Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: “Naw, Man, She’s My Sister! No, Really.”

“Naw, Man, She’s My Sister! No, Really.”

(Genesis 12 & 20)

I was raised with the impression that the patriarchs were super-duper good, moral, upstanding human beings. Imagine my surprise when I read about their exploits and discovered what a lot of rat bastards they were.

Abraham, né Abram, for instance, is many things, few of them good. He’s one of God’s favoritest evah, but as we’ve seen before, God has awful taste in human beings.

When Abram first gets uber-blessed by God, he’s 75 years old. He doesn’t have kids, as his wife Sarai is barren (always the wife’s fault, cuz the Biblical men all had perfect little swimmers, you betcha). But God promises him he’ll have soooo many descendents. All he has to do is go to all these places God tells him about. So Abram packs up his wife, and his nephew Lot, and his slaves, and goes traveling all over the place. Pretty much everywhere he goes, God’s all, “Yep, I’ll give this to your descendants, too,” which is a little hard on the people already living there (Gen. 12:1-9).

Unfortunately for Abram, all is not perfect in God’s country. Famine drives him and his wife down to Egypt, where his true colors begin to shine. Spoiler alert: they’re all shades of yellow (Gen. 12:10).

When they reach Egypt and are about to cross the border, Abram suddenly realizes his wife is hawt. So hawt, in fact, he’s pretty sure the Egyptians will kill him just to get their sweaty hands on her. Oh noes! What to do? Avoid Egypt altogether? Disguise Sarai’s beauty? Man up and protect her? Nah! Abram’s got the perfect solution: “Tell ’em you’re my sister, okay, honey? Pleeeeze? Cuz then everything will be great for me, and you won’t be responsible for my brutal murder!” Obviously this is the brave and patriarchal thing to do (Gen. 12:10-13).

Image is a painting showing Abram and Sarai lying in a tent. He's waving his hands at her and lecturing. She has her chin in her hand and looks bored.
Abram’s Counsel to Sarai, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, aside from making his wife a liar, he’s leading the Egyptians to believe Sarai’s single. Very pretty, and oh so single! So of course everybody tells Pharaoh there’s this drop-dead gorgeous single chick who’s new in town, wowza, and Pharaoh’s all, “I’d hit that!” So they take Sarai to live with him (Gen. 12:14-15).

The Bible doesn’t mention whether he actually boinks her, but while she’s living at Pharaoh’s place essentially as a sexual possession, Pharaoh treats Abram like a prince, giving him a lot of livestock and slaves in exchange for his “sister.” I think this makes Abram one of the Bible’s first pimp daddies (Gen. 12:16).

Well, we all know that God is super-interested in what humans do with their no-noes, and gets really upset about adultery, even when the hubby’s down with it, and the dude who’s about to sex up the pretty lady has no idea she’s actually married to the dude who claims he’s her brother. God whaps a plague down on poor ol’ innocent Pharaoh – and his entire household, even though they weren’t the ones in the adulterous relationship (Gen. 12:17).

Pharaoh chews Abram a new one over the incident – he’d almost married a married woman, not cool! – and tells him and Sarai to GTFO. Sounds like he let Abram keep the livestock and slaves. Nice con, if you don’t mind prostituting your wife and letting innocent people suffer (Gen. 12:18-20).

His con worked out so well that Abram, now Abraham, does it again a few chapters later, when he and Sarai, who’s now known as Sarah, journey down to Gerar. This time, he doesn’t even ask his wife if she’s down with lying, just cold tells everybody, “Oh, yeah, she’s totally my sister. Not my wife at all. Ha ha.” So the King of Gerar, Abimelech, is like “Hell yeah!” and snaps that supposed sister right up. We did mention Sarah’s hawt, right? All the rulers want a piece of that (Gen. 20:1-2).

King Abimelech doesn’t even have a chance to wet his wick before God’s all up in his dreams, growling, “You’re a dead man, Abi – you’re about to bone some other dude’s wife!” And Abi’s all, “Shit, man, I ain’t even touched her yet! What, you gonna kill us all even though we haven’t done anything wrong? Dude, God, they both told me she’s just his sister! I’m innocent!” And God says, “Yeah, I know – in fact, I’m the reason you haven’t fucked Sarah yet. Aren’t I the greatest God ever? Now give her back or die – and your little subjects, too” (Gen. 20:3-7).

So Abi gets everybody together and tells them what happened, which scares the crap out of them. They know the Lord isn’t precise about where he aims his wrath. Abi grabs Abraham and is like, “The hell were you thinking, Abe? Not cool, man!” (Gen. 20:8-9)

Abe gives him the weak-ass excuse that he thought they weren’t very god-fearing in these parts and would’ve killed him to get Sarah. Then he drops the bombshell: she really is his sister! Well, half-sister. They share the same father. Ewwww, incest! (Gen. 20:12)

This little scheme is something they’ve cooked up to pull everywhere they go. They’ll just tell a half-truth about Sister Sarah so Abe won’t have to protect them. Then they’ll use God’s wrath to extort the poor mooks who fall for her. It worked with Pharaoh, and it works with King Abimelech. Since Abraham’s the Lord’s special boy, Abi’s scared enough to not only let them leave alive despite the fact Abe’s a scheming, lying sleazeball, he gives Abe a bunch of livestock and slaves and tells him he can live anywhere he likes. He also gives Abe a lot of cash money, and tells Sarah no hard feelings (Gen. 20:13-16).

Why Abi was so conciliatory rather than off-with-their-heads ragey becomes clear at the end. It turns out God’s been assisting Abe’s extortion scheme by stopping up every every womb in the kingdom. Abe prays for their healing, God unstops the wombs, and the con is complete (Gen. 20:17-18).

So that’s the great Biblical patriarch, father of the three biggest monotheistic religions: a yellow-bellied coward and con artist who’s only too happy to pimp out his wife/sister. What a guy.

Believe it or not, he gets worse. Just you wait.


Really Terrible Bible Stories vol. 1: Genesis is coming soon. Watch this space for announcements and more excerpts!

Image is a painting of Abraham, holding a knife to a screaming Isaac's throat, looking incomprehendingly at the cherub that's trying to get his attention. Above is the title Really Terrible Bible Stories. Below is vol. I Genesis, Dana Hunter.

Copyright © 2015 by Dana Hunter. All rights reserved.


Really Terrible Bible Stories vol. I: Genesis is now available at Amazon! Worldwide, even! To order outside the United States, visit your country’s Amazon website and search for “Really Terrible Bible Stories” by Dana Hunter. Thanks for reading!

Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: “Naw, Man, She’s My Sister! No, Really.”

16 thoughts on “Really Terrible Bible Stories Excerpt: “Naw, Man, She’s My Sister! No, Really.”

  1. rq

    As for the Pharaoh and his family, I believe Abram and Sarai brought with them some sort of disease against which they had no natural immunity. Probably measles.
    I was also hoping that maybe some of this Pharaoh-rapin’ would be the reason Sarah gets pregnant in the end, which is how we can know that Abraham’s sperm just isn’t as plentiful as it should be.

  2. 2

    I could be mistaken here but I have a vague memory from reading somewhere a long time ago that a lot of the Egyptian Pharoahs actually *did* marry their sisters at least on occasion, yeah? So, the “Sister” thing may not have been such a big protection anyhow maybe? Not that it makes much difference to Abram’s conduct here with the half-lies and treatment of his partner & family.

  3. 3

    One of the more lovable things about Ol’ Yahweh is how he’s into wholesale punishments. Collateral damage and innocent bystanders aren’t his concerns either. His motto is: “Kill ’em all, I’ll sort them out later.”

  4. 4

    Quick wikicheck before bed finds :

    “she was the daughter of Queen Tetisheri (known as Teti the Small) and Senakhtenre Ahmose, and was probably the sister, as well as the wife, of pharaoh Seqenenre Tao.”

    Also there’s Ahmose-Inhapi : “She was married to her (half-)brother Seqenenre Tao and they had a daughter, Ahmose-Henuttamehu.”

    Plus more?

  5. 5

    It was the Ptolemaic dynasty (reigned 305 BCE – 30 BCE) whose pharaohs married their brothers and sisters (some of the pharaohs were reigning queens). Incidentally, not all the Ptolemaic pharaohs were incestuous.

  6. 6

    You missed the third version of this story! Genesis 26 recounts a very similar episode involving Isaac and Rebekkah, again the Philistine king, Avimelek. Of course the real reason for such doublets (and triplets) is that they are alternative versions preserved in different geographical settings and recorded by different scribes. It amazes me that with these kinds of anomalies (and there are hundreds and hundreds of them) people can still believe that there is some kind of supernatural origin for this book. If a god wrote this, he was smoking some very good stuff at the time.

  7. 7

    The way you retell it, it has all the plot integrity of a made-for-TV series. You know, one of those ones like “The Mentalist” where the scriptwriters sit around trying to think of “what’s the edgiest and least predictable thing we can get away with here without stretching plausibility past the snapping point?”

    I thought you were gonna say Abram showed “50 shades of yellow”

  8. 8

    Sounds like the main thing he was claiming was “she’s not my wife, she’s not married at all,” which would make a difference to a lot of people. The reveal isn’t “she’s not really my sister, she’s my best friend’s cousin, but we didn’t want to cause scandal”: that would just mean he wasn’t the king’s new brother-in-law.

  9. 12

    Believe it or not, he [Abram] gets worse. Just you wait.

    I think you are talking about Isaac and the test of faith thing but not 100% sure! This book is probably a little too old & literally iconic and ancient for spoiler warnings but still.

    @ Al Dente : Thanks for that info and correction. I hadn’t seen your reply there yet and wasn’t even meaning to correct you last night – just trying to check whether my own memory was faulty as it certainly can be at times! There’s plenty of things I’ve misremembered and got wrong over the years.

  10. 13

    Not only that, but in Genesis 26, Isaac (Abraham’s son), pulls the same trick with HIS wife, Rebekah, against the same dopey king of Abim’elech (or his descendant).

    Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it!

  11. 14

    The sister-wife thing was definitely a part of Egyptian royal ideology and succession politics long before the Ptolemies. Indeed, one could argue that they adopted the practice specifically as a way of demonstrating their Pharaonic bona fides to the native population.

    Obviously this is the patriarchal thing to do

    As satire, your retelling is effective. But as an amateur scholar of this stuff, I confess to having little patience with the superior attitude. It’s a fine corrective to the reverence given these texts by those who don’t read them so much as read into them what centuries of revisionist Protestant reinterpretation tells them is found there. But the idea that all this would have been somehow unproblematic for the ancient reader cannot be sustained. The tensions here between the expectation and reality of “upright” patriarchal behavior were very much in view for ancient audiences. And it’s not just “oh, everyone has flaws, here are our culture hero’s on display”, as if it were a “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us!” magazine feature. The text pretty clearly undermines the whole idea of “chosenness” as unmitigated blessedness. An ancient Judean gets the drift that God is making a special case of Abraham and the first expectation of the narrative is going to be that Abe is about to find himself in a tight fix indeed with no straightforwardly good options.

    I realize that such rarefied historical analysis is rather beside the point, so if such comments are irritating or seem obtuse I apologize. As I say, I enjoyed it as punchy satire.

  12. 15

    Also, please stop trying to inject gendered usage where none exists; it’s always problematic becasue not all people identify in terms of binary gender (or gender at all) and not all people consistently identify as a single gender. Née/nee in English is frequently used as a gender-neutral term becasue historically men changing their names has been very uncommon, and so for gender-neutral usage, the more familiar term is often preferred.

  13. 16

    CJO, my interest is to try to find evidence for the following:

    1) Who told this story and why? What was their opinion? And by ‘who’ I mean the originators of the story – who were they? When did they live? Under what circumstances? What did this story mean to them?
    2) Why does this story (in all 3 of its versions) doing in Genesis? Why did the editor/redactor keep it there? What did the story mean to them in the context of the narrative of the tales of the Patriarchs?

    The bits in the Abraham cycle about his itinerary are not just about Yahweh promising him the land for his descendents, it is about establishing specific places as approved places for performing sacrifices. These are sacred sites from the days of the monarchies, and the patriarchal tales stamp them retroactively with divine approval.

    So what is the sister-bride story doing here? Is it saying: Look at Abraham, telling a blatant lie, getting caught, yet being rewarded for it! Or is it saying: Abraham’s faith was weak, he needed some serious lessons about faith?

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