Hagar the Egyptian: A Note on the Allure of Egypt in the Abraham Cycle -- By: Iain M. Duguid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 56:2 (Fall 1994)
Article: Hagar the Egyptian: A Note on the Allure of Egypt in the Abraham Cycle
Author: Iain M. Duguid

Hagar the Egyptian:
A Note on the Allure of Egypt in the Abraham Cycle

Iain M. Duguid

The Book of Genesis displays more than a passing interest in the fact that Hagar’s country of origin is the land of Egypt. She is introduced as “an Egyptian slave-girl” in Gen 16:1 and her ethnic origin is underlined in v. 3, where she is described as “Hagar the Egyptian.” When she runs away from Sarai, the angel of the Lord encounters her “on the way to Shur” (v. 7), which is located on the borders of Egypt. In chap. 21, when mention of Hagar re-appears in the story as mother of the mocking Ishmael, she is again described as “Hagar the Egyptian” (Gen 21:9). She is the person who introduces an Egyptian daughter-in-law into the family (21:21), and when Ishmael’s descendants are listed she is once more called “Hagar the Egyptian” (25:12). M. Tsevat is thus fully justified when he comments: “Hagar’s relation to Egypt receives more than its ordinary narrative due.”1

From whence does this interest in Hagar’s origins spring? It has been pointed out by several commentators that in Sarai’s oppression of the Egyptian slave-girl there is a foreshadowing of Israel’s Exodus experience—only in reverse.2 This seems very probable. Yet it seems to me that there is also another theme at work here. Briefly put, this theme is the continuing contrast between the apparent prosperity and fruitfulness of Egypt compared with the apparent barrenness of the Promised Land.

This theme first appears early in the Abraham cycle. Abram has no sooner entered Canaan than he finds that land unable to support him: “Now there was a famine in the land” (Gen 12:12). This simple statement hardly augurs well for the future. The solution which occurs to Abram is straightforward. There is food in Egypt, so why not go down to Egypt for a while? Egypt appears fruitful; the Promised Land is barren.

The next emergence of this theme occurs in an apparently insignificant reference to Egypt in Genesis 13. The writer describes the plain of the Jordan as “well-watered

everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (Gen 13:10). Commenting on this passage...

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