From my earliest days I had assumed that Sarai was my mother. And she used to tell me she was raised as a Sumerian in the greatest civilization the world had ever known.
When I asked about the Sumerians I got my first geography lesson. "We belong to the Shemitic group of nations (Genesis 10:22). Our dialects are similar, and we can still understand one another. Our own Sumerian ancestor was Arpachshad (10:22-24, 11:10-13) and your father Abram and I were married in the seaport city of Ur" (near present day Basra in Iraq).
As a boy I loved to hear the stories of ships moving up and down the Euphrates, and the vessels that traveled to our colonies all the way to India. I heard about Dilmun (present day Bahrein) and Magan (Muscat in Oman) and Meluhha with its fabulous cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa (in the province of Sindh, Pakistan).
Most of my education consisted of Sarai drilling into me our Shemitic ancestry. "Another branch of our Shemitic race were the Arameans in the great bend of the Euphrates. Your grandfather Terah (2022--1817) decided to settle among them (11:31-32), and still lives there with your cousin Bethuel (24:15). We settled near the town of Haran, named after your uncle who died back in Ur (11:28). Your father and I lived there happily till we moved to this miserable country fifteen years ago.
My mother told us we had lost touch with our Lydian cousins who moved west in the direction of the Black Sea (10:22, Lud in Central Turkey). And there was a branch descended from Asshur at the head of the Tigris river (10:11, 22). But we still had trading contacts with the Elamites who lived to the east of our city of Ur on the north side of the Persian Gulf (10:22, 14:1).
My mother often referred with great hatred to the mighty Hunter Nimrod (10:8,9) who took over her beautiful city of Ur. I wanted to know what kinds of animal Nimrod hunted? "He hunted other people like animals."
Before I could ask more, Sarai quickly changed the subject to explain about the Japhetites (10:2). "They roamed from the islands of the Great Sea (later called Greece) up into the northern steppes (10:5). The problem with Japhetites is that they view themselves as Aryans destined to rule the world. They speak a totally distinct barbaric language (now called Indo-European). An ancient prophecy indicated that they would eventually take our place in the world (9:27), which they are already beginning to do. Right now they are attacking our Sumerian colonies in Mohenjodaro and Harappa in the Punjab (the five tributaries of the Indus river in North West India).
It was several years later that I got my mother to explain her venom for the Hamites. "They destroyed our Sumerian civilization. Things were so beautiful before they came on the scene. A ruthless dictator named Nimrod came from Cush (10:8, on the west side of the Red Sea). He brought his army of camel riders a thousand miles right across the desert to surprise us. He took over our Sumerian cities in the land of Shinar (10:10, between theTigris and the Euphrates). Financed by our wealth, and using our horses and chariots, he moved north five hundred miles to build cities to his own glory in the land of Asshur (10:11, 22). Your father and I visited Nineveh on our way from Ur (10:11). It was certainly an impressive sight, but it was built with the blood of our Shemitic cousins in that area.
When Nimrod moved north we thought our own city far to the south-east would be spared. But within a few years the Hamites wanted to get their hands on our trade. When they turned on Ur we soon became puppets. They took over our Sumerian libraries and ancient records. Then they forced us to write their Accadian decrees, and stories of their wars, in the marvelous cuneiform writing we had invented (as illustrated in 15,000 tablets from the city of Ebla).. They allowed us to continue our business ventures but they taxed our profits till there was nothing left to live on.
When the Hamites had dismantled everything we valued in our city, we told your grandfather Terah it was time to move (11:31). After a long dangerous journey of a thousand miles the old man settled us in Haran (11:31) among our Aramean cousins. In the grand bend of the Euphrates it was a peaceful farming country far from the big flashy cities the Hamites delighted in. But twenty years ago your father decided to bring me and your cousin Lot to this miserable bit of Canaanite country (12:4-5).
If Sarai had an implacable hatred for all Hamites, she viewed the Canaanites as the very worst of that evil race (10:6, 15-19). Did not the ancient prophecy say "Cursed be Canaan; the lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers" (9:25). I later discovered the reason for this terrible curse. Apparently Canaan was discovered buggering his drunken grandfather Noah (9:20-22, 10:6), and Ham did nothing about it except cover the drunken man with a sheet (9:22-23).
The local people in our area spoke Canaanite, but my parents always used their Sumerian language at home. Sarai spent long hours teaching me to read and write the cuneiform clay tablets we kept in our tent. That later proved to be very useful as I was able to access the libraries and government records in both Accadian and Sumerian wherever I traveled in my vast territories. My father had also developed a phonetic script which could transliterate the words of any language (this originated the early Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and was eventually adopted for Greek and Latin texts). It did not need clay tablets and I used it as a convenient shorthand everywhere I went.
But Sarai was never able to explain to me the reason why her husband chose to come and live among the Canaanite children of Heth (10:15. 23:3, 16, 20, not to be confused with the great Hittite empire of Asia Minor). All she had to say was that Abram thought God had told him to come. And she added "But God never told me ! When men get an idea in their head there is nothing a woman can do except pack up and go with them."
So to discover the reason for our move I decided I would need to understand my father Abraham's very personal religion. He was certainly a man of faith, but how did it work?
A note on Sarah's faith : In the New Testament The KJV, RV, and
RSV of Hebrews 11:11 suggest that it was Sarai had the faith to
conceive. But based on the manuscript evidence the NRSV suggests it was
Abraham who had faith throughout the early part of the story. It is possible
that the change of name from Sarai to Sarah in Genesis 17:15-16
points to the emergence of her personal faith.
Chapter 2 .....