We see in the Torah:

Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety? (Gen. 17:17)

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years; Sarah had stopped having the periods of women. And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered (בלותי), am I to have enjoyment (עדנה)—and with my husband so old?” (18:11-12)

But later in the Chumash we see that Abimelech kidnaps Sarah and would even like to sleep with her! Apparently here she is young and beautiful.

How are we to understand this contradiction?

  • 1
    Where did you get these translations from?
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 18:39
  • Downvoted. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Sarah said this about herself. That's a sign of modesty, I think. Even her own husband thought that his wife was beautiful! Why shouldn't Avimelech think so? Where do you see a contradiction implied by these 2 verses? Also how does the term "withered" imply lack of beauty? (assuming that this is the correct translation.)
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 18:54
  • maybe Avimelech likes older ladies or maybe she was as beautiful as a 20/7 year old due to her sinless nature which he perceived.
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 19:32
  • 2
    I'm happy you think it's such a bad question as to feel a need to downvote it. At the very least you should be able to appreciate the question, whether or not you there's an answer that satisfies you. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 19:59
  • 5
    @EliezerSteinbock I think that not only is the downvite unwarranted, but that an upvote is warranted. Furthermore, there are few good questions (or answer) that don't have at least one inexplicable downvote. Don't let it get you down :) And don't get discouraged from participating in the site.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 22:50

3 Answers 3


Rashbam on Genesis 18:12:1:

עדנה - יתעדן הבשר ויתפשטו הקמטין.

Sefaria translation:

עדנה, a form of the skin becoming elastic and the wrinkles straightening out.

This concept is supported by

Radak on Genesis 20:2:1 (Sefaria English translation) excerpt:

והענין להפקיר אשתו מבלי לעמד בנסיון הריגת עצמו פרשנו למעלה בדבר שרה עם פרעה. ומן התימה איך היתה שרה כל כך יפה עדיין עד שהיו חומדים אותם לרוב יפיה והיא בת תשעים, ונאמר כי שבה לעדנתה ולדרך נשים כדי שתתעבר, כי אחר המעשה הזה אמר וה' פקד את שרה.

ויאמר...אל שרה אשתו

What is more surprising is the fact that Sarah, so many years after her experience in Egypt, was still so physically attractive that she inspired physical passions among the people who saw her. Clearly, her good looks must have been the result of her regaining her youthful vigour when she became pregnant at the time the angels visited Avraham, and she herself remarked on that phenomenon. The time frame in which the events reported in this chapter occurred must have been immediately after the beginning of her pregnancy, mentioned in 21,1 in the past tense, i.e. וה' פקד את שרה, “and the Lord had benevolently remembered Sarah (allowing her to become pregnant).

So, not only do we see that Sarah was attractive, but Sarah herself points that out about herself. So the verses are not at all contradictory.

  • 2
    This explanation of Radak is also found in Ramban ad loc Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:05
  • 1
    Interesting translation there from Sefaria... Where does Sarah point out about herself that her beauty has returned. But good to see this question comes up in Radak and Ramban. They were probably deserving of the downvote too! Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:08
  • 2
    Rashbam is basing himself off of Bava Metzia 87a: "Rav Chisda said: “After the flesh became weak (נתבלה) and filled with wrinkles it became young again (נתעדן) and the wrinkles were erased, and her beauty returned to what it was.”" i.e. it was miracle. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:12
  • @EliezerSteinbock "Where does Sarah point out about herself that her beauty has returned" - Refer to my 1st verse in my answer, where Sarah uses the term עדנה. I only included an excerpt of that verse for purposes of translating the word. But, look at the full verse, and you will see that Sarah is talking about herself.
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:43
  • @DanF the first verse being Bereishit 18:12 that is also quoted in the question? יב וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן. She doesn't say she became attractive in this verse. Here she's laughing about her giving birth (before she's even pregnant). Are you referring to a different verse? Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 11:33

Consider Rashi, Chizkuni and Rav Hirsch explaining why Parshas Chayei Sarah gives her age as 100 and 20 and 7. The comment in Chayei Sarah is that at 100 she was like 20 and at 20 she was like 7. Thus, when Sarah made her comment, she was speaking of the fact that she was above the age of giving birth even though she was also as beautiful as a 20 year old. Thus, the two statements are not contradictory but speak of two different areas. One is the fact that she was too old to have a child and the other is external appearance.

  • I would add that this comment is a midrash and does not appear in the actual text of the Torah. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 11:27
  • @EliezerSteinbock is correct. Sabbahillel, you may want to edit in the source for this, anyway,
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:25
  • 1
    @EliezerSteinbock I added explicitly that it is found in Rashi, Chizkuni and Rav Hirsch rather than in the pasuk itself. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 13:27
  • +1. The very fact that Sarah was kidnapped and that Avimelech would have tried to violate her makes this explanation fit simply with the verses, besides the fact that the words in 18:12 could easily be translated consistent with this reading. Further, the verses (12:11,14) state explicitly that she was "exceptionally beautiful" at age 65, so she could have still looked young at an even older age.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 6:47

I think chapter 20 is actually repetation of chapter 12. same story but different narration.

Chapter 18 says Sarah is old but chapter 20 says Sarah is young and beautiful. So chapter 20 is not the continuation of chapter 19 but a copy of chapter 12. Source

  • Sure. Also, the two Presidents Johnson obviously are based on different sources too. So are World Wars I and II. And so forth...
    – Meir
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 0:32
  • have you visited the source link( thetorah.com/article/… ), it has more detailed explantion
    – suhailvs
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 1:15
  • Yes. And that "detailed explan[a]tion" bears about the same resemblance to the truth as my comment does.
    – Meir
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 20:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .