When I was a boy, if a girl got pregnant the shame was placed on her and the boy could get away.

–Bill Cosby

Genesis, Chapter 16

Abram and the Royal Concubine

The years passed, and Abram and Sarai still had no son. Abram kept pestering Sarai about her vision, feeling her belly, picking at her gray hairs.

“When will this heir arrive?” he would ask, over and over and over.

Sarai fretted, and considered ways to convince Abram to make Naomi, their eldest daughter, or Ester, their third daughter, who was wiser and stronger than any of the men, an heir. But her arguments wasted away in the harsh realities of a world ruled by bloodthirsty sons of Adam.

One day, while Keturah was washing her feet, Sarai remembered how she joined their house. “Keturah! You’re the daughter of a Pharaoh! If you don’t mind telling me, how is it that he gave you away like a slave?”

Keturah kept her gaze low and replied: “I was born of a noble woman of lesser station, not the Pharaoh’s wife, his sister. It is tradition that brothers and sisters produce the purest royal children, whenever possible, and they had such children.”

Sarai could sympathize. She had been considered a lesser stock simply because her mother had been a common woman. Even though she shared the same father as Abram, she was treated as a lesser creature until their marriage.

Sarai went to Abram, and reminded him of Keturah’s beauty, as well as her royal heritage. “And now that I think of it, the vision was not clear that I would be mother to your heir. I can release her as my servant so that she can be your wife.”

Abram saw the wisdom in her words, and his loins leapt at the though of the pretty young slave, though he reminded himself there was a higher calling at stake. And the more he thought about Sarai’s suggestion, the more wisdom he saw in it. Eventually, he made Keturah his wife, watering her seed, which soon took root.

Regrets and Jealousy

As Keturah swelled, Abram fawned over her, cooing to the son he hoped grew in her belly. Keturah enjoyed favored treatment while Sarai felt like an old maid.

Sarai told him one morning: “You seem to be enjoying yourself. Have you forgotten your love for me now that she is with child?”

Abram grew angry, for he felt the truth in her observation: “That is ridiculous! Love is not divisible. It is infinite. Wasn’t this your idea, anyway? If you two have a problem, speak with her and set her straight.”

Sarai couldn’t tell Abram that he was the one with a problem, and she was afraid to confide in Keturah. Instead, her jealousy slowly boiled her blood, and her feelings crept out in slight moments without her knowing.

Keturah noticed, and soon believed a greater evil was at work in Sarai’s heart. When hatred is held in secret, it creates an illusion far more powerful than the truth. Because Keturah believed the illusion, she was powerless to ask after the truth.

Keturah and the Angel

In fear for her life and the life of her unborn child, Keturah fled the house of Sarai, and wandered deep into the wilderness.

An angel of the Elohim found her by a spring under a fruit tree. He called to her: “Keturah, why are you out here all by yourself?”

She leapt to her feet. She feared it was a warrior from Abram’s house or a brigand. She saw the angel, bowed and said: “I am fleeing. My mistress wants me dead. She is cruel. She is evil.”

The angel comforted her: “Take care with your judgements. How do you know evil lurks when ignorance is all you see? Is it worth dying out here, alone, or bearing the idle cruelty of jealousy so that you can raise your son to be better than that?”

Keturah looked at the angel with surprise. Did the angel just say “son”?

The angel said: “You heard me. You will have a son. Abram will not embrace him as his heir or you as an equal. Your son will be treated as a foreigner in the house of his own father, and you will remain a slave, though you were born a queen. If you can bear this and love your son, protecting him from idle minds, then God will hear him when when he calls. You will know this is true when Abram names the child Ishmael, which means ‘God will hear’ in his native tongue.”

The angel reached up and pulled a piece of fruit from the tree. “Eat this, and your son will know right from wrong, good from evil. One day, it will save his life and God will give him everything.”

Keturah ate of the fruit and collapsed. It tasted like everything, and nothing. It was delicious and disgusting. The sky burst open with flavor, and she felt consumed by the emptiness between stars. Everything danced and stayed still. The only constant was change.

She was in the shade, with the angel guarding her when she awoke. Keturah knew she had been blessed, and bowed deeply to thank the messenger.

She returned to Abram’s house afraid and courageous. Sarai was afraid for herself, for Abram, for Keturah, for the seed child. Abram was angry at Keturah for making Sarai afraid. Some servants were jealous because no one broke Keturah’s ankles as punishment for running away. They called her Hagar, which meant “one who flees” and made jokes about her to appease the anger in their hearts.

Keturah endured their cruelties and slights for her son. She did not notice during the pain of childbirth that her child was taken before she saw him. She was later told Abram named him Ishmael.

They said Abram was proud. They said he loved his son. They said he saw this was his true heir.

They said anything they could to avoid telling her the truth: ever since her Ishmael was born, Abram had disappeared, disgusted with the child.

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