“Hagar”

February 1, 2009

 

180px-gustavedore1Info via Wikipedia

African-Americans

Several black American feminists have written about Hagar as though her story was comparable to that of slaves in American history. Wilma Bailey in an article entitled “Hagar: A Model for an Anabaptist Feminist”, refers to her as a “maidservant” and “slave”. She sees Hagar as a model of “power, skills, strength and drive.” In the article “A Mistress, A Maid, and No Mercy”, Renita Weems argues that the relationship between Sarah and Hagar exhibits “ethnic prejudice exacerbated by economic and social exploitation.”[16] According to Susanne Scholz,

Enslaved, raped [sic], but seen by God, Hagar has been a cherished biblical character in African-American communities. Womanist theologian Delores S. Williams explains:

The African-American community has taken Hagar’s story unto itself. Hagar has ‘spoken’ to generation after generation of black women because her story has been validated as true by suffering black people. She and Ishmael together, as family, model many black American families in which a lone woman/mother struggles to hold the family together in spite of the poverty to which ruling class economics consign it. Hagar, like many black women, goes into the wide world to make a living for herself and her child, with only God by her side.

The story of Hagar demonstrates that survival is possible even under harshest conditions

Hagar in Christian tradition

Christian commentary on Hagar begins with Paul the Apostle‘s Epistle to the Galatians, which asserts that the story of Hagar is a complex allegory:

For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Galatians 4:22-31)

Paul has been interpreted to be saying that Mount Sinai was also called “Agar”, and that it was named after Hagar.[12] He links the laws of the Torah, given on Mount Sinai, to the bondage of the Israelite people, implying that it was signified by Hagar’s condition as a bondswoman, while the “free” heavenly Jerusalem is signified by Sarah and her child.

Saint Augustine developed this view, by saying that Hagar symbolised the earthly “city”, or sinful condition of humanity: “In the earthly city (symbolised by Hagar)…we find two things, its own obvious presence and the symbolic presence of the heavenly city. New citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin.” (City of God 15:2)[2] This view was developed by medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and John Wycliffe. The latter compared the children of Sarah to the redeemed, and those of Hagar to the unredeemed, who are “carnal by nature and mere exiles”.[2]

Paul’s view was also used to link Hagar to Judaism, on the basis that the bondswoman Hagar represented bondage to the “old law”, which the Christian dispensation had supplanted. In this respect Jews were seen – spiritually speaking – as descendants of Hagar, not Sarah.[13] The equation of Jews with descendents of Hagar was also used to justify the subordination of Jews in medieval Christian kingdoms, and even their expulsion, on the model of the subjection and expulsion of Hagar.[13]

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