Mar 22, 2008

Women as critical ancestors and tricksters

February 21, 2008, Class #3 

How did Rachel and Leah build up the House of Israel?  Why is it Rachel and Leah and not Rifka and Sarah.    This is a question to keep in the back of our minds.

Today we looked at women as critical ancestors and the trickster.  These are aspects of the role of women in building up the House of Israel.  We saw that women also do their thing and disappear

Thematically we first introduced Abraham the trickster - Gen 12:13-20 -  Abram asks Sarai to lie.  She is in Pharaoh’s harem – not a good position for Sarai to be in.

Then we looked at Sarah’s role in ensuring the line of succession and in ensuring God’s will be done.
·         We noted that initially God promises Abram a heritage through his issue, but does not mention through which woman.  Some texts we referred to
o   Gen 12:2 – I will make of you a great nation
o   Gen 15:3  Abram “I die childless” – 1st speech of Abram to God.
o   Gen 16:2   “The Lord has kept me from bearing.  Sarai sees God a author of her suffering.  Sarai shall be built up thru Hagar.  Not clear that she knows about God’s promise to Abram
o   Gen 16:15  Abram names his son Ishmael, (God heeds) according to God’s command (16:11) = God has seen the suffering of Hagar – this is not Sarai’s child – she must be the mother of the lineage.  Sarai is cut out here.
o   Gen 17:2 – God will establish covenant with Abram = he becomes Abraham – he gets land and offspring
·         Sarah enters the picture, but it’s not clear she knows that she will have a role to play in who will inherit the covenant from Abraham
o   Gen 17:16 – Sarah will give rise to nations – rulers shall issue from her.    God has to tell Abraham of Sarah’s importance
o   Gen 17:18 - Abraham asks God’s blessing for Ishmael.
o   Gen 17:19 – the covenant will come thru Sarah’s son “but my covenant will be with Isaac”
o   Gen 18:10 – your wife shall bear a child – first that Sarah hears of it.  Not clear she knows of its destiny
·         God starts to tell Abraham that he must listen to Sarah
o   Gen 21:10 – Sarah says to Abraham to cast out slave woman and son – not share with Isaac.  Sarah is not visible again until her death in 23.2
o   Gen 21:12 – God tells Abraham he must listen to Sarah

The torch passes from Sarah to Rebekah.   It seems as if lineage goes from Abraham and Sarah to Rebekah to Jacob, and skips Isaac.
o   Gen 22 – Binding of Isaac – Sarah not involved
o   Gen 22:23  Bethuel introduced as father of Rebekah.  Slipped in right before Sarah’s death.  The only woman of the Bible whose birth is recorded.  The placement of birth notice is important.  Isaac has been saved, promise repeated to Abraham.  Baby Rifka will be child of destiny and agent of God’s promise.
o   Gen 23 Sarah does not chose Isaac’s wife – After Sarah’s death, Abraham sends a servant to get a wife for Isaac from the homeland
o   Gen 24: 2-4 – Servant must get wife for Isaac from land of Abraham’s birth
o   Gen 24:67  Rebekah takes Isaac’s mother’s place and he loves her.  2nd mention of love in Bible.   First one was 22:2  Abraham loves Isaac

We looked at similarities between Rifka and Abraham
·         Inheriting land (enemies’ gates)
o   Gen 22:17 - Abraham will inherit the enemies gates (Fox)
o   Gen 24:60 - Rifka’s offspring will inherit the enemies gates (Fox)
o   Gen 26: 4 - seed many, but  “inherit” is missing.   God “assigns” and “makes”.  Isaac seems the least active of the group.
o   Gen 28:4 - Jacob will “inherit the land” (Fox)
·         They are both extreme examples of hospitality – note how Abraham treats the angels and note how Rebekah at the well attends to the servants needs, even doing the arduous work of running up and down hills to water the camels
·         They both make the voyage from Mesopotamia to Canaan, in fact Abraham insists upon Rebekah making the same voyage

We looked at the theme of Rebekah the trickster, manipulating behind the scenes on behalf of her favorite.
·         Gen 25: 22-23  Rifka told about two separate peoples in her womb and older will serve younger.  Isaac not told.
·         Gen 26:3-5  God will fulfill oath to Abraham through Isaac – because Abraham kept covenant
·         Gen 24:24 – God will bless Isaac and offspring – God does not reveal to Isaac that it will be Jacob
·         Gen 26:34 – Esau spurns birthright.  Jacob “tricks’ him
·         Gen 27:5 – Rebekah overhears and intervenes to fulfill that older will serve younger
·         We noted that it’s unclear if Isaac know he was being duped
o   Gen 27:19 “I am Esau”
o   Gen 27: 24 “Are you really my son Esau?”
·         Gen 27:28-29 – The blessing
·         Gen 27:35 – “Your brother came with guile” – no suspicion on Rifka
·         Gen 27:41-46 - Rebekah wants to send son away for his safety but tricks Isaac by saying it is because of the Hittite woman and tricks Jacob by saying it is for his safety
·         Gen 35:8 – Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse dies.  We never hear of Rebekah’s death.  She has done her work and disappeared from the scene.

Some things we noted in discussion
·         Abraham seems to play no active role in ensuring that Sarah bears a child.
·         Isaac plays a minor role in determining who will carry his inheritance – Rifka does the heavy lifting.
·         As important as Rifka is in the text, seeming to bear the succession from Abraham and Sarah thru her to Jacob, skipping Isaac, yet by the time we get to Moses, Moses refers only to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Why have the matriarchs disappeared already?  Miriam is there, but she plays a different role – for instance has no children.  Is it related to the time of Exodus being a time when the priestly function comes to the fore, in which women could not intervene.

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