Episode 9: Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar: The Perpetuation of Sexual Trauma in Genesis 16


The story of Sarah and Hagar through the lens of reproduced trauma and family (?) systems.  Trigger warning: sexual assault, trafficking, and rape. 

Partial transcript:

Hello and Welcome to Worst Church Ever, the progressive Christian podcast the boomer fundies in your life warned you about on Facebook.  They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if having good intentions is the worst thing we ever do, I say good for us.  

There’s a difference, of course, between good intentions and the following of lesser angels, and, truth be told, deep, deep down, I think we tend to know the difference.

Today we look at a section from the Genesis chapter 16.  Recall that in the last chapter, God (Yahweh) has promised Abraham an heir from his own issue, and not only that, but has promised him more descendants than there are stars in the sky.  Abraham will be the father of a great nation, that much, so far, is repeatedly made clear.  But who’s the mother?

That’s where we start today.  You should know going in that we’re going to talk about abusive relationships, sexual assault, and sexual slavery.  Feel free to skip this episode if those are triggers. 

We are, as of the last episode, purposefully lagging a bit behind the Narrative Lectionary, which skips from the middle of Abraham and Sarah’s story right over to Jacob and Joseph.  Remember that the whole point of the Narrative Lectionary is to show the Bible as one unified story, and even though the Bible may be that for devotional purposes, we need to remember that it’s not what the Bible is as such.  We’re interested in the disparate traditions, the competing ideologies, the manifold incongruities that can, if allowed, breathe new life into what we mean when we say that these texts are in some way special, let alone sacred.

To do that, we have to look at stories I’d rather not spend time with.  I am getting tired of Abraham, though part of it could be the paint fumes and interruptions of the last episode.  I want to move on, but there’s too much shit, and some of it really is awful, to get through.  Case in point, the beginning of Genesis 16.  In Chapter 15, God (Yahweh) signs and seals the covenant with Abraham and reassures Abraham he will indeed be the father of a great nation, despite his and Sarah’s advanced age and prior infertility.  

Let’s look at the text:

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

    you shall call him Ishmael,

    for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.

12 He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,

    and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael…