Sunday, July 6, 2008

To Ur Is Human

by Marek Halter

Hi, reading friends. Sorry about the slowdown between posts. Couple of reasons. One, I have been re-reading some stuff for a "Faith in Fiction" sermon series that I am doing. Sometimes I post on a re-read, other times I don't. Have not really found what works in those cases. The second thing is that we went to NYC for a few days to visit family (hi there, T. and S.). We had a great time - visited the Children's Museum of Manhattan and spent a good chunk of the 4th in Central Park, picnicking and hanging out in one of the big playgrounds. Enjoyed some good meals and walks with T. and S., splashed around in the hotel pool, and in general had a wonderful time. We capped off the visit with ice cream and watching fireworks on T. and S.'s HDTV.

I finished this book right before we left for NYC. I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it. The guy has taken the basic story of Abraham and Sarah and embellished it, filling in things that we do not know about them for the sake of an interesting narrative. It certainly is that - he makes Sarah (then called Sarai) an infertile priestess in the temple of the goddess Ishtar who flees her luxurious life in the royal city of Ur to run off with her peasant boyfriend, Abram. He also imagines a tryst between Sarai and the Egyptian Pharaoh that drives a wedge into her relationship with Abram (this part is loosely based on a story actually in the Bible when Abram passes Sarai off as his sister to try to protect himself). In the end , God's promises to give Abram a son and make him the father of many is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac.

I realize that the biblical stories are in many cases short on detail, and that much of our task is to imagine what life was like for pivotal people like Abraham and Sarah. I certainly am no biblical literalist, but I kind of felt like this guy let his imagination run amok. I realize that a story does not have to be literally "true" to communicate truth about God and our relationship with God, but he seemed to wander so far afield that it muddies the original story. I think I prefer something like The Red Tent, which is also set in biblical times and is about an actual biblical character. The Red Tent fills in gaps in the story, but sticks close enough to the original narrative that it does not seem implausible.

In an interview with Halter at the end of the book, he says that he thinks Sarah is a "modern" woman who used what she had at her disposal (namely her stunning beauty, which in a fantastic twist Halter says is miraculously "untouched by time," I guess for the purpose of making sex between two nonagenarians believable) to get what she wanted (a child). Feminist that I am, I think this is reading too much into the story. Isaac's birth is a miracle of God's grace - Sarah had the good sense to go along with the plan, but I am not sure there is enough evidence in Genesis to warrant Halter's take on it. Nevertheless, this is a pretty entertaining read. If it sparks someone's interest in becoming more familiar with our ancestors in faith, that is a good thing.

Reverent Reader


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