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Genesis 20: Abraham is his own brother-in-law!

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Before anything else burned to the ground, Abraham decided to clear out of Mamre.  He headed for the Negev Desert, because how’s anyone going to burn down a desert?  Following some bad maps, he headed to a spot between Kadesh and Shur, a nice little community called Gerar.  Still, Abraham didn’t much trust the locals, and felt safer telling them that Sarah was his sister and not his wife.  King Abimelech of Gerar asked to have Sarah brought to him, because kings can do that with unmarried women, so this little white lie of Abraham’s was going to lead to trouble, even though no one really understood why he’d feel the need to lie about this in the first place.  Yahweh turned up in Abimelech’s dream some time after this and told him, “You’re going to die, ‘cause that new piece of chattal you took is a married woman.  Big mistake!”  Abimelech didn’t think this was fair, because he hadn’t yet laid a hand on her.  “Lord, what’s the deal?  Why would You kill someone for something he didn’t even do?  He said she was his sister, and she said he was her brother.  I don’t understand their little game, but when I seized that woman as my own personal property, I didn’t do anything unethical.”  “Yes, I know,” said Yahweh, who of course knows everything.  “I know you only meant to take her as your own object, and I know they did nothing to stop you, which is probably a sin on their part.  I don’t know; I should look into that.  Anyway, you never touched her, which I’m sure of, since I watch this kind of stuff all the time, and it’s not weird, I swear.  But you need to send the woman back.  He’s a prophet, and he can do stuff for you.  But if you don’t send her back, you and everyone you know are going to die.  I’m serious, too.  Did you hear about Sodom?  Gomorrah?  That was My doing.  And I’m still feeling kind of testy lately.  Think about it.”

Early the next morning, Abimelech told his court the whole story, which scared the crap out of them.  He summoned Abraham and asked, “What’s your weird little role playing about?  What did I ever do to you?  You’re making me look like the unethical kind of king who seizes women for his personal use, and not the ethical kind who does that.  What the hell were you even thinking?”  Abraham was ready for this.  “It’s because I thought you guys were of a different religion and that you’d kill me for my wife, rather than just seizing her.  Anyway, she really is my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s.  And she’s my wife.  So it’s not weird or anything.  When we started traveling, we figured we could go everywhere and tell people we were brother and sister instead of husband and wife, and we wouldn’t be lying.  And you fell for it!”

Despite having been taken in by this prank, Abimelech was a mensch.  He gathered up sheep, cattle, and slaves, both male and female, and gave them to Abraham.  In addition, he also gave him Sarah.  “We don’t do adultery here,” said Abimelech, “but incest and slavery are just fine, so consider yourself welcome.  Settle wherever you like in my lands.”  To Sarah, Abimelech said, “Look, I am giving your brother a thousand pieces of silver.  Since he’ll be rich, people won’t think you did anything wrong when you were at my place, because rich people don’t do anything wrong.”  Abraham then returned the favor, asking God to help Abimelech out, and God did, fixing Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so that they could have children, because Yahweh had made all the women in Abimelech’s house barren on account of Sarah having been there.  This was the beginning of tensions between God and Yahweh.


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