little boy was our cousin Isaac. Spoilt brat.
Old Abram hated the fact that my parents knew all old Abram's dirty secrets, and plotted to have us murdered. He manipulated my father's weakness for wealth. You see, my father, Abram's nephew, was also a greedy old man. Old Abram convinced Father that, though they had plenty of arable land and property (and enough slaves to work it so they wouldn't need to get their hands dirty), they didn't have to share.
So, my father, looking out to the Plain near the big river and seeing a vast reserve of prosperity, said that he would take this half, and Uncle Abram agreed to take the hills surrounding the great trade routes.
Anna and Lot
We moved, and settled in a nice happy town near the river, where everybody was really friendly and welcoming. My sister and I had grown into cute little teenagers, and started thinking about marriage. Mother found us some nice young men with good prospects, and the marriage contracts were signed!! On the night that we were to start celebrating our weddings, two strangers appeared at the gates of our town, where Father was sitting, watching the sunset.
Father urged the two strangers to stay with us for the night, and after some cajoling, they agreed. Father brought them home, and our family gave them hospitality, as was the custom.
Now while we were reclining for dinner, the strangers said that they were angels sent by God. My brother-in-law and my bridegroom looked at each other and winked, as if to say "yeah, right!". They said that God had heard "the outcry" about the town in which we lived. My sister and I looked at each other, and our respective bridegrooms, in wonder! What was the outcry?
The two strangers, who quite frankly just looked like scruffy men from out of town, said that the townspeople had been having orgies and this angered God's people. They said that God sent them to destroy the entire town, and that our family should escape and escape quickly!
At that point, and I tremble at what I am about to tell you, many townspeople appeared at the front door and windows. Our home was surrounded. There were men and women outside yelling, "Where are the men who came to your house tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intimacies with them". I say "intimacies" to be polite ... Lot, my father, went out to meet them at the entrance. When he had shut the door behind him, he said, "I beg you, my brothers, not to do this wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please. But don't do anything to these men, for you know they have come under the shelter of my roof."
My sister, mother and I looked at Father in a whole new light.
The men who claimed to be angels urged Father to leave, and to take us (together with our bridegrooms) out of this town. They pushed us out the back door and beyond the city walls. Our bridegrooms thought the men were joking and would not budge, and so ultimately, the only ones who left the town that night were my sister Ammonita, my mother Anna, my father Lot, and me. The men who claimed to be angels told us, "Flee for your life! Don't look back or stop anywhere on the Plain. Get off the hills at once, or you will be swept away."
Don't stop on the Plain, and stay off the hills. Well, where would that leave us?? We found a town and took refuge, and we saw that a volcano near our old town erupted and seemed to devour our old town.
Mother looked upon Father with utter disgust. Instead of protecting his only daughters, he offered us to that rabble to be mass-raped. He gave those strangers higher importance than us.
My mother's heart turned to stone. Father was dead to her, and to my sister and me. And so it was, that our mother took us from Father, and sought refuge with her family. We got to know Hagar, and occasionally saw her wild-child son, Ishmael. Hagar was (understandably) scarred by her experiences, and she resented everything about Ishmael. He felt it, and rebelled against her ambivalence toward him. From an early age, he would run away into the wilderness, often scampering about naked and dirty. He knew who his father was, and at times he would go looking for Abram. At other times, Ishmael would denounce his father. And, yet, at other times, Ishmael would use his father's God as justification for his own purposes. Like father, like son.
Our bridegrooms survived and came looking for us, and Ammonita and I were so relieved. They had news, and this is what they told us ...
The men who claimed to be angels were employed by Uncle Abram to scare us and murder us. The men who claimed to be angels had come to the town and rounded up the rabble the previous night, paying them to surround our house on our wedding night, to scare us out of our wits. The plan was for the rabble to get us out of the house and the two men would murder us in the wilderness. But the thing that nobody planned for, was my father's hospitality.
When Father urged the two men to come stay, they felt welcomed and friendly towards him, and began to like us. They decided that they didn't want us to die, so they helped us to escape. When they got us out of town, they couldn't raise their hands against us. The story about God destroying the town was just a story. They had no idea the volcano would erupt!
Apparently, there were no other survivors apart from we six. Father, whom we had left in that little town, had gone into the hills, bereft about all his losses. He was living in a cave, ranting and raving to God that he didn't deserve all this woe, getting drunk each night to dull his nightmares.
People, who walked along the road nearby, would hear him wailing and go up the hill to see if they could help. He would tell them who he was; that he was Lot, Abram's nephew, and he knew everything!
And though we told the truth, there was another story that came from Abram, that denigrated my sister's and my children. More would come, and we needed to be on our guard at all times. This God of Abram was a man, and he was jealous of the power that we women - my mother, sister and I - had in knowing his dirty secrets.
Genesis, Chapter 19. The New American Bible (1970), Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Camden, New York.
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