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Program Descriptions A Family Affair

Sunday, November 17, 1996 at 6 p.m. (E.T.)
(Check local listings.)

The children God promised Abraham have not come as Sarah is barren. Sarah gives her slave-girl, Hagar, to Abraham so that she may bear him a descendent. This triangle ultimately leads Judaism and Islam on their separate paths. Bill Moyers says: "Sometimes the details of the stories we are discussing from Genesis sound like pulp fiction. In this one we come to the first triangle: Two women share the bed of the same man. The squabbling gets mean. Everybody gets hurt. The stuff of a cheap novel and fast read. But peel back the layers and the Bible is Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Faulkner."

Featuring Robert Alter, Azizah Al-Hibri, Bharati Mukherjee, Eugene Rivers, Lewis Smedes, Elizabeth Swados, Burton L. Visotzky. See Biographies for more information about the participants.

Bill Moyers

Audio Tales:

©Duane Michals
Alfre Woodard
Play: RealAudio

See more information on audio downloads or on obtaining a RealAudio player. For RealAudio, we recommend 2.0 or later.

Actress Alfre Woodard has lent her voice to the GENESIS television series as a storyteller. You may listen to the actual sound recording of this story either as RealAudio or as a download.
Narrative written by Elizabeth Swados.

God made a covenant with Abraham. He promised to make him the father of many nations. But Sarah, Abraham's wife, had borne no children. Sarah waited and waited and finally said, "Abraham, lie with my Egyptian slave, Hagar. Perhaps we can have a son through her?"

Soon Hagar became pregnant by Abraham. And when she felt Abraham's child move within her, Hagar looked down on Sarah. When Sarah complained to Abraham, he said, "Do with her as you please, she is in your hands." So Sarah treated her slave harshly and Hagar fled into the wilderness. An angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring of water. The angel said, "You are carrying a son who will be called Ishmael. He will be wild and strong. Go back and submit to the harsh treatment of your mistress. I will bless you and your descendants."

After Ishmael was born, God told Abraham, "You and Sarah will have your own son. I will bless her and make her the mother of nations. And I will make an everlasting covenant with your son." Abraham fell on the ground laughing,. "How can a hundred-year-old man have a son," he asked, "by a woman who is ninety?"

One day, Abraham sat outside his tent with the sun beating down on his head. Three strangers appeared. After Abraham offered them food and drink, one of the strangers said to him, "By this time next year you and Sarah will have your son." Sarah overheard this and laughed to herself. "How can I find pleasure with my body so withered and my husband so old?" she asked.

But God kept his word and Sarah gave birth to a son. Isaac was his name. There was a great feast on the day he was weaned and Sarah came upon Ishmael laughing and playing. Sarah demanded of Abraham, "Drive that Egyptian slave and her son far away from here. The son of this slavewoman will not share inheritance with my son, Isaac."

This grieved Abraham because he loved Ishmael. But God said, "Do as Sarah asks you. One nation of descendants lies within Isaac. Another will grow from Ishmael."

So Hagar and Ishmael were set to wandering in the desert. Abraham gave them bread and a skin of water, and when the water was gone Hagar cast the child under a bush so she wouldn't have to watch him die. And she wept. God heard the cry of the boy and an angel appeared from heaven. "Lift up your child," the angel called out. "God has not forgotten Ishmael. He and his nation shall live." And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water and gave her son a drink.
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