For the given name Sarah, see Sara (given name).
For other uses, see Sarah (disambiguation).
Sarah (right) and Abraham hosting three angels (a Children's Bible illustration)

Sarah or Sara (/ˈsɛərə/ SAIR;[1] Hebrew: שָׂרָה, Modern Sara, Tiberian Śārā ISO 259-3 Śarra; Latin: Sara; Arabic: سارا or سارة Sāra;) was the wife and also the half–sister of Abraham[2] and the mother of Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. Her name was originally Sarai. According to Genesis 17:15, God changed her name to Sarah as part of a covenant after Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.

The Hebrew name Sarah indicates a woman of high rank and is translated as "princess" or "noblewoman".[3]

In the Hebrew Bible

Abram’s Counsel to Sarai (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Sarah was the wife of Abraham. Sarah was approximately ten years younger than her husband.[4]

She was considered beautiful to the point that Abraham feared that when they were near more powerful rulers she would be taken away and given to another man. Twice he purposely identified her as being his sister so that he would be "treated well" for her sake.[5] No reason is given why Sarah remained barren (childless) for a long period of time.[6] She was originally called "Sarai", which is translated "my princess". Later she was called "Sarah", i.e., "princess".[7]

Departure from Ur

Terah, with Abram (as he was then called), Sarai and Lot, departed for Canaan, but stopped in a place named Haran, where Terah remained until he died at the age of 205.[8] The LORD had told Abram to leave his country and his father's house for a land that he would show him, promising to make of him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse "him" that curses him.[9] Following God's command Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and persons that they had acquired, and traveled to Shechem in Canaan. Abram was 75 at this time.[10]

Pharaoh's harem

Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace by James Tissot.

There was a severe famine in the land of Canaan, so that Abram and Lot and their households, travelled south to Egypt. On the journey to Egypt, Abram instructed Sarai to identify herself only as his sister, fearing that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take his wife, saying, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'this is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."[11] When brought before Pharaoh, Sarai said that Abram was her brother, and the king thereupon took her into his palace and bestowed upon the latter many presents and marks of distinction. It is possible that Sarai acquired her Egyptian handmaid Hagar during this stay. However, God afflicted Pharaoh's household with great plagues.[12] Pharaoh then realized that Sarai was Abram's wife and demanded that they leave Egypt immediately.[13]

Hagar and Ishmael

Banishment of Hagar, Etching. À Paris chez Fr. Fanet, Éditeur, Rue des Saints Pères n° 10. 18th century. Sarah is seen at the left, looking on.

After having lived in Canaan for ten years and still childless, Sarai suggested that Abram have a child with her Egyptian handmaid Hagar, to which he agreed. This resulted in tension between Sarai and Hagar, and Sarai complained to her husband that the handmaid no longer respected her.[14] At one point, Hagar fled from her mistress but returned after angels met her. She gave birth to Abram's son Ishmael when Abram was eighty-six years old.[15]


In Genesis 17 when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God declared his new name: "Abraham" – "a father of many nations", and gave him the covenant of circumcision. God gave Sarai the new name "Sarah", and blessed her.[16] Abraham was given assurance that Sarah would have a son. Not long afterwards, Abraham and Sarah were visited by three men. One of the visitors told Abraham that upon his return next year, Sarah would have a son. While at the tent entrance, Sarah overheard what was said, and she laughed to herself about the prospect of having a child at their ages. The visitor inquired of Abraham why Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a child, for her age was as nothing to God. Sarah soon became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham, at the very time which had been spoken. The patriarch, then a hundred years old, named the child "Isaac" (Hebrew yitschaq, "laughter") and circumcised him when he was eight days old.[17] For Sarah, the thought of giving birth and nursing a child, at such an old age, also brought her much laughter, as she declared, "God hath made me to laugh, [so that] all that hear will laugh with me."[18] Abraham held a great feast on the day when Isaac was to be weaned. It was during this banquet that Sarah happened upon the then teenaged Ishmael mocking[19] and was so disturbed that she requested that both he and Hagar be removed from their company.[20] Abraham was initially distressed by this but relented when told by God to do as his wife had asked.[21]


After being visited by the three men, Abraham and Sarah settled between Kadesh and Shur in the land of the Philistines. While he was living in Gerar, Abraham again claimed that Sarah was his sister. King Abimelech subsequently had her brought to him. Later, God came to Abimelech in a dream and declared that taking her would result in death because she was a married woman. Abimelech, who had not laid hands on her, inquired if he would also slay a righteous nation, especially since Abraham had claimed that he and Sarah were siblings. In response, God told Abimelech that he did indeed have a blameless heart and that was why he continued to exist. However, if he did not return Sarah to Abraham, God would surely destroy Abimelech and his entire household. Abimelech was informed that Abraham was a prophet who would pray for him.[22]

Early next morning, Abimelech informed his servants of his dream and approached Abraham inquiring as to why he had brought such great guilt upon his kingdom. Abraham replied that he thought there was no fear of God in that place, and that they might kill him for his wife. Then Abraham defended what he had said as not being a lie at all: "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife."[23] Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, and gave him gifts of sheep, oxen, and servants; and invited him to settle wherever he pleased in Abimelech's lands. Further, Abimelech gave Abraham a thousand pieces of silver to serve as Sarah's vindication before all. Abraham then prayed for Abimelech and his household, since God had stricken the women with infertility because of the taking of Sarah.[24]


Sarah, who died at the age of 127, is the only woman in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) whose age is given.[25] Abraham buried her in the Cave of the Patriarchs (also called the Cave of Machpelah), near Hebron which he had purchased, along with the adjoining field, from Ephron the Hittite and laid her to rest in the cave.[26]

Family tree

Ishmaelites7 sons[28]Bethuel1st daughter2nd daughter
1. Reuben
2. Simeon
3. Levi
4. Judah
9. Issachar
10. Zebulun
11. Dinah
7. Gad
8. Asher
5. Dan
6. Naphtali
12. Joseph
13. Benjamin

In rabbinic literature

The Talmud[29] identifies Sarai with Iscah, daughter of Abraham's deceased brother Haran,[30] so that in this Sarah turns out to be the niece of Abraham and the sister of Lot and Milcah. Rashi on Genesis 20:12 She is [indeed] my sister, my father's daughter. - And the daughter of [one's] father [from a different mother] is permitted to a son of Noah, [i.e., a non-Jew], for there is no [ halachic relationship {with regard to forbidden marriages} through] paternity for non-Jews. In order to bear out his words he answered him {Avimelech} thus. And if you will say [by way of objection], is it not true that she was the daughter of his brother (Sanhedrin 58b), [and not his father? The answer is that] the children of children are like [one's own] children (Yevamos 62b. In his comments to Exodus 18:1, Rashi explains that "young children call their father's father, 'Father'.") and [Sarah] is thus [considered] the daughter of Terah, [Abraham's father, for she was the daughter of Haran, another son of Terah].[31]

Pharaoh's harem

When brought before Pharaoh, Sarah said that Abram was her brother, and the king thereupon bestowed upon the latter many presents and marks of distinction.[32] As a token of his love for Sarai the king deeded his entire property to her, and gave her the land of Goshen as her hereditary possession: for this reason the Israelites subsequently lived in that land.[33] Sarai prayed to God to deliver her from the king, and He thereupon sent an angel, who struck Pharaoh whenever he attempted to touch her. Pharaoh was so astonished at these blows that he spoke kindly to Sarai, who confessed that she was Abraham's wife. The king then ceased to annoy her.[32] According to another version, Pharaoh persisted in annoying her after she had told him that she was a married woman; thereupon the angel struck him so violently that he became ill, and was thereby prevented from continuing to trouble her.[34] According to one tradition it was when Pharaoh saw these miracles wrought in Sarai's behalf that he gave her his daughter Hagar as slave, saying: "It is better that my daughter should be a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house." Abimelech acted likewise.[35] Sarah is the sister of Abram by another mother and wife of Abram as described in the Hebrew Bible (the Book of Genesis). In Genesis 17:15, God changes her name to Sarah (princess) ("a woman of high rank") as part of the covenant with El Shaddai after Hagar bears Abram his first born son Ishmael. (Hebrew: שָׂרָה, Standard Sara Tiberian Śārāh ; Arabic: 'سارة, Sārah). The name Sarai uses the semitic root Šarai or law and like El has the sense of power, authority, lord, deity, natural law, law as might be expected for the lady of the house. The Hebrew name Sarah indicates a woman of high rank (less than that of 1st wife) and is sometimes translated as "princess."

Relations with Hagar

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, imagined here in a Bible illustration from 1897.

Sarai treated Hagar well, and induced women who came to visit her to visit Hagar also. Hagar, when pregnant by Abraham, began to act superciliously toward Sarai, provoking the latter to treat her harshly, to impose heavy work upon her, and even to strike her.[36] Some believe Sarai was originally destined to reach the age of 175 years, but forty-eight years of this span of life were taken away from her because she complained of Abraham, blaming him as though he was the cause that Hagar no longer respected her.[37][38] Sarah was sterile; but a miracle was granted to her[39] after her name was changed from "Sarai" to "Sarah".[37] According to one myth, when her fertility had been restored and she had given birth to Isaac, the people would not believe in the miracle, saying that the patriarch and his wife had adopted a foundling and pretended that it was their own son. Abraham thereupon invited all the notabilities to a banquet on the day when Isaac was to be weaned. Sarah invited the women, also, who brought their infants with them; and on this occasion she gave milk from her breasts to all the strange children, thus convincing the guests of the miracle.[40]


Legends connect Sarah's death with the attempted sacrifice of Isaac,[41] however, there are two versions of the story. According to one, Samael came to her and said: "Your old husband seized the boy and sacrificed him. The boy wailed and wept; but he could not escape from his father." Sarah began to cry bitterly, and ultimately died of her grief.[42] According to the other legend, Satan came to Sarah disguised as an old man, and told her that Isaac had been sacrificed. Believing it to be true, she cried bitterly, but soon comforted herself with the thought that the sacrifice had been offered at the command of God. She started from Beer-sheba to Hebron, asking everyone she met if he knew in which direction Abraham had gone. Then Satan came again in human shape and told her that it was not true that Isaac had been sacrificed, but that he was living and would soon return with his father. Sarah, on hearing this, died of joy at Hebron. Abraham and Isaac returned to their home at Beer-sheba, and, not finding Sarah there, went to Hebron, where they discovered her dead.[43] According to the Genesis Rabbah, during Sarah's lifetime her house was always hospitably open, the dough was miraculously increased, a light burned from Saturday evening to Saturday evening, and a pillar of cloud rested upon the entrance to her tent.[44]

New Testament references

The First Epistle of Peter praises Sarah for obeying her husband.[45] She is praised for her faith in the Hebrews "hall of faith" passage alongside a number of other Old Testament figures.[46] Other New Testament references to Sarah are in Romans[47] and Galatians.[48] In Galatians 4, she and Hagar are used as an allegory of the old and new covenants:

"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother...Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise...Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman."[49]


Mausoleum of Sarah, Abraham's wife in the Mosque of Abraham

Sarah (Arabic: سارة, Sara), the wife of the patriarch and Islamic prophet Abraham and the mother of the prophet Isaac, is an honoured woman in the Islamic faith. She lived with Abraham throughout her life and, although she was barren, God promised her the birth of a prophetic son, Isaac. Abraham, however, prayed constantly to God for a child. Sarah, being barren, subsequently gave him her Egyptian handmaiden,[50] Hājar (Hagar), to wed as his second wife. Hagar bore Ismā'īl (Ishmael), when Abraham was eighty-six,[51] who too would become a prophet of God like his father. Thirteen years later, God announced to Abraham, then ninety-nine,[52] that barren Sarah would give birth to Abraham's second son, Isaac, who would also be a prophet of the Lord. Although the Qur'an does not mention Sarah by name, it mentions the annunciation of the birth of Isaac. The Qur'an mentions that Sarah laughed when the angels gave her the glad tidings of Isaac:

There came Our messengers to Abraham with glad tidings. They said, 'Peace!' He answered, 'Peace!' and hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf.
But when he saw their hands went not towards the (meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: "Fear not: We have been sent against the people of Lut.
And his wife was standing (there), and she laughed: But we gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob.
She said: "Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!"

Qur'an, Sura 11 (Hud), ayat 69-72[53]

Tomb of Sarah

Mausoleum of Sarah, 1911.

Sarah is believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs (known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham). The compound, located in the ancient city of Hebron, is the second holiest site for Jews (after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), and is also venerated by Christians and Muslims, both of whom have traditions which maintain that the site is the burial place of three biblical couples; Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham purchased the plot of land for her tomb from a man named Ephron the Hittite.[54]

Contemporary works and analysis

Sarah has been featured in several novels, and she is the central character in Sarah by Orson Scott Card in the Women of Genesis series, Sarai: A Novel by Jill Eileen Smith, and Sarah: A Novel by Marek Halter. In the Christian fiction novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, the protagonist, called "Angel" throughout the duration of the story, is barren. At the end of the book, she reveals that her birth name is "Sarah" to her husband, who takes the revelation as a promise from God that they will one day be able to have children.

In the 1994 movie Abraham, Sarah is portrayed by Barbara Hershey.

Sarah is also a subject discussed in nonfiction books. In Twelve Extraordinary Women by Pastor John F. MacArthur, her life and story is analyzed along with that of Eve, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, the Virgin Mary, Anna the Prophetess, the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary of Bethany, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia of Thyatira.[55] Sarah appears in Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God by Liz Curtis Higgs alongside several other biblical women.[56]

Some classical and modern scholars have analyzed Abraham's reasoning for hiding Sarah's position as his wife. Rashi argued that when a stranger comes to town, the proper thing to do would be to inquire if he needs food and drink, not whether his female companion is a married woman, and hence as Abimelech did the latter, it tipped off Abraham to the fact that there is no fear of God in this place, and so he lied about his relationship with Sarah in order to avoid being killed. Christian interpretation of the incidents has varied considerably. Some commentators have seen them as regrettable exceptions in the lives of those who otherwise lived upright lives, comparable to Noah's and Lot's drunkenness and David's adultery.

Others have questioned Sarah's status as Abraham's sister. According to Emanuel Feldman (1965), basing his argument on Albright's interpretation of the archaeology of Nuzu, a wife could legally be awarded the title "sister", and that this was the most sacred form of marriage, and hence Abraham and Isaac referred to their wives as "sisters" for this reason. Most archaeologists however dispute that view, instead arguing the opposite - that sisters in the region were often awarded the title "wife" in order to give them much greater status in society.[57] Savina Teubal's book Sarah the Priestess explains that while Sarah was indeed both Abram's wife and sister, there was no incest taboo because she was a half-sister by a different mother.[58]


  1. Wells, John C. (1990). Longman pronunciation dictionary. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 621. ISBN 0-582-05383-8. entry "Sarah"
  2. Genesis 20:12
  3. Commentaries on Genesis 17:15, and Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions
  4. Genesis 17:17 "Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall [a child] be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" Those calculated ages, based upon an addition of 9 months to their then present ages, was before verse 21 which informed him the birth would be a whole year later. That additional 3 months beyond the initial calculation opens the possibility that Sarah could have become 91 years old before Isaac was born. Genesis 17:21 "But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year."
  5. Genesis 12:12-13, 20:2
  6. Genesis 11:30
  7. Matthew Henry's Commentary suggests that Sarai="my princess" would refer to a single family and Sarah="a princess" signified one of many, i.e. many families, in parallel to the change from Abram to Abraham
  8. Genesis 11:27–11:32
  9. Genesis 12:1–3
  10. Genesis 12:4
  11. Genesis 12:11-13, NIV
  12. Genesis 12:14–17
  13. Genesis 12:18–20
  14. Genesis 16:1–6
  15. Genesis 16:7–16
  16. Genesis 17:1–27
  17. Genesis 21:4
  18. Genesis 21:6–7
  19. Genesis 21:9
  20. Genesis 21:10
  21. Genesis 21:12
  22. Genesis 20:1–7
  23. Genesis 20:12
  24. Genesis 20:8–18
  25. Genesis 23:1,2 The ages of some other women can be deduced or approximated. Eve was created the same day as Adam, so when Seth was born when Adam had lived 130 years, Eve had lived as long also, short a number of hours.
  26. Genesis 23:1–20
  27. Genesis 20:12: Sarah was the half–sister of Abraham
  28. Genesis 22:21-22: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, and Jidlaph
  29. Sanhedrin 69B
  30. Genesis 11:29
  31. (Rashi, The Sapirstein Edition. Vol.1, pp. 213-14. Translated by R. Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg et al. Mesorah Publications, Ltd. Brooklyn: 1999.)
  32. 1 2 Sefer haYashar (Book of Jasher), section "Lek Leka".
  33. Pirḳe R. El. xxxvi.
  34. Genesis Rabbah xli. 2.
  35. Genesis Rabbah xlv. 2.
  36. Genesis Rabbah xlv. 9.
  37. 1 2 Rosh Hashanah 16b.
  38. Genesis Rabbah xlv. 7.
  39. Genesis Rabbah xlvii. 3.
  40. Bava Metzia 87a; comp. Gen. R. liii. 13.
  41. Gen. R. lviii. 5.
  42. Pirḳe de Rabbi Eliezer xxxii.
  43. Sefer haYashar, section "Wayera".
  44. Genesis Rabbah lx. 15.
  45. 1 Peter 3:6, cited in  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sara". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  46. Hebrews 11:11
  47. Romans 4:19 and 9:9, cited in  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sara". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  48. Galatians 4:22–23
  49. Galatians 4:22-26, 28, 31, NIV
  50. Lings, Martin (1983). "The House of God". Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Islamic Texts Society. ISBN 978-0042970509.
  51. Genesis 16:16: "And Abram [was] fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram."
  52. Genesis 17:1-22 "[v.1] And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram ... [v.19] And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac ..."
  53. Quran 11:69–72
  54. Genesis 23
  55. Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible, and What He Wants to Do with You (2008) ISBN 1-4002-8028-1
  56. Higgs, Liz, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God. 978-1400072125
  57. Emanuel Feldman. Changing patterns in Biblical criticism. Tradition 1965; 7(4) and 1966; 8(5).
  58. Savina Teubal (1984). Sarah The Priestess: The First Matriarch Of Genesis. ISBN 978-0-8040-0844-0.

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