Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis

Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis

Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis

Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis

Synopsis

The only source in which Sarah is mentioned is the Book of Genesis, which contains very few highly selective and rather enigmatic stories dealing with her. On the surface, these stories tell us very little about Sarah, and what they do tell is complicated and confused by the probability that it represents residue surviving from two different written sources based on two independent oral traditions. Nevertheless, the role which Sarah plays, in the Genesis narratives, apears to be a highly energetic one, a role so active, in fact, that it repeatedly overshadows that of her husband.

In a patriarchal environment such as the Canaan of Genesis, the situation is discordant and problematic. Dr. Teubal suggests that the difficulty is eliminated, however, if we understand that Sarah and the other matriarchs mentioned in the narratives acted within the established, traditional Mesopotamian role of priestess, of a class of women who retained a highly privileged position vis-a-vis their husbands.

Dr. Teubal shows that the "Sarah tradition" represents a nonpatriarchal system struggling for survival in isolation, in the patriarchal environment of what was for Sarah a foreign society. She further indicates that the insistence of Sarah and Rebekah that their sons and heirs marry wives from the old homeland had to do not so much with preference for endogamy and cousin marriage as with their intention of ensuring the continuation of their old kahina -tradition against the overwhelming odds represented by patriarchal Canaan.

Excerpt

Savina Teubal has undertaken a difficult task in writing her study Sarah the Priestess.

The only source in which Sarah is mentioned is the Book of Genesis, which contains a very few highly selective and rather enigmatic stories dealing with her. On the surface these stories tell very little about Sarah, and what they do tell is complicated and confused by the probability that it represents residue surviving from two different written sources based on two independent oral traditions. We are told that Sarah was the paternal half-sister of Abraham, her husband; that she was childless and gave her handmaid Hagar to be Abraham's concubine so that the child Hagar would bear would be considered Sarah's own, but some thirteen years later, at an age at which procreation had to be considered miraculous, Sarah did conceive and bear a son, Isaac; that she instructed Abraham to expel Hagar and her son Ishmael; that her beauty had attracted the attention of both Pharoah and Abimelech, the king of Gerar; and that she died at the age of 127 years and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah. It is, in the main, on this meager and fragmentary material that Dr. Teubal had to build her reconstruction of Sarah's position as a priestess, as a carrier of an old Mesopotamian religio-cultural tradition, and as a representative of a cult in which female functionaries played the main role.

How does she go about it? For one thing, she utilized data from ancient Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Babylonian) inscriptions which have a bearing on the role of women as priestesses in the religions of those lands during the thousand or so years preceding the period to which Abraham and Sarah are usually assigned. Then, in the light of what she could glean from these sources, she subjects every word contained in Genesis about Sarah -- and about her successors in Abraham's family, namely Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah -- to the most painstaking scrutiny. She pays special attention to every indication found in the Bible of a matriarchal or, as she most cautiously expresses herself, non-patriarchal social order.

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