Thursday, 23 May 2013
Are You Trapped In God’s Love Triangle? By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Before Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles; before Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie; before Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn, there were Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.
Typically people in the Bible do not behave like real human beings. But Abraham, Sarah and Hagar did. Together they created the first love triangle with far reaching implications that continued till this day.
According to the Bible, following the failure of God’s Plan A – Adam and Eve, and Plan B, Noah, God chose Abraham; a descendant of Noah’s son Shem for Plan C. God must have known that He chose trouble. Abraham’s trouble became synonymous with God’s trouble; then. And now.
Abraham was married to Sarah who was barren when God made a covenant with him. God’s covenant was that he would make a great nation out of Abraham. The problem was that Abraham did not have any child. Sarah thus approached Abraham and offered him her Egyptian handmaid Hagar and asked him to sleep with her so that he could have a baby. Abraham slept with Hagar and she had a baby named Ishmael.
Ishmael was 14 years old when Sarah had a baby named Isaac. Sarah became jealous of Hagar. She ordered Abraham to send her and Ishmael away so that they could not share in Abraham’s inheritance. Abraham was distressed by what Sarah said. He asked God for advice. God told Abraham to do what his wife said, informing him that Isaac would be the seed on which his nation would be built but also reassuring him that Ishmael would lead a nation too because he was also from Abraham.
Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael water and bread and sent them away. As Abraham watched Hagar and Ishmael walk away, he knew they faced death in the wilderness as soon as they ran out of water and food.
This became a critical point in the Biblical world. Hagar wept. Sarah ranted. And Abraham grieved.
But Hagar and Ishmael did not die. When their water and food ran out, Ishmael called on God who sent His angel to them. The angel confirmed to Hagar that Ishmael would make a great nation. The angel made a well of water to appear. Hagar and Ishmael thrived and eventually Hagar got Ishmael a wife from Egypt.
From Sarah and Isaac came Jacob, the father of Judaism. And from Ishmael came Muhammad, the father of Islam.
Of course, Jesus traced his lineage back to Abraham. Christians make claim to Abraham’s covenant with God.
And so the three major Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam emerged from one particular love triangle.
The fight between Sarah and Hagar continued. In the Jewish-Muslim divide is this fight. In the Christian-Arab divide is this fight too. To a large extent, the 9/11 terrorist attack is a continuation of this fight. And so is the raging Boko Haram carnage in Northern Nigeria.
In “The Woman Who Named God,” Charlotte Gordon described Abraham as “more like an Updike character than an ancient as he stands at his tent, torn between duty and desire, his love for one woman and his responsibility to another, and tormented by faith in a God whose motivations he doesn’t always understand.” Beyond the myths, Abraham is seen as another man battling normal emotions. Others see him as one completely obedient to God.
In some historical viewpoint, Sarah is seen as a good wife who wanted her husband to be happy. She is also seen as a jealous wife who pushed away her husband’s child. Some Muslims have not forgiven her for that. Some Jews following Sarah’s thinking still insist that the children of Ishmael are not inheritors of God’s promises to Abraham.
Hagar is seen as a slave who was used and dumped. In other viewpoints, she is seen as a single woman who struggled to make it in spite of all odds. Some Muslims, children of Ishmael have not forgiven the treatment meted out to Hagar.
In this love triangle comes several questions. What is the true line of inheritance? What is a family? What kind of sexual encounter is right? Why did Abraham ask Sarah to lie to Pharaoh? Why did Sarah offer Hagar to Abraham? Why did Hagar mock Sarah? Who and who are children of Abraham? Who is not? Could one be child of God without being a child of Abraham?
Abraham loved two women. God asked him to choose one. What would have happened had Abraham ignored God and let Hagar live with him and raise their Ishmael together with Isaac?
Some scholars believe that Abraham’s second wife, Keturah, is Hagar. She returned after the death of Sarah.
When Abraham died at the age of 175, Ishmael and Isaac travelled to Hebron to bury him. Reconciliation came at Abraham’s death. The same cannot be said of the three religions that originated from him.
What we know for sure is that the real Abraham came out of a sophisticated Sumerian culture of over 4000 years ago that gave us writing, art and the sailboat. He was an educated man from a successful family who was seeking greatness. He traveled along the most advanced centers of the ancient world of his time and did what every Sumerian immigrant would have done.
It was over 1000 years after Abraham’s death that his story was recorded in the palace of King Solomon. Imagine recording your grandfather’s story some 1000 years from now. How much of what really happened can anyone capture? How much of the story would be embellishment?
Biblical scholars believe that the story of Abraham as recorded in Genesis emerged from 6th and 5th century literary ideas. It aimed at reassuring Israelites in exile that despite the destruction of Jerusalem, there is hope. Historically, the 2nd millennium history of Canaan has nothing in common with the stories in Genesis. What the story of Abraham did was to translate the concept of the Sumerian personal god into a creator-personal god of a people. The new god was non-human but yet humanized enough that he needed Abraham.
It is never easy to doubt things. You need to be armed with critical thinking utensils in order to withstand the spell of today’s explanation of yesterday’s questions. The mist of yesterday’s mystery clears with the emergence of a bright morning sun. Whether we believe these characters actually existed or not, Abraham, Sarah and Hagar’s love triangle has continued to define how we see ourselves and how we see others. Theirs was what Rev. John R. Coats called the first soap opera.
In the world of today, those who are not ‘lost in the confusion of their understanding’ are ‘lost in the understanding of their confusion’. Jonathan Swift said that “you cannot reason someone out of a belief they didn’t reason themselves into.” As China and India rise, there is hope that in the next century mankind may experience a world not dominated by those trapped in God’s love triangle. Are you trapped in God’s love triangle?