The patriarchs were humans
The first book in my new series “Unusual Bile Interpretations,” on the “Five Books of Moses,” was published in Israel last week. I finished the next two, on the biblical books Joshua and Judges, and they will be published in upcoming months. I am currently working on a volume tentatively called “Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith.” I will be placing my comments on the ten chapters of Esther on my website, one chapter each week, for ten weeks, beginning this week, along with articles on other subjects.
The following is a small part of my comments on the patriarch Abraham and the unusual view about Abraham and Sarah by the famed commentator the mystic Nachmanides which appeared in the first book of the series.
The Torah doesn’t try to hide the faults of Israelite ancestors. In fact, there is virtually no biblical figure who is described without faults in the Hebrew Bible, and many biblical sections portray the patriarchal families as dysfunctional. These ancestors serve as examples for their descendants, who also have faults but, like the biblical figures, can overcome their mistakes and make significant contributions to civilization.
Abraham in Exodus 12 outrageously told his wife Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister, for Abraham knew that the Egyptians would covet his wife and might take her by force. If they thought he was her husband they would kill him first.
It seems that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his wife’s chastity to save his own life. Nachmanides (1194–1270) criticized Abraham for his behavior. He believed that God is involved in everything that occurs on earth; no leaf falls unless God proclaims “fall, keep falling, fall some more, now lay on the ground.” Nachmanides berated Abraham for lacking his view of faith: Abraham should have had faith that God, who is involved daily with humans, would save him and his wife. It is clear from Abraham’s act of making his own efforts to save himself shows that he had a view contrary to that of Nachmanides. Abraham felt that God does not control everything. Abraham’s ideology is consistent with the Bible which does not say God exerts such control.
Curiously, Nachmanides also said that Abraham and Sarah sinned when they sent away Abraham’s concubine, Hagar, and Abraham’s son by her, Ishmael. He maintained that to punish them, God caused Ishmael’s descendants to inflict pain on Jews. This is a variation of the Christian notion of “original sin,” where descendants are punished for their ancestors’ misdeed. While many Jews such as Nachmanides accepted this notion, many others considered it not commonsensical and contrary to the Jewish spirit. The notion of “original sin” was invented by the Christian priest Augustine in the fourth century.