We have been looking today at Abraham and Isaac and their similarities and deciding that rather than a belief that this is one story adapted for different purposes or the same story recorded three times with discrepancies- man is alien in foreign land, man has beautiful wife, man fears his death as a consequence and asks wife to declare she is his sister (yes, there's a lot more besides), it is perhaps more about our tendency as human beings to repeat behaviours and even for those behaviours to be repeated by our children. It could have happened again and again and again and as far as Abimelech having just about the longest reign one could imagine, there might be a second Abimelech, his name seems to connote Prince, so it could be a different Abimelech.
So we're redaction critics rather than source or form critics:
THE patriarchal narratives of Genesis contain three accounts of a patriarch passing his wife off as his sister out of fear for his own life (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18; and 26:1-11). For the source critic, this is a classic example of multiple versions of the same original story, demonstrating a multiplicity of sources underlying our present book of Genesis.1 For the OT form critic, they provide a rare opportunity to compare three parallel accounts and postulate an origin and development in the oral and literary tradition.For the redaction critic, they present a challenge to explain how the accounts function in their present contexts; i.e., not as variant versions of one event, but as different episodes in the lives of Abraham and Isaac.(Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 1-27.)
Source critics argue that there is one story, Gen 12 and the other two stories are derived from this source. They make much of Sarah's age and do not seem to think it possible that a woman might be beautiful in her sixties or eighties. Are they imposing upon the text modern definitions about time or beauty, I wonder? If we set her age within the lifespan which we are told that people lived to in those days, she is not actually old - something to think about!
The form critics think that the story started in the oral tradition and was told around the camp fires and became elaborated over time and as the story changed, the setting in life changed; Isaac was supplanted by Abraham etc
My analysis above is a bit crass, I know, but in essence we were debating some of these very things. As I am discovering with much theology study, there are no right answers, only that God speaks truth but we quite often mess up in our interpretations of that truth. Wow, I so wish I'd been there on the Emmaus road when Jesus opened up the scriptures. Will just have to wait, I guess. My heart burns indeed and it just feels like the most amazing privilege to be discussing God's Word all day but it does actually, literally, make my head hurt - every Wednesday I drive home singing my heart out in the car, but also with such a headache from 5 hours of seminars and lectures (note to self: perhaps the singing doesn't help!).
There seems to be such a range of opinion out there and discernment is required regarding which scholarly opinions to listen to and read. Sometimes the faith-shaking stuff has to be read and then prayers need to be said so that it doesn't shake the faith too much. A lot of it has to grappled with by the head, whilst the heart sings its own song, regardless.
So truth. Truth? God's truth - never to be doubted. Truth measured - impossible. Truth pinned down semantically - no. Truth - literal - to be debated. Truth - symbolic - yes but no - it's way bigger than this. God's truth is simply in a class of its own and we will never really be able to grasp it with language. 39 Articles - only 39 - yes. They would have been there until the end of time- trillions of billions of Articles - well there are just too many opinions, I suppose.