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Sarah Abraham.jpg
A depiction of Sarah and Abraham

Burial placeCave of the Patriarchs
unknown woman
RelativesTerah (father)
Abraham (half-brother and husband)
Haran (brother)
Lot (nephew)
Ishmael (step-son)

Sarah (Hebrew: שָׂרָה, Modern: Sara, Tiberian: Sārā; Arabic: سَارَةSārah, born שָׂרַיSārai) is a biblical matriarch and prophetess.

In the Hebrew Bible

Abram's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)


According to Genesis 20:12, in conversation with the Philistine king Abimelech of Gerar, Abraham reveals Sarah to be both his wife and his half-sister, stating that the two share a father but not a mother.[2] Such unions were later explicitly banned in Leviticus 18:9.

This would make Sarah the daughter of Terah and the half-sister of not only Abraham but Haran and Nahor. She would also have been the aunt of Lot, Milcah, Iscah, and Bethuel, by both blood and marriage. By her union with Abraham, she had one child, Isaac.[3] After her death, Abraham married Keturah, whom biblical scholars debate as to whether or not she was actually Hagar, and by her had at least six more children.

Family tree


In the biblical narrative, Sarah is the wife of Abraham. In two places in the narrative he says Sarah is his sister (Genesis 12:10 through 13:1, in the encounter with Pharaoh, and Genesis 20, in the encounter with Abimelech). Knowing Sarah to be a great beauty and fearing that the Pharaoh would kill Abraham to be with Sarah, Abraham asks Sarah to tell the Pharaoh that she is his sister (Genesis 17).

She was originally called Sarai. In the narrative of the covenant of the pieces in Genesis 17, during which Yahweh promises Abram that he and Sarai will have a son, Abram is renamed as Abraham and Sarai is renamed as Sarah. There are folk etymologies that explain their old and new names.[4]:22

Departure from Ur

Terah, with Abram (as he was then called), Sarai and Lot, departed for Canaan, but stopped in a place named Haran, where Terah remained until he died at the age of 205.[5] Yahweh had told Abram to leave his country and his father's house for a land that he would show him, promising to make of him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse "him" that curses him.[6] Following God's command, Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and slaves that they had acquired, and traveled to Shechem in Canaan. Abram was 75 at this time.[7]


Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace by James Tissot.

There was a severe famine in the land of Canaan, so Abram and Lot and their households travelled south to Egypt. On the journey to Egypt, Abram instructed Sarai to identify herself only as his sister, fearing that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take his wife, saying,

I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'this is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.[8]

When brought before Pharaoh, Sarai said that Abram was her brother, and the king thereupon took her into his palace and bestowed upon Abram many presents and marks of distinction. However, God afflicted Pharaoh's household with great plagues.[9] Pharaoh then realized that Sarai was Abram's wife and demanded that they leave Egypt immediately.[10]

Hagar and Ishmael

Banishment of Hagar, Etching. À Paris chez Fr. Fanet, Éditeur, Rue des Saints Pères n° 10. 18th century. Sarah is seen at the left, looking on.

After having lived in Canaan for ten years and still childless, Sarai suggested that Abram have a child with her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar, to which he agreed. This resulted in tension between Sarai and Hagar, and Sarai complained to her husband that the handmaid no longer respected her.[11] At one point, Hagar fled from her mistress but returned after angels consoled her. She gave birth to Abram's son Ishmael when Abram was eighty-six years old.[12]


In Genesis 17 when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God declared his new name: "Abraham" – "a father of many nations", and gave him the covenant of circumcision. God gave Sarai the new name "Sarah", and blessed her.[13] Abraham was given assurance that Sarah would have a son. Not long afterwards, Abraham and Sarah were visited by three men. One of the visitors told Abraham that upon his return next year, Sarah would have a son. While at the tent entrance, Sarah overheard what was said, and she laughed to herself about the prospect of having a child at their ages. The visitor inquired of Abraham why Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a child, for her age was as nothing to God. Sarah soon became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham, at the very time which had been spoken. The patriarch, then a hundred years old, named the child "Isaac" (Hebrew yitschaq, "laughter") and circumcised him when he was eight days old.[14] For Sarah, the thought of giving birth and nursing a child, at such an old age, also brought her much laughter, as she declared, "God had made me to laugh, [so that] all that hear will laugh with me."[15] Abraham held a great feast on the day when Isaac was to be weaned. It was during this banquet that Sarah happened upon the then teenaged Ishmael mocking Isaac[16] and was so disturbed that she requested that both he and Hagar be banished.[17] Abraham was initially distressed by this but relented when told by God to do as his wife had asked.[18]


After being visited by the three men, Abraham and Sarah settled between Kadesh and Shur in the land of the Philistines. While he was living in Gerar, Abraham again claimed that Sarah was his sister. King Abimelech subsequently had her brought to him. Later, God came to Abimelech in a dream and declared that taking her would result in death because she was a married woman. Abimelech, who had not laid hands on her, inquired if he would also slay a righteous nation, especially since Abraham had claimed that he and Sarah were siblings. In response, God told Abimelech that he did indeed have a blameless heart and that was why he continued to exist. However, if he did not return Sarah to Abraham, God would surely destroy Abimelech and his entire household. Abimelech was informed that Abraham was a prophet who would pray for him.[19]

Early next morning, Abimelech informed his servants of his dream and approached Abraham inquiring as to why he had brought such great guilt upon his kingdom. Abraham replied that he thought there was no fear of God in that place, and that they might kill him for his wife. Then Abraham defended what he had said as not being a lie at all: "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife."[20] Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, and gave him gifts of sheep, oxen, and servants; and invited him to settle wherever he pleased in Abimelech's lands. Further, Abimelech gave Abraham a thousand pieces of silver to serve as Sarah's vindication before all. Abraham then prayed for Abimelech and his household, since God had stricken the women with infertility because of the taking of Sarah.[21]


Sarah dies at the age of 127, and Abraham buys a piece of land with a cave near Hebron from Ephron the Hittite in which to bury her, which is the first land owned by the Israelites in Canaan according to the biblical narrative. The place became known as the Cave of the Patriarchs.[22][4]:26

Later Hebrew Bible references

Sarah is mentioned alongside Abraham in Isaiah 51:2:

Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you.

New Testament references

The First Epistle of Peter praises Sarah for obeying her husband.[23] She is praised for her faith in the Hebrews "hall of faith" passage alongside a number of other Old Testament figures.[24] Other New Testament references to Sarah are in Romans[25] and Galatians.[26] In Galatians 4, she and Hagar are used as an allegory of the old and new covenants:

"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother...Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise...Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman."[27]

Religious views

In Judaism

Sarah first appears in the Book of Genesis, while the Midrash and Aggadah provide some additional commentary on her life and role within Judaism and its ancestral form, Yahwism. She is born Sarai (Hebrew: שָׂרַי) in Ur Kaśdim, or Ur of the Chaldees, believed to have been in present-day Iraq, 1,958 Anno Mundi, according to the Hebrew calendar. She was the daughter of Haran[28] and the granddaughter of Terah, an idolater who worshiped the Moon god Nanna[29] and high-ranking servant of Nimrod,[citation needed] the king of Shinar, or Mesopotamia, but not of his wife, Amathlai. Her name is a feminine form of sar (Hebrew: שַׂר‎), meaning "chieftain" or "prince".[citation needed] Through Terah, she would have been a 10th-generation descendant of Noah, still alive,[citation needed] living in the Mountains of Ararat, and over nine centuries old at the time of her birth. No details are given as to her life or her religious beliefs before Abraham's return to Ur Kaśdim to thwart Nimrod's efforts to proclaim himself a god. It is known she wed Abraham, then called Abram, sometime between the ages of forty and five and following her husband's public humiliation of Nimrod, she, along with her father Terah, her orphaned nephew Lot, her manservant Eliezer, and some three hundred others left Ur Kaśdim for Canaan, the present-day Levant, to save Abraham from a plot by Nimrod to destroy him, commanded to do so by Yahweh.[citation needed]

En route to Canaan, the group stopped in Harran, in present-day Turkey, settling there for some twenty years, until Yahweh urged them to move on and so, they left Terah behind, to live out his days, and traveled through Shechem and Bethel, both cities in the present-day West Bank, and, when a famine strikes the region, to Mizraim, present-day Egypt. While in Mizraim, Sarah's beauty attracts the attention of Pharaoh and Abraham, fearing the Egyptians would kill him if they knew Sarah were married to him, introduces himself as her brother and so, Pharaoh bestows upon Abraham great wealth, in the form of livestock and slaves, including Hagar, so that he may take Sarah as his concubine, to live in his palace with him.[citation needed] For Pharaoh's unintentional transgression against Abraham, he and members of his household, save for Sarah, are stricken with plague. Pharaoh then realizes that Abraham is Sarah's husband, not only her brother. Despite Abraham's willful deceit of Pharaoh, Pharaoh does not punish Abraham nor does he require the return of the wealth Abram was given in exchange for Sarah. However, he orders them to leave Mizraim. After leaving Mizraim, Lot splits from their group amicably. He eventually settles in Sodom, over disputes related to the livestock.

They returned to Canaan, and a decade passed and still, she and Abraham had no children. Thus, Sarah offered Hagar, her slavewoman, as a concubine to her husband so that he may have a child. Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael. During Hagar's pregnancy, Sarah and Hagar's relationship deteriorated rapidly, with Sarah striking her and Hagar fleeing into the desert to avoid her, returning only at the urging of angels. Yahweh then told Abraham that Sarah would give to him a son. Sarah, then ninety years old, laughed at this idea. But, as prophesied, she became pregnant with Isaac and she nursed him herself. She would ultimately demand that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away and so, Abraham banished them and sent them into the desert.

Sometime after the birth of Ishmael but before the birth of Isaac, Sarah and Abraham travel to Gerar, as described in Genesis 20, where events took place which mirrored those of Mizraim, in which a king, this time Abimelech, took an interest in Sarah for her beauty and, as he had done in Mizraim, Abraham presented himself as her brother instead of her husband and so, believing her unmarried Abimelech took her into her house as Pharaoh had though, this time, Yahweh intervened before he touched Sarah, through dreams and plague. Abimelech confronted Abraham, angry that his lie had caused him to provoke the wrath of a god, but, also like Pharaoh, he bestows great wealth upon Abraham. The two men part amicably, with Abraham saying he will pray for the king, who is childless and without an heir.

It is said that Sarah died at the age of one hundred and twenty seven years, caused in part by the events of the Binding of Isaac. She is buried in Kiryat Arba, in Hebron, in the Cave of Machpela.

Tomb of Sarah

Mausoleum of Sarah, 1911.

Sarah is believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs (known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham). The compound, located in the ancient city of Hebron, is the second holiest site for Jews (after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), and is also venerated by Christians and Muslims, both of whom have traditions which maintain that the site is the burial place of three biblical couples; Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.[30]

Relationship to Abraham

There are three stories in Genesis where a patriarch identifies his wife as his sister; scholars debate the relationship among these, with some saying that the account of the encounter of Abraham and Sarah with Pharaoh in Genesis 12-13 is the oldest, while the stories of Abraham and Sarah encounter King Abimelech in Genesis 20, and of Isaac and Rebecca's encounter with a different King Abimelech in Genesis 26, are interpretations of that one, generated to explain it or deal with other matters of concern. It is not clear which of the stories is actually older, or what the intent of the editors of the Bible may have been.[31]

According to Emanuel Feldman (1965), basing his argument on Albright's interpretation of the archaeology of Nuzu, a wife could legally be awarded the title "sister", and that this was the most sacred form of marriage, and hence Abraham and Isaac referred to their wives as "sisters" for this reason.[citation needed] Most archaeologists[who?] however dispute that view, instead arguing the opposite - that sisters in the region were often awarded the title "wife" in order to give them much greater status in society.[32] Savina Teubal's book Sarah the Priestess posits that while Sarah was indeed both Abram's wife and sister, there was no incest taboo because she was a half-sister by a different mother.[33]


  1. "Sarah/Sarai: Bible | Jewish Women's Archive".
  2. "Bible Gateway passage: Genesis 20:12". New King James Version. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2019-08-28.
  3. "Ishmael: Abraham's Other Son". Chabad. Retrieved 2019-08-28.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Clifford, Richard J; Murphy, Roland E. (1990). "2: Genesis". In Brown, Raymond E.; Fitzmyer, Joseph A.; Murphy, Roland E. (eds.). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13614934-0.
  5. Genesis 11:27–11:32
  6. Genesis 12:1–3
  7. Genesis 12:4
  8. {{bibleverse|Genesis|12:11-13|NIV
  9. Genesis 12:14–17
  10. Genesis 12:18–20
  11. Genesis 16:1–6
  12. Genesis 16:7–16
  13. Genesis 17:1–27
  14. Genesis 21:4
  15. Genesis 21:6–7
  16. Genesis 21:9
  17. Genesis 21:10
  18. Genesis 21:12
  19. Genesis 20:1–7
  20. Genesis 20:12
  21. Genesis 20:8–18
  22. Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2009). "Abraham as Paradigm in the Priestly History in Genesis". Journal of Biblical Literature. 128 (2): 225–41. doi:10.2307/25610180. JSTOR 25610180.
  23. 1 Peter 3:6, cited in Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sara" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  24. Hebrews 11:11
  25. Romans 4:19 and 9:9, cited in Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sara" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  26. Galatians 4:22–23
  27. Galatians 4:22-26, 28, 31, NIV
  28. "Genesis 20:12". Retrieved 2020-06-14. See Rashi commentary: "If, however, you ask, “But was she not his brother’s daughter? (see chapter 11:29, and so she was granddaughter of Terah, Abraham’s father), then I reply, one’s children’s children are considered as one’s own children."
  29. "Abraham - The Genesis narrative in the light of recent scholarship". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  30. Easton's Bible Dictionary "Machpelah"
  31. Alexander, T. D. (1992). "Are the Wife/Sister Incidents of Genesis Literary Compositional Variants?". Vetus Testamentum. 42 (2): 145–153. doi:10.1163/156853392x00017. JSTOR 1519495.
  32. Emanuel Feldman. Changing patterns in Biblical criticism. Tradition 1965; 7(4) and 1966; 8(5).
  33. Savina Teubal (1984). Sarah The Priestess: The First Matriarch Of Genesis. ISBN 978-0-8040-0844-0.

External links

Template:Prophets of the Tanakh