- The Biblical Data: Genesis 11:26–25:10 The main details of Abraham's life are recorded in Genesis 11:26–25:10. They do not form a continuous narrative but refer to a series of isolated incidents. Son of terah , Abraham was the tenth generation from Noah through the line of Shem (Gen. 11:10–26). His two brothers were Nahor and Haran. His wife was Sarai or sarah , a paternal half sister (11:29; 20:12). The family migrated from "Ur of the Chaldees" (11:31), the apparent birthplace of Abraham (11:28; 15:7; Neh. 9:7; cf. Josh. 24:2–3), heading for Canaan. It was during the stay at Haran that Abram, then aged 75, received the divine call and promise of nationhood in response to which he proceeded to Canaan together with his wife and nephew lot (Gen. 12:1–5). At Shechem he received a further promise of national territory and built an altar before continuing his wanderings in the region between Beth-El and Ai. In this area, too, he built an altar and invoked the divine name, thereafter journeying toward the Negev (12:6–9). (See Map: Abraham's Journeys.) Driven by famine to Egypt, the patriarch represented his wife as his sister in order to avert personal danger. Sarah was taken to Pharaoh's palace, but released when the deception was uncovered as a result of divine visitations (12:10–20). Abraham returned to Canaan and resumed his peregrinations. At this time, Lot left the clan because of quarrels over pasture-lands and departed (13:5–9). This incident was followed by a reiteration of the divine promises of nationhood and possession of the land (13:14–17). Abraham again built an altar, this time in Hebron (13:18). Abraham "the Hebrew" next appears in the role of military chief, described in terms of the ideal "noble warrior," leading a force of 318 retainers against an invading coalition of eastern kings who had captured Lot in plundering sodom and Gomorrah. The patriarch rescued his nephew and restored the booty. On his return he was blessed by melchizedek , priest-king of Salem, to whom he paid tithes. He refused, however, the offer by the king of Sodom of a share in the recovered spoils (ch. 14). Once again, Abraham received \<! \> \!map showing route of abrahams wanderings and other main routes of the ancient east. Map showing route of Abraham's wanderings and other main routes of the ancient East. confirmation of the divine promises, now sealed through an elaborate covenant ceremony (ch. 15). Ten years had now elapsed since the first promise of abundant offspring, but Sarah remained childless. She therefore presented her maidservant hagar to her husband as a second wife. ishmael was born of the union, Abraham being then 86 years old (16:1 ff.). The Bible is silent about the next 13 years. Then Scripture reports that God reaffirmed and strengthened the promise of a rich posterity. Abraham and Sarah were to beget "a multitude of nations" and kings would issue from them (17:1–8). It is at this point that their names were changed from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, respectively (17:5, 15). In addition, the institution of circumcision was ordained as an ineradicable token of the immutability of God's covenant with Abraham and his posterity (17:9–14). Sarah was explicitly promised a son to be called isaac , through whom the covenant would be maintained (17:16–19, 21). Abraham then performed circumcision on himself and on Ishmael, as well as upon all males in his household (17:23–27). Alongside the terebinths of Mamre three messengers appeared to the patriarch who entertained them hospitably and learned from them of the impending birth of his son and heir (18:1–10). Sarah was amused by these tidings as had been Abraham earlier (18:12; cf. 17:17), but the Lord Himself confirmed their truth (18:14). He also revealed His decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded for revocation of the sentence for the sake of an innocent nucleus that might be found therein. None such could apparently be found, although Lot was saved from the subsequent destruction through the merit of Abraham (18:16–19:29). The patriarch journeyed to the Negev area and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While in Gerar, he again passed off his wife as his sister. King abimelech took Sarah into his palace, but released her unharmed after being rebuked in a dream theophany (ch. 20). The time of fulfillment of the divine promise was now at hand. Sarah, aged 90 (17:17), bore the 100-year-old Abraham a son who was named Isaac (21:1–3, 5). This event, however, proved to be a cause of domestic disharmony. Sarah demanded the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. It was only divine intervention in favor of Sarah that persuaded the distressed Abraham to agree (21:9–21). At this time, at Abimelech's initiative, the patriarch concluded a pact of non-aggression, which also regulated the watering rights in the Beer-Sheba area. He subsequently spent considerable time in the land of the Philistines (21:22–34). The climax of Abraham's life was the divine command to sacrifice Isaac in the land of Moriah (see akedah ). Abraham obeyed unhesitatingly and his hand was stayed only at the last moment by an angel. Having passed the supreme test of faith, the patriarch now received, for the last time, the divine blessing – the promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; they would seize the gates of their foes; all the nations of the earth would bless themselves by his progeny (22:1–19). Abraham's subsequent acts were concerned with winding up his affairs. The death of Sarah in Kiriath-Arba (Hebron) was the occasion for acquiring the cave of machpelah , as a family sepulcher, from Ephron the Hittite (ch. 23). Then, Abraham commissioned his senior servant to travel to Haran to find a wife for Isaac, the idea of a local Canaanite daughter-in-law being thoroughly repugnant to him (ch. 24). After Isaac's marriage to Rebekah, Abraham himself remarried. Several children were born of this marriage to Keturah, like Isaac and Ishmael the eponyms of nations. Thus was fulfilled the promise (Gen 17:4) that Abraham would be the father of many nations. However, he willed all his possessions to Isaac, gave his other sons gifts and sent them away to the land of the East. Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried in the cave of Machpelah by Isaac and Ishmael (25:1–11). -The Biblical Data: In the Rest of the Bible Mention of Abraham in the rest of the Bible is overwhelmingly in connection with the divine promises, and usually there is simultaneous reference to all three patriarchs. The few points of contact with the Abrahamic biography are mainly confined to the Book of Genesis (26:1; 35:27; 49:31), though the exodus from Ur and the change of name are mentioned in the late books (Neh. 9:7; cf. Josh. 24:2–3; I Chron. 1:26). A cryptic reference to Abraham's idolatrous ancestry is to be found in Joshua 24:2, while Isaiah (29:22) seems to cite some widely known tradition not otherwise recorded in the Bible. Abraham is called God's "servant" (Gen. 26:24; Ps. 105:6, 42) and "friend" (Isa. 41:8; II Chron. 20:7), and though the patriarch is not an ethnographic figure, Israel is called "the offspring of Abraham" (Isa. 41:8; Jer. 33:26; Ps. 105:6; II Chron. 20:7) and "the people of the God of Abraham" (Ps. 47:10). Surprisingly, "God of Abraham" as a generalized divine epithet appears only this once. Otherwise, Abraham is invariably associated with the other patriarchs in divine appellations. -The Image of Abraham The picture that emerges from the biblical texts suggests a wealthy head of a large establishment, a semi-nomadic tent dweller (Gen. 12:8; et al.), whose peregrinations are confined mainly to the central hill country of Palestine and the Negev and who clings to the periphery of a few great urban centers. He possesses flocks, silver and gold, slaves (ibid. 12:5, 16, et al.), and a private army (14:14). He makes military alliances (14:13), has dealings with kings (12:15 ff.; 14:18 ff.; 17:22 ff.; 21:22–32), and negotiates the purchase of land with city notables (23:2–20). Abraham is peace loving (13:8–9), magnanimous and principled in victory (14:22 ff.), hospitable to strangers (18:1 ff.), concerned for his fellowmen (18:23–33), obedient to God and his laws (26:5), and committed to transmitting to his posterity the ideals of justice and righteousness that he espouses (18:19). He is the very symbol of the God-fearing man (22:12) and the man of supreme faith (15:6; 22; Neh. 9:8). He is privy to divine decisions (Gen. 18:17; cf. Amos 3:7) and is also termed "a prophet" (Gen. 20:7) in that he can intercede with God on another's behalf (cf. Deut. 9:20; Jer. 7:16). -The Critical View The disconnected and fragmentary nature of the narrative, as well as stylistic considerations, seem to point to a composition based on various oral traditions and written sources. Among followers of the documentary theory, there is a broad measure of agreement in respect of source division among JE and P, but little consensus as to the age and historic value of the material used by these sources. No external records have been found as yet that refer by name to Abraham or to any personage directly connected with him. In the absence of such synchronistic controls, and in the light of the difficulties of the biblical chronological data (see chronology ), the place of the patriarch in the framework of history cannot be precisely determined. The attempts in the mid-20th century to marshal sociological and onomastic evidence from archeological discoveries at Nuzi, Mari, and elsewhere to provide a historical setting for Abraham in the second millennium B.C.E. have not withstood the test of time. Most alleged parallels between the Abrahamic stories have been shown to be faulty (e.g., wife-sister marriage), or not to be confined to a specific period in the second millennium (e.g., surrogate motherhood). Contemporary scholarship tends to see Abraham as a fictitious symbolic model of faith, as a figure who legitimates the claims of Israel to its land, and whose actions foreshadow the deeds of his children. Some of the tales of Abraham foreshadow the actions of Israelite kings, notably David (see patriarchs ). Whatever the age and source of the individual units, it is quite clear that in its present form the cycle of Abrahamic traditions is a unified and symmetrical historiographic composition. These traditions are encased within a framework of genealogies – the first listing the patriarch's ancestors (Gen. 11:10–32) and the second his descendants (25:1–18). The action opens and closes in a Mesopotamian setting (12:1–4; 24:4 ff.). The first utterance of Abraham to God is an expression of doubt (15:2–8); his last is one of supreme confidence in the workings of divine providence (24:7). Finally, both the first and last communications from God to Abraham involve agonizing decisions and tests of faith, and they are cast in a strikingly similar literary mold: almost identical language is used in the case of both calls (12:1; 22:2); the exact destination is withheld in both cases; the motif of father parting with son is shared by each narrative; the tension of the drama is heightened by the accumulation of descriptive epithets (ibid.); in each instance Abraham builds an altar (12:8; 22:9); and in each he receives divine blessings of similar content (12:2–3; 22:17–18). (Nahum M. Sarna / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.) -In the Aggadah In aggadic literature Abraham is regarded as having observed all the commandments (Yoma 28b; Kid. 4:14; et al.) even though they had not yet been revealed. He acted in strict conformity with the Oral Law: "No one occupied himself so much with the divine commandments as did Abraham" (Ned. 32a). He even muzzled his animals that they should not graze in the fields of others (Gen. R. 41:6). Abraham instituted the morning prayer (Ber. 26b), and the precepts of the ẓiẓit and tefillin originate from him (Mid. Hag. to Gen. 14:23). These statements probably constitute a polemic against Christian antinomianism which was prevalent toward the end of the first century C.E. and which later maintained that the commandments of the Torah were a punishment inflicted upon Israel. Abraham's principal virtue was that he was the first to recognize God, which is variously stated to have taken place when he was one, three, ten, or 48 years old (Gen. R. 95:2; 64:4). His recognition of God sprang from the notion that every citadel must have a leader (ibid. 39:1). Abraham waged a strenuous battle in the cause of spreading the idea of monotheism and won over many converts. When he smashed the idols of his father, an idol manufacturer, King nimrod had him thrown into a fiery furnace from which he was delivered by the angel Gabriel (Pes. 118a). Abraham became a priest (Gen. R. 55:6), after the priest-hood was taken from Melchizedek and given to him (Ned. 32b; Gen. R. 46:5; et al.). He was one of the great prophets, with whom God spoke not in dreams or visions but while he was in full possession of his normal cognitive faculties. "God omitted no blessing in the world with which He did not bless him" (SER 6). Through coins bearing his image Abraham's fame spread (Gen. R. 39:11). Around his neck was hung a precious stone which brought masses flocking to him, for whoever looked on it was healed (BB 16b, et al.). He was granted the privilege of blessing others (Tanḥ. Lekh Lekha 5), and his blessing spread upon all who came into contact with him (Gen. R. 39:12). Renowned for his hospitality to strangers, he had open doors to his house on all four sides (Gen. R. 48:9) and himself waited on his guests, and taught them the Grace after Meals, thus bringing them to believe in God (ibid. 54:6). Because of his proselytizing activities, he is regarded as the father of all proselytes, who are given the patronymic Abraham. Abraham was circumcised on the Day of Atonement by Shem the son of Noah, "and every year the Holy One, blessed be He, looks upon the blood of the covenant of our patriarch Abraham's circumcision and forgives all our sins" (PdRE 29). Circumcision was one of the ten trials wherewith Abraham was tried (see later) and by virtue of it he sits at the gate of hell and does not permit the circumcised to enter (Gen. R. 48:8). The phrase, "entry into the covenant of Abraham our father," used to this day for the ceremony of circumcision, is already found in the Damascus Document 12:11 (ed. Ch. Rabin, Zadokite Documents (19582), 60–61). According to an early tradition Abraham underwent ten trials (Avot 5:3) of which different lists are given in the Midrashim (ARN 33:2; Mid. Ps. to 18:25; 98; PdRE 26). In answer to the sectarians who sought thus to prove the weakness of Abraham's faith, the sages emphasized that it is only the righteous, who are certain to pass the test, who are tried (Gen. R. 55:1–2). "Lovingkindness is spread abroad" (Gen. R. 60:2) and the world and all therein are preserved because of Abraham's merit. The manna (Tanḥ. Buber, Ex. 34), victory in war (Gen. R. 39:16; Esth. R. 7:13), and general forgiveness of Israel's sins (Song R. 4:6) are ascribed to his merit. The dramatic description of Abraham's appeal to save the people of Sodom (Gen. 18:23–33) is given a new dimension in the Midrash, which compares his arguments with God to those of Job (Gen. R. 49:9). According to this Abraham employed a "cleaner" language than did Job (ibid.). In this connection the Midrash emphasizes the extreme contrast between the basic hospitality of Abraham and the spurious "hospitality" of the people of Sodom (Ag. Ber. 25). It is of interest to note that the Akedah is regarded as more of a trial of Abraham than of Isaac. In a desire to compare the trial of Abraham with that of Job, the aggadah assigns to Satan a role in the drama of Abraham as well (Sanh. 89b). The disciples of Abraham have "a benign eye, a humble spirit and a lowly soul" (Avot 5:19). Abraham however is not regarded as beyond criticism. The Talmud states that "Abraham our father was punished and his descendants enslaved in Egypt" because he pressed scholars into military service (based on Gen. 14:14), went too far in testing God, and prevented men from "entering beneath the wings of the Divine Presence" (based on Gen. 14:21; Ned. 32a). Moreover, Abraham hesitated to circumcise himself, whereupon Mamre rebuked and encouraged him (Gen. R. 42:8). In a biting comment, Rava denied Abraham the right to intercede on behalf of his people: In time to come Israel will ask of God: "To whom shall we go – to Abraham to whom Thou didst say, 'Know of a surety that thy seed be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them…' and yet he did not plead for mercy for us?" (Shab. 89b). The prevailing Hellenistic outlook influenced the description of Abraham in the Apocrypha. He is the founder of a city and a legislator, the two principal functions of a great leader according to the Hellenistic concept, and his wisdom is described in extravagant terms. According to the Apocrypha his recognition of God stemmed from his knowledge of astronomy which he taught to the great men of his generation. Hence there developed the idea that Abraham was an expert in many and varied spheres. The Book of Jubilees even declares that he instructed men in the art of improved plowing, so as to conceal the seeds from the ravens (11: 18–24). His Babylonian origin is emphasized in conformity with the contemporary outlook which regarded that country as the cradle of mysticism. On the basis of Genesis 17:5 Abraham was deemed to be the progenitor of the Spartans too (I Macc. 12:20–22; II Macc. 5:9). The Testament of abraham and the Apocalypse of abraham are devoted to him. Philo deals with him in his De Migratione Abrahami, while extracts from Hellenistic Jewish writers about him have been preserved by Eusebius. In IV Macc. 14:20; 15:28 Abraham typifies the ability to withstand oppression. The background of this description of Abraham was the persecution of the Jews of Alexandria at that time. (Israel Moses Ta-Shma) -In Jewish Philosophy Over the generations, Jewish thinkers, from Philo Judaeus of Alexandia to joseph soloveitchik and yeshayahu leibowitz , have regarded Abraham as the archetypal believer, in accordance with the image of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible and Midrash: his origins in pagan environs (Josh. 24:2); the testimony of Genesis 15:6 that Abraham "believed in the Lord", and Abraham's absolute obedience to divine commandments, beginning with his leaving his homeland (Gen. 12:1) and culminating in his binding of his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2; see akedah ). In addition to this biblical image of Abraham, Jewish philosophers found in rabbinic Midrashim views of Abraham according to which he smashed the prevalent idols and came to believe in the one God (Gen. R. 38); Genesis 12:5 ("and the persons he had acquired in Haran") was interpreted to mean people Abraham converted (Gen. R. 39:14; cf. Targum Onkelos and Rashi to Gen. 12:5); and Genesis 34:12 ("He took him outside and said: Look at the sky") was understood as meaning that Abraham no longer had anything to do with astrology. Eventually two paradigms evolved, in which the image of Abraham came to reflect two basic approaches to Jewish philosophy. According to the first school of thought, in which religion was understood rationally, Abraham was seen as a philosopher whose faith in God was the conclusion of scientific reasoning. According to the other school of thought, Abraham was seen as a believer whose faith and experience of divine revelation transcended his earlier philosophical or scientific speculation. The first view of Abraham as a philosopher is found in Hellenistic Jewish literature. philo judaeus of Alexandria described Abraham as an autodidact philosopher who concluded that God exists. Philo interpreted Abraham's wanderings and wars allegorically as a process of coming to know God (De Abrahamo 68). Philo's younger contemporary, the historian josephus flavius , similarly attributed to Abraham the spreading of monotheism after he had rationally deduced the existence of God who cares providentially for human welfare (Antiquities I, 7:155–56) and who had instructed the Egyptians in the ancient Chaldean sciences, such as arithmetic and astronomy, which were later transmitted to the Greeks (Antiquities, 167–68). This view of Abraham as a philosopher is also found in medieval Jewish thought. maimonides characterized Abraham as a natural philosopher who independently articulated the Aristotelian cosmological proof of an incorporeal unmoved mover of the heavenly sphere. Paradoxically, for Maimonides, in judah halevi 's famous phrase, the "God of Abraham" effectively was identified with the "God of Aristotle." During his wanderings from Mesopotamia to Canaan, Abraham then spread his concept of a transcendent God (Yad, Avodah Zarah 1:3; Guide of the Perplexed 3:29), and became "the father of the whole world by teaching them faith" (Responsa, ed. Blau, 293). Only Moses, "the father of all prophets" (Commentary on Mishnah Avot 4:4; Guide of the Perplexed 3:54) was of a higher rank than Abraham (Guide 2:45). It should be noted that, in Maimonides' view, prophecy itself was understood to be a thoroughly rational phenomenon (Commentary on Mishnah, Introduction to Sanhedrin ch. 10, sixth principle; see prophecy ). Nevertheless, Maimonides states that Abraham and Moses prophetically grasped the supranatural understanding of creation ex nihilo and thus differed from the Aristotelian philosophic belief in the world's eternity (Guide 2:13, 17, 23). The Hellenistic and medieval Jewish view of Abraham as philosopher is also found in modern Jewish thought. nachman krochmal 's Guide of the Perplexed of the Time pictures Abraham as a philosopher who deduced the teleological proof from design of God's existence and as the first monotheist who affirmed the "Absolute Spirit." The other school of thought, which identifies Abraham as the first believer, is most clearly enunciated by judah halevi , whose Kuzari (4:16) juxtaposes "the God of Abraham" (identified with the Tetragrammaton) with "the God of Aristotle" (identified with the name elohim). "The God of Abraham" is the personal God of the Bible, who is loved and known through the direct experience called "taste" (Arab. dhauq; Heb. ta'am), whereas the impersonal "God of Aristotle," who is indifferent to the world and to human affairs, is known through rational speculation (Arab. qiyas; Heb. hekesh, hakashah). In Halevi's view, Abraham himself underwent a radical transformation in his life: after composing the Sefer Yeẓirah in his early years as a philosopher, Abraham merited divine revelation and true faith, as a consequence of which he was prepared to obey any divine commandment (Kuzari 4:24–27). Halevi thus partially accepts the rationalist view of Abraham as a philosopher, but it was as a prophet, receiving divine revelation, and not as a natural philosopher, that Abraham attained his spiritual greatness. Following Halevi, isaac arama argued that philosophy and faith are unrelated. Philosophers know what can be demonstrated and deny whatever cannot be demonstrated, but reject the concept of "faith" (Ḥazut Kashah 3). Arama's works describe in detail the gradual progression of Abraham's faith, beginning with his transition from idolatry to a scientific-philosophic conclusion regarding the existence of one God (Akedat Yiẓḥak 16), which in turn led to practical application in loving imitatio Dei. Abraham's spiritual progression culminated in his religious faith in reward and punishment and in his fear of God, which were realized in his binding of his son Isaac as an expression of his absolute obedience to God (Ḥazut Kashah 3). In the 20th century, Joseph Soloveitchik's Lonely Man of Faith (1965) presents a view of Abraham as dissatisfied with his early Mesopotamian contemplation of remote and alienating skies, which had led him to conclude that there is one God. As he progressed, Abraham needed personal revelation. In contrast with the view of Halevi and Arama, according to which Abraham passed from an earlier philosophic or scientific contemplative stage to prophetic receiving of divine revelation, or Soloveitchik's understanding of Abraham as undergoing a personal experience of revelation, Yeshayahu Leibowitz describes Abraham as reaching his faith as a result of a voluntary, religious decision and not as the conclusion of rational contemplation. Abraham, in Leibowitz's view, represents "faith for its own sake," namely an unreasoned obedience to the divine commandment, without any human benefit or expectation of reward. Several Jewish thinkers have also dealt with Abraham's personality, including judging his questionable behavior in Egypt (Gen. 12) and Gerar (Gen. 20), when, fearing that he might be killed, he presented his wife Sarah as his sister. saadiah gaon 's Book of Beliefs and Opinions deals with the charge that Abraham lied, and justifies his behavior by suggesting that Abraham phrased his statement ambivalently, since "sister" could mean any relative, thus permitting his words to be interpreted as if they were true. Conversely, Naḥmanides did not hesitate to criticize Abraham's behavior, not so much for his misleading words but for thereby leading the people to great sin and for causing his "righteous wife" to stumble (Commentary to Gen. 12:10, 20:12). Abraham's sin resulted from his insufficient trust in God's assistance. Isaac Arama's presentation (discussed above) of Abraham's gradual spiritual progress and the development of his personality attributed his behavior in these incidents to an early stage, when Abraham had not yet attained perfect faith in divine providence and utter trust in divine assistance (Binding of Isaac 16). (Hannah Kasher (2nd ed.) -In Christian Tradition Next to Moses, Abraham is the Old Testament figure most frequently referred to in the New Testament, being mentioned 72 times. The Evangelists emphasize the physical descent of Jesus, from Abraham through David (Matt. 1:1, 2–17; Luke 3:34), but Christian tradition considers Abraham essentially in the spiritual sense as the father of all believers destined to inherit the divine promises. According to Paul (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:7–9), to the authors of the Epistle of James (2:21–23) and the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:8–10), Abraham, because of his "faith" (cf. Gen. 15:6, and see above), became the repository of the divine promises through whose seed all nations of the earth would ultimately be blessed (cf. Gen. 12:2–4). Hence all Christians, through their faith in the Messiah, are the children of Abraham to the extent that Abraham's righteousness because of his faith (and not because of his belief in the Law) is imparted to all believers in Jesus (Rom. 4:13–25). The church Fathers interpret the figure of Abraham in moral and typological terms. They emphasize his obedience to God in leaving his homeland (Ambrose), thus prefiguring the Apostles' following of Jesus (Augustine). His submission to God's will in all trials, even to the point of being prepared to sacrifice his son (see akedah ) has been taken as a prefiguration of the death of Jesus. The New Testament mentions once "abraham 's bosom" (Luke 16:22) – a rabbinic term referring to the place of repose of the righteous in the hereafter. In the writings of luther and of the 19th-century philosopher S. Kierkegaard, Abraham figures as the paradigm of the man of faith whose total commitment to God is based not on reason but on pure faith. -In Islamic Tradition "The (book) leaves of Abraham" are mentioned, together with those of Moses, in two of the older suras (87:19; 53:37) of the Koran. This indicates that Abraham was known to Muhammad as one of the fathers of the monotheistic belief from the beginning of the latter's career; however, Muhammad must have learned that Abraham did not promulgate a book. When Muhammad began to fill his suras with stories of the prophets, Abraham received a large share, mainly on the basis of material drawn from talmudic legends. Abraham, by his own reasoning, recognized that his Creator was God and not a shining star, the moon, or the sun. He smashed the idols of his father, was thrown into a furnace, was miraculously saved, and migrated to the Holy Land. Though long childless, he believed in God's promise of a son and, when a son was born to him, he was prepared to sacrifice him at God's command. It is remarkable that Ishmael, later so prominent in the Koran, does not appear in any connection with his father during the middle Meccan period, e.g., Sura 29:26, "We (God) gave him (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and bestowed on his posterity the gift of prophecy and the book." Also, 11:24, "We brought her (Sarah) the good tidings of Isaac and, after Isaac, Jacob" (cf. similar statements in 37:112–3 and 21:72). During this period, Ishmael is not treated as an individual in a story, but is merely mentioned as a name in a series of prophets and saints, together with such biblical personalities as Aaron, Job, or Elisha, i.e., far removed from Abraham. Just as there is no connection between Abraham and Ishmael, so there is none between Abraham and the building of the Kaaba, the sanctuary of Muhammad's native city, until late in Muhammad's prophetic career (e.g., Sura 2:118 ff.). There is also little doubt that, in one form or another, he heard the story of Abraham as the founder of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, as told in the Book of Jubilees (22:23–4). The story goes back to II Chronicles 3:1, according to which Solomon built the Temple on the same Mount of Moriah on which Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2). The Book of Jubilees elaborates the story and lets Abraham say that he has built this house in order to put his name on it in the country which God has given to him and to his posterity, and that it will be given to him (Jacob) and to his posterity forever. With the aid of the new material Muhammad constructed the ingenious theory that Abraham built the Kaaba together with his son Ishmael (2:121), father of the Arabs, and thus founded the religion of Islam, which he, Muhammad, promulgated among his own people. The very word Islam and the idea contained in it, namely that of complete dedication to God, is connected with the story of Abraham, e.g., Sura 2:125, "When God said to him (Abraham), 'dedicate yourself to God (aslim),' he said, 'I dedicate myself to the Lord of the Worlds.'" Or (22:77): "This is the religion of your father Abraham. He called you muslimīn," i.e., those who dedicate themselves to God. This expression goes back to Genesis 17:1 in the version of Targum onkelos , where Abraham is admonished by God to become shelīm, and the subsequent definition of a proselyte as one who dedicates himself to his Creator (hishlīm aẓmo la-bore; cf. Goldziher, in: M. Steinschneider, Polemische und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache (1877), 266, n. 56). Muhammad emphatically states that Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian (Sura 2:140/134; 3:6760); this new knowledge did not lead him back to his original primitive universalism, but, on the contrary, made Islam, the religion of Abraham, father of the Arabs, exclusive, the "best religion" (3:110/106), prior in time, and therefore in quality, to all others. The koranic story of Abraham, which contains many rabbinical legends, is fully covered by H. Speyer in Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1961, pp. 120–86; see also Moubarac in bibl.). The enormous expansion of these stories in Islamic religious, historical, and narrative literature has been researched by four generations of Jewish scholars, beginning with A. Geiger (Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen, 1833) up to B. Heller (especially in EJ, and in EIS2, S.V. Ibrāhīm). These researches show that the legends had been spread in Arabia in very early times. Umayya ibn Abī al-Salt , Muhammad's contemporary and rival, also knew the tales about Abraham. (Shelomo Dov Goitein) -In Medieval Hebrew Literature The various legends about Abraham scattered in midrashic literature formed the basis from which medieval Hebrew writers tried to construct a coherent story of his birth, his youth, and his recognition of the one God. The medieval story was written in a few versions. Three stories, published by A. Jellinek in his Beit ha-Midrash (one long and detailed version and two short legends, see bibliography), are replete with motifs and elements which are not midrashic, but probably originated with the medieval authors. Abraham's recognition of the existence of only one God, which made him the first monotheist, and Abraham as a martyr, are the two principal recurring motifs. In the narratives centered around the first motif, Abraham was left in a cave immediately after birth because Nimrod, the god-king of Babylonia, who had had an astrological warning that a child would be born that year who would dethrone him, decreed that all male children be killed. In the cave the angel gabriel nursed Abraham, who within a few days could already walk and talk. Upon his return to his father's house, he began to spread monotheistic belief. In the medieval work Sefer ha-Yashar, which renders the biblical stories in a medieval style (see fiction : The Retelling of Bible Stories), the story of Abraham, told in detail, is based both upon midrashic and medieval literatures, to which the anonymous author added details of his own. In one of the stories about Abraham known in the Middle Ages (the earliest version is found in 12th-century sources), Abraham in his youth went to study with Shem, the son of Noah. Together they made a golem, that is, a person out of earth and water who miraculously came to life. Such stories were later told about the prophet jeremiah and ben sira , who claimed to be his grandson. This golem story is undoubtedly connected with another medieval belief about Abraham, mainly that he was the author of Sefer Yeẓirah ("Book of Creation"), one of the first cosmological writings in Hebrew, which was extensively used by Jewish mystics who saw it as a revelation of the mystical way in which the heavenly and earthly worlds were created. It was believed that proper use of the knowledge in Sefer Yeẓirah would also enable the mystics to create a golem, and that the work contained the process of reasoning that Abraham followed to establish the unity of God. To medieval philosophers and mystics, Abraham had been not only a person, but also a symbol. In the controversy that raged around the study of philosophy in Spain and in Provence at the beginning of the 14th century, the philosophers were accused of interpreting the story of Abraham and Sarah allegorically, through seeing the figures of Abraham and Sarah as personifications of the relationship between matter and form (according to Aristotelian philosophy). The kabbalists on the other hand, saw Abraham as a personification of Ḥesed ("loving-kindness"), the fourth of the Ten sefirot (see kabbalah ). (Joseph Dan) -In the Arts Early literary treatment of episodes in the life of Abraham in addition to the sacrifice of Isaac (see akedah ) have been found in medieval English miracle plays, such as the Histories of Lot and Abraham, and in the 15th-century French Mistere du Viel Testament, which deals with Abraham's complete life. The outstanding Renaissance work on the theme is one of a series of Italian religious dramas, the Rappresentazione de Abram e di Sara sua moglie (1556). The episode involving Hagar has also inspired some plays, notably Hagar dans le desert (1781) by the French Comtesse de Genlis, and a Dutch drama Hagar (1848) by the convert isaac da costa , who saw in Hagar's return to Abraham's tent Islam's ultimate reconciliation with Christianity. The outstanding Jewish work of fiction based on the theme is Yesod Olam ("Foundation of the World") by Moses ben mordecai zacuto . Based on midrashic sources, this play, dramatically insubstantial though it is, is significant by reason of its being one of the earliest plays to be written in Hebrew. The story of Abraham has inspired greater creative endeavor in the pictorial arts. Scenes from the patriarch's life have been illustrated in paintings, sculpture, manuscript illuminations, and mosaics. Usually represented as a white-bearded old man, armed with a knife, Abraham was a favorite subject not only for Christian artists (as a prefiguration of Jesus), but also for Moslems. Two rare examples of cyclic treatment are the 12th-century mosaics in the cathedral of San Marco, Venice, and a set of 16th-century Flemish tapestries by Bernard van Orley. Varying combinations of important episodes are found in fifth-century mosaics in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome; in the sixth-century manuscript known as the Vienna Genesis; in the sixth-century mosaics in Ravenna; in the bronze doors of San Zeno, Verona, the altar of Verdun, and the frescoes of Saint-Savin, Poitou (all 12th century); and in Ghiberti's bronze doors at the Florence baptistry (15th century). Episodes particularly favored by Christian artists were Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek, the visit of the three angels, and the Akedah. In the first, stress was laid on the dual significance of the scene, Abraham's offering of tithes to the priest-king symbolizing the presentation of gifts to the infant Jesus by the three Magi, and Melchizedek's offering of bread and wine to Abraham prefiguring the Eucharist. The Melchizedek episode appears in the works at Rome, Ravenna, and Poitou referred to above and in the 13th-century portal of Amiens cathedral, and it inspired Tintoretto's painting for the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice (16th century). Melchizedek is usually depicted wearing a crown and bearing a chalice, while Abraham is often shown as a knight in armor. The visit of the angels has been variously interpreted by Christian artists. In the eastern church the angels were seen as a prediction of the Trinity and there are many icons on this theme, notably the delicate painting by Andrei Rublev (1422), now in Moscow. In western countries, their announcement of the impending birth of Isaac was thought to prefigure the Annunciation, and this traditional medieval reading inspires the Rome mosaics, the Verdun altar, the doors of San Zeno, and the 12th-century Psalter of Saint Louis (Paris). From the 17th century onward this incident was taken as the archetype of hospitality, inspiring such post-Renaissance paintings as those of rembrandt (1636, now in Leningrad), Murillo, and the Tiepolos. The dismissal of Hagar – whom the Church took to prefigure the superseded "Old Law," Sarah symbolizing the New – was popular in the 17th century particularly with Dutch artists, mainly because it offered opportunities for domestic and emotionally dramatic scenes. The episode was thus exploited by Rubens, Rembrandt, Nicolaes Maes, and Jan Steen. A French artist of a later period who treated the same subject was Corot. A parable in the Gospel of Luke (16:22) was responsible for a quaint treatment of Abraham in representations of the Last Judgment on Gothic cathedrals such as Paris, Rheims, Bourges, and Bamberg. Here the saved souls are shown being gathered into "Abraham's bosom." Among modern Jewish artists, Chagall, who was particularly fascinated by the life of Abraham, painted many scenes from the patriarch's life story, including the circumcision of Isaac. The most popular representation of Abraham in Jewish art was that showing the Akedah. This appears on the western wall of the dura-europos synagogue of the third century C.E. This theme lent itself to representations in the continuous or narrative style, in which a sequence of events is represented without frame or formal interruptions, as in the mosaic floor of the bet alfa (sixth century C.E.) synagogue. Other popular themes were the appearance of the three angels to Abraham and his condemnation to death through fire by Nimrod. An outstanding example of the latter is found in a British Museum illuminated manuscript (Ms. Add. 27210) where Abraham is rescued by two figures, not found in other illustrations. An elderly bearded male with outstretched arms is seen in the foreground, while in the background is an angel with clearly defined wings. It is improbable that both these figures represent angels as they appear of different age and complexion. The older figure may therefore represent God, a fact which would suggest a Christian illuminator. (Helen Rosenau) The story of Abraham provided the basis for several musical compositions from the late 18th century onward. The Hagar and Ishmael episode was the theme of oratorios, notably Scarlatti's Agar et Ismaele esiliati (1683) and Giovanni Battista Vitali's Agar (1671). Of the few works on the sojourn in Egypt, the oratorio Sara in Egitto (1708) probably holds the record among "pasticcios" – works in which several composers collaborated or were used – since the setting of the libretto was entrusted to no fewer than 24 composers. Schubert's first song, written in March 1811, was "Hagars Klage." The only opera on this subtheme, Agar au désert (1806) by Etienne Nicolas Méhul, was never performed. Michael Gnessin wrote an opera on Abraham's youth, during his visit to Ereẓ Israel in 1922. Prominent among the more specifically Jewish compositions are the Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) romances, Cuando el Rey Nimrod, Abram Abinu, and En primero alabaremos, which reflect the legend of Abraham's birth found in the Sefer ha-Yashar; some also mention the Akedah. The romanza El Dios de cielo de Abraham used to be sung in Tetuan, Morocco. (Bathja Bayer) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Noth, Personennamen, 52, 145. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Clements, Abraham and David (1967); T.L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1973); J. van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (1974); Y. Muffs, in: JJS, 33 (1982), 81–107; A.E. Knauf, in: BZ, 29 (1985), 97–103; N.M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary Genesis (1989); A. Millard, "Abraham," in: ABD, 1:35–41; S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 75–90. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1942), 185 ff.; 5 (1947), 207 ff.; Schwarzbaum, in: Yeda Am, 9 (1963/64), 38–46; E.E. Halevy, Sha'arei ha-Aggadah (1963), 72–82; G.H. Box, Apocrypha of Abraham (1918); A. Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature (1920), index; Sandmel, in: HUCA, 26 (1955), 151–332; J.J. Petuchowski, ibid., 28 (1957), 127–36; Wacholder, ibid., 34 (1963), 83–113; G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (1961), 67–126. IN JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Hallamish, H. Kasher, and Y. Silman (eds.), The Faith of Abraham (Heb., 2002); D.J. Lasker, "The Prophecy of Abraham in Karaite Thought," in: Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 14 (J.B. Sermoneta Memorial Volume, 1998). IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION: Cahiers Sioniens, 5, no. 2 (1951), 93 ff.; G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1 (1964), 9; J. Hastings (ed.), Dictionary of the Bible, 1 (1911), 16–17; Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 1 (1902), 99–111. IN ISLAM: A. Sprenger, Leben und Lehre des Mohammad, 2 (1869), 276 ff.; C. Snouk Hurgronje, Het Mekkaansche Feest (1880), 30 ff.; B. Heller, in: REJ, 85 (1928), 117, 126; 98 (1934), 1–18; J.W. Hirschberg, Der Diwan des as-Samauʾal ibn ʿAdiʾ (1931), 63–64; idem, Juedische und christliche Lehren im vor- und fruehislamischen Arabien (1939), 124–9; J. Ankel, in: HUCA, 12–13 (1938), 387–409; Y. Moubarac, Abraham dans le Coran (1958), includes bibliography; S.D. Goitein, Ha-Islam shel Muḥammad (1956), 180–6. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. al-Khalil, in EIS2, 3, S.V. (incl. bibl.). MEDIEVAL HEBREW LITERATURE: A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1 (19382), 18–19; 5 (19382), 40–41; G. Scholem, Kabbalah and its Mysticism (1965), 168–79. in art: L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2, pt. 2 (1956), 125–38; T. Ehrenstein, Das Alte Testament im Bilde (1923), 135–54; The Bible IN ART (1956), plates 39–48; J. Leveen, The Hebrew Bible in Art (1944), index.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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