Observant readers of the Bible recognize two untruths told in Genesis chapters 20 and 26, first by Abraham and then later by Isaac. You might be interested in learning that the series of falsehoods are not reported merely twice in Scripture, but there are three such schemes!
First, during Abraham’s journey into Egypt (Genesis 12:10f), he and Sarah initially cooked up the story in order to protect themselves from Pharaoh that she was his sister instead of confessing her as his spouse. Years later, the old fears he and Sarah experienced in Egypt suddenly returned when they traveled this time to Palestine, and they agreed once again that Sarah would be presented as Abraham’s sister rather than his wife for the same reason as before (Gen. 20). And so, sad to say, they found themselves repeating the same old story a second time to a Philistine ruler called Abimelech. It is relevant to this discussion to point out that “Abimelech” is translated into English as “My father is king.” Quite possibly the Philistine ruler had a father who was king before him.
The lie is then repeated again. Approximately ninety years from the time Abraham’s second lie when another famine developed in the land Isaac was forced to look for provisions elsewhere. By this time Abraham was now dead (Gen. 25:8) and it is likely that King Abimelech in Isaac’s case (Gen. 26) was a successor to the first king, and was not the same Abimelech as in chapter 20. The first king Abimelech we believe was dead by this time.
I recommend considering a view postulated by many scholars: The term “Abimelech” was a designation like Pharaoh or Caesar, not simply a given or family name. There was even a king over Israel by this same name (Judges 9) and a priest who lived a thousand years after Abraham’s day (1 Sam. 21) who was also supposedly named Abimelech. My point is that ancient kings frequently borrowed names from previous sovereigns, each one embracing the title and glory from their predecessors.
Likewise, confusion can easily crop up through the various circumstances surrounding the names of Assyrian kings of the eighth century B.C. During the divided kingdom era, for instance, Israel’s enemies included Tilglath-Pileser III, Shalmanesser V, Sargon II, and Sennechreb. All of these kings assumed the names of other kings who were before them. In fact, in the case of Shalmanesser of the prophet Hosea’s time, there were four kings with this name in previous history. If one is not careful these kings can be confused with each other. Sometimes their reigns overlap to muddy the situation further.
A contemporary example: If one can imagine, one thousand years from now students may become confused, hearing a lesson in a classroom what seems to be conflicting accounts about how George Bush went to war in the Persian Gulf and defeated Saddam Hussein only to find out there two different George Bushes and two separate Gulf Wars and two distinct defeats against one man named Saddam Hussein. A future student may peruse the account of a President George Bush, not fully understanding that there were two men with this name who lived in the same time period. Furthermore, this future student could merge the details surrounding the two Gulf Wars, noting that the George Bushes even shared cabinet staff and advisors, and thereby one could easily develop a faulty hypothesis on what actually transpired when bringing down the Iraqi leader.