Abraham

Abraham
Rembrandt Abraham Serving the Three Angels.jpg
Information
FamilyAbraham's family tree
SpouseSarah
Hagar
Keturah
ChildrenIshmael
Isaac
Zimran
Jokshan
Medan
Midian
Ishbak
Shuah
RelativesTerah (father)
Sarah (half-sister and wife)
Haran (brother)
Nahor (brother)
Lot (nephew)
Lot's wife (niece)
Birth nameAbram
BirthplaceUr Kaśdim
Death placeHebron
Resting PlaceCave of Machpelah
Resting Place Coordinates31°31′29″N 35°06′39″E / 31°31′29″N 35°06′39″E / 31.524744; 35.110726
InfluencedAbrahamic religions

Abraham[a] (né Abram)[b] is the common patriarch of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions.[1] In Judaism, he is the founding father of the covenant of the pieces, the special relationship between the Jewish people and God; in Christianity, he is the prototype of all believers, Jewish or Gentile; and in Islam he is seen as a link in the chain of prophets that begins with Adam and culminates in Muhammad.[2]

The narrative in the Book of Genesis revolves around the themes of posterity and land. Abraham is called by God to leave the house of his father Terah and settle in the land originally given to Canaan but which God now promises to Abraham and his progeny. Various candidates are put forward who might inherit the land after Abraham; and, while promises are made to Ishmael about founding a great nation, Isaac, Abraham's son by his half-sister Sarah, inherits God's promises to Abraham. Abraham purchases a tomb (the Cave of the Patriarchs) at Hebron to be Sarah's grave, thus establishing his right to the land; and, in the second generation, his heir Isaac is married to a woman from his own kin, thus ruling the Canaanites out of any inheritance. Abraham later marries Keturah and has six more sons; but, on his death, when he is buried beside Sarah, it is Isaac who receives "all Abraham's goods", while the other sons receive only "gifts" (Genesis 25:5–8).[3]

The Abraham story cannot be definitively related to any specific time, and it is widely agreed that the patriarchal age, along with the exodus and the period of the judges, is a late literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history.[4] A common hypothesis among scholars is that it was composed in the early Persian period (late 6th century BCE) as a result of tensions between Jewish landowners who had stayed in Judah during the Babylonian captivity and traced their right to the land through their "father Abraham", and the returning exiles who based their counter-claim on Moses and the Exodus tradition.[5]

Biblical account

A painting of Abraham's departure by József Molnár

Origins and calling

Terah, the ninth in descent from Noah, was the father of three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. The entire family, including grandchildren, lived in Ur of the Chaldees. According to a midrash, Abram worked in Terah's idol shop in his youth. Haran was the father of Lot, and thus Lot was Abram's nephew. Haran died in his native city, Ur of the Chaldees.

Abram married Sarah (Sarai), who was barren. Terah, with Abram, Sarai, and Lot, then departed for Canaan, but settled in a place named [Genesis 12:1–3] Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the substance and souls that they had acquired, and traveled to Shechem in [Genesis 12:4–6]

Sarai

Abraham's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

There was a severe famine in the land of Canaan, so that Abram and Lot and their households, traveled to [Genesis 12:10–13] When they entered Egypt, the Pharaoh's officials praised Sarai's beauty to [Genesis 12:18–20]

Abram and Lot separate

Depiction of the separation of Abraham and Lot by Wenceslaus Hollar

When they came back to the Bethel and Hai area, Abram's and Lot's sizable herds occupied the same pastures. This became a problem for the herdsmen who were assigned to each family's cattle. The conflicts between herdsmen had become so troublesome that Abram suggested that Lot choose a separate area, either on the left hand or on the right hand, that there be no conflict amongst brethren. Lot chose to go eastward to the plain of Jordan where the land was well watered everywhere as far as Zoar, and he dwelled in the cities of the plain toward Sodom. Abram went south to Hebron and settled in the plain of Mamre, where he built another altar to worship God.[6]

Chedorlaomer

Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (painting c. 1464–1467 by Dieric Bouts the Elder)

During the rebellion of the Jordan River cities against [Genesis 14:1–9] Abram's nephew, Lot, was taken prisoner along with his entire household by the invading [Genesis 14:8–12] Lot and his family, at the time, were settled on the outskirts of the [Genesis 13:12]

One person who escaped capture came and told Abram what happened. Once Abram received this news, he immediately assembled 318 trained servants. Abram's force headed north in pursuit of the Elamite army, who were already worn down from the Battle of Siddim. When they caught up with them at Dan, Abram devised a battle plan by splitting his group into more than one unit, and launched a night raid. Not only were they able to free the captives, Abram's unit chased and slaughtered the Elamite King Chedorlaomer at Hobah, just north of [Genesis 14:13–16]

Upon Abram's return, Sodom's king came out to meet with him in the Valley of Shaveh, the "king's dale". Also, Melchizedek king of Salem (Jerusalem), a priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram and God. Abram then gave Melchizedek a [Genesis 14:17–24]

Covenant of the pieces

The vision of the Lord directing Abraham to count the stars (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

The voice of the Lord came to Abram in a vision and repeated the promise of the land and descendants as numerous as the stars. Abram and God made a covenant ceremony, and God told of the future bondage of Israel in Egypt. God described to Abram the land that his offspring would claim: the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaims, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.[Genesis 15:1–21]

Hagar

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, imagined here in a Bible illustration from 1897.

Abram and Sarai tried to make sense of how he would become a progenitor of nations, because after 10 years of living in Canaan, no child had been born. Sarai then offered her Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar, to Abram with the intention that she would bear him a son.

After Hagar found she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress, Sarai. Sarai responded by mistreating Hagar, and Hagar fled into the wilderness. An angel spoke with Hagar at the fountain on the way to Shur. He instructed her to return to the camp of Abram, and that her son would be "a wild ass of a man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren." She was told to call her son Ishmael. Hagar then called God who spoke to her "[Genesis 16:4–16]

Sarah

Thirteen years later, when Abram was 99 years of age, God declared Abram's new name: "Abraham" – "a father of many nations".[Genesis 17:5] Abraham then received the instructions for the covenant, of which [Genesis 17:10–14]

God declared Sarai's new name: "[Genesis 17:22–27]

Three visitors

Abraham and the Three Angels (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Not long afterward, during the heat of the day, Abraham had been sitting at the entrance of his tent by the terebinths of Mamre. He looked up and saw three men in the presence of God. Then he ran and bowed to the ground to welcome them. Abraham then offered to wash their feet and fetch them a morsel of bread, to which they assented. Abraham rushed to [Genesis 18:1–8]

One of the visitors told Abraham that upon his return next year, Sarah would have a son. While at the tent entrance, Sarah overheard what was said and she laughed to herself about the prospect of having a child at their ages. The visitor inquired of Abraham why Sarah laughed at bearing a child at her age, as nothing is too hard for God. Frightened, Sarah denied laughing.

Abraham's plea

Abraham Sees Sodom in Flames (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

After eating, Abraham and the three visitors got up. They walked over to the peak that overlooked the 'cities of the plain' to discuss the fate of [Genesis 18:17–33]

When the two visitors got to Sodom to conduct their report, they planned on staying in the city square. However, Abraham's nephew, Lot, met with them and strongly insisted that these two "men" stay at his house for the night. A rally of men stood outside of Lot's home and demanded that they bring out his guests so that they may "know" (v.5) them. However, Lot objected and offered his virgin daughters who had not "known" (v.8) man to the rally of men instead. They rejected that notion and sought to break down Lot's door to get to his male guests,[Genesis 19:1–9] thus confirming the wickedness of the city and portending their imminent destruction.[Genesis 19:12–13]

Early the next morning, Abraham went to the place where he stood before God. He "looked out toward Sodom and Gomorrah" and saw what became of the cities of the plain, where not even "ten righteous" (v.18:32) had been found, as "the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace."[Genesis 19:27–29]

Abimelech

The Caravan of Abraham (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Abraham settled between Kadesh and Shur in the land of the Philistines. While he was living in Gerar, Abraham openly claimed that Sarah was his sister. Upon discovering this news, King [Genesis 20:1–7]

Early next morning, Abimelech informed his servants of his dream and approached Abraham inquiring as to why he had brought such great guilt upon his kingdom. Abraham stated that he thought there was no fear of God in that place, and that they might kill him for his wife. Then Abraham defended what he had said as not being a lie at all: "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife."[Genesis 20:12] Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, and gave him gifts of sheep, oxen, and servants; and invited him to settle wherever he pleased in Abimelech's lands. Further, Abimelech gave Abraham a thousand pieces of silver to serve as Sarah's vindication before all. Abraham then prayed for Abimelech and his household, since God had stricken the women with infertility because of the taking of Sarah.[Genesis 20:8–18]

After living for some time in the land of the Philistines, Abimelech and Phicol, the chief of his troops, approached Abraham because of a dispute that resulted in a violent confrontation at a well. Abraham then reproached Abimelech due to his Philistine servant's aggressive attacks and the seizing of Abraham's well. Abimelech claimed ignorance of the incident. Then Abraham offered a pact by providing sheep and oxen to Abimelech. Further, to attest that Abraham was the one who dug the well, he also gave Abimelech seven ewes for proof. Because of this sworn oath, they called the place of this well: Beersheba. After Abimelech and Phicol headed back to [Genesis 21:22–34]

Isaac

Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

As had been prophesied in Mamre the previous year,[Genesis 17:21] Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham, on the first anniversary of the covenant of circumcision. Abraham was "an hundred years old", when his son whom he named Isaac was born; and he circumcised him when he was eight days old.[Genesis] For Sarah, the thought of giving birth and nursing a child, at such an old age, also brought her much laughter, as she declared, "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me."[Genesis] Isaac continued to grow and on the day he was weaned, Abraham held a great feast to honor the occasion. During the celebration, however, Sarah found Ishmael mocking; an observation that would begin to clarify the birthright of Isaac.[Genesis 21:8–13]

Ishmael

Ishmael was fourteen years old when Abraham's son [Genesis 21:9–13]

Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. He gave her bread and water and sent them away. The two wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba until her bottle of water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst into tears. After God heard the boy's voice, an angel of the Lord confirmed to Hagar that he would become a great nation, and will be "living on his sword". A well of water then appeared so that it saved their lives. As the boy grew, he became a skilled archer living in the wilderness of [Genesis 21:14–21]

Binding of Isaac

The Angel Hinders the Offering of Isaac by Rembrandt
Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac. From a 14th-century missal

At some point in Isaac's youth, Abraham was commanded by God to offer his son up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. The patriarch traveled three days until he came to the mount that God told him of. He then commanded the servants to remain while he and Isaac proceeded alone into the mount. Isaac carried the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. Along the way, Isaac asked his father where the animal for the burnt offering was, to which Abraham replied "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering". Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, he was interrupted by the angel of the Lord, and he saw behind him a "ram caught in a thicket by his horns", which he sacrificed instead of his son. For his obedience he received another promise of numerous descendants and abundant prosperity. After this event, Abraham went to [Genesis 22:1–19]

Later years

Sarah died, and Abraham buried her in the Cave of the Patriarchs (the "cave of Machpelah"), near Hebron which he had purchased along with the adjoining field from Ephron the [Genesis 23:1–20] After the death of Sarah, Abraham took another wife, a concubine named Keturah, by whom he had six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and [Genesis 25:1–6] According to the Bible, reflecting the change of his name to "Abraham" meaning "a father of many nations", Abraham is considered to be the progenitor of many nations mentioned in the Bible, among others the Israelites, [Genesis 25:12–18] [Genesis 36:1–43]) [Genesis 36:12–16] [Genesis 36:9–16] Midianites and [Genesis 25:1–5] and through his nephew Lot he was also related to the Moabites and [Genesis 19:35–38] Abraham lived to see his son marry Rebekah, (and to see the birth of his twin grandsons [1 Chronicles 1:32]