Abraham married his sister???
NOT SO FAST!!
Speaking of his wife Sarai, Abraham says,
“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” -Genesis 20:12
From the plain reading of this text it appears that Abraham is saying that he married his sister.
This interpretation carries with it deep implications. According to the Torah, it is a sin to marry your sister:
““None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD…You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home.” -Leviticus 18:6;9
Four possible scenarios are presented:
1) Abraham did not sin by marrying his sister because the law had not yet been given.
2) Abraham sinned by marrying his sister, yet God sanctioned the marriage and still declared Abraham to be a righteous man who “obeyed all my requirements, commands, decrees, and instructions” (Gen 26:5)
3) The Bible is errant and cannot be trusted as this is a blatant contradiction.
4) We are interpreting Abraham’s words incorrectly and a closer look at the Hebrew and the context reveals that he, in fact, did NOT marry his sister. He married his NIECE.
We Need To Take A Closer Look
Let’s first try to establish the lineage of Abraham and Sarai.
“27Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah.” -Gen 11:27-29
We see here that Abram’s (Abraham) father was Terah. Abraham also had two brothers, Nahor and Haran. Haran was probably the oldest brother and when he died his two younger brothers were to look after his daughters, Milcah and Iscah. It’s clear from the text that Nahor married his niece Milcah. It would logically follow that Abram may have possibly also married his niece Iscah, but it never states this.
The word for “daughter” in verse 29 can also mean “daughters” if it is conjugated with “ot” at the end, as this word in Hebrew can be either singular or plural. The context denotes its usage. Therefore it could read, “Sarai….Milcah, the daughters of Haran”. This would suggest that Sarai and Milcah were sisters. The problem is that the usage of the word for daughter (“bat”) in this case is clearly NOT conjugated with “ot” at the end. This means that the proper translation is a singular “daughter” rather than “daughters”.
This rendering would makes it inconsistent with the account in Jasher:
1 “And Haran, the son of Terah, Abram’s oldest brother, took a wife in those days.
2 Haran was thirty-nine years old when he took her; and the wife of Haran conceived and bare a son, and he called his name Lot.
3 And she conceived again and bare a daughter, and she called her name Milca; and she again conceived and bare a daughter, and she called her name Sarai.
4 Haran was forty-two years old when he begat Sarai, which was in the tenth year of the life of Abram; and in those days Abram and his mother and nurse went out from the cave, as the king and his subjects had forgotten the affair of Abram.
5 And when Abram came out from the cave, he went to Noah and his son Shem, and he remained with them to learn the instruction of the Lord and his ways, and no man knew where Abram was, and Abram served Noah and Shem his son for a long time.
6 And Abram was in Noah’s house thirty-nine years, and Abram knew the Lord from three years old, and he went in the ways of the Lord until the day of his death, as Noah and his son Shem had taught him”
And at that time Nahor and Abram took unto themselves wives, the daughters of their brother Haran; the wife of Nahor was Milca and the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai. And Sarai, wife of Abram, was barren; she had no offspring in those days.
That being said, I still believe that Gen 11:29 is trying to state that both Nahor and Abram married the daughters of their deceased brother Haran, their nieces.
It’s certain that Jerome, Jasher (very ancient), and the Pseudo-Targum Jonathan confirm that Abram married his niece.
Josephus also confirms this.
““…Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran: of these Haran left a son, Lot, as also Sarai and Milcha his daughters, and died among the Chaldeans… These married their nieces. Nahor married Milcha, and Abram married Sarai” (“Antiquities” 1.6.5). ”
There are many indications in his writings that he had access to a variant Hebrew O.T. text which is not now in existence. In other words, Josephus probably had texts of the old testament he was reading from that are more ancient than the ones we use for our modern translations.
Being that a consensus of other ancient sources agree on this matter, it is more than reasonable to suggest that there may be either an error, a mistranslation, or misunderstanding of the text that we have today in this particular non-conjugation of the word “BAT”, making it singular, and appearing to suggest that only Nahor married his brother’s daughter and NOT Abram as well.
SISTER, DAUGHTER, SOMETHING ELSE?
The text NEVER states that Terah had a daughter named Sarai, but it does say that Sarai was Abraham’s “sister”. The word word “sister” does not strictly denote an immediate blood relative. The Hebrew word used here is “ahoti” and can simply mean “other” or “another” such as the usage in Song of Solomon in reference to his bride (Songs 4:10). This means that Sarai could simply be a female with some familial connection to Abram. This idea is further supported by the text that calls Lot Abram’s “brother”.
“And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.” -Gen 14:16
Yet we know that Lot wasn’t his “brother” in the sense that we 21st century westerner’s use the term. Lot was actually his nephew:
“And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.” -Gen 14:12
THE DAUGHTER OF HARAN
What we will find is that Sarai is actually one of Haran’s daughters! It is believed by the sages that Sarai also went by the name of “Iskah”, which means “one who sees” (Megillah, quoted by Rashi Bereishis 11:29). This alter-name of her’s indicated her gifting as a prophetess (Rashi Bereishis 21:12). It was also a back-handed reference for how much everyone else was constantly “gazing” on her beauty!
Josephus confirms this by saying that Sarai and Milkah were the daughters of Haran, not mentioning Iscah at all. This implies that Sarai and Iscah were the same person, and that Nahor and Abram married their nieces (“Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 1, Chapter 6, Paragraph 25, by Flavius Josephus).
Jerome and the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan confirm this as well.
It is also confirmed by the book of Jasher:
“And at that time Nahor and Abram took unto themselves wives, the daughters of their brother Haran; the wife of Nahor was Milca and the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai. And Sarai, wife of Abram, was barren; she had no offspring in those days.” -Jasher 12:44
DAUGHTER OF HIS FATHER
But what does Abraham mean when he says that Sarai is the daughter of his father?
“the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” -Gen 20:12
The answer is surprisingly simple. The Hebrew word for daughter is “bat” and can mean “daughter” or “grand-daughter”! The reason that Sarai is not the daughter of Abram’s mother is because Terah fathered Haran (Abram’s older brother and father of Sarai / Iscah) through a different wife than for Abram.
We see at the end of the passage that the text refers to Sarai as Terah’s daughter-in-law.
“31Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together..” -Gen 11:31
If Sarai were the daughter of Terah, then why did the text call Sarai his daughter-in-law?
It makes more sense for the text to read “daughter-in-law”, rather than “daughter”, because she really IS his daughter-in-law!!
That may be a little confusing… you see, she BECAME his daughter-in-law upon marrying his son Abram, although before her marriage she was Terah’s GRAND-daughter (through Haran).
It is known today that the first 11 chapters of Genesis existed in Cuneiform (http://www.creationbc.org/index.php/articles?id=132) and later translated to Hebrew during Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. The cuneiform signs for “Iscah” and “Sarai” are very very similar and would be easy for the translator (1000 years later) to mistake one for the other. This could also be a reason for a seeming discrepancy in the text, rather than the theory that Iscah’s name was changed to Sarai after her marriage to Abraham.
Contextually, with the death of Haran, it makes perfect sense that each brother would take one daughter as a wife under his household and protection. It doesn’t make sense that Nahor would take one, but Abraham would leave the other one alone to fend for herself. Haran had one son, Lot, that came under Abraham’s wing for the time being as they eventually traveled towards Canaan.
1) Abraham married his niece Sarai, the daughter of Haran.
2) Abraham did NOT break the Torah.
3) The Bible is demonstrated to be accurate here.
4) Yahweh is the same yesterday, today, and forever!!
Some use this text to try to prove that the Torah (instructions / teachings of Yahweh) was DIFFERENT before Sinai. They say that God had different sets of rules for Abraham than He did for Israel at Sinai and use this as a proof-text to say that we are not held to the standards of Torah, but by a DIFFERENT standard.
As you can see, we have disproved and disqualified this excuse to throw out Torah and shown that Abraham was consistent with Torah. This also gives credence to the account in Jasher telling us that Abraham spent several years in the house of Shem being taught the Torah!!