My analysis of


Reading the Bible as an outsider to the Semitic religions, I would say Abraham’s life is full of contradictions and his story as per the Bible is rather convoluted.

Chief reason his descendents have no peace is, there was a great divide between his sons before and after birth.  This has put the sons – and their descendents – at odds for all times.  There is only one way to complete this cycle and not have it repeat itself – for one or both sides to give up their insistence on “rights” and act in true spirit of brotherhood.  If one side let go, the other-side would automatically have nothing to fight “for or against”.  But by looking at the situation in the Middleeast at present, it does not look like that will happen. 


God as guest of Abraham

God came as men to Abraham’s tent.  Does this mean God can be seen or worshiped in human form ?  If so, all iconoclasm of Christianity and Islam are in vain ! 

In ancient worlds, especially in the nomadic communities, guests were given special privileges and were worshiped as Gods !  Even now, there is an Indian saying, “Atithi devo bhava” – “Guest is as good as God”.  This is especially true if the guest comes unexpected and doubly so if the guest is unknown to you.  Treating strangers with such special love and care was considered meritorious and an essential responsibility of being a householder.  Even now, when guests come to an Indian house, they are treated honourably and given the best there is in the house.  So Abraham doing the same with his guests is not new – at least not to the Eastern world.

Sarah laughed at her guest’s blessing that she will have a child.  It was natural and normal for her to consider her guest’s blessing to be preposterous, especially at her age.  It was equally natural for her to deny that she laughed.  It would have been bad manners for her to have laughed at a blessing given by a guest.  Women in that part of the world were suppose to keep themselves out of sight of strangers.  Beautiful women feared being kidnapped or being the cause of fights in those days and so kept out of sight from strangers.  Even now, one of the main reasons why muslim women cover their faces is because they do not want to be lusted by strangers who may use violent means to get them.  Out of good manners, women and children were suppose to stay out of ear-shot.  Sarah was advanced in age and so would not have feared been “seen” by strangers.  But it was still bad manners to interrupt a conversation between her guest and her husband.  Sarah did the best she could to salvage the “loss of face” Abraham would be feeling at the time and denied that she had laughed.  This story is more about good manners than about obedience or disobedience to God.  It was possibly a tale to remind women that no matter what their age or station in life, they should not interfere in matter or men.  In later years, this moral tale became a spiritual one when the guests became GOD himself.


Abraham’s circumcision as the sign of holy covenant

Circumcision may have been the only way to unlock his fertility.  There are medical and physical constraints if your foreskin can’t retract sufficiently for you to-be able to have a normal intercourse.  Maybe, that was the reason why Abraham had his son soon after his circumcision and went on to father 7 sons after the operation.  Circumcision certainly isn’t a unique act of faith or coming of age ceremony in the Middle East.  It was and is practiced by tribes around the world and many do it when the boys obtain puberty.  Maybe ancient man realised that the foreskin can cause sexual complications and so insisted on removing the physical barrier just before boys became men.  Maybe the other reasons for removing the foreskin is because it makes the male genitals look “bigger” and “ready for action”.  Abraham certainly benefited from having the foreskin removed.  He obviously decided to have it practised on his sons from birth rather than wait till puberty.


Abraham and his relationship with women

Abraham comes across as a weak man.  A man of mature years, desperate for a heir, is afraid to remarry or use his prerogative as a “man” of the Middle-East to take another woman to bed !  Even when he does, with his wife’s permission, he is afraid of her and banishes his first born while his concubine is still pregnant !  Would you call him a man or a mouse ?  He was obviously unable to stand up to Sarah and was very much under her thumb. 

Abraham’s wife, having consented to having a son from her maid, was dismayed when the slave became pregnant !  Did she not consider this possibility before giving the permission ?  Maybe, she thought the problem of fertility lay with Abraham and not her.  By offering the maid, she was trying to appear generous and clear herself of any blame for Abraham being childless.  But, when the maid became pregnant, Sarah realised that the reason Abraham had no children till now was probably her !  Which woman can take that sort of responsibility !   Especially in those days when fertility was the corner stone of social status – especially for women !!  Sarah disliked the idea of her maid rising above her station in life and becoming more equal to her !  She banished a pregnant woman in to the desert and Abraham let this happen !


Sarah being the “sister” of Abraham

Calling your wife “sister” was a common term of endearment in the near-middle-east.  Infact, in some communities, you could only inherit from the women born in the family and so brothers often married their sisters in order to secure their inheritance.  Most obvious example is that of the Pharaohs.  The double crown could only be passed though the female line and hence Pharaohs often married princesses of the royal blood to consolidate their grip on power – sometimes even marrying their step-daughters to confirm their claims.  So, Abraham, calling his wife “sister”, wouldn’t have saved him from the jealousy of the Pharaoh or the Canaanite king.  Both would have known that as a brother, he may very well have been her husband.  So here, modern interpretation of the ancient text does not stand up to facts and actually confuses the matter.  Why would Abraham declare his sexual claim on Sarah if he intended to keep it a secret ?  At this time, this is an unresolved point for me.  Abraham also declares that Sarah is his step-sister – they share a father though not the mother.  So he agrees, he hasn’t lied and has had incestuous relationship with his step-sister – a common enough an occurrence in the near-middle-east.  Islam has helped spread this practice of marrying within the family (cousins) to other parts of the globe.  This means cousins often marry to keep the inheritance within the family. 


Abraham and his relationship with his 1st born

Even after the child was born, there could have been no peace between the women and Abraham’s household must have been under constant stress caused by the strained relationship between the official wife and the consort who has birthed the only heir. 

When Sarah had her own child, her jealousy and hate for the first born son of Abraham exploded.  She nagged and schemed till Abraham pushed out his own son, his first born into the desert to die !  Once again, the son survived, but, enmity now existed like never before.  Ishmael knew his step mother intended to kill him and so never went back while she was alive.  Seeing as his father did not stand by him or his mother, he saw no reason to go back even when his tormentor was dead.  What would be the point ?  He must have reasoned that he who could not protect him when he was in the womb or as a teenager, and had no love for him !  Having made a life for himself in the desert, there was no reason fro Ishmael to go back to his father.  To add insult to injury, his father remarried and had six other children after Sarah died, but never recalled his former consort or his first born son.  What love can there be between father and son after that ? 

Sure, he came at the funeral, but that was more a social obligation, a final goodbye and closure.  There was nothing he needed or wanted from a father who had always been as good as “absent” in his life.  Ishmael must have been a bitter man to have had a father like Abraham. 

For all his love for Isaac, Abraham did try to sacrifice him and that must have had a negative impact on their father-son relationship.  Abraham’s sons from the second wife would have known about the exile of the first born and near murder of the second one.  This would have made them weary of their aging father.  Yes, they united to bury him, but, how much love did they have for him ?  Hard to say.


Lot and his legacy

Lot – by Bible’s own account, his daughters lived in a very licentious place.  They may have also have been with Lot during their sojourn in Egypt, where they had seen how fathers wed their daughters for inheritance.  Having seen their world go up in flames, the girls may have felt that they were sufficiently shielded from social scrutiny and could have sex with their father to sire children of their own.  Argument that they did this to populate the world seems ingeniously false – once again – the lady doth protest too much !  These girls lived in a relatively cosmopolitan city and would have known about nomads who travelled the deserts – like their grand uncle – and so the world wasn’t exactly empty of men.  They themselves would have heard about their father’s travels from Ur to Egypt and back and would have known that destruction of one city does not denote destruction of the world.  As nomads, they would have come across several ruins of cities swallowed up by sand, ruined by war or abandoned due to famine.  These were no babes in the wood.  They lived in Sodom after all ! 

The Bible was written by the descendents of Abraham – not Lot.  So Abraham’s descendents had to have a reason to discredit and thus disinherit the progeny of Lot.  What better way to do it than to say they were conceived in sin ! and hence are illegitimate – unworthy of inheriting the Land promised by God to Abraham !!! 


Lady doth protest too much !

Let’s not forget, the Bible as we know it, was written much after the event and was written to

1)      consolidate and preserve the oral history
2)      reinforce Jewish claim to the land they had conquered from their neighbours.   

They did this by

1) Establishing an ancestry that went back to over a thousand years (hence difficult to validate – especially after a devastating war in which they were exiled)
2) Repeating ad-nuseum that the land was promised to them by God
3) There was a covenant – a legal contract – between Jews and God which meant that as long as they circumcised their children, they had right to this land !  How tenuous is that ?  How absurd is that ?  especially when you consider many tribes circumcised their male and female children in that region.   


Promised Land

Biblical / Jewish claim of “God gave us this land” sounds almost hollow from frequent repetition.  It’s a bit like “Lady doth protest too much !” 

Why would God promise you land but not deliver it to you ? 

Why would the land not be vacant ? 

How was God proposing to evict the incumbent population, currently living on the land he promised to Abraham and his descendents ? 

Wouldn’t the incumbent population be aggrieved if God or “his people” threw them out ?

If this land was to be given to the Jews, why did God let it be populated by non-Jews ? 

Why was the Promised Land used by God as a “carrot” everytime God decided to punish or reward the Jews ?

Of all the pieces of land GOD has under his domain, the so called “fertile crescent” is certainly not the best.  Even if we stay in the Middle-East, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran and Turkey are better in terms of weather, fertility, stability etc.  Why choose Israel, the most unpromising of all lands as the Promised Land ?


Part of the problem is, no one has tried to call the God of Abraham to account for non-delivery of the central promise of “promised land”. 






Return to Index

Return to Bhagwat's main page

Return to ShriNathji's Haveli 

© Bhagwat Shah
[email protected]