Definitions

abraham-man

Abraham

[ey-bruh-ham, -huhm]

Abraham (Ashkenazi Avrohom or Avruhom ; ابراهيم, Ibrāhīm ; Ge'ez: አብርሃም, ʾAbrəham) is a man featured in the Book of Genesis, as well as in parts of the Qur'an and Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions regard him as the founding patriarch of the Israelites, Ishmaelites and Edomite peoples. He is widely regarded as the patriarch of Judaism and Monotheism.

Abraham was the son of Terah and the grandson of Nahor. Abraham's brothers were named Nahor and Haran. According to Genesis, Abraham was brought by God from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. There Abraham entered into a covenant: in exchange for sole recognition of YHWH as supreme universal deity and authority, Abraham will be blessed with innumerable progeny. According to Jewish tradition (based on the Anno Mundi era), Abraham lived AM 1948–2123 (1812 BCE to 1637 BCE). Christian traditional dates are about 2000 BCE to 1825 BCE.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions", because of the progenitor role Abraham plays in their holy books. 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 interpreted in Christian tradition as a reference particularly to Christ. Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider him father of the people of Israel through his son Isaac (cf. , ). For Muslims, he is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael - born to him by his wife's servant, Hagar. Abraham is also a progenitor of the Semitic tribes of the Negev who trace their descent from their common ancestor Sheba ().

Etymology

Abraham's original name was Abram (אַבְרָם, Standard  Avram Tiberian ʾAḇrām) meaning either "exalted father" or "my father is exalted" (compare Abiram). For the later part of his life, he was called Abraham, which the text glosses as av hamon (goyim) "father of many (nations)" [See ]; however the name does not have any literal meaning in Hebrew.

'brm (no. 72) represents 'abram, with which Spiegelberg (Aegypt. Randglossen zum Altes Testament, 14) proposes to connect the preceding name (so that the whole would read "the field of Abram."). Outside of Palestine this name (Abiramu) has come to light in Babylonia (e.g. in a contract of the reign of Apil-Sin, second predecessor of Hammurabi; also for the aunt (!) of Esarhaddon 680-669 BCE). Ungnad has recently found it, among documents from Dilbat dating from the Hammurabi dynasty, in the forms A-ba-am-ra-ma, A-ba-am-ra-am, as well as A-ba-ra-ma.

Until this latest discovery of the apparently full, historical form of the Babylonian equivalent, the best that could be done with the etymology was to make the first constituent "father of" (construct -i rather than suffix -i), and the second constituent "Ram," a proper name or an abbreviation of a name. (Yet observe above its use in Assyria for a woman; compare ABISHAG; ABIGAIL). Some were inclined rather to concede that the second element was a mystery, like the second element in the majority of names beginning with 'abh and 'ach, "father" and "brother." But the full cuneiform writing of the name, with the case-ending am, indicates that the noun "father" is in the accusative, governed by the verb which furnishes the second component, and that this verb therefore is prove him (though hitherto childless) a great nation. Trusting this promise, Abram journeyed down to Shechem, and at the sacred tree (compare , , ) 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 then called upon (i.e. invoked) the name of God (.

Genesis narrative

Origins and calling

Abraham was born in the Chaldean City of Ur, Mesopotamia, to Terah, his father.

Josephus, Islamic tradition, and Jewish authorities like Maimonides all concur that Ur of the Chaldees was in Northern Mesopotamia — now southeastern Turkey (identified with Urartu, or claiming Abraham was born in Urfa), or the nearby Urkesh, which others identify with “Ur of the Chaldee."

Abram migrated to Haran, apparently the classical Carrhae, which lay on the Balikh river, a branch of the Euphrates. Thence, after a short stay, he, his wife Sarai, Lot (the son of Abram's brother Haran), and all their followers, departed for Canaan. Moreover, the names of Abram's forefathers Peleg, Serug, Nahor, and Terah, all appear as names of cities in the region of Haran suggesting that these are eponymous ancestors of these communities. God called Abram to go to "the land I will show you", and promised to bless him and mankind. In the Old Testament, when applied to the patriarch, the name appears as "Abram", up to Genesis 17:5; thereafter, always as "Abraham". Two other persons are named "Abhiram". The identity of this name with "Abhram" cannot be doubted in view of the variation between "Abhiner" and "Abhner", "Abhishalom" and "Abhshalom", etc. "Abraham" also appears in the list at Karnak of places conquered by Sheshonk I.

Sarah and Pharaoh

Driven by a famine to take refuge in Egypt (, ), and fearing that his wife's beauty should arouse evil designs of the Egyptians and thus endanger his own safety, Abraham referred to Sarai as his sister, first to the Philistine king of Gerar and then to the unnamed Pharaoh of Egypt.

One interpretation of the original Hebrew account includes Abram's explanation that Sarai was literally his sister since she was his father's daughter, but not his mother's, i.e., a half-sister. However, the kinship pattern of the Semitic chiefs listed in Genesis followed an established protocol that involved betrothal to half-sisters, so Abram may not have lied when he said that Sarai was his sister. On the other hand, there have been ancient tablets recently recovered from the ancient city of Mari that may suggest otherwise. These ancient Semite legal records show that when a woman is married to a man, she is then formally adopted by his father as a full daughter as well. Like Abram, many ancient Semites were Nomads and it was customary for the daughter-in-law to be officially adopted as a full daughter in case her husband is to die while she is traveling with his family. According to , Sarai left her family to set out for the land of Canaan, which puts her in this same position as suggested in the ancient tablets of Mari (an ancient Semite city of Abram's time). It is possible that Sarai may not have been Abram's half-sister, but adopted sister by law. However, marriage to half sisters was common throughout the ancient middle east and inheritance in the nomadic Semitic tribes was matrilineal. This gave a powerful incentive to marry a half sister and thus retain property within the family.

In any case, 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 (and 27), describing a similar event at Gerar with the Philistine king Abimelech, though the latter is attributing it to Isaac not Abram.

When Abram, along with Sarai and his nephew Lot left Egypt, they returned to Ai. 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 moved down to the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. After receiving reaffirmation and clarification of the promise from Yahweh, he built an altar there.

Chedorlaomer and Melchizedek

Some years after this, Lot was taken prisoner by Chedorlaomer and his allies, who were then warring against the kings of Sodom, and the neighboring places. Abram, with his household, pursued the conquerors, then overtook and defeated them at Dan, near the springs of Jordan and retook the spoil, together with Lot.

At his return, while passing near Salem (supposed to be the city afterwards called Jerusalem), Melchizedek, king of that city, and priest of the Most High God, came out and blessed him, and presented him with bread and wine for his own refreshment and that of his army; or as some have thought, offered blessed bread and wine to him, as part of a sacrament of thanksgiving on Abram's behalf.

Ishmael

After this, the Lord renewed his promises to Abram, with fresh assurances that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan and that his posterity should be as numerous as the stars of heaven.

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, a certain Eliezer of Damascus (). Abram, however, was promised one of his own flesh as heir.

The passage recording the ratification of the promise is remarkably solemn (see ).

Sarai, in accordance with custom, gave to Abram her Egyptian handmaid Hagar as his wife (). But, Sarai seeing Hagar with child, was unable to endure the reproach of barrenness (cf. the story of Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:6), and dealt harshly with her and forced her to flee (). God heard Hagar's sorrow and promised her that her descendants will be too numerous to count, and she returned.

Her son, Ishmael, Abram's firstborn, was born when Abram was 86 years of age (). Hagar and Ishmael were eventually driven permanently away from Abram by Sarai ().

Covenant

God made his covenant with Abram thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, when Abram was 99 years old (). Abram's name was changed to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah. The covenant was sealed by Abraham's circumcision and the first commandment relating to circumcision. Ishmael was also circumcised on that day, at the age of 13, as were the other men of Abraham's household.

The Lord said to Abraham “ go from the country and your kindred and your fathers house to the land that I will show you.” And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. And by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves. 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, give them the land, and make a great nation and kings out of Abraham's line.

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 God appears to Abraham at Mamre and, when the child is born, cries "God has made me into laughter; every one that hears will laugh at me" ().

Sodom and Gomorrah

Due to the enormous sins of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the neighboring cities, being now filled up, two angels were sent to inflict upon them the divine vengeance. After visiting Abraham, they were ready to depart and Abraham accompanied them towards Sodom, whither two of them (who proved to be divine messengers) continued their journey. The third remained with Abraham, and informed him of the approaching destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham interceded, praying that if fifty righteous persons were found therein, the city should be spared; he reduced the numbers gradually to ten; but this number could not be found (or God, in answer to his prayers, would have averted his design). Lot, his wife, and their 2 daughters were preserved from the disaster, either because they were the only righteous, or because of Abraham's intercession on their behalf. His wife was turned to salt on their escape from the destruction when she disobeyed God's command not to look back at the destruction.

Sarah and Abimelech

After? or before Sarah conceived, according to the divine promise, she and Abraham left the plain of Mamre and went south, to Gerar, where Abimelech reigned. Fearing that Sarah might be forced from him, and himself put to death, Abraham again called Sarah 'sister,' just as he had done in Egypt.
Abimelech took her to his house, with intentions to marry her. According to scripture, God informed Abimelech, through a dream, that Sarah was Abraham's wife. Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham with great presents.

Beersheba

About the same time, Abimelech came with Phicol, his general, to conclude an alliance with Abraham, who made that prince a present of seven ewe-lambs out of his flock, in consideration that a well that he had opened should be his own property; and they called the place Beer-sheba or "the well of swearing".
Here Abraham resided some time.

Binding of Isaac

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. The patriarch traveled three days until he came to the mount that God taught him. He commanded the servant to remain while he and Isaac proceeded alone to the mountain, Isaac carrying the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. Along the way, Isaac repeatedly asked Abraham where the animal for the burnt offering was. Abraham then replied that God would provide one. Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, he was prevented by an angel, and given on that spot a ram which he sacrificed in place of his son. Thus it is said, "On the mountain the Lord provides." (Genesis 22) As a reward for his obedience he received another promise of a numerous seed and abundant prosperity (22). After this event, Abraham did not return to Hebron, Sarah's encampment, but instead went to Beersheba, Keturah's encampment, and it is to Beersheba that Abraham's servant brought Rebecca, Isaac's patrilineal parallel cousin who became his wife.

The near sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most challenging, and perhaps ethically troublesome, parts of the Bible. According to Josephus, Isaac was 25 years old at the time of the sacrifice or Akedah, while the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac was 37. In either case, Isaac was a fully grown man, old enough to prevent the elderly Abraham (who was 125 or 137 years old) from tying him up had he wanted to resist. The narrative now turns to Isaac. To his "only son" (22:2, 12) Abraham gave all he had, and dismissed his other sons, as Abraham himself had been dismissed by Terah after Terah had given his territory to Nahor.

In Christian theology this event is sometimes interpreted as a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus, where Abraham is represented as God, and Isaac as Jesus Christ. Key elements from the stories given as symbols of this foreshadowing include: Both of their births were believed to be miraculous (Isaac to a woman who was far too old to have children, Jesus to a virgin). According to scripture Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, and in the Christian faith God is the seen as the father of all people. In both stories Jesus and Isaac had the wood laid upon their backs and were forced to carry it up to the hills where they were to be sacrificed. Although according to scripture Abraham had fathered a son previously, namely Ishmael with Hagar, Isaac was the only son of Abraham through Sarah, as Jesus was the "only begotten son" of God (see John 3:16)(Isaac is also referred to as "his [Abraham's] only begotten son" in Hebrews 11:17). They both made their way up hills to be sacrificed (Isaac up Moriah, and Jesus to Golgotha, which may be located on the same hill, but with Golgotha on the North end). The exact location referred to is currently a matter of some debate. They both were laid on the wood alive, and it was allegedly voluntary on both their parts (this theory would explain why Isaac, possibly a full grown man at the time would not have resisted when his father tied him down). The difference in the stories comes when Abraham was stopped from sacrificing his son, and God provided an alternative to Isaac. For Jesus, there was no "ram caught in the thicket" (Gen. 22:13) and the "sacrifice" was carried out to completion.

Death of Sarah

Sarah died aged about 127, and was buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs near Hebron, which Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite, along with the adjoining field (Genesis 23). Here Abraham himself was buried so they could be with each other forever. Centuries later the tomb became a place of pilgrimage and Muslims later built an Islamic mosque inside the site.

A wife for Isaac

Abraham, being reminded by this occurrence, probably, of his own great age, and the consequent uncertainty of his life, became solicitous to secure an alliance between Isaac and a female branch of his own family.
Eliezer his steward was therefore sent into Mesopotamia, to fetch from the country and kindred of Abraham a wife for his son Isaac. Eliezer went on his commission with prudence, and returned with Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel, granddaughter of Nahor, and, consequently, Abraham's niece.

Other children of Abraham

Abraham lived a long time after these events. After the death of Sarah, who died when he was 127 years of age, and while in bad health he took another wife, a concubine named Keturah and she bore Abraham six sons, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. ()

Death

He died at the age of 175 years. Jewish legend says that he was meant to live to 180 years, but God purposely took his life because he felt that Abraham did not need to go through the pain of seeing Esau's wicked deeds.

He was buried by his sons Isaac (aged about 76 years) and Ishmael (aged about 89 years), in the Cave of the Patriarchs, where he had deposited the remains of his beloved Sarah.

Significance

Biblical narratives represent Abraham as a wealthy, powerful and supremely virtuous man, but humanly flawed, and when afraid for himself, miscalculating, and a sometimes deceiving 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, how the boundaries and relationships of peoples were established by Him, and how the Kingdom of God would be established through Abraham.

As the father of Isaac , Abraham is ultimately the common ancestor of the Israelites. 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 more often enemies. This is because the clans practiced intermarriage. 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". Yet to Abraham's face the Hittites said, "You are a great chief among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs." (Genesis 23:4 and 5)

As stated above, Abraham came from Ur in Chaldea to Haran and thence to Canaan. Late tradition supposed that this 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.

In Christianity

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 ).

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 ). 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" (). The imagery of a father sacrificing his son is seen as a type of God the Father offering his Son on Calvary.

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.

Liturgical commemoration

The Roman Catholic Church calls Abraham "our father in Faith," in the Eucharistic prayer of the Roman Canon, recited during the Mass (see Abraham in the Catholic liturgy). He is also commemorated in the calendars of saints of several denominations: on August 20 by the Maronite Church, August 28 in the Coptic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, with the full office for the latter, and on October 9 by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. He is also regarded as the patron saint of those in the hospitality industry.

The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates him as the "Righteous Forefather Abraham", with two feast days in its liturgical calendar. The first time is on October 9 (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, October 9 falls on October 22 of the modern Gregorian Calendar), where he is commemorated together with his nephew "Righteous Lot". The other on the "Sunday of the Forefathers" (two Sundays before Christmas), where he is commemorated together with other ancestors of Jesus. Abraham is also mentioned in the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, just before the Anaphora. Abraham and Sarah are invoked in the prayers said by the priest over a newly married couple at the Sacred Mystery of Crowning (i.e., the Sacrament of Marriage).

In Islam

Abraham, known as Ibrahim in Arabic, is very important in Islam, both in his own right as a prophet as well as being the father of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, his firstborn son, is considered the Father of the Arabised Arabs, and Isaac is considered the Father of the Hebrews. Islam teaches that Ishmael was the son Abraham nearly sacrificed on Moriah. To support this view Muslims use various proofs, including the belief that at the time Ishmael was his only son. Abraham is revered by Muslims as one of the Prophets in Islam, and is commonly termed Khalil Ullah, "Friend of God". Abraham is considered a Hanif, that is, a discoverer of monotheism.

Abraham is mentioned in many passages in 25 Qur'anic suras (chapters). The number of repetitions of his name in the Qur'an is second only to Moses.

Abraham's footprint is displayed outside the Kaaba, which is on a stone, protected and guarded by Mutawa (Religious Police). The annual Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, follows Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael's journey to the sacred place of the Kaaba. Islamic tradition narrates that Abraham's subsequent visits to the Northern Arabian region, after leaving Ishmael and Hagar (in the area that would later become the Islamic holy city of Mecca), were not only to visit Ishmael but also to construct the first house of worship for God (that is, the monotheistic concept and model of God), the Kaaba -as per God's command. The Eid ul-Adha ceremony is focused on Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his promised son on God's command. In turn, God spared his son's life and instead substituted a sheep. This was Abraham's test of faith. On Eid ul-Adha, Muslims sacrifice a domestic animal — a sheep, goat, cow, buffalo or camel — as a symbol of Abraham's sacrifice, and divide the meat among the family members, friends, relatives, and most importantly, the poor.

Arab connection

A line in the Book of Jubilees (20:13) mentions that the descendants of Abraham's son by Hagar, Ishmael, as well as his descendants by Keturah, became the "Arabians" or "Arabs". The 1st century Jewish historian Josephus similarly described the descendants of Ishmael (i.e. the Ishmaelites) as an "Arabian" people. He also calls Ishmael the "founder" (κτίστης) of the "Arabians". Some Biblical scholars also believe that the area outlined in Genesis as the final destination of Ishmael and his descendants ("from Havilah to Assyria") refers to the Arabian peninsula. This has led to a commonplace view that modern Semitic-speaking Arabs are descended from Abraham via Ishmael, in addition to various other tribes who intermixed with the Ishmaelites, such as Joktan, Sheba, Dedan, Broham, etc. Both Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions speak of earlier inhabitants of Arabia.

Classical Arab historians traced the true Arabs (i.e., the original Arabs from Yemen) to Qahtan and the Arabicised Arabs (people from the region of Mecca, who assimilated into the Arabs) to Adnan, said to be an ancestor of Muhammad, and have further equated Ishmael with A'raq Al-Thara, said to be ancestor of Adnan. Umm Salama, one of Muhammad's wives, wrote that this was done using the following hermeneutical reasoning: Thara means moist earth, Abraham was not consumed by hell-fire, fire does not consume moist earth, thus A'raq al-Thara must be Ishmael son of Abraham.

Textual criticism

Writers have regarded the life of Abraham in various ways. He has been viewed as a chieftain of the Amorites, as the head of a great Semitic migration from Mesopotamia; or, since Ur and Haran were seats of Moon-worship, he has been identified with a moon-god. From the character of the literary evidence and the locale of the stories it has been held that Abraham was originally associated with Hebron. The double name Abram/Abraham has even suggested that two personages have been combined in the Biblical narrative; although this does not explain the change from Sarai to Sarah.

The interesting discovery of the name Abi-ramu on Babylonian contracts of about 2000 BCE does not prove the Abraham of the Old Testament to be an historical person, even as the fact that there were Amorites in Babylonia at the same period does not make it certain that the 'patriarch' was one of their number. A fairly lucid treatment of the subject is given by Michael Astour in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (s.v. "Amraphel", "Arioch" and "Chedorlaomer"), who explains the story of Genesis 14 as a product of anti-Babylonian propaganda during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews:

"After Böhl's widely accepted, but wrong, identification of mTu-ud-hul-a with one of the Hittite kings named Tudhaliyas, Tadmor found the correct solution by equating him with the Assyrian king Sennacherib (see Tidal). Astour (1966) identified the remaining two kings of the Chedorlaomer texts with Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (see Arioch) and with the Chaldean Merodach-baladan (see Amraphel). The common denominator between these four rulers is that each of them, independently, occupied Babylon, oppressed it to a greater or lesser degree, and took away its sacred divine images, including the statue of its chief god Marduk; furthermore, all of them came to a tragic end.
3. Relationship to Genesis 14. All attempts to reconstruct the link between the Chedorlaomer texts and Genesis 14 remain speculative. However, the available evidence seems consistent with the following hypothesis: A Jew in Babylon, versed in Akkadian language and cuneiform script, found in an early version of the Chedorlaomer texts certain things consistent with his anti-Babylonian feelings." (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Chedorlaomer")

Another scholar, criticizing Kitchen's maximalist viewpoint, considers a relationship between the tablet and Gen. speculative, also identifies but identifies Tudhula as a veiled reference to Sennacherib of Assyria, and Chedorlaomer, i.e. Kudur-Nahhunte, as "a recollection of a 12th century BCE king of Elam who briefly ruled Babylon." ("Finding Historical Memories in the Patriarchal Narratives" by Ronald Hindel, BAR, Jul/Aug 1995)

The Anchor Bible Dictionary suggests that the biblical account was in all probability derived from a text very closely related to the Chedorlaomer Tablets, and this in a publication which can be said to do at least a reasonably good job of getting good scholarship. The Chedorlaomer Tablets are thought to be from the 6th or 7th century BCE, well after the time of Hammurabi, at roughly the time when Gen. through Deu. are thought to have come into their present form (e.g. see the Documentary Hypothesis). While Astour's identifications of the figures these tablets refer to is certainly open to question, he does cautiously support a link between them and Gen. 14:1. Hammurabi is never known to have campaigned near the Dead Sea at all, although his son had. Writes Astour, "This identification, once widely accepted, was later virtually abandoned, mainly because Hammurabi was never active in the West." The Chedorlaomer Tablets, then, appear to still be the closest archaeological parallel to the kings of the Eastern coalition mentioned in Gen. 14:1. The only problem is, that in all probability, they refer to kings that were from widely separated times, having conquered Babylon in different eras. Linguistically, it seems, there is little reason to reject the identification of Hammurabi with Amraphel, but the narrative does not make sense in light of modern archeology when it is made. A number of scholars also say that the connection does not make sense on chronological grounds, since it would place Abram later than the traditional date, but on this, see the section on chronology below.

If Gen. ch. 14 is a historical romance (cf., e.g., the Book of Judith), it is possible that a writer who lived in an exilic or post-exilic age (i.e. during or after the Babylonian Captivity), and who was acquainted with Babylonian history, decided to enhance the greatness of Abraham by claiming his military success against the monarchs of the Tigris and Euphrates, the high esteem he enjoyed in Canaan, and the practical character displayed in his brief exchange with Melchizedek. The historical section of the article Tithe deals more extensively with the historicity of the meeting with Melchizedek.

Many scholars claim, on the basis of archaeological and philological evidence, that many stories in the Pentateuch, including the accounts about Abraham and Moses, were written under King Josiah (7th century BCE) or King Hezekiah (8th century BCE) in order to provide a historical framework for the monotheistic belief in Yahweh. Some scholars point out that the archives of neighboring countries with written records that survive, such as Egypt, Assyria, etc., show no trace of the stories of the Bible or its main characters before 650 BCE. Such claims are detailed in "Who Were the Early Israelites?" by William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003). Another similar book by Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein is "The Bible Unearthed" (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001). Even so, the Moabite Stele mentions king Omri of Israel, and many scholars draw parallels between the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I and the Shishaq of the Bible (1 Ki. 11:40; 14:25; and 2 Chr. 12:2-9), and between the king David of the Bible and a stone inscription from 835 BCE that appears to refer to "house of David"--although some would dispute the last two correspondences.

Dating and historicity

Traditional dating

According to calculations directly derived from the Masoretic Hebrew Torah, Abraham was born 1,948 years after biblical creation and lived for 175 years (Genesis 25:7), which would correspond to a life spanning from 1812 BCE to 1637 BCE by Jewish dating. The figures in the Book of Jubilees have Abraham born 1,876 years after creation, and 534 years before the Exodus; the ages provided in the Samaritan version of Genesis agree closely with those of Jubilees before the Deluge, but after the Deluge, they add roughly 100 years to each of the ages of the Patriarchs in the Masoretic Text, resulting in the figure of 2,247 years after creation for Abraham's birth. The Greek Septuagint version adds around 100 years to nearly all of the patriarchs' births, producing the even higher figure of 3,312 years after creation for Abraham's birth.

Other interpretations of Biblical chronology place Abraham's birth at 2008 AM (Anno Mundi). In Genesis 11:32 : Abraham was the youngest son of Terah who died in Haran aged 205, in year 2083 AM. In Gen.12:4 we learn that at that time Abraham was 75 years old. In other words Abraham was born when his father Terah was 130 years old. (205-75 = 130). Therefore Abraham was born in year 2008 AM.

History of dating attempts

When cuneiform was first deciphered, Theophilus Pinches translated some Babylonian tablets which were part of the Spartoli collection in the British Museum. In particular, he believed he found in the Chedorlaomer Text, currently thought to have been written in the 6th to the 7th century BCE, the names of three of the kings of the Eastern coalition fighting against the five kings from the Vale of Siddim in Gen. 14:1.

In 1887, Schrader then was the first to propose that Amraphel could be an alternate spelling for Hammurabi (cf. the ISBE of 1915, s.v. "Hammurabi").

Vincent Scheil subsequently found a tablet in the Imperial Ottoman Museum in Istanbul from Hammurabi to a king of the very same name, i.e. Kuder-Lagomer, as in Pinches' tablet. Thus are achieved the following correspondences:

Name from Gen. 14:1 Name from Archaeology
Amraphel king of Shinar Hammurabi (="Ammurapi") king of Babylonia
Arioch king of Ellasar Eri-aku king of Larsa (i.e. Assyria)
Chedorlaomer king of Elam (= Chodollogomor in the LXX) Kudur-Lagamar king of Elam
Tidal, king of nations (i.e. goyim, lit. 'nations') Tudhulu, son of Gazza

By 1915, many scholars had become largely convinced that the kings of Gen. 14:1 had been identified (cf. again the ISBE of 1915, s.v. Hammurabi, which mentions the identification as doubtful, and also The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, s.v. "Amraphel", and Donald A. MacKenzie's 1915 Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, who has (p. 247) "The identification of Hammurabi with Amraphel is now generally accepted"). The terminal -bi on the end of Hammurabi's name was seen to parallel Amraphel since the cuneiform symbol for -bi can also be pronounced -pi. Tablets were known in which the initial symbol for Hammurabi, pronounced as kh to yield Khammurabi, had been dropped, such that Ammurapi was a viable pronunciation. Supposing him to have been deified in his lifetime or afterwards yielded Ammurabi-il, which was suitable close to the Bible's Amraphel.

Albright was instrumental in synchronizing Hammurabi with Assyrian and Egyptian contemporaries, such that Hammurabi is now thought to have lived in the late 18th century, not in the 19th as assumed by the long chronology. Since many ecumenical theologians may not hold that the dates of the Bible could be in error, they began synchronizing Abram with the empire of Sargon I (23rd century in the short chronology), and the work of Schrader, Pinches and Scheil fell out of favor with them.

The objection resurfaced that Amraphel could not be derived from Khammurabi, in spite of the Ammurabi/Ammurapi spelling for Hammurabi that had already been found. More substantial objections were later made, including the finding that the days of the Kuder-Lagomer of Hammurabi's letter preceded the writing of the letter early in Hammurabi's reign led some to speculate that the Kuder-Lagomer of Gen. 14:1 should be associated with later Hittite or Akkadian kings with similar names. These scholars thus generally considered the passage anachronistic - the product of a much later period, such as during or after the Babylonian Captivity. Others pointed out that the Lagomer of Kuder-Lagomer was an Elamite deity's name, instead of the king's actual name, which some believe referred to a king that must have preceded Hammurabi. Other misreadings of the Chedorlaomer Text were pointed out, causing them to be associated with entirely different personages known from archaeology. It seemed that the theory of Schrader, Pinches and Scheil had fallen utterly apart.

Mainstream scholarship in the course of the 20th century has given up attempts to identify Abraham and his contemporaries in Genesis with historical figures. While it is widely admitted that there is no archaeological evidence to prove the existence of Abraham, apparent parallels to Genesis in the archaeological record assure that speculations on the patriarch's historicity and on the period that would best fit the account in Genesis remain alive in religious circles. "The Herald of Christ's Kingdom" in Abraham - Father of the Faithful (2001) implies a historical Abraham by stating "At one time it was popular to connect Amraphel, king of Shinar, with Hammurabi, king of Babylon, but now it is generally conceded that Hammurabi was much later than Abraham."

A traditional chronology can be constructed from the MT as follows: If Solomon's temple was begun when most scholars put it, ca. 960-970 BCE, using e.g. 966, we get 1446 for the Exodus (I Ki. 6:1). There were 400 years reportedly spent in Egypt (Ex. 12:40), and then we only need add years from Jacob's going into Egypt to Abraham. So, we can add that Jacob was supposedly 130 when he came to Egypt (Gen. 47:9), Isaac was 60 years old when he had Jacob (Gen. 25:26) and Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, and we get 1446 + 400 + 130 + 60 + 100 = 2136 BCE for Abram's birth.

A considerable variety of scriptural chronologies is possible. For example, unlike most modern translations, according to all the oldest Bible versions not dependent on the mediaeval rabbis -- the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Dead Sea Scrolls -- the 430 years of the sojourn is the period "in Canaan and Egypt" (probable text of Exodus 12: 42), thus reckoning from the time of Abraham. Cf Paul's belief in Gal 3:17. Therefore the figure is more than two hundred years less (1446 + 430 = 1876 BCE).

Thus, if one adheres to an Early Exodus theory, then Abram is usually synchronized with Sargon I, or sometimes other figures in the Sumerian Empire. If one favors a Late Exodus theory, and then Abraham's life could overlap that of Hammurabi's empire.

Gen. 10:10 has it that Babel was the beginning of Nimrod's empire. Before the location of Sargon's capital city, Agade, was identified, it was sometimes supposed that Nimrod was Sargon I, and that Agade was Babel. But even so, there are reasons to prefer the equation of Hammurabi with Amraphel. The Nimrod of Gen. ch. 10 precedes the Amraphel of ch. 14, and Nimrod's kingdom began with "Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh, in Shinar" (Gen. 10:10). Mentions of Nimrod both precede and follow those of Abram. Furthermore, Nimrod is associated with the Tower of Babel, not the Tower of Agade, in the Bible.

Rabbinic materials are full of an accounts of Abram being thrown into the furnace used for making bricks for the Tower of Babel by Nimrod, but Abram was miraculously unharmed, while the furnace spread to the rest of the city, causing the "Fire of the Chasdim". The conclusion then, based on these assertions, would be that Nimrod and Abram were more or less contemporaries. But only during the time of Hammurabi did Babylon become the beginning of an Empire in its own right.

If one insists that Gen. Ch. 14 reads as a testament of historical authenticity, then the Old Babylonian Empire, like Nimrod's, extended into the Trans-Jordan, but only during the reign of Hammurabi's son; whereas the Sumerian Empire by contrast did not. The city of Babel was not only the beginning of the Old Babylonian Empire, it was its capitol. After the end of the Old Babylonian Empire with the defeat of Hammurabi's son by the Elamites, there was not another empire ruled from the city of Babel until the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which was much too late to be synchronized with Abraham.

There are no archaeological correlates for the life of Abram, whereas the Exodus can be correlated with traces of a Semitic presence in Egypt, as per Bietak, as well as numerous transitions in Israel from Egypto-Canaanite material culture to proto-Israelite. An Early Exodus would preclude synchronizing Abram with Hammurabi's empire, pushing him back to Sumerian times.

Modern reception

In philosophy

Abraham, as a man communicating with God or the divine, has inspired some fairly extensive discussion in some philosophers, such as Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. Kierkegaard goes into Abraham's plight in considerable detail in his work Fear and Trembling. Sartre understands the story not in terms of Christian obedience or a "teleological suspension of the ethical", but in terms of mankind's utter behavioral and moral freedom. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Sartre doubts that Abraham can know that the voice he hears is really the voice of his God and not of someone else, or the product of a mental condition. Thus, Sartre concludes, even if there are signs in the world, humans are totally free to decide how to interpret them.

Latter-Day Saint Book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham is a scriptural text for some denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement (also know as Mormons). The LDS version of the Abrahamic story includes material not present in Genesis. For example; Abraham is described as seeking the "blessings of the fathers" (priesthood), using the Urim and Thummim to receive a vision of the history of the universe and humanity's relationship to God, being saved by an angel from being sacrificed on an altar by Pharaoh's priests, and teaching Pharaoh's court about astronomy. Chapters 1 and 2 include details about Abraham’s early life and his fight against the idolatry of Egypt (under rule of Pharaoh) and within his own family. Chapter 2 includes information about God’s covenant with Abraham and how it would be fulfilled.

Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Latter-Day Saint movement, claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from papyri scrolls which came into the church's possession in 1835. While the scrolls were reported to be longer than the Bible, only a portion was initially published in 1842, in the Latter-Day Saint newspaper The Times and Seasons. The Book of Abraham was incorporated into the canon of LDS scripture in 1880 as part of the Pearl of Great Price.

In addition to the text, there are three facsimiles of vignettes from the papyrus included in the Book of Abraham. The first and most disputed facsimile supposedly depicts Abraham about to be sacrificed by a priest; the second is in the form of a hypocephalus, which Smith said contained important insights about the organization of the heavens (Cosmos) and material associated with LDS Temple ordinances. Smith described the third vignette as showing Abraham teaching in Pharaoh’s court.

The LDS Bible Dictionary states:

"Abraham is always regarded in the [Old Testament] as founder of the covenant race, which is personified in the house of Israel. He is the “father of the faithful.” John the Baptist and Paul rebuked those holding the erroneous idea that natural descent from Abraham was by itself sufficient to secure God’s favor (Matt. 3: 9; Rom. 9: 7). [...] Latter-day revelation has clarified the significance of the Abrahamic covenant and other aspects of Abraham’s life and ministry. We learn that he was greatly blessed with divine revelation concerning the planetary system, the creation of the earth, and the premortal activities of the spirits of mankind. One of the most valiant spirits in the premortal life, he was chosen to be a leader in the kingdom of God before he was born into this world (Abr. 1 - 5). We also learn from latter-day revelation that because of Abraham’s faithfulness he is now exalted and sits upon a throne in eternity (D&C 132: 29, 37)."

Speculations on Hindu connections

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there were isolated speculations about an identity of Abraham and Brahma, or of Abraham and Rama. This was based on the similarities of the names (Abraham is a near anagram of Brahma and his wife Sarah is a near anagram of Saraswati Brahmas wife/consort). Voltaire summarised such speculations:

This name Bram, Abram, was famous in India and Persia: some learned men even allege that he was the same legislator as the one the Greeks called Zoroaster. Others say that he was the Brahma of the Indians.

Such arguments were taken up by later religious synchretists such as Godfrey Higgins, who argued in 1834 that "The Arabian historians contend that Brahma and Abraham, their ancestor, are the same person. The Persians generally called Abraham Ibrahim Zeradust. Cyrus considered the religion of the Jews the same as his own. The Hindus must have come from Abraham, or the Israelites from Brahma…

One may also consider noteworthy the similarity of the names of Brahma's wife Sarasvati compared to Abraham's wife Sarah.

The argument has been used by Biblical literalists to prove that Brahma is a corrupted memory of Abraham and by certain Hindu nationalists to suggest the converse.

The argument has been used by Muslim missionaries to prove that Brahma is a corrupted memory of Abraham. They also have claimed that other characters in Hindu scripture are actually people mentioned in the Quran. A. D. Pusalker, whose essay "Traditional History From the Earliest Times" appeared in The Vedic Age, claims a historical Rama dated to 1950 BCE. So hence this cannot be true, since the historical dating of these scriptures were long before the biblical age.

Notes

References

  • 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • The Book of Genesis
  • Rosenberg, David. Abraham: The First Historical Biography. Basic Books/Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006. ISBN 0-465-07094-9.
  • Holweck, F. G. A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. 1924.
  • Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary
  • Nibley, Hugh W. Abraham's Temple Drama
  • Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism
  • Beer, Leben Abraham's
  • Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, trans. Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909)
  • Book of Abraham LDS scripture Pearl of Great Price
  • Bloch, Israel und die Völker (Berlin: Harz, 1922)
  • Torcszyner, "The Riddle in the Bible," Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (1924)
  • Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews
  • Kohler, "The Pre-Talmudic Haggada," Jewish Quarterly Review 7 (July 1895): 587.

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