Sister or Not
Sarah’s Adventures with Pharaoh
The story, told in Genesis 12:10–20, of the descent of Abram and Sarai (as Abraham and Sarah are called in this part of Genesis) to Egypt and what befalls them there, reveals little and conceals much. The terseness of the narrative leaves many questions unanswered, including one concerning Sarah during her stay in Pharaoh’s palace.
According to the Pentateuch’s account, Abraham and his wife descend to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. Knowing of Sarah’s being “a beautiful woman” (Genesis 12:11) and fearing lest the Egyptians kill him and take her, Abraham directs his wife to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister. And indeed, the Patriarch’s fears are proven valid: the news of Sarah’s exceptional beauty makes it all the way to the king, “and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s palace” (v. 15). After an unspecified period, God afflicts Pharaoh and his household with “mighty plagues” (v. 17), and Pharaoh summons Abraham to him and protests, “What is this you have done to me! Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her as my wife?” (vv. 18–19). In the end, Pharaoh sends both Sarah and her husband out of his country.
Did Abraham make the trip to Egypt on God’s directive? (Compare God’s words to Isaac — “Do not go down to Egypt” [Genesis 26:2] — and to Jacob — “Do not fear to go down to Egypt” [46:3].) Were Sarah and Abraham being truthful when they claimed to be siblings? Did Abraham act in good faith when, after the king took Sar