Sunday, March 27, 2011

Father Abraham and his two sons: a cautionary tale

Abraham lived some 6,000 years ago and the story of his life and how he treated his two sons lives on in the religious foundations of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  And though there are variations in the stories, the main lines are remarkably consistent through all those years.

Here are the stories, relevant, in more ways than one, to the preset day.


Sarah was 80 and Abraham was 86, and he had no heir.  If he died, all his cattle and goods would pass to a male in his household (he had hundreds), but not an heir of his body.  Not to be abided by.  And Sarah would be left with nothing.What to do . . . what to do . . . .

Well, it turned out that Sarah has a good looking Egyptian slave, Hagar, and as luck would have it, the Law of Abraham (now most fiercely enforced by the Taliban) provided that if the head of a household bore a son by his wife's slave, it was just as if his wife had carried the child herself.  Beautiful Hagar, of child-bearing age, was the solution

But things never work out as they should.  No sooner was Hagar pregnant than she got uppity, since sh e would bear the heir.  Sarah was beside herself and demanded that Hagar be sent away.  A voice that no one else could hear told Abraham to obey Sarah, and Hagar was banished to the wilderness.

As luck would have it, God found Hagar in the wilderness (or rather, an angel did), before she died of thirst, and told her that she would bear Ishmael.  The angel ordered Hagar back home, to take her beatings.

Then, 10 years later, after Ishmael had been the son and heir, lording it over all and pampered as no other youth ever was, God decided that Sarah would bear a child.  The actual mechanics of conception are unclear, but God is, by implication, involved in some way.  Perhaps his DNA made up for the parents' rusty and age-damaged DNA.

In any event, Hagar was not not only superfluous, her child would inherit everything, and she would be subject to the whims of her uppity slave!  It Was Intolerable~  Sarah demanded that Hagar be banished and Abraham, obeying a voice that only he could hear, agreed.

High Reconnaissance and Baroque painters were much taken with this banishment, and many great and beautiful paintings depict the sad event.  A main propose of this blog is to show you some of them.  I'm pleased to say that google has made them all clickable.

Here you can see Sarah gloating in the background.

Banishment to the dessert was a sentence of death.

and Hagar and Ishmael did almost die.

Their water bottle lay empty at their sides, and thurst was upon them.

When suddenly, at the laast moment, an angel appeared.

Baroque paainters liked angels.

The angel pointed to a spring of water just over  rise!

The rest is history; actually, it is our current affairs.


For Ismael went on to become a famous archer, marry an Egyptian, have many sons, and found many tribes -- now the many tribes of the Arabs, whose Sharia, or Laws, is largely based on the Laws of Abraham, and each of whom carries Abraham's genes.

One can make the argument that the Arabs are warlike and chauvinistic because their ancestor, Ismael, was so badly treated by his father, Abraham.  Indeed, their are a number of books on that very subject.

I don't make quite that argument.  Bu I do think that for a religion such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity to hold Abraham up as a positive role model tells us something damaging to the religions.


God promised Hagar many descendants, and she had many.  He made that same promise to Abraham, but Abraham wasn't satisfied with many sons by Ismael, he wanted many sons from Sarah, although both of them were way to old to have healthy children.   After Sarah gave birth to Isaac and saw to the banishment of his only rival, life looked good to them.  They had another boy to dote on and inheritance was secure.

Then disaster struck.

Abraham heard a voice that no one else heard, ordering him to take Isaac up the mountain, bind him, place him on the sacrificial alter slit his throat, and burn his carcass, making an odor pleasing to God's nostrils.


Isaac meekly carried the fagots up the mountain.

 There are many paintings, done in careful detail, of Isaac's binding.  Jesus' binding is also done with great attention to detail, as are the bonds of the many  martyrs that Baroque painters liked to paint.

I kinda like it myself.

No comments: