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Sarah

The biblical matriarch Sarah was the wife of Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

For most of her life she was childless (Gen. xi. 29-30). She accompanied her husband from Haran to Canaan (ib. xii. 5). Driven by famine to take refuge in Egypt, Abraham, fearing that her beauty would put his life in danger if their true relations became known, proposed that she pass as his sister. As he had apprehended, she was actually taken by Pharaoh, to whom her personal charms had been highly praised (ib. xii. 10 et seq.), while Abraham was richly dowered by the monarch on her account. But, visited by troubles, Pharaoh began to suspect the truth; and, censuring Abraham, he bade him take his wife and depart.

Being childless, Sarai (her given name) induced her husband to take her Egyptian handmaid Hagar[?] for a concubine, that through her she might be "built up." Hagar, feeling herself quick with child, despised her mistress, whereupon Sarai bitterly upbraided her husband. Wishing not to be involved in the quarrel, Abraham told her to do with her handmaid as she deemed best, and Hagar was soon compelled to flee by the harsh treatment accorded her; but an angel, announcing that her seed would be numerous, urged her to return to Sarah (ib. xvi.). After Hagar had borne Ishmael, God told Abraham, whose name hitherto had been Abram, to change Sarai's name to "Sarah," announcing that she would bear him a son. Incredulous on account of Sarah's age (she was ninety), Abraham burst into laughter, wherefor the son was to be called Isaac (ib. xvii.). Sarah overheard that she was to give birth to a son when, at a subsequent visit of the three messengers on their way to Sodom, the promise was renewed; she, too, was incredulous, and laughed inwardly, but when interrogated denied that she had laughed (ib. xviii.).

Abraham next removed to Gerar[?], where Sarah had an experience with Abimelech similar to the one she had had in Egypt. Abimelech, however, was warned in a dream. Reproved for the wrong done, Abraham justified his and Sarah's statement by the explanation that Sarah was the daughter of his father but not of his mother (ib. xx. 1-12). After this, Sarah bore a son, Isaac, which aroused her to say, "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me" (ib. xxi. 1-7). The fact that now she had a son of her own augmented her displeasure with Hagar and Ishmael; and Abraham, at her solicitation, sent both away after God had quieted his scruples (ib. xxi. 10 et seq.). Sarah's death is very briefly recorded as having taken place in Kirjath-arba, or Hebron, when she had attained the age of 127 years. She was buried by Abraham in the cave of Machpelah (ib. xxiii., xxv. 10, xlix. 31). No other reference to Sarah is found in the Hebrew canon, except in Isa. Ii. 2, where the prophet appeals to his hearers to "look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you." E. G. H. Named Iscah.

In Rabbinic literature

Sarah was the niece of Abraham, being the daughter of his brother Haran. She was called also "Iscah" (Gen. xi. 29), because her beauty attracted general attention and admiration (Meg. 14a). She was so beautiful that all other persons seemed apes in comparison (Talmud, Bava Batra 58a). Even the hardships of her journey with Abraham did not affect her beauty (Midrash Gen. Rabbah xi. 4). According to another explanation, she was called Iscah because she had prophetic vision (Meg. l.c.). She was superior to Abraham in the gift of prophecy (Midrash Exodus Rabbah i. 1.). She was the "crown" of her husband; and he obeyed her words because he recognized this superiority on her part (Gen. R. xlvii. 1). She was the only woman whom God deemed worthy to be addressed by Him directly, all the other prophetesses receiving their revelations through angels (ib. xlv. 14). On their journeys Abraham converted the men, and Sarah the women (ib. xxxix. 21). She was called originally "Sarai," i.e., "my princess," because she was the princess of her house and of her tribe; later she was called "Sarah" = "princess," because she was recognized generally as such (Talmud Berachot 13a; Genesis Rabbah xlvii. 1).

Repetitions in the Narrative.

The story of Sarah's life, brief and incomplete as it is, presents nevertheless curious repetitions, e.g., the incident with Pharaoh and a similar incident with Abimelech (Gen. xii. 10 et seq. and xx. 1 et seq.). Marriages with half-sisters were, in primitive matriarchy, regarded as anything but incestuous. From the point of view of the history of culture these episodes are very instructive. But it is not very probable that Abraham would have run the risk twice. Moreover, a similar incident is reported in regard to Isaac and Rebecea (ib. xxvi. 6-11). This recurrence indicates that none of the accounts is to be accepted as historical; all three are variations of a theme common to the popular oral histories of the Patriarchs. That women were married in the way here supposed is not to be doubted. The purpose of the story is to extol the heroines as most beautiful and show that the Patriarchs were under the special protection of the Deity. The promise of Isaac and the explanation of the name are given in duplicate. First, Abraham is the recipient of the promise, and he laughs (ib. xvii. 15-21). In the second narrative (ib. xviii.) Abraham again is given the promise, but Sarah laughs. Finally, the name receives a third justification in Sarah's exclamation at his birth (ib. xxi. 6).

See also: Abraham, Bible



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