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Introduction, Workshop 5: Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham

In "Wisdom from the Hebrew Scriptures," a Tapestry of Faith program

Stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. — Chimamanda Adichie, contemporary Nigerian writer

The story of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham—and of their two sons—presents far more questions than answers. Although it precedes the stories of David, Moses, and Joshua in the text and in a chronological telling, it was actually added after those stories. It was meant to address broad identity questions for the Hebrew people: Who were we before we became slaves in Egypt? Where did we come from in the beginning? Who was the first Hebrew?

This workshop introduces Abraham, then called Abram, and his wife Sarah, then called Sarai, who are promised by God that they will become the ancestors of a great nation. As the tale unfolds, Sarah, who is past child-bearing years, sends her slave Hagar to Abram so that she might conceive what will by custom be Sarah's son. After this son, Ishmael, is born, God's intervention makes it possible for Sarah herself to conceive, and she gives birth to Isaac, whose descendents, we are told, are the Hebrew people. Sarah's jealousy leads her to demand that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, where they presumably will die. With God's approval, Abraham does what Sarah demands and expels Hagar and Ishmael. In the desert, an angel of God appears to Hagar when her child is near death and shows her a well, promising that Ishmael, too, will be the ancestor of a great nation.

This workshop invites participants of all ages to explore these key questions: From whose point of view is this story told? Why are the ancestors—and God—depicted in this way? Why would a people not tell a more triumphant and uplifting tale of their founding?

In the ambiguity and complexity is the wonder of this tale. The text invites us to examine a story from multiple perspectives and to pay attention to the moral critique carried in this ancient founding story of the Hebrew people. The story also tells us that God chooses people who are on the social margins to carry his story—nomads Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, who is a slave.

This workshop continues a pattern of activities that frame all workshops in this program. Congregations may establish their own patterns for this series, perhaps arranging for refreshments or a meal to precede or follow each workshop.

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction and make any accommodations necessary for your group.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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