Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch Of Genesis - Savina Teubal Part of the reason I so enjoy reading authors like Zecharia Sitchin or listening to Coast to Coast AM with George Noury (http://www.coasttocoastam.com/) is that I can then turn to authors like Steven Mithen, Clive Finlayson or Colin Tudge or even Gregory Cochran, whose The 10 000 Year Explosion How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution was disappointing in several respects, and learn about the mind-boggling complexity of the human story, and revel in the fact that we can’t know for certain so much of the tale.

Savina Teubal’s book Sarah the Priestess is a part of that latter tradition – A serious attempt to disentangle the historic and prehistoric threads that went into the make up of the stories found in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. In this case, the traditions behind the first matriarchs of Genesis: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. This book does not argue against biblical theology, nor does Teubal want to. Instead it joins that large – and fascinating – genre that attempts to place the historical events of the Bible in context, in the process revealing just how unreliable the document is for reconstructing the world of the ancient Middle East.

Teubal’s argument is, briefly, this:

1. The stories of Abraham/Sarah and the first patriarchs of Genesis (Isaac and Jacob) reflect a transitional period between a prehistoric culture and religion where a Goddess was the predominant deity and women enjoyed far more economic and social importance, and a true patriarchy where (at best) women were relegated to permanent minority status or (at worst) were the chattel of their male relations. (Their survival in the anomalous form that comes down to us is explained by the fact that when the post-Exile redactors finalized the Hebrew Bible, the essential narrative was too sacred to tamper with extensively.)

2. Sarah was an oracular priestess in the tradition of her homeland of Ur, whose Goddess-centered religion can be traced back to prehistoric and protoliterate sources found all over the Middle East.

3. Sarah was the nonuterine brother of Abraham (same father/different mothers). In light of subsequent Jewish consanguinity laws, her marriage to Abraham can only be understood in terms of a strictly matrilineal society where the biological input of the father was irrelevant.

4. There is strong evidence to suggest that Sumerian/Akkadian priestesses were celibate, suggesting that Abraham and Sarah’s marriage was so too.

5. Consequently, Isaac is the child of a hieros gamos, or “sacred marriage,” perhaps with Abimelech of Gerar.

6. Teubal doesn’t claim that Rebekah, Leah or Rachel were priestesses but she does argue that they represented a fading Goddess-centered religion and matrifocal marriage customs that were only completely stamped out in the post-Exilic Jewish community.


Probably the greatest strength of this book is Teubal’s deference to the limitations of her sources. Beyond their mere existence, we don’t know what these Goddess-worshipping cultures believed, or the rituals they performed and their meanings. For example, Teubal points out that it’s pretty certain that oracular priestesses in the southern Mesopotamian tradition were celibate outside of the sacred marriage ritual and not expected to have children but that this was not so in the Ugaritic tradition.

I don’t have the background to competently assess the basis for Teubal’s argument beyond its plausibility (and the trust that her Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies is not from a diploma mill) and in that regard I think she makes a very good case. In any event, she certainly proves that the Hebrew Bible is not a reliable source for historians attempting to put together Canaanite and Mesopotamian society 4,000 years ago (however inspired it may be for the religious).

For the interested, I would recommend this book.