Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Abraham's Lapse of Faith - Our Consequent Problem

I will ask that if anyone has seen this subject treated prior to this post would direct me to the source of the earlier (probably better too) posts, essays, articles, etc. It is because I have never seen or heard of it being mentioned that I felt it should be presented. All biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version.

The story of the Patriarch Abraham and his influence on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is well known. To Jews, he is a model of faithful behavior. To Christians, his faith serves as a model of something superior to Mosaic Law.
What to my knowledge have never been addressed are the consequences of his decisions for Jews, Christians and even those not of any of these faiths.

I will make every attempt to avoid a purely religious discourse but to frame the Genesis account of Abraham in terms as they apply to the rise and continuance of Islam. I will also almost entirely stick with the Genesis account except when I think that the Koranic account will be needed. Accounts of Abraham and Pharaoh/Abim'elich will be used as examples of times when Abraham acted less than faithfully.

Abraham was of course known until later in his life as as Abram. The Genesis account refers to him as being from and living in " Ur of the Chaldeans". He himself was most probably an Amorite or Aramean Sheik.

At the age of 75, he is directed by God to leave his homeland and sent to Canaan. There he will settle in an area that will be promised to his descendants as an everlasting inheritance.
Due to a famine in Canaan, he winds up in Egypt, where he displays a tremendous desire for self-preservation and bizarre lack of concern or even base male jealousy for his wife Sar’ai. When he believes that the Egyptians may kill him to take Sar’ai, he tells her to say that she is his sister. The Egyptians of course take his sister to Pharaoh and Abraham is saved. Pharaohs’s household is subsequently afflicted and Sar’ai is then returned to Abraham after the patriarch receives a well deserved tongue-lashing from the King.

After amicably separating from his nephew, Lot, he is promised by God that his descendants will be "as the dust of the earth". This of course is hard for him to swallow as he and Sar’ai are quite old at this point.               

" for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever.
I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted." Gen 13:15,16

Later, after the account of the rescue of Lot, Abraham is again promised -
"Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."  Gen 15:5
Ten years later Sar’ai still has not become pregnant. Sar’ai suggests that he have a child with her Egyptian maid, Hagar. I always have had tremndous empathy for the servants who have no say in matters such as these. I cannot imagine the feeling of helplessness. Anyway, either from applying a very liberal interpretation of God's promise ('Well, an heir is and heir') or more likely as a result of a major lapse of faith, he fathers a child with Hagar. Hagar, having become pregnant with Abraham's child, begins to feel superior to Sar’ai and does not hide that fact. Sar’ai then becomes jealous and treats her badly enough for a pregnant servant to leave the security of he master’s tribe and flee into the wilderness. An angel finds her in her misery and directs her to return and submit to Sar’ai. He goes on to say that:

 "The angel of the LORD also said to her, "I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude."
And the angel of the LORD said to her, "Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish'mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.
He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen."
So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, "Thou art a God of seeing"; for she said, "Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?' " Gen 16 10-16

Note that the child to be, Ishmael will not only have the attributes of a wild donkey but that he will "dwell over against (italics added) all his kinsmen"
Note also that, common to earlier Genesis accounts, an angel is identified who speaks of himself in the first person as God and that the person visited does recognize that the speaker is in fact God.

God then calls on Abraham and specifies his covenant with him. It will be marked by circumcision. Here he is told that many nations and kings will trace their ancestry to him. It is at this point that he and Sarah will be known by their name new names. God says that Sarah will bear a child, but Abraham understandably is having a hard time believing and makes a plea for Ishmael.

“And Abraham said to God, "O that Ish'mael might live in thy sight!"
God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
As for Ish'mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.' "Gen 17: 18-21

Abraham and the men of his household, no doubt thankful that they do not dwell in modern-day San Francisco and thus not subject to criminal penalties for the performance or undergoing of this act, become circumcised.. We of course find this to be quite a feat.

He is then visited by three Angels, who tell him that the Lord said that by the time that they return to him in the spring Sarah will have given birth to a son. Sarah, 90, laughs to herself and does not believe. She must have been startled when asked by the Lord why she laughed as she quickly denied doing so. The Lord contradicts her and makes it clear that she did in fact laugh.

Abraham again engages in self-preservation at the expense of his wife when King Abim’elech is expected to desire Sarah, who dutifully again says that she is Abraham's sister and goes to the King.
This ends not quite as badly for the potentate as it did for Pharaoh as Abim’elech is given the chance to plead his case to God and is spared. Abim'elech is quite upset with the fact that he has not only been duped but also subject to possible death for taking the man's wife. The women of the King were released from barrenness with which they were afflicted due to the taking of Sarah.

Sarah gives birth to Isaac. This in a grand event from all angles, the promises of the child and his descendants and their inheritance, and the fact that Abraham now has a true heir for his clan, which is quite wealthy. (In part due to the many gifts given to him by the grateful-to-be-rid-of Abraham Pharaoh and Abim’elech)

Trouble brews and Sarah sees Ishmael "playing" with the newly-circumcised baby Isaac. The account leaves the nature of what type of 'play' was involved ambiguous, similar to the way that the acts of Noah's son Ham, when he found his father naked and drunk, are depicted. The connotations in this case appear to indicate that Ishmael’s gestures were taken to be threatening. At the risk of being irreverent, it is even possible that Ishmael, though no doubt informed by his mother that Isaac's birth could result in the mother and son being not only cut off from any inheritance but driven away, was merely kiddingly playing out the act of circumcision and harmlessly teasing the baby. Maybe he said "Does it hurt, you should try it when you are 13!"

Nevertheless, Sarah is adamant they must go. Abraham of course does not want to cast them out.
God then speaks to Abraham.

"But God said to Abraham, 'Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring."  Gen 21: 12, 13

Hagar and 13-14 year-old Ishmael are given what food and water they can carry and sent away. This had to have been a terribly frightening event for them as the desert of course is a very harsh environment. They soon run out of their stores and Ishmael is weak, probably from thirst. A grieving Hagar places her son under a bush and goes off, not wanting to see her son die. God hears the boy crying and speaks to Hagar.

 "And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.
Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation."  (Italics added)
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.
And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.
He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt." Gen 21"17-21

I will avoid further detail about Abraham and Isaac except that it should be noted that most in the West are unaware that in Islamic tradition it is Ishmael, not Isaac, who accompanies his father on major events. For example, Ishmael is placed on the sacrificial altar, not Isaac, and Ishmael builds the Kabbah in Mecca with Abraham. The Koran also is written carefully in many instances to excise the build-up of biblical accounts that lead to Judaism and Christianity. Others will be covered in a later post.

Abraham is certainly a model of faith to Jews and Christians, I have taken extensive liberties, and have probably gone further than I should have, in the desire to make at least part of this fun and I ask for mercy from those whom I may have offended. He came from a Middle Eastern culture of polytheism, left after being told once by his God who must have been very new to him, and repeatedly did what he was told to do. The account of the sacrifice of Isaac shocks the modern reader but we must take into account that child sacrifice was all-too-common in that world, especially among the Canaanites/Phoenecians

He must be looked upon as an example of faith, but I assert that we should also keep in mind the consequences of his lapses of faith, in this case fathering a son with Hagar. Neither mother nor son can be held to be at fault. Like I noted earlier, Hagar did not have any say in whether or not Abraham would lie with her. From that point on she was doing what any mother would do in protecting Ishmael.

What I bring out here is that fact that Ishmael becomes the founder of at least a substantial portion of the Arab people.
This is held by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Islam holds that Mohammed traced his decent from Ishmael. Ishmael is used in the Koran as a way to displace Isaac from any appreciable importance. Indeed, Koranic commentary notes make it clear that Muslims hold that Ishmael's place as the firstborn son, regardless of the fact that he was not of Abraham's wife, makes him more important in general to Abraham himself. Could the fact of Ishmael's loss of inheritance and casting-off play a part in the hatred that Muslims feel towards Jews? Isaac remained, received the entire inheritance, and fathered those who were to be the Patriarchs of the Hebrews and the Edomites (whose founder Esau was also to be deprived of his inheritance by Jacob, in this case by trickery). It must be possible in a desert-bred culture that eternally lives in the past and for which coveting females and property of another people is standard practice that these facts could smolder and result in sheer hatred.

Abraham, though not being indicted here, had moments where he faltered in matters of faith. twice he temporarily lost his wife because he feared for his own life, even telling her to lie and state that she was his sister, apparently being willing to have her gone permanently. We have all, or course done things contrary to what faith caused us too know was wrong. In fathering a child with Hagar, Abraham lapse of faith resulted in the founding of a substantial portion of a people from which sprung the founder of the future socio-political religion of most of the Arab people. Note also that Islam has an "Arabizing" effect on a non-Arab Muslim society.

This is not intended to demonize Arabs, as many are truly good-hearted people and not all are even Muslims. I also know Muslims who as individuals truly do not desire to make war on anyone.

Those who live in the House of War (Arabic - Dar-al-Harb), as the Muslims have to call any nation/people outside of Islam, have contended with the consequences with Abraham’s lapse of faith since the 7th century, when one who traced his ancestry from Ishmael united most of the Arab world under the banner of Islam. Mohammed’s death did nothing to stem the tide. It went on to conquer massive land areas and was with great difficulty stopped from advancing fully into both Western Europe and Eastern Europe. It has changed cultures to the point of ruin and wiped out others wholly.  Today many of his cultural descendants seek to overturn the West from within.

To Hagar:
"I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude."
And the angel of the LORD said to her, "Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish'mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.
He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." 
To Abraham:
As for Ish'mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
To Hagar:
Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation." 

No comments:

Post a Comment