Playing or Persecuting? Paul’s reading of Genesis 21.9

In my Greek class this semester we are reading through Philo’s On the Cherubim. Before we get started on that, we read through some texts today in Genesis 16, Genesis 21, Galatians 4, and Wisdom 10.

Genesis 16 discusses the birth of Ishmael by Hagar, Sara’s “handmaid” (παιδίσκη). Genesis 21 discusses the birth of Isaac by Sara. In chapter 21, Sara becomes angry about Hagar, Ishmael, and their position within her family. Verse 9 of chapter 21 is interesting:

ἰδοῦσα δὲ Σαρρα τὸν υἱὸν Αγαρ τῆς Αἰγυπτίας, ὅς ἐγένετο τῷ Αβρααμ, παίζοντα μετὰ Ισαακ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς.

But Sara saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, the one whom was (born) to Abraham, playing with Isaac her son.

The participle underlined is pretty interesting. παίζω, the verb from which παίζοντα comes, can mean “to play”, but also can mean to pursue, chase, or even hunt (LSJ A.6). This is somewhat preserved in the Vulgate where Ishmael is described as a filium ludentem, “ludo” having the meaning “to play” as well as to mock or tease (not nearly as harsh as the other meanings of παίζω it seems). Does this “harsh” reading of παίζω show up in Paul’s allegorical reading of this text?

ἡμεῖς δὲ, ἀδελφοὶ, κατὰ ᾿Ισαὰκ ἐπαγγελίας τέκνα ἐσμέν. ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ τότε ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς ἐδίωκεν τὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα, οὕτως καὶ νῦν.

But we, brethren, are children like Isaac according to the promise. But just as then the one born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the spirit, so it is now.

διώκω has a variety of meanings ranging from “pursue” to “persecute.” διώκω is obviously not παίζω, but it seems that Paul can only come up with this reading of Ishmael and Isaac’s story if he’s reading the παίζοντα as “hunting”. I cannot read Hebrew, but I would be grateful if someone would like to share the Hebrew word here and if it too has a variety of meanings as παίζω and ludo do.


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5 responses to “Playing or Persecuting? Paul’s reading of Genesis 21.9

  1. Pingback: September 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival Episode III: The Final Frontier as the Carnival Strikes Back | Exploring Our Matrix

  2. Pingback: Elsewhere (09.02.2011) | Near Emmaus

  3. good day! the word used in BHS is mitschaq (intensive, participial form of tsachaq; Eng: “to laugh”), probably a play on the name of Isaac (“yitschaq”). Some commentators translate this verb here in a neutral way “to play/playing” and add the phrase “with Isaac”. Another meaning is mock, jest, or make fun of, which is expressed by the intensive form “piel” (cf. TWOT). Since the verb in this verse appears in piel, the second meaning is likely (cf. Gordon Wenham’s on Gen 21,9).

  4. Robert Miller

    I have a stepson who plays with my firstborn son. He teases him and is mean to him. I have never observed my stepson genuinely being kind to my real son. This causes me grief and the desire to protect my firstborn from my stepson. Hope that this helps…

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