Sarah of Genesis 17 : the place of women in the covenant according to the Genesis narratives

Pickering, Jordan Stuart Murray (2020-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Sarah’s covenantal status in Genesis is rendered ambiguous by God’s covenant-making speech in chapter 17: on the one hand, she is included by name in God’s plan for the first time, but on the other hand, God gives a sign of the covenant that is applied to men only. This has yielded various interpretations that attempt to reconcile this ambiguity, some of which consider her to be parallel to Ishmael—a covenant outsider. In the absence of new exegetical evidence, this study seeks evidence, particularly the dominant theme, from overarching structures and patterns in the book, in order to ascertain the meaning and purpose of the book as a work of literary communication. This provides the “grain” according to which the parts of the book can be read, and by which we can assess the place of Sarah in the book and her relationship to circumcision. The study of structure, plot, and theme suggests that Genesis is concerned with the overturning of the intrusion of curse into creation, and that the role of the “woman’s seed” is central to the unfolding of this plan. The book is structured according to the toledot motif, implying a focus on movement down the generations. The story itself traces a single line of descent from Adam to Jacob, to the exclusion, for example, of other possible branches of the family line (such as those of Ishmael and Esau), until the climactic moment at which Jacob is renamed Israel and all of his children are included. The thematic discussion underlying the story has to do with the faith implications of the covenant of blessing that God establishes with Abraham. YHWH’s promises aim at reversing the “exile” from God that is effected at Eden, and the re-establishment of covenant relationship demands dependence and faith (rather than autonomy) and blameless living. There is a strong emphasis on the promises needing to be passed on through generations in hope of their fruition, even if their fulfilment seems remote. Structural and thematic emphases on women, childbearing, and the tracing of a lineage help to establish with greater likelihood that Sarah as mother of the chosen line is fully included within the covenant. Similarly, the focus on long delays in the fulfilment of the promises helps to explain the need for a permanent mark that is passed on in perpetuity. The most likely reason that the sign of the covenant is the circumcision of male infants is that it marks the organ of generation of the next generation, pointing to hope in the fruition of promises made to the chosen line. Women are excluded from the sign because the male “planting of seed” is the action offered in hope. The woman’s production of seed (i.e., physical descendants) is incipient fulfilment of that hope. Men bear the sign, but in childbirth women bear the fulfilment, and together the parents mark on the male child the sign of hope carried forward into the next generation.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: God se verbondsrede in Genesis 17 beeld Sara se verbondstatus dubbelsinnig uit: aan die een kant word sy ingesluit in God se plan, maar aan die ander kant gee God 'n teken van die verbond wat slegs op mans van toepassing is. Verskeie interpretasies poog om sin van hierdie dubbelsinnigheid te maak. Sommige sien haar as ooreenstemmend l met Ismael— as 'n buitestaander tot die verbond. In die afwesigheid van nuwe eksegetiese bewyse, soek hierdie studie na getuienis, veral na die dominante tema, van oorkoepelende strukture en patrone in die boek, om die betekenis en doel van die boek as literêre mededeling te bepaal. Dit bied die “grein” waarvolgens die dele van die boek gelees kan word, en waardeur ons die plek van Sara in die boek en haar verhouding tot die besnydenis kan beoordeel. Die bestudering van struktuur, intrige en tema dui daarop dat Genesis gemoeid is met die omkering van die inbraak wat vloek maak in die skepping, en dat die rol van die “vroulike saad” sentraal staan in die ontvouing van hierdie plan. Die boek is gestruktureer volgens die toledot-motief, wat 'n fokus plaas op ontwikkeling deur die geslagte. Die verhaal self volg 'n enkele afstammingslyn van Adam tot Jakob, met die uitsluiting van, byvoorbeeld, ander moontlike vertakkings van die familielyn (soos dié van Ismael en Esau). Dit ontwikkel tot die klimaktiese oomblik wanneer Jakob hernoem word as Israel en al sy kinders ingesluit word. Die onderliggende temas in die verhaal het te make met die geloofsimplikasies van die seënverbond wat God met Abraham sluit. Die beloftes van YHWH is daarop gemik om die “ballingskap”—weg van God— wat by Eden plaasgevind het, om te keer, en die herstel van die verbondsverhouding vereis afhanklikheid en geloof (eerder as selfbestuur) en ‘n onberispelike leefstyl. Daar word sterk klem gelê op die beloftes wat deur geslagte oorgelewer moet word in die hoop dat dit vrugte sal dra, selfs al blyk dit dat daar slegs n geringe kans op vervulling is. Strukturele en tematiese beklemtonings van vroue, swangerskap en die naspeur van 'n geslagslyn maak dit hoogs waarskynlik dat Sara wel, as moeder van die gekose lyn, volledig in die verbond ingesluit is. Ooreenkomstig help die fokus op lang vertragings in die vervulling van die beloftes om die behoefte aan 'n permanente punt wat ewigdurend deurgegee word, te verklaar. Die mees waarskynlike rede dat die teken van die verbond die besnydenis van manlike babas is, is dat dit die geslagsorgaan van die volgende geslag betrek, en dui op hoop in die vervulling van die beloftes wat aan die gekose lyn gemaak is. Vroue word uitgesluit omdat die manlike “inplanting van saad” die aksie is wat in hoop aangebied word. Die vrou se saadproduksie (d.w.s. fisiese nasate) is die vervulling van daardie hoop. Mans dra die teken, maar tydens swangerskap dra vroue die vervulling, en saam plaas die ouers die teken van hoop wat na die volgende geslag oorgedra word op die manlike kind.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/108049
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