Friday, February 26, 2010

Week 5.2 - Biblical type scenes

In Bible as Literature we have been discussing the construct of type-scenes as used in ancient and particularly biblical literature. English majors might enjoy this if I can articulate it well enough.

Basically, biblical literature often times fits into what are called type-scenes that have inherent expectations. A modern day comparison is Western movies. You have the sheriff of the town who is a great shot, the best. He comes into conflict with a criminal of some sort. They have a shoot-out, draw, whatever they call it. The sheriff wins due to his quick hand. We all know the tales! Furthermore, genres in general usually have their own type-scenes. Ever watched criminal sitcoms, or soap operas so often that you can tell what is going to happen? We know that she is going to fall in love with him before anyone else, we also know that he is not the killer because it's too early in the show and we know the real discover always happens at 7:52!!

Likewise, there are such conventions in Biblical literature, it seems, that would have been predictable to the audience reading it.

As discussed in class, there is the woman at the well type scene. What happens in these scenes is a journey into a foreign land, a meeting of a woman at a well, a drawing of water, a running of the woman, testimony of the woman to family, feast and betrothal of man to woman. Isaac met Rebekhah at a well, Jacob met Rachel, and Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Deviations are found in each, but deviations are put in place for a meaning, to make a point. When in a Western the sheriff is someone crippled, we know the story may follow the same conventions loosely but will be making a special point. Or if they find the murderer sooner, we know something else will be revealed later.

Taking type scenes to another stretch, we have this strange type scene in Genesis of lying. Abraham lies twice concerning Sarah being his sister to Pharoh, and then to Abimelech. We then see his son doing the same with his wife! (Genesis 12, 20, and 26) In each case, we have a further elaboration of the specifics. Why? To make a point.

I want to focus on Abraham and Sarah. Check out Genesis 12 and 20. Notice the basic framework: the telling of the lie/half truth, the "taking" of Sarah, the discovery (by different modes, compare with 26's discovery) of her married status, the plague upon the nation, the offerings for forgiveness/vindication.

Although the structure is fascinating, and there are many ethical issues here, there is a slight deviation and language issue that is even more interesting!!

12:15 "...was taken into Pharoh's house."

12:19 "... so that I took her as my wife"

Most of us have been taught to read this innocently. Sarah was taken into pharaoh's house, Pharaoh was shown that Sarah was actually Abraham's wife,, and Sarah was released. What we don't realize, is that we are imposing the facts found in 26 because we assume each account is the same, not stopping to read what is said.

It says she was "taken," which in Hebrew is a euphemism for a sexual taking.

Pharaoh explicitly says he took her as his wife.

Chapter 20 elaborates this story more, almost seeming to attempt to clarify the questions in the previous chapter (theologically) but literarily we can't help but notice the differences as meaning something!

Notice the repetitions in this account. We have a repeating of "take" in verse 2 and 3. Then we have the repetition of claims of innocence by Abimelech and we can't help but be reminded of our dear President Clinton "I did not have sex with that woman!" Why else would someone so emphatically claim his own innocence but by the fact that he is guilty? Even God in this passage says he has "done this" out of the cleanness of his hands, but done what?

Then notice Abimelech's address directly to Sarah, what man speaks directly to a woman in ancient times? We rarely see this in biblical accounts and here we have a king addressing her, saying that she is giving her husband money to vindicate her. Vindicate her for what?

And the clincher, immediately after this is chapter 21, the birth of Isaac.


It seems here what should follow is a state address by Abimelech "I did have sex with that woman..."! By Abraham's treatment of Sarah, I think it's fair to assume he didn't like her much. Maybe she wasn't barren herself, but Abraham had some failings in performance with her. Stretch? I think not if you read these two stories. Doesn't it seem odd that this affair with Abimelech is immediately followed by Isaac's birth?


  1. It's odd, but at the same time the birth of Ishmael kinda throws that off. (I've wanted to comment on this without reading, and I finally worked up the nerve!) Abraham is obviously able to have kids (so it's not his issue,) so that seems to be a bit of a flaw within the whole thing. I must say, I've never thought about it that way, and consequently I'm not really too familiar with the text (and far too lazy to read three chapters of Genesis!) Your case is compelling, but I was always under the impression that some significant time passed between this incident and the birth of Isaac. Clear me up here.

  2. Maybe he was inadequate when it came *cough* to Sarah?

    If you catch my drift. Don't wanna get X-rated on ya.