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Abraham and Sarah as brother/sister as well as husband/wife
Question from Edward Pothier on 9/2/2001:

Fr. Echert,

The following question was originally sent to the History Forum in response to an answer of Dr. Carroll's (quoted in its entirety within). I received an E-mail from the EWTN webmaster saying my question "is more appropriate to the Scripture, Divine Revelation Forum. Please resubmit your question to that Forum." I am now doing that as requested (although as a direct followup question to one of Dr. Carroll's answers I still would think it belongs there in the History Forum).

==================================== The recent question about Abraham and Sarah as both husband/wife and brother/sister is slightly more complicated than your [Dr. Carroll in the History Forum] answer: "They were husband and wife, but presented themselves as brother and sister to help preserve themselves in a dangerous age". Is it not true that they not only "presented themselves as brother and sister" but, in fact, were brother and sister (as well as spouses)?

In Genesis 12 Abram and Sarai (before their name changes by God in Genesis 17) pass themselves off as brother and sister (and conveniently omit their married status) to Pharoah who takes Sarai into his palace. The biblical text (Gen 12:17) mentions "severe plagues" on Pharaoh and his household. [I have read a reference to a Jewish midrashic tradition which has Pharaoh and the other Egyptians all struck with impotency, thus preserving Sarai's virtue.]. Nothing more is said about the brother-sister relationship after Pharaoh returns Sarai.

But, a similar incident occurs later in Genesis 20 in Gerar when Abraham and Sarah for a second time use the brother-sister story (again omitting the husband-wife part) to Abimelech, the king of Gerar. When Abimelech is about to be struck down by God, he protests his innocence -- both because of Abraham and Sarah's story and the fact that he had not slept with Sarah. God tells Abimelech to return Sarah. While Abimelech is then "reading the riot act" to Abraham, Abraham confesses his fear and then adds: "[Gen 20:12] Besides, she is in truth my sister, but only my father's daughter, not my mother's ..."

Does it not then seem, assuming Abraham's statement is true, that Abraham and Sarah were married (endogamy), being half-siblings on their father's side? While later Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:9) would forbid such marriages/sexual relations, would it not be possible earlier in the patriarchal times?

Edward Pothier

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 9/2/2001:

Yes, but later Mosaic Law does not bind those of earlier periods, so long as it was not a matter of a violation of natural law and not something intrinsically evil. In fact, it is assumed that the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve intermarried, necessitated by circumstances and in order for the human race to survive.

Thanks, Edward

Father Echert


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