Continuing the response to the meta call for contradiction.

In Genesis Chapter 20 we find the following sister/wife story:

And Abraham journeyed from there to the land of the Negev, and he settled between Kodesh and Shur, and he lived in Gerar. And Abraham said to Sarah his wife, she is my sister; and he sent for Avimelech(Abimelech) the King of Gerar, who took Sarah.

And God came to Abimelech in a dream that night, and said to him, "you will die for the woman you took, she is a husband's wife."

And Abimelech did not become close to her, and said "my Lord, even righteous people will you slay? Because he told me, 'she is my sister', and she also said, 'he is my brother'. With an innocent heart, and with unsullied hands, I did this."

This is a repeat of a sister/wife story in Genesis 12:

And there was hunger in the land; and Abram emigrated down to Egypt to live there, because the hunger in the land was heavy.

And it was, when he was close to going to Egypt; and he said to Sarai, his wife, listen, I know that you are a beautiful woman to look at. And if the Egyptians shall see you, and say, she is this man's wife, then they will kill me, and you they will keep alive. Please say you are my sister, so that it will improve my lot for you, and my soul will survive on cause of you.

And it was, as Abram came to Egypt, and the Egyptians saw the woman, that very beautiful was she. And the ministers of the Pharaoh saw her, and they praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken to the house of the Pharaoh. And to Abraham, he gave favor, for her sake. And he had sheep and cattle, and slaves, and maidservants, and she-mules and camels.

And Yahweh plagued the Pharaoh with great ills, and his household, on account of Sarai, the wife of Abram. And Pharaoh called Abram to say, "what is this you have done onto me? Why did you not tell me that she is your wife? Why did you say she is my sister, and I take her for myself for a wife?; and now, here is your wife, take her and leave." And Pharaoh put men to watch him; and away they sent him and his wife and all that he had.

The narrative mostly repeats, but with the difference that the second version appears after we learn that Abraham has changed his name from Abram at age 99, and Sarah is age 90. Further, we learn that Sarah no longer is fertile, that she has gone through menopause. It is because of this that Isaac's birth is miraculous.

Yet Abimelech takes her for a wife, and the passage explains that he intends to sleep with her, despite her apparent infirmity, until God comes to him in a dream.

What gives?

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    The contradiction tag here is not applicable. Sarah was an extremely beautiful woman and obviously did not show her age much. Even if Abimelech was into really mature women—which may be odd, weird, creepy, whatever—it is still not a contradiction.
    – Kazark
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 0:16
  • That would make sense if she were 50, not 90! The issue is that the story is obviously misplaced in time, and it can't be fixed, because of the name change occuring in their 90s in the J narrative.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 7:39
  • Sarah was already old (at least 65) in the story with Pharoah as well. As an aside my understanding of the miracle was that God de-aged Abraham and Sarah (in the Jewish tradition right after Sarah laughs she gets her period for the first time in ages). Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 20:54

3 Answers 3


I think that Abimelech wanting to marry Sarah rather had a political reason than a sexual as marrying Abraham's sister would have created an alliance with him (Abraham was quite wealthy and apparently had a good number of men at his command, so an alliance would have been desirable).

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 21:59

Sarah and Abraham were both old. Sarah was no longer menstruating and Abraham was not able to have an erection, see Gen 18:11, 12. However the Bible says in Gen 18:14 "Is anything too difficult for Jehovah? At the appointed time I will return to you, at the time of life, and there will be a son to Sarah." It seems to me that God restored the bodies of both Sarah and Abraham to a fertile state. In other words he made them younger which would mean that Sarah was once again sexually desirable and fully functional.

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    If Abraham had no erections ... Abraham fathered Ishmael ... What happened? — By the way, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 20:35

No Abimelech need not be thought of as really into extremely mature post-menopausal women. The documentary hypothesis resolves this, simply by noting that Chapter 20 is Elohist, while the previous chapter 12, as well as the name changes at age 90/99, are all Yahwist.

The two parallel passages are simply repeating the same story in two independent narratives, with a few details altered. The Elohist narrative does not require Sarah to be post-menopausal during the events related.

There is more to say about this sister/wife story pattern, however. I mentioned some of these things in a deleted answer on the Christianity site. I will quote the non-redundant parts of that answer:

The narrative in Genesis 20 is an Elohist narrative, and it is just repeating a different tradition regarding the narrative in Genesis 12, which is Yahwist. The two narratives come from the same tale, but they differ in a few details. The distinguishing details are revealing, since it is here that one learns the most about Abram's relation to Sarai. In the first narrative, Abraham tells pharaoh that he was lying about Sarai being his sister. In the second narrative, Abraham says that Sarah is his half-sister.

This is very strange, since incestuous ancestry is most often used in the pentateuch to indicate that a certain tribe is somehow cursed, or weakened, or inferior. Here, the implied incest is for the ancestors of the Hebrews, so it is really very striking--- it suggests that there was a deep rooted tradition for Abram/Sarai being both brother/sister and husband/wife, a tradition that was able to survive transmutation through many retellings, even with the strong incest taboo that is evident in other parts of Genesis (Gen 35:21 & 49:4 , 19:30-38)

On the internet, one finds a possible explanation. Abraham/Abram and Sarah/Sarai have a very striking parallel in Hindu mythology in the couple Brahma and Saraiswati, who are both brother and sister and husband and wife. The narrative parallel here has led some of the internet folks to suggest that the origin of the Hebrew religion is as a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism. According to this book, http://books.google.com/books?id=1qBTNVydxCAC&pg=PA872&lpg=PA872&dq=brahma+saraiswati&source=bl&ots=RTd0X0kfWD&sig=fg1l6TnkSxN1U-m95oTdDBGIGP0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dtQHT7_MKMXs0gHh-LCxAg&sqi=2&ved=0CFkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=brahma%20saraiswati&f=false , Jesuits suggested the connection.

There is another monotheistic tradition which comes from the Persian region which is identified as Abraham's birthplace, which is Zoroastrianism. The existence of different monotheistic traditions claiming to come from the same place suggests a common ancestry, and it could be a monotheistic Brahma cult. If you google "Brahma Saraiswati" you find lots of websites.

The sister/wife story is repeated a third time, with Isaac and Rebekah as the couple. This third repetition is in Genesis 26:7 and thereabouts. The third repetition is not as salient as the other two, but it suggests that different tribes assigned the same stories to different patriarchs. This uses Yahweh as God's identifier.

To add to this, the textual parallels between the Hindu texts and the Hebrew texts also includes Noah's ark (with Vishnu being the deity that informs the righteous man that the flood is coming). The name of Isaac might be derived from a Hindu source, as well as Hagar (from Gagar, a tributary of the Saraiswati river). It is difficult to trace such faint echoes, but the parallels are too strong to be coincidental from my point of view.

This is fascinating, because it suggests that all modern old-world religions (with the possible exception of Shintoism and certain indigineous African animist religions) have roots in Hinduism. That makes religious evolution bottlenecked at Hinduism at around the 10th century BC or earlier, when modern Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Buddhism branch out (roughly). The essential innovation in Hinduism that led to its takeover, I speculate, might have been the development of meditation as a practice. The act of meditation is included in Jewish Zohar traditions, and the Jewish prophetic tradition.

I also read somewhere that Aristotle considered the Jews to be related to the Hindu scholars. If somebody could find the Aristotle quote, that would be fantastic, I don't read Aristotle.

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    Fascinating. Would those who are downvoting also comment with reasons for the downvote, please? This is a fairly researched and well written answer.
    – Pranab
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 6:22
  • 1
    @Pranab I think the "the origin of the Hebrew religion is as a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism" is one probable reason. As is the case with the Elohist/Yahwist non-theory. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 14:25

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