Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20): Sexual Transgressions as Apologetic Interpretations in Post-biblical Jewish Sources

Vered Tohar


The story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20) is part of the great epos of the three ancestors recounted in the book of Genesis. Despite Abraham’s many positive attributes, such as righteousness and humility, this story raises troubling questions about his character, behavior, and beliefs in relation to both God and Sarah. These questions have given rise, throughout the ages, to many commentaries, interpretations and adaptations, as well as plot expansions. A comparative analysis of post-biblical commentaries highlight that the storyline expands consistently when describing Sarah’s beauty, sexuality, and attractiveness from the male point of view, especially that of the Egyptians and their king. From the point of view of Jewish exegesis, these elaborations stress the hierarchy of power within the confines of the traditional, patriarchal society. On the surface, the post-biblical versions are meant to defend Abraham’s disturbing behavior in the biblical story; in practice, however, they serve as typical expressions of male sexual discourse.

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