Religion: The Beauty of Sarah

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Genesis describes Sarah, the wife of Abraham, as "very fair," then plunges on in its narrative. With this tempting morsel, readers have been left for centuries to wonder at the beauty that turned the head of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Last week, with scholarly remoteness from war, Jerusalem's Dr. Yigael Vadin published his latest Dead Sea Scroll translation—part of a document earlier identified as an apocryphal Book of Genesis (TIME, Feb. 20). The scroll did justice to Sarah's beauty with an ecstatic, head-to-toe description of her charms:

"And how beautiful the look of her face . . . And how fine is the hair of her head, how fair indeed are her eyes and how pleasing her nose and all the radiance of her face . . . How beautiful her breast and how lovely all her whiteness. Her arms goodly to look upon, and her hands how perfect ... all the appearance of her hands. How fair her palms and how long and fine all the fingers of her hands. Her legs how beautiful and without blemish her thighs. And all maidens and all brides that go beneath the wedding canopy are not more fair than she. And above all women she is lovely and higher is her beauty than that of them all, and with all her beauty there is much wisdom in her. And the tip of her hands is comely."

The excerpt also describes in greater detail than Genesis the terrible plagues that were visited on Pharaoh for taking Sarah. "That night the Most High God sent a pestilential wind to afflict him and all his household, a wind that was evil. And it smote him and all his house and he could not come near her nor did he know her." After two years of this, according to the scroll, not even Sarah's marvelous beauty could sustain the Pharaoh. He restored her to Abraham and sent them both out of Egypt "exceedingly rich in cattle and also in silver and gold."