Alice C. Linsley
The Patriarchs of Genesis married according to the pattern of their Horite ruler-priest caste. The rulers had two wives. One was a half-sister (as was Sarah to Abraham) and the other was a patrilineal cousin or niece (as was Keturah to Abraham). Genesis has numerous narratives involving the sister-wife. The cousin/niece wife is prominent in the genealogial information as well as in the narratives. Naamah, Oholibamah and Rebekah are examples of "cousin" brides. The wife narratives reveal a great deal about Abraham’s people and their kinship pattern.
The sister-wife narratives of Genesis 12, 20 and 26 involve a powerful ruler who takes the patriarch’s wife as his own. This appears to be motivated by the desire for greater status and/or territorial ambitions, which indicates that these were women of high rank.
In the sister-wife narratives, the ruler’s error is recognized, though the patriarch in both cases is not considered blameless. To rectify his misdeed, the ruler returns the woman to her husband along with livestock and servants so that her brother is richer than before. Even today such ploys are sometimes used in Africa and among tribal peoples to acquire wealth.
In both accounts the rulers are portrayed as righteous leaders who do not wish to bring evil upon their people by committing adultery. This suggests a common moral code for rulers of Egypt and Philistia. In fact, the rulers of Egypt and Philistia were related. They recognized in Sarah not only a beautiful woman of high standing, but also a devotee of God’s son, Horus.
Discrepancies Speak Volumes
There are interesting discrepancies in the parallel stories of Genesis 12 and Genesis 20. In the earlier narrative it is the king of Egypt who takes Sarah. This resulted in plagues upon Pharaoh’s house. The Exodus plagues, by this account, are not a new experience for the rulers of Egypt. The theme of plagues suggests that this version of the story comes from a time well after Abraham and Sarah.
In the Genesis 20 narrative, which is connected to the Philistines of Gerar, God came to the ruler in a dream and warned him not to touch Sarah. In this account Abraham is recognized as a prophet whose prayers for the royal house of Philistia will reverse the curse.
Why should two rulers want Sarah? Who was Sarah that she should bring status to the royal house of Egypt and the royal house of Philistia? Besides being beautiful, Sarah was the daughter of Terah, a great ruler whose vast Mesopotamian territory stretched between Ur and Harran.
There is another important discrepancy to note between Genesis 20 and Genesis 26. When Abraham says that Sarah is his sister, he is telling the truth. According to Genesis 20:12, she was his half-sister. Keturah was his patrilineal cousin wife. However, in Genesis 26, Isaac lies when he reports that Rebekah is his sister (verse 7). Rebekah was his niece wife, not his sister wife. Isaac’s half-sister bride lived in the area of Beersheba. Why would Isaac lie? Perhaps this is a ploy to accumulate riches, as had happened with his fatehr Abraham. Here Isaac shows himself to be grasping and deceptive. Perhaps Jacob's deception of his father and grasping from his brother were behaviors he had learned from his family?
Cousin Wives of High Rank
The cousin wives of the Patriarchs were women of rank also. They were the daughters of ruler-priests. Their first-born sons ascended to the throne of their maternal grandfathers. This is evident in the throne names which they receive from their mother. So we have Joktan the Elder and Joktan the Younger, Sheba the Elder and Sheba the Younger, Esau the Elder and Esau the Younger, etc. We see this with Lamech's daughter Naamah (Gen. 4:22). She married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah and their first-born son was nasmed Lamech after her father. E.A. Speiser observed this pattern and called the maternal grandfather "Lamech the Elder" and the grandson "Lamech the Younger." These throne names are easily traced and make it possible to trace Jesus' ancestry back to Genesis 4 and 5.