The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths

The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths

by Charlotte Gordon
     
 

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The saga of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is the tale of origin for all three monotheistic faiths. Abraham must choose between two wives who have borne him two sons. One wife and son will share in his wealth and status, while the other two are exiled into the desert. Long a cornerstone of Western anxiety, the story chronicles a very famous and troubled family, and sheds

Overview

The saga of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is the tale of origin for all three monotheistic faiths. Abraham must choose between two wives who have borne him two sons. One wife and son will share in his wealth and status, while the other two are exiled into the desert. Long a cornerstone of Western anxiety, the story chronicles a very famous and troubled family, and sheds light on the ongoing conflict between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds.

How did this ancient story become one of the least understood and most frequently misinterpreted of our cultural myths? Gordon explores this legendary love triangle to give us a startling perspective on three biblical characters who--with their jealousies, passions, and doubts--actually behave like human beings.

THE WOMAN WHO NAMED GOD is a compelling, smart, and provocative take on one of the Bible's most intriguing and troubling love stories.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The story of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah stands at the threshold of the three great Western religions-Christianity, Judaism, Islam-although each appropriates the story differently. Although God's command of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, is an oft-told story, his expulsion of his concubine, Hagar, and the son he had by her, Ishmael, is often ignored. In this sometimes provocative, though often pedestrian, rereading of the Hagar story, Gordon (Mistress Bradstreet) gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Focusing on Hagar's vision of God in the desert (Genesis 16:13), Gordon argues that Hagar is a prophet and a mystic who names God El-Roi, or "the God of my seeing." Because of her experience of God, Gordon argues, Hagar's relationship with God is one that Abraham might envy, for God offered Hagar clear and direct guidance, while God offered Abraham no clarity or guidance about his future but simply expected Abraham to obey. Although her prose is often plodding, Gordon provides some glimpses of the power of Hagar's story for modern religions. (July)

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Library Journal
Gordon (Mistress Bradstreet) offers a unique look at the Old Testament relationships between and among Abraham; his wife, Sarah; and his mistress, Hagar. Gordon approaches the biblical text as a literary study as opposed to a literal divine revelation. With no theological ax to grind, she draws upon the work of theologians, scholars, archaeologists, and historians to unpack a widely misunderstood and misinterpreted saga. Most interesting is her focus on the exiled, shamed, and shadowed Hagar, whom Gordon elevates to a mystic and prophet. Gordon ultimately shows that these biblical characters are complex and multilayered; they behave, in short, like human beings who wrestle with foibles, passions, and jealousies. Most important, the story speaks to the 21st century and its marital ambivalence, dysfunctional family systems, pervasive divorce, as well as to 9/11, the so-called "Axis of Evil," and West Bank unrest. The author's vision is that the retelling of this ancient tale might awaken the world to redemption. The sons of Hagar and Sarah, after all, came together in peace at their father Abraham's funeral. General readers with even a casual interest in religion and its impact on history, as well as on current events, will appreciate the lens through which the author peers.—C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Literary study of the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Gordon (English/Endicott Coll.; Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet, 2005, etc.) makes it clear that her book is not another theological or historical excavation of ancient texts. "This book," she writes, "proffers an exploration of the stories that have been passed down to us as stories." Considering the texts as a set of important, intriguing stories, the author provides a refreshing viewpoint unconcerned with critical minutiae of authorship or theological reverberations. Gordon focuses on the roles of Sarah and Hagar, Abraham's wife and concubine, and mothers to two great nations. Acknowledging the short shrift given these two remarkable women, the author provides a closer examination of their roles. Gordon moves slowly, sometimes a bit laboriously, through the brief story of Abraham's life, beginning with his decision to leave his homeland and finishing with his death. Referencing passages from the Koran, the author provides readers with points of reference as to the importance of the story to all three monotheistic traditions. Gordon's major contribution is the chapter on Hagar's encounter with God in the wilderness, at which point Hagar "names" Him. The author points out that "no one had ever invented their own [name for God], and no one else ever would." She goes on to posit that Hagar's description of God as one "who sees me" is a major basis for the theology and morality of all three Abrahamic traditions. The author speculates at length on periods of "silence" in the text. Given the paucity of detail provided by scripture, much of this discussion borders on conjecture. Nonetheless, Gordon addssomething new to an already full body of scholarship on Abraham. Fresh take on an old topic. Agent: Brettne Bloom/Kneerim & Williams
Judith Chettle
Thoughtful...Gordon examines all the familiar features of the story but pays particular attention to the human feelings of jealousy and distrust that affected the trio....She offers perceptive insights into an ancient story whose consequences continue to reverberate.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
C. Brian Smith
A unique look at the Old Testament relationships between and among Abraham; his wife, Sarah; and his mistress, Hagar....Most interesting is Gordon's focus on the exiled, shamed, and shadowed Hagar, whom Gordon elevates to a mystic and prophet....Complex and multilayered....The story speaks to the 21st century....General readers with even a casual interest in religion and its impact on history, as well as on current events, will appreciate the lens through which the author peers.
Library Journal
Jonathan Kirsch
Here and there on the front lines of the clash of civilizations, we can glimpse a few pockets of compassion....Gordon implores her readers to ask one of those "what-if" questions that reframe all of our conventional wisdom: "What if Abraham had chased after his mistress and firstborn son, begged Sarah to forgive his betrayal, and urged Hagar to forgive Sarah's jealousy, so that they might raise their sons together? Would we be any better at living in peace?" Gordon's provocative question hints at a more intimate aspect of the story of Hagar. .....The Bible, it has been said, is the least-read best-seller of all times. But there is a whole literature devoted to reconsidering the ancient text, a literature that is full of shocks and surprises, wholly unexpected cross-wirings of religious traditions, and illuminating flashes of insight and wisdom. On that shelf you will find Gordon's book, a superb example of how to approach the Bible.
truthdig.com
Ray Olson
A vibrant, engaging, realistic portrayal of early colonial Massachusetts and of its fascinating biographical subject.
Booklist
Michael Kenney
Gordon has a clear engagement with Bradstreet, and the major accomplishment of this lively biography is in showing that she is as exceptional a person as the 17th-century New England she lived in.
Boston Globe
Jonathan Kirsch - truthdig.com
"Here and there on the front lines of the clash of civilizations, we can glimpse a few pockets of compassion....Gordon implores her readers to ask one of those "what-if" questions that reframe all of our conventional wisdom: "What if Abraham had chased after his mistress and firstborn son, begged Sarah to forgive his betrayal, and urged Hagar to forgive Sarah's jealousy, so that they might raise their sons together? Would we be any better at living in peace?" Gordon's provocative question hints at a more intimate aspect of the story of Hagar. .....The Bible, it has been said, is the least-read best-seller of all times. But there is a whole literature devoted to reconsidering the ancient text, a literature that is full of shocks and surprises, wholly unexpected cross-wirings of religious traditions, and illuminating flashes of insight and wisdom. On that shelf you will find Gordon's book, a superb example of how to approach the Bible."
M.S. Mason and Rebecca Salomonsson - Christian Science Monitor
Praise for Mistress Bradstreet:

"Gordon tells Anne Bradstreet's gripping tale, including hardships and delights, in a clear, lively style."

Judith Chettle - Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Thoughtful...Gordon examines all the familiar features of the story but pays particular attention to the human feelings of jealousy and distrust that affected the trio....She offers perceptive insights into an ancient story whose consequences continue to reverberate."
Ray Olson - Booklist (starred)
"A vibrant, engaging, realistic portrayal of early colonial Massachusetts and of its fascinating biographical subject."
Michael Kenney - Boston Globe
"Gordon has a clear engagement with Bradstreet, and the major accomplishment of this lively biography is in showing that she is as exceptional a person as the 17th-century New England she lived in."
From the Publisher
"Thoughtful...Gordon examines all the familiar features of the story but pays particular attention to the human feelings of jealousy and distrust that affected the trio....She offers perceptive insights into an ancient story whose consequences continue to reverberate."—Judith Chettle, Richmond Times-Dispatch"

A unique look at the Old Testament relationships between and among Abraham; his wife, Sarah; and his mistress, Hagar....Most interesting is Gordon's focus on the exiled, shamed, and shadowed Hagar, whom Gordon elevates to a mystic and prophet....Complex and multilayered....The story speaks to the 21st century....General readers with even a casual interest in religion and its impact on history, as well as on current events, will appreciate the lens through which the author peers."—C. Brian Smith, Library Journal"

Here and there on the front lines of the clash of civilizations, we can glimpse a few pockets of compassion....Gordon implores her readers to ask one of those "what-if" questions that reframe all of our conventional wisdom: "What if Abraham had chased after his mistress and firstborn son, begged Sarah to forgive his betrayal, and urged Hagar to forgive Sarah's jealousy, so that they might raise their sons together? Would we be any better at living in peace?" Gordon's provocative question hints at a more intimate aspect of the story of Hagar. .....The Bible, it has been said, is the least-read best-seller of all times. But there is a whole literature devoted to reconsidering the ancient text, a literature that is full of shocks and surprises, wholly unexpected cross-wirings of religious traditions, and illuminating flashes of insight and wisdom. On that shelf you will find Gordon's book, a superb example of how to approach the Bible."—Jonathan Kirsch, truthdig.com"

A refreshing viewpoint...Gordon focuses on the roles of Sarah and Hagar, Abraham's wife and concubine, and mothers to two great nations. Acknowledging the short shrift given these two remarkable women, the author provides a closer examination of their roles....Gordon adds something new to an already full body of scholarship on Abraham."—Kirkus Reviews"

Provocative...Gordon gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Focusing on Hagar's vision of God in the desert, Gordon argues that Hagar is a prophet and a mystic who names God El-Roi, or "the God of my seeing"....Gordon provides some glimpses of the power of Hagar's story for modern religions."—Publishers Weekly

Praise for Mistress Bradstreet:"

Gordon tells Anne Bradstreet's gripping tale, including hardships and delights, in a clear, lively style."—M.S. Mason and Rebecca Salomonsson, Christian Science Monitor"

A thorough, occasionally whimsical, and hearteningly feminist take on the life of early Puritan pioneer and pundit Anne Bradstreet.—Kirkus Reviews"

A vibrant, engaging, realistic portrayal of early colonial Massachusetts and of its fascinating biographical subject."—Ray Olson, Booklist (starred)"

Gordon has a clear engagement with Bradstreet, and the major accomplishment of this lively biography is in showing that she is as exceptional a person as the 17th-century New England she lived in."—Michael Kenney, Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316040662
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
07/28/2009
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Charlotte Gordon graduated from Harvard College and received a Master's in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in History and Literature from Boston University. She has published two books of poetry and, most recently, the biography Mistress Bradstreet, which was a Massachusetts Book Award Honor Book. From 1999-2001, she taught at Boston University's School of Theology. Currently, she is an assistant professor of English at Endicott College.

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