(ca. 2000 B.C. 1800 B.C.)
The patriarch of the ancient Hebrews and founding prophet of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Little about Abraham can be cited confidently by historians or archaeologists; what is known of him comes primarily from accounts in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. Notions that he might not have been an actual historical figure but was rather a literary composite an amalgamation of several historical persons for the purposes of telling a simplified story can be no more than conjecture.
According to the book of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew Bible, Abraham was called on by God to lead his people, the Hebrews, from the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to a land unknown to him. In this new land, west of Mesopotamia, Abraham became the father of a new nation. While on the journey, which he begins at the age of seventy-five, Abraham entered into a covenant, or agreement, with God. As part of this covenant, God promised Abraham that his new nation will be fruitful and his people will be protected. Abraham, for his part, is to sacrifice his first-born son to God as a test of his faith.
Abraham fathered sons by both his wife, Sarah, and a servant named Hagar. Sarah’s son, Isaac, was the youth designated for sacrifice. In the biblical account, God mercifully substituted a ram for Isaac when Abraham proved his faithfulness and obedience to God by willingly preparing to slay his own son. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, were banished from the tribe.
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and their followers settled in the land of Canaan, roughly the area of present-day Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. According to Genesis, the patriarch purchased land near Hebron and designated it as a family burial place. To cement his clan’s ties to the region and secure the fulfillment of God’s promises, Abraham assured Isaac’s marriage to a Canaanite woman and Isaac’s succession to leadership of the tribe before Abraham’s death at the age of 175.
To Jews, Abraham is the founder of Judaism, the first figure to accept the existence of one true God and the first to seal a covenant with God. Traditionally, all Jews likewise are expected to observe the same covenant and seek to match Abraham in his righteousness. He is also credited with establishing such Jewish rites as circumcision (the symbol of the sacrifice called for in the original covenant) and prayers of benediction.
Christians consider Abraham the first of all believers, and in Roman Catholicism he is the model for all the saints. Abraham is cited as the first who put his complete trust in God, demonstrating the Christian concept that faith alone leads to salvation.
In Islam, teachings connected with Abraham draw on more sources than teachings in Judaism or Christianity, as various scholarly religious texts over the centuries have been added to the biblical sources.
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