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Below is a sandbox area where I am working on a replacement entry for Abram.

The name Abram is Hebrew for "father is exalted", and was the the first of the Biblical patriarchs. Later in life he went by the name Abraham, which means "father of many" (see Genesis 17). He is ancestral to a number of middle-eastern peoples (Arabs and Israelites, also Edom[?] and several others) and has religious significance for three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

Table of contents

Abraham in Genesis

The largest surviving ancient account of his life is found in the Genesis, beginning in Chapter 11, at the close of a genealogy of the sons of Shem (which includes among its members Eber[?], the eponym of the Hebrews).

His father Terah is said to have come from Ur of the Chaldees. He migrated to Haran in Mesopotamia, apparently the classical Carrhae, on a branch of the Habor[?]. Thence, after a short stay, Abram with his wife Sarai, and Lot[?] the son of Abram's brother Haran, and all their followers, departed for Canaan. According to the account, Yahweh called Abram to go to "the land I will show you", and promised to bless Abram and make him (though hitherto childless) a great nation. Based on this, Abram journeyed down to Shechem[?], and at the sacred tree (compare Genesis 25:4, Joshua 24:26, Judges 9:6) received a new promise that the land would be given unto his seed (descendants). Having built an altar to commemorate the theophany[?], he removed to a spot between Bethel and Ai, where he built another altar and called upon (i.e. invoked) the name of Yahweh (Genesis 12:1-9).

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

In the subsequent history of Lot and the destruction of [[Sodom and Gomorrah]], Abram appears prominently in a passage where he intercedes with Yahweh on behalf of Sodom, and is promised that if ten righteous men can be found therein the city shall be preserved (18:16-33).

Driven by a famine to take refuge in Egypt (26:11, 41:57, 42:1), Abram feared lest his wife's beauty should arouse the evil designs of the Egyptians and thus endanger his own safety, and alleged that Sarai was his sister. This did not save her from the Pharaoh, who took her into the royal harem and enriched Abram with herds and servants. But when Yahweh "plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues" suspicion was aroused, and the Pharaoh rebuked the patriarch for his deceit and sent him away under an escort (12:10-13:1).

A similar experience is said to have happened to Abraham and Sarah at Gerar with the Philistine king Abimelech.

As Sarai was infertile, God's promise that Abraham's seed would inherit the land seemed incapable of fulfilment. Abram's sole heir was his servant, who was over his household, apparently a certain Eliezer of Damascus (15:2). Abraham is now promised as heir one of his own flesh, and a remarkable and solemn passage records how the promise was ratified by a covenant (See Genesis 15).

Sarai, in accordance with custom, gave to Abram her Egyptian handmaid Hagar[?], who, when she found she was with child, presumed upon her position to the extent that Sarai, unable to endure the reproach of barrenness (cf. the story of Hannah[?], 1 Samuel 1:6), dealt harshly with her and forced her to flee (16:1-14). Hagar is promised that her descendants will be too numerous to count, and she returns. Her son Ishmael thus was Abram's firstborn[?] (and Islamic doctrine holds that he was the rightful heir[?]). Hagar and Ishmael were eventually driven permanently away from Abram by Sarah (chapter 21).

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

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

In Genesis 18, Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, or 45, or 30, 20, even 10 righteous people. (Abraham's Nephew had been living in the city; see Lot[?].)

Some time after the birth of Isaac, Abraham was commanded by God to offer him up as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Proceeding to obey, he was prevented by an angel as he was about to sacrifice his son, and slew a ram which he found on the spot. As a reward for his obedience he received another promise of a numerous seed and abundant prosperity (22). Thence he returned to Beersheba. The [[near sacrifice of Isaac]] is one of the most challenging, and perhaps ethically troublesome, parts of the Bible. A separate entry exist on this topic.

From Here Down Still Needs Much Work

The interest of the narrative now extends to Isaac alone. To his "only son" (cp. 22:2, 12) Abraham gave all he had, and dismissed the sons of his concubines to the lands outside Palestine; they were thus regarded as less intimately related to Isaac and his descendants (25:1-4, 6). See for example Midianites[?], Sheba.

Abraham's head-servant was sent to his master's country and kindred to find a suitable bride, and the necessary preparation for the story is contained in the description of Nahor's family (22:20-24). The account of the meeting with Rebekah throws interesting light on ancient near-eastern custom. Marriage with one's own extended family (cf. Genesis 27:46, 29:19; Judges 14:3), especially with a cousin, is recommended in the near-east now even as in the past.

For the completion of the history of Abraham the compiler of Genesis has used the P source. Sarah dies at an old age, and was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron, which Abraham had purchased, along with the adjoining field, from Ephron[?] the Hittite (23). Here Abraham himself was buried. Centuries later the tomb became a place of pilgrimage and the traditional site was later marked by an Islamic mosque.

Abraham became to the Jews the embodiment of their ideals, and the founder of the nation, the one to whom God had manifested his love through promises and covenants. From the time when he was bidden to leave his country to enter the unknown land, God was ever present to encourage him to trust in the future when his posterity should possess the land. In their bitterest hours, the Jewish community often turned for consolation to the Biblical promises which enshrined in Abraham its hopes for the future.

Abraham in Judaism

Abraham in Christianity

Abraham stands out prominently as the recipient of the promises (xii. 2 seq. 7, xiii. 14-17, xv., xvii., xviii. 17-19, xxii. 17 seq.; cf. xxiv. 7), and these the apostle Paul associates with the coming of Jesus, and, adopting a characteristic and artificial style of interpretation prevalent in his time, endeavours to force a Messianic interpretation out of them.

Abraham in Islam

Abraham and his descendants

Biblical narratives represent Abraham as an idealized sheikh (with one important exception, Gen. xiv., see below). As the father of Isaac and Ishmael, he is ultimately the common ancestor of the Israelites and their nomadic fierce neighbours. As the father of Midian[?], Sheba and other Arabian tribes (25:1-4), it seems that some degree of kinship was felt by the Hebrews with the dwellers of the more distant south, and it is characteristic of the genealogies that the mothers (Sarah, Hagar and Keturah[?]) are in the descending scale as regards purity of blood.

Abraham is said to have come from Ur in Babylonia and Haran and thence to Canaan. Late tradition supposed that the [[Migration (human)|migration]] was to escape Babylonian idolatry (Judith 5, Jubilees 12; cf. Joshua 24:2), and knew of Abraham's miraculous escape from death (an obscure reference to some act of deliverance in Isaiah 29:22). The route along the banks of the Euphrates from south to north was so frequently taken by migrating tribes that the tradition has nothing improbable in itself, but the prominence given in the older narratives to the view that Haran was the home gives this the preference. 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. A twofold migration is doubtful, and, from what is known of the situation in Palestine in the [[15th century BC]], is extremely improbable.

Further, there is yet another parallel in the story of the conquest by Joshua (q.v.), 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 Aramaean[?] 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, noticed above, 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.

Different writers have regarded the life of Abraham differently. 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. But it is important to remember that the narratives are not contemporary, and that the interesting discovery of the name Abi-ramu (Abram) on Babylonian contracts of about 2000 BC does not prove the Abram 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. One remarkable chapter associates Abraham with kings of Elam and the east (Genesis 14). No longer a peaceful sheikh but a warrior with a small army of 318 followers, he overthrows a combination of powerful monarchs who have ravaged the land. The genuineness of the narrative has been strenuously maintained, although upon insufficient grounds.

"It is generally recognized that this chapter holds quite an isolated place in the Pentateuchal history; it is the only passage which presents Abraham in the character of a warrior, and connects him with historical names and political movements, and there are no clear marks by which it can be assigned to any one of the documents of which Genesis is made up. Thus, while one school of interpreters finds in the chapter the earliest fragment of the political history of western Asia, some even holding with Ewald that the narrative is probably based on old Canaanite records, other critics, as Noldeke, regard the whole as unhistorical and comparatively late in origin. On the latter view, which finds its main support 1n the intrinsic difficulties of the narrative, it is scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion that the chapter is one of the latest additions to the Pentateuch ([[Julius Wellhausen|Wellhausen]] and many others)."

On the assumption that a recollection of some invasion in remote days may have been current, considerable interest is attached to the names. Of these, Amraphel, king of Shinar (i.e. Babylonia, Genesis 10:10), has been identified with Hammurabi, one of the greatest of the Babylonian kings (c. 2000 B.C.), and since he claims to have ruled as far west as the Mediterranean Sea, the equation has found considerable favour. Apart from chronological difficulties, the identification of the king and his country is far from certain, and at the most can only be regarded as possible. Arioch, king of Ellasar, has been connected with Eriaku of Larsa--the reading has been questioned---a contemporary with Hammurabi. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, bears what is doubtless a genuine Elamite name. Finally, the name of Tid'al, king of Goiim, may be identical with a certain Tudhulu the son of Gazza, a warrior, but apparently not a king, who is mentioned in a Babylonian inscription, and Goiim may stand for Gutim, the Guti being a people who lived to the east of Kurdistan. Nevertheless, there is as yet no monumental evidence in favour of the genuineness of the story, and at the most it can only be said that the author (of whatever date) has derived his names from a trustworthy source, and in representing an invasion of Palestine by Babylonian overlords has given expression to a possible situation. The improbabilities and internal difficulties of the narrative remain untouched, only the bare outlines may very well be historical. If, as most critics agree, it is a historical romance (cf., e.g., the book of Judith), it is possible that a writer, preferably one who lived in the post-exilic age and was acquainted with Babylonian history, desired to enhance the greatness of Abraham by exhibiting his military success against the monarchs of the Tigris and Euphrates, the high esteem he enjoyed in Palestine and his lofty character as displayed in his interview with Melchizedek.


See also Abrahamic religions, Abraham's bosom.

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