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Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Sidnie White Crawford


or Sarai, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, according to the patriarchal narratives in Genesis. She functions as an important person in the Abraham cycle, since it is through her children with Abraham that God's promise to Abraham is reckoned. Thus, in Genesis 18, the forthcoming miraculous birth of Isaac is announced not only to Abraham, but also to Sarah, and it is her reaction—laughter—that gives Isaac his name. Sarah also plays the leading role in the story of Hagar (Gn. 16, 21), choosing to give Hagar to Abraham in order that Abraham might have a son and later driving Hagar and her son Ishmael away from the family group. Sarah's beauty plays an important role in Abraham's story as well: Twice she is taken as a wife by another man (the Pharaoh of Egypt; Abimelech, King of Gerar) on account of her beauty and is rescued from this threat to her sexual purity by God. In both stories (Gn. 12.10–20, 20), Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister in order to save himself; Genesis 20.12 explains that she is indeed his half-sister, sharing a father but not a mother.

Sarah reappears several times in the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha in her role as Abraham's wife and Isaac's mother. In Jubilees (second century bce) she merely reprises her role in Genesis (although Abraham's deception is omitted). In the Testament of Abraham (first to second century ce), she and Isaac appear at the beginning of the story in a charming portrait of family life, and it is she who recognizes Abraham's mysterious guests as angels (this agrees with the rabbinic statement in the Tanḥuma to Exodus that Sarah has prophetic powers). In the epistles of Paul (Rom. 9.6–9, Gal. 4.21–31; cf. Heb. 11.11), Sarah's role as the chosen mother of Isaac (which Paul interprets allegorically) again comes to the fore. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Sarah is the ideal model of the obedient wife (1 Pt. 3.6).

In the Qumran literature, Sarah appears in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen 1Q20), a late-second-century bce Aramaic text from Cave 1, a retelling of the biblical book of Genesis. Although the text is fragmentary, the story of Abraham and Sarah's descent into Egypt is preserved, and it contains an extended poem praising the beauty of Sarah (col. 20). This emphasis on Sarah's beauty continues in rabbinic literature, where, in Genesis Rabbah 40.4, Sarah is described as so beautiful that Abraham hides her in a chest when they cross into Egypt. The Genesis Apocryphon also mentions Sarah's great wisdom—this is in keeping with the tendency in the Second Temple period to elevate the matriarchs and patriarchs to an almost superhuman stature. However, her role as the wife of Abraham (and, we assume, if the text were preserved, as Isaac's mother) is still primary.

A second Sarah appears in the apocryphal literature found at Qumran. This is the Sarah mentioned in the book of Tobit 6–14 (late third century bce) as the daughter of Raguel and the eventual bride of Tobias. She is beset by an evil demon who has killed off her seven bridegrooms on her wedding nights; Tobias rescues her from the demon with the help of the archangel Raphael. In the four Aramaic copies and the one Hebrew copy of Tobit that were found in Cave 4 (4Q196–200), the role of Sarah is unchanged.


VanderKam, James C.“The Poetry of 1Q Ap Gen XX, 2–8a.Revue de Qumrân 37 (1979), 57–66.Find this resource:

    Sidnie White Crawford

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