Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

“She is my sister” (Genesis 12:19), declares Abraham, center, of Sarah, so that Pharaoh, in exotic striped garb, will not kill him for his beautiful wife. Sarah stands at right in this illumination from a 12th-century Byzantine manuscript of the Octateuch, the first eight books of the Greek Old Testament. Pharaoh then takes Sarah “into his house” and pays Abraham with “sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses and camels” (Genesis 12:16). Although some Bible commentators, anxious to defend Abraham, claim that he does not realize Pharaoh will appropriate Sarah, author Davies suggests that Abraham, an unscrupulous businessman, instigates this chain of events to get rich quickly. But God, who wants Abraham and Sarah back in Canaan, thwarts his plan by sending a plague on Pharaoh. Blaming this affliction on his relations with Sarah, Pharaoh banishes the patriarch and his wife, thereby giving God the lead in his struggle with Abraham.