Search     Ancestors     Map     Descendants     Load Gedcom file

Abraham (Ibrahim)
Determine relationship to...
ABT 2052 BC Hebron, Palestine
Sarai bint Terah
Isaac ben Abraham
Born: 1922 BC
Died: 1742 BC
1877 BC Hebron, Palestine

Abraham (Hebrew: ?????????, Standard Avraham Ashkenazi Avrohom or Avruhom Tiberian ?A?raham ; Arabic: ???????, Ibrahim ; Ge'ez: ?????, ?Abr?ham) is regarded as the founding patriarch of the Israelites and of the Arabs in Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition. In that tradition, Abraham is brought by God from his home in the ancient city of Ur into a new land, Canaan, where he enters into a covenant: in exchange for sole recognition of Yahweh as supreme universal authority, Abraham will be blessed through innumerable progeny. His life as narrated in the book of Genesis (chapters 11–25) probably reflects traditions as told through a number of writers and redactors.

His original name was Abram (Hebrew: ???????, Standard Avram Tiberian ?A?ram) meaning either "exalted father" or "[my] father is exalted" (compare Abiram). Later in life he went by the name Abraham, often glossed as av hamon (goyim) "father of many (nations)" per Genesis 17:5, although it does not have any literal meaning in Hebrew.[1]

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions", because of the role Abraham plays in their holy books and beliefs. In the Torah and the Qur'an, Abraham is described as a patriarch blessed by God (Genesis 17:4-5). In the Jewish tradition, he is called Avraham Avinu or "Abraham, our Father". God promised Abraham that through his offspring, all the nations of the world will come to be blessed (Genesis 12:3), interpreted in Christian tradition as a reference to Christ. Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider him father of the people of Israel through his son Isaac (cf. Exodus 6:3, Exodus 32:13). For Muslims, he is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael.

Contents [hide]
1 In the Hebrew Bible
1.1 The Genesis narrative
2 In the New Testament

In the Hebrew Bible
Main article: Abraham (Hebrew Bible)
His father, Terah, came from Ur of the Chaldees, popularly identified since 1927 by Sir Charles Woolley with an ancient city in southern Mesopotamia which was under the rule of the Chaldeans — although Josephus, Islamic tradition, and Jewish authorities like Maimonides all concur that Ur-Of-The-Khaldis was in Northern Mesopotamia — now southeastern Turkey (identified with Urartu, Urfa, and Kutha respectively). This is in accord with the local tradition that Abraham was born in Urfa, or with the nearby Urkesh, which others identify with “Ur of the Chaldees”. They also say “Chaldees” refers to a group of gods called Khaldis [citation needed]. Abram migrated to Harran, apparently the classical Carrhae, on a branch of the Habor. Thence, after a short stay, he, his wife Sarai, Lot (the son of Abram's brother Haran), and all their followers, departed for Canaan. There are two cities possibly identifiable with the biblical Ur, neither far from Haran: Ura and Urfa, a northern Ur also being mentioned in tablets at Ugarit, Nuzi, and Ebla. These possibly refer to Ur, Ura, and Urau (See BAR January 2000, page 16). Moreover, the names of Abram's forefathers Peleg, Serug, Nahor, and Terah, all appear as names of cities in the region of Haran (Harper's Bible Dictionary, page 373). God called Abram to go to "the land I will show you", and promised to bless him and make him (though hitherto childless) a great nation. Trusting this promise, Abram journeyed down to Shechem, and at the sacred tree (compare Gen. 35:4, Joshua 24:26, Judges 9:6) received a new promise that the land would be given unto his seed (descendant or descendants). Having built an altar to commemorate the theophany, he removed to a spot between Bethel and Ai, where he built another altar and called upon (i.e. invoked) the name of God (Gen. 12:1-9).

Here he dwelt for some time, until strife arose between his herdsmen and those of his nephew, Lot. Abram thereupon proposed to Lot that they should separate, and allowed Lot the first choice. Lot preferred the fertile land lying east of the Jordan River, while Abram, after receiving another promise from Yahweh, moved down to the oaks of Mamre in Hebron and built an altar.

In the subsequent history of Lot was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18, Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, or 45, or 30, 20, even 10 righteous people. (Abraham's nephew Lot had been living in Sodom.)

Driven by a famine to take refuge in Egypt (26:11, 41:57, 42:1), Abram feared lest his wife's beauty should arouse the evil designs of the Egyptians and thus endanger his own safety, so he referred to Sarai as his sister. This did not save her from the Pharaoh, who took her into the royal harem and enriched Abram with herds and servants. But when Yahweh "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" Abram and Sarai left Egypt. There are two other parallel tales in Genesis of a wife confused for a sister (Genesis 20-21 and 26) describing a similar event at Gerar with the Philistine king Abimelech, though the latter attributing it to Isaac not Abraham.

As Sarai continued to be infertile, God's promise that Abram's seed would inherit the land seemed incapable of fulfillment. His sole heir was his servant, who was over his household, a certain Eliezer of Damascus (15:2). Abraham is now promised as heir one of his own flesh. The passage recording the ratification of the promise is remarkably solemn (see Genesis 15). Sarai, in accordance with custom, gave to Abram her Egyptian handmaid Hagar as his wife.(Gen 16:3) Sarai found that Hagar was with child, unable to endure the reproach of barrenness (cf. the story of Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:6), dealt harshly with Hagar and forced her to flee (16:1-14). God hears Hagar's sadness and promises her that her descendants will be too numerous to count, and she returns. Her son, Ishmael, was Abram's firstborn, but was not the promised child, as God made his covenant with Abram after Ishmael's birth (chapter 16-17). Hagar and Ishmael were eventually driven permanently away from Abraham by Sarah (chapter 21).

The name Abraham was given to Abram (and the name Sarah to Sarai) at the same time as the covenant of circumcision (chapter 17), which is practiced in Judaism and Islam and by many Christians to this day. At this time Abraham was promised not only many descendants, but descendants through Sarah specifically, as well as the land where he was living, which was to belong to his descendants. The covenant was to be fulfilled through Isaac, though God promised that Ishmael would become a great nation as well. The covenant of circumcision (unlike the earlier promise) was two-sided and conditional: if Abraham and his descendants fulfilled their part of the covenant, Yahweh would be their God and give them the land.

The promise of a son to Abraham made Sarah "laugh," which became the name of the son of promise, Isaac. Sarah herself "laughs" at the idea because of her age, when Yahweh appears to Abraham at Mamre (18:1-15) and, when the child is born, cries "God has made me laugh; every one that hears will laugh at me" (21:6).

Some time after the birth of Isaac, Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Proceeding to obey, he was prevented by an angel as he was about to sacrifice his son, and slew a ram which he found on the spot. As a reward for his obedience he received another promise of a numerous seed and abundant prosperity (22). Then he returned to Beersheba. The near sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most challenging, and perhaps ethically troublesome, parts of the Bible. According to Josephus, Isaac is 25 years old at the time of the sacrifice or Akedah, while the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac is 37. In either case, Isaac is a fully grown man, old enough to prevent the elderly Abraham (who is 125 or 137 years old) from tying him up had he wanted to resist.

The primary interest of the narrative now turns to Isaac. To his "only son" (22:2, 12) Abraham gave all he had, and dismissed the sons of his concubines to the lands outside Canaan; they were thus regarded as less intimately related to Isaac and his descendants (25:1-6). See also: Midianites, Sheba.

Sarah died at an old age, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, which Abraham had purchased, along with the adjoining field, from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23). Here Abraham himself was buried. Centuries later the tomb became a place of pilgrimage and Muslims later built an Islamic mosque inside the site.

Abraham is considered the father of the Jewish nation, as their first Patriarch, and having a son (Isaac), who in turn begat Jacob, and from there the Twelve Tribes. To father the nation, God "tested" Abraham with ten tests, the greatest being his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. God promised the land of Israel to his children, and that is the first claim of the Jews to Israel. Judaism ascribes a special trait to each Patriarch. Abraham's was kindness. Because of this, Judaism considers kindness to be an inherent Jewish trait.

According to the 1st Century Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews "Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham." He is an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism

The Genesis narrative
Biblical narratives represent Abraham as a wealthy, powerful and supremely virtuous man, but humanly flawed, and when afraid for himself, miscalculating, and a sometimes deceiver and an inconsiderate husband. But his central importance in the Book of Genesis, and his portrait as a man favored by God, is unequivocal. Abraham's generations (Hebrew: toledoth, translated to Greek: "Genesis") are presented as part of the crowning explanation of how the world has been fashioned by the hand of God, and how the boundaries and relationships of peoples were established by him.

As the father of Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham is ultimately the common ancestor of the Israelites and their neighbours. As the father of Ishmael, whose twelve sons became desert princes (most prominently, Nebaioth and Kedar), along with Midian, Sheba and other Arabian tribes (25:1-4), the Book of Genesis gives a portrait of Isaac's descendants as being surrounded by kindred peoples, who are also ofttimes enemies. It seems that some degree of kinship was felt by the Hebrews with the dwellers of the more distant south, and it is characteristic of the genealogies that the mothers (Sarah, the Egyptian, Hagar, and Keturah) are in the descending scale, perhaps of purity of blood, or as of purity of relationship, or of connectedness to Sarah: Sarah, her servant, her husband's other wife. The Bible says of the Hebrew people: "Your father was a wandering Syrian".

As stated above, Abraham came from Ur in Babylonia to Haran and thence to Canaan. Late tradition supposed that the migration was to escape Babylonian idolatry (Judith 5, Jubilees 12; cf. Joshua 24:2), and knew of Abraham's miraculous escape from death (an obscure reference to some act of deliverance in Isaiah 29:22). The route along the banks of the Euphrates from south to north was so frequently taken by migrating tribes that the tradition has nothing improbable in itself. It was thence that Jacob, the father of the tribes of Israel, came, and the route to Shechem and Bethel is precisely the same in both.

Further, there is yet another parallel in the story of the conquest by Joshua, partly implied and partly actually detailed (cf. also Joshua 8:9 with Gen. 12:8, 13:3), whence it would appear that too much importance must not be laid upon any ethnological interpretation which fails to account for the three versions. That similar traditional elements have influenced them is not unlikely; but to recover the true historical foundation is difficult. The invasion or immigration of certain tribes from the east of the Jordan; the presence of Aramean blood among the Israelites; the origin of the sanctity of venerable sites — these and other considerations may readily be found to account for the traditions.

Noteworthy coincidences in the lives of Abraham and Isaac, such as the strong parallels between two tales of a wife confused for a sister, point to the fluctuating state of traditions in the oral stage, or suggest that Abraham's life has been built up by borrowing from the common stock of popular lore. More original is the parting of Lot and Abraham at Bethel. The district was the scene of contests between Moab and the Hebrews (cf. perhaps Judges 3), and if this explains part of the story, the physical configuration of the Dead Sea may have led to the legend of the destruction of inhospitable and vicious cities.[citation needed]

In the New Testament
In the New Testament Abraham is mentioned prominently as a man of faith (see e.g., Hebrews 11), and the apostle Paul uses him as an example of salvation by faith, as the progenitor of the Christ (or Messiah) (see Galatians 3:16).

Authors of the New Testament report that Jesus cited Abraham to support belief in the resurrection of the dead. "But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken" (Mark 12:26-27). The New Testament also sees Abraham as an obedient man of God, and Abraham's interrupted attempt to offer up Isaac is seen as the supreme act of perfect faith in God. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Hebrews 11:17-19)

The traditional view in Christianity is that the chief promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 is that through Abraham's seed, all the people of earth would be blessed. Notwithstanding this, John the Baptist specifically taught that merely being of Abraham's seed was no guarantee of salvation. The promise in Genesis is considered to have been fulfilled through Abraham's seed, Jesus. It is also a consequence of this promise that Christianity is open to people of all races and not limited to Jews.

The Roman Catholic Church calls Abraham "our father in Faith," in the Eucharistic prayer called the Roman Canon, recited during the Mass. (See Abraham in the Catholic liturgy).


Database: stanwardine   Bridge Family Tree
Contact: William Bridge