How an old couple’s impaitience with God led to a centuries long feud–A Jerry Springer-ized history lesson

You don’t need to believe in the the spiritual nature of the the Bible, Torah, or Q’ran to understand their impact on history. Whether you believe any of the religious doctrines surrounding those three books or not, you’d better study the stories in them to understand history.The longest lasting, most troublesome feud on earth, one that still rages on, comes straight from these books. In fact, it comes straight from one family. When you get right to the root of the trouble, you can trace it all to the impatience or lapse of faith of one aging couple, Abraham and Sarah.

As a Christian, I am most familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah from the Bible, which is in Genesis, so I will summarize that story in what I refer to as “Jerry Springer Style” when I teach this to my students in history class. Yes, I teach this Bible story in a public school U.S. history class. Why? Because, in order to understand why Christopher Columbus accidentally stumbled across the New World, we need to understand why Europeans were exploring in the first place. To understand that, you must understand how they were influenced by Muslims during the Crusades and along overland trade routes called the Silk Road. To understand the Crusades, you must understand what it says in the Bible about Abraham and Sarah.

What follows is a condensed version of the Bible story I tell to help my students understand the world they live in (and why they have to take their belts and shoes off and be patted down before they board a plane).

God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that his descendants would be “as many as the stars.” Yet, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, went year after year without becoming pregnant. Finally, Sarah, presumably out of the shame she felt for not being able to provide Abraham with progeny (a very big deal in biblical times), lost faith in God’s promise and suggested to Abraham that he have sex with their female servant, Hagar, in hopes that she, through surrogacy, would provide Abraham with a son. In what I believe may be one of the funniest lines in the Bible, all we are told about the then 86-year-old Abraham’s reaction to his wife’s peculiar suggestion was that he “agreed to her request”–there is a lot left unsaid in that phrase, I suspect.

So Abraham and his servant, Hagar, did the deed and Hagar became pregnant. She provided Abraham with a son called, Ishmael.

A few more years passed and then God dropped a real bombshell revelation on Abraham and Sarah. He promised that Sarah, by then around 90 years old, would become pregnant and have a son. Sarah laughed in disbelief at this news–which seemed to annoy God–but it all came to pass. Sarah gave birth to a boy called Isaac.

Now with her own son to care for, Hagar and little Ishmael were too much for Sarah to look at, so she ordered them out of her house. Whether it was outright jealousy or the fact that when she looked at them, she was reminded of her lack of faith and her impatience isn’t for us to know, but she clearly wanted that woman and her little rug rat out of her house. So poor Hagar and Ishmael were sent out into the wilderness. God provided for them out there and he promised Hagar that he would make a “great nation” out of Ishmael.

Long story short, Judaism and Christianity trace their lineage back to Isaac, the son Abraham had with his wife, Sarah, and Islam traces its lineage back to Ishmael, the son Abraham had with Hagar.

So, in a nutshell, Muslims are the half brothers of Jews and Christians–brothers from another mother, as it were–and for most of post-biblical history they have been feuding in a giant family squabble over Daddy’s home place, Jerusalem.

Coming to a head during the Crusades (1095-1291 A.D.) right up through September 11, 2001 to today, tomorrow, and the hereafter, these squabbling siblings have been at each others’ throats.

If you are looking for a happy ending, good luck. When families fight over property, it usually doesn’t end well.

But that should come as no great “Revelation.”


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