The Foremothers of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity with Charlotte Gordon, Ph.D.

The war in Iraq has been called a war between the sons of Sarah and the sons of Hagar, the two wives of Abraham. Biblical scholar Charlotte Gordon has examined the story of these women in all its complexity, unraveling key elements that were lost in translations of the Old Testament. Her compelling work gives us a new perspective on Sarah’s son, Isaac, the traditional father of the Jews, and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, ancestor of Mohammad. Were their descendants destined to be eternal enemies? What does the Koran and Bible say on the matter? How can these insights inform the way we relate to the people of the Middle East today? Dr. Gordon calls on us to move beyond polarity to recognize our common ground, when she says, “So often our conflicts in the Middle East and in Afghanistan have been painted as struggles between Islam and the West. I want to shake some of my fellow Americans, and say that Abraham and the Bible that you revere and love actually originated in the land you often describe as being the land of your enemies. That’s not a useful viewpoint.” She urges us to explore the true message of the Old Testament to discover, “a language that is far more complicated, rich, and filled with love and peace as opposed to hatred.” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)

Charlotte Gordon, Ph.D. received her doctorate at Boston University, and taught as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Theology. She is the author of several books, including The Woman Who Named God: Abraham’s Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths (Little, Brown & Company 2009). To learn more about the work of Charlotte Gordon go to

Topics Explored in this Dialogue:

  • How the Biblical story of Abraham and his two wives is relevant to us today
  • What evidence the Bible gives us for harmony and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews
  • How Muslims view stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar
  • Which bible story gives us an archetype for the dysfunctional family
  • What single element has kept Jewish tradition alive across continents and millennia

7 Responses to “The Foremothers of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity with Charlotte Gordon, Ph.D.”

  1. Steve Burgess January 26, 2012 at 4:58 PM #

    It was a pleasure listening to Charlotte & Justine this afternoon. Coincidentally, I was driving up the coast last night and saw the bright star over the crescent moon. I was inspired to write a haiku that seems relevant to this subject matter.

    Star and crescent moon
    Above a Christian nation?
    God’s for all – or none.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Steve Burgess

  2. James Gibbons January 28, 2012 at 8:33 PM #

    What a Blessing to have your program on NPR, even if I have to get up at 6am on a Saturday to hear it. Would love to know who gets credit for the beautiful oud music

  3. Marel Kalyn January 29, 2012 at 5:38 PM #

    An artist, a Pisces, and Irish Catholic. Am now 73, and couldn’t sleep last night so at 3 a.m. tuned in to Justine and Charlotte. So strange, as I had just decided I wanted to understand more about the Jewish faith a few weeks ago, and then to just randomly come upon this interview. Was very present during the Women’s Movement, so this really strikes a chord what with the emphasis on Sarah and Hagar. Looking forward to getting the book and sharing with friends.

  4. Marel Kalyn January 29, 2012 at 5:53 PM #

    @ Steve Burgess: I just left a comment re Justine’s interview with Charlotte Gordon and her new book. I said I’m Irish Catholic, but forgot to add “recovering Catholic”. Whatever. I also write Haiku poetry so enjoyed yours. If there is a being we identify as “God”, then I agree with your Haiku. How could he/she/it not be for “all”? Thanks to Charlotte Gordon for finding all these connections that contribute to a better understanding off all these conflicting beliefs. Hopefully it will make a difference.

  5. Bess Kelley January 31, 2012 at 8:14 PM #

    In the mid 60s I was part of a theatrical troupe that produces an original play called A Place of Fear and Peace. In Hebrew Fear is Jeru and Peace is Shalom. Jeru Shalom, Jerusalem. It was set in a Concentration Camp and in it the in-mates put on a play, the story of Abraham. I played the wonderful role of Hagar. As a great grandmother I am focused on the Divine Feminine. I so enjoyed Charlotte Gordon’s focus on the women in this story. I did read, at that time, that there was a tradition of a fertile woman giving birth on the lap of a woman who was barren, It was to lead to the ability of the barren woman to conceiving her own child.

    My own favorite irony is that Abraham kept begging God for a “token in the flesh” in order to convince his tribe there is but One God. So after a lot of fussing & begging God gave him Circumcision. That is truly a token in the flesh.

    Bess Kelley

  6. jane February 1, 2012 at 12:51 AM #

    I thought it was ironic how the author naively complained about how evangelicals wrote her hate mail, but the Muslims were so “gracious.” I presume the Muslims she is referring to are American, and not the many oppressed female Muslims in the Middle East who would not even be able to read this book. How does the author reconcile her idealistic romantic view of the matriarchal “start” of Islam with the repressive, anti-female culture found in Islamic countries today?

    The author’s desire for “peace” with world religions is laudable, but it completely conflicts with the reality of the oppressive nature of the Islamic states. I’m surprised someone with so much academic training wouldn’t understand the deep differences and problems facing our religious culture clash. Yes, peace would be great, but how is it possible with a religion that stones women adulterers without a second thought?

  7. daevidd February 6, 2012 at 7:33 AM #

    Dear jane,

    That was a basic part of her premise. The religions we know today have been TWISTED away from each other. They were created in the first place to tell stories to diverging cultures in ways that each culture could use. Now they’re being used to justify developed power structures and reinforce superstitions.

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