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In the first story about Abram after his calling, he goes down to Egypt because of a famine and Pharaoh takes Abram's wife Sarai into his household. As a result God inflicts Pharaoh with plagues.

But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?"

I realize the text is thin here, but how does Pharaoh know to summon Abram? Later in Genesis 20 when a similar even happens with Abimelek, God speaks to Abimelek in a dream to tell him he is a dead man. Abimelek protests he has a clean conscience. But nothing like that happens here. Should we infer in the Genesis 12 story that Pharaoh knew Sarai was Abram's wife, even if there was a charade among all parties to pretend otherwise?

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Possibly he knew or suspected the truth (but since Avram had said it was ok, he proceeded). Or perhaps he connected the sudden onset of unspecified disease with the sudden arrival of outsiders (which doesn't answer the wife angle, only the you're-responsible angle). Or perhaps God spoke to him too but it's not recorded here (the torah does tend to leave important things out sometimes). Or perhaps Sarai failed to keep the secret while trying to avoid consumating the marriage.

There's probably midrash on this (I haven't checked yet), but it seems like the text on its own supports several interpretations.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Thanks, this question was a shot in the dark to see if anyone had any insights I might have missed, but you're probably right that the text just doesn't give us enough information to know. –  Soldarnal Oct 30 '12 at 0:48
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