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Abraham

Abraham [N] [E] [H] [S]

The Old Testament. This man, whose name may mean "the father is exalted, " was the first of the great patriarchs of Israel. In the ancient Near East a patriarch was the leader or ancestor of a family, but Abraham exceeded this status by becoming the progenitor of one specific nation, the Hebrews, as well as of other peoples. The story of his life ( Gen 11:27b-25:12 ) appears to comprise one of eleven Mesopotamian tablets underlying Genesis, and in typical fashion probably had a title ("Abram, Nahor and Haran, 11:27b ) and a concluding colophon "these are the generations of" (KJV), that is, "family histories of" ( 25:12 ). The material was apparently compiled in the time of Isaac at Beer Lahai Roi ( Gen 25:11 ), the finished unit probably comprising a group of smaller tablets linked in a series.

The date of Abraham's birth in Ur "of the Chaldees" (i.e., southern Ur) is not known, but can be computed roughly from archeological evidence at Bab-edh-Dhra, near Sodom. The latter was destroyed about 1900 b.c. No monuments to him have survived, but discoveries at Mari, Nuzi, and elsewhere have shown that his activities were consistent with Middle Bronze Age Mesopotamian life (ca. 2000-1500 b.c.). As such, Abraham emerged from a background of high culture, and was not the illiterate shepherd envisaged by some nineteenth-century literary critics.

Abraham is of profound religious significance because he was the historic ancestor of the twelve tribes, the "seed of Abraham, " who regularly described their God as "the God of Abraham." By virtue of being children of divine promise ( Gen 12:2 ), the Israelites were living proof of God's existence and power in human society. This general promise was made specific by means of a covenant between God and Abraham ( Gen 15:8-18 ; 17:1-14 ), which provided the offspring of the patriarch with a large tract of territory. Abraham was to father many nations ( Gen 17:5 ), and the covenant that was to be established with him and his seed was to be perpetual in nature.

The idea of a covenant, or binding agreement between two parties, was already familiar in the early Middle Bronze Age, and by mutual agreement involved penalties if one of the participants defaulted. It was normally marked by some form of ritual ( Gen 15:9-17 ), which emphasized the solemnity and significance of the occasion. Abraham was instructed to keep the covenant obligations, and as a material token the institution of circumcision was imposed upon him and his descendants. When performed, this procedure constituted formal indication of membership within the Israelite community.

Although coming from a background of polytheism and idolatry at Ur, Abraham had been reared in the faith of the one true God by his father Terah. But when he received the Lord's call at a mature stage of his life, he recognized that he had been chosen to implement a specific part of God's plan for human destiny. He was not to fulfill it alone, because the Lord undertook to go with him ( Gen 12:4 ). He was required to be consistently obedient to God's will, however difficult that might be, and to trust without question the guidance he would receive against the background of the covenant framework. It should be noted that Abraham was not asked to be obedient as a condition of the covenant. Rather, his response in faith was based upon what he already knew about the God of his ancestors, and was thus a matter of free choice. The importance of strict obedience to the Lord's injunctions assumes early prominence in Old Testament theology. Put simply, without unquestioning submission to God's stipulations there could be neither fellowship with the Lord nor blessings poured out upon the covenant people.

The continuing faith Abraham had can be illustrated by reference to four specific occasions in his life. The first was God's command to leave both family and homeland and migrate to a strange country ( Gen 12:1 ). The severing of emotional ties was bound to be costly, yet Abraham went forward without once questioning God's directives, believing instead in God's power to fulfill his promises.

The second occasion actually completed the first, consisting of Abraham's parting company with his nephew Lot ( Gen 13:1-16 ) because of friction between their herdsmen. Although doubtless distressed at withdrawing from a relative, Abraham behaved generously in allowing Lot to choose the territory that he preferred ( Gen 13:8-11 ), whereupon God renewed his promises of land and offspring to the childless Abraham.

The third was yet another occasion when the covenant was confirmed, this time in greater detail ( Gen 17:1-27 ). God promised Abraham a son who would be named Isaac ( Gen 17:16 ), and who would be the inheritor of the everlasting covenant ( Genesis 17:19 Genesis 17:21 ). It seems that Abraham assumed that Ishmael was to function in that capacity, but when this was denied he acknowledged the Lord's will obediently, and awaited in faith the fulfillment of the promise that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him ( Gen 18:18 ).

Perhaps the most serious test of Abraham's obedience and faith came when God ordered him to offer up in sacrifice the very one through whom the covenant was to be perpetuated: his son Isaac ( Gen 22:1-2 ). Dutifully and without questioning, Abraham followed the ritual procedure, and at the climactic moment God intervened on behalf of Isaac ( Gen 22:11 ), stating that Abraham had passed the divinely imposed test of submission and faith ( Gen 22:12 ). For such implicit obedience Abraham was to become an example of covenant fidelity. In 2 Chronicles 20:7 (cf. James 2:23 ) Abraham is described as the "friends" of God. As late as New Testament times, he and Sarah were lauded as people who lived and died in an attitude of faith ( Heb 11:8-18 ).

The New Testament If God's plan for human salvation was to be implemented, the Lord had to be able to trust those whom he called and empowered for this task. Only after testing under difficult conditions did the relative trustworthiness of the servant become apparent. In Abraham's case, his unwavering faith accomplished the fulfillment of the covenant promises in terms of a great nation that would honor him through the centuries as "their father" ( John 8:39 ; Rom 4:16 ). This privilege, however, was not to be restricted to the Jews, but was also shared by adherents to the world religions of Christianity and Islam.

The prophecy whereby all human families would be blessed (or "bless themselves") came to fruition in the work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of God, who was the long-promised descendant of Abraham ( Matt 1:1 ; Gal 3:16 ). His atoning death broke the power of sin over human beings and enabled them to be reconciled to God through penitence and faith. The saving work of Christ ushered in the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31) and was given definitive shape in the Christian church, a body of believers committed to serve Jesus as king and lord through Acts of obedience and faith. This privileged group is blessed by the assurance of God's love and his saving power that sustain all who trust in him. But while being a recipient of blessing, the Christian church is commanded to fulfill covenant responsibilities ( Matt 28:14 ) in a manner unknown to the covenant people of Old Testament times. It is by this means, however, that the Abrahamic blessings come into effect when both Jewish and Gentile sinners find forgiveness and spiritual rebirth in Christ through the proclamation of the gospel.

The Christian faith thus stands in an unbroken chain of spirituality that has come down through the ages. The new covenant on which the Christian church is founded is based upon an individual's relationship with God in Christ, and not upon the response of a group such as a tribe to the Lord's commands. The atoning work of Christ on Calvary, achieved by a man as fully obedient to God's commands ( Php 2:8 ) as Abraham ever was, has released a flood of divine grace upon an undeserving world, and has brought the blessed fruit of the Spirit ( Gal 5:22-23 ) into the believer's life.

Paul stressed that the children of God by faith in Jesus were in fact members of Abraham's offspring, and thus heirs according to the promise ( Gal 3:26-29 ). Thus Christians can speak confidently of Abraham as "the father of the faithful, " and praise a merciful God because it was through his fidelity in remote ages that our eternal salvation has become an actuality. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and others are no longer shadowy images which, in an earlier age of biblical criticism, were often dismissed as legendary or even mythological. Instead, the participants in the Abrahamic covenant are seen as real persons with whom modern Christians are privileged to join in witness to God's power and his plan of salvation through Christ. While Christians can rejoice in the realization that the blessings of Abraham's covenant have become their very own, it is important for them to remember that, as Jesus taught, the true children of Abraham perform the deeds of Abraham ( John 8:39 ).

Dynamic though Abraham's covenant was, sheer physical descent from the revered patriarch did not of itself guarantee an individual's salvation, as John the Baptist pointed out ( Matt 3:9 ). Nor did it imply that there were no unbelievers in ancient Israel ( Ro 9:6 ). Only those members whose lives manifested the obedience and trust of the patriarch would participate in covenant blessings. The man who for Paul was the exemplar of faith ( Rom 4:16-22 ; Gal 3:6-12 ) was understood by James to demonstrate that justification by faith is proved in works that issue from such a faith ( Jas 2:20-24 ). The emphasis, however, is upon the genuine nature of the faith rather than such deeds as may result.

R. K. Harrison

See also Israel

Bibliography. G. Bush, Notes on Genesis; D. Kidner, Genesis; K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament; F. B. Meyer, Abraham: The Obedience of Faith; C. F. Pfeiffer, The Patriarchal Age; A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Abraham'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Abraham [N] [B] [H] [S]

father of a multitude, son of Terah, named ( Genesis 11:27 ) before his older brothers Nahor and Haran, because he was the heir of the promises. Till the age of seventy, Abram sojourned among his kindred in his native country of Chaldea. He then, with his father and his family and household, quitted the city of Ur, in which he had hitherto dwelt, and went some 300 miles north to Haran, where he abode fifteen years. The cause of his migration was a call from God ( Acts 7:2-4 ). There is no mention of this first call in the Old Testament; it is implied, however, in Genesis 12 . While they tarried at Haran, Terah died at the age of 205 years. Abram now received a second and more definite call, accompanied by a promise from God ( Genesis 12:1 Genesis 12:2 ); whereupon he took his departure, taking his nephew Lot with him, "not knowing whither he went" ( Hebrews 11:8 ). He trusted implicitly to the guidance of Him who had called him.

Abram now, with a large household of probably a thousand souls, entered on a migratory life, and dwelt in tents. Passing along the valley of the Jabbok, in the land of Canaan, he formed his first encampment at Sichem ( Genesis 12:6 ), in the vale or oak-grove of Moreh, between Ebal on the north and Gerizim on the south. Here he received the great promise, "I will make of thee a great nation," etc. ( Genesis 12:2 Genesis 12:3 Genesis 12:7 ). This promise comprehended not only temporal but also spiritual blessings. It implied that he was the chosen ancestor of the great Deliverer whose coming had been long ago predicted ( Genesis 3:15 ). Soon after this, for some reason not mentioned, he removed his tent to the mountain district between Bethel, then called Luz, and Ai, towns about two miles apart, where he built an altar to "Jehovah." He again moved into the southern tract of Palestine, called by the Hebrews the Negeb; and was at length, on account of a famine, compelled to go down into Egypt. This took place in the time of the Hyksos, a Semitic race which now held the Egyptians in bondage. Here occurred that case of deception on the part of Abram which exposed him to the rebuke of Pharaoh ( Genesis 12:18 ). Sarai was restored to him; and Pharaoh loaded him with presents, recommending him to withdraw from the country. He returned to Canaan richer than when he left it, "in cattle, in silver, and in gold" ( Genesis 12:8 ; 13:2 . Compare Psalms 105:13 Psalms 105:14 ). The whole party then moved northward, and returned to their previous station near Bethel. Here disputes arose between Lot's shepherds and those of Abram about water and pasturage. Abram generously gave Lot his choice of the pasture-ground. (Compare 1 Corinthians 6:7 .) He chose the well-watered plain in which Sodom was situated, and removed thither; and thus the uncle and nephew were separated. Immediately after this Abram was cheered by a repetition of the promises already made to him, and then removed to the plain or "oak-grove" of Mamre, which is in Hebron. He finally settled here, pitching his tent under a famous oak or terebinth tree, called "the oak of Mamre" ( Genesis 13:18 ). This was his third resting-place in the land.

Some fourteen years before this, while Abram was still in Chaldea, Palestine had been invaded by Chedorlaomer, King of Elam, who brought under tribute to him the five cities in the plain to which Lot had removed. This tribute was felt by the inhabitants of these cities to be a heavy burden, and after twelve years they revolted. This brought upon them the vengeance of Chedorlaomer, who had in league with him four other kings. He ravaged the whole country, plundering the towns, and carrying the inhabitants away as slaves. Among those thus treated was Lot. Hearing of the disaster that had fallen on his nephew, Abram immediately gathered from his own household a band of 318 armed men, and being joined by the Amoritish chiefs Mamre, Aner, and Eshcol, he pursued after Chedorlaomer, and overtook him near the springs of the Jordan. They attacked and routed his army, and pursued it over the range of Anti-Libanus as far as to Hobah, near Damascus, and then returned, bringing back all the spoils that had been carried away. Returning by way of Salem, i.e., Jerusalem, the king of that place, Melchizedek, came forth to meet them with refreshments. To him Abram presented a tenth of the spoils, in recognition of his character as a priest of the most high God ( Genesis 14:18-20 ).

In a recently-discovered tablet, dated in the reign of the grandfather of Amraphel ( Genesis 14:1 ), one of the witnesses is called "the Amorite, the son of Abiramu," or Abram.

Having returned to his home at Mamre, the promises already made to him by God were repeated and enlarged ( Genesis 13:14 ). "The word of the Lord" (an expression occurring here for the first time) "came to him" ( 15:1 ). He now understood better the future that lay before the nation that was to spring from him. Sarai, now seventy-five years old, in her impatience, persuaded Abram to take Hagar, her Egyptian maid, as a concubine, intending that whatever child might be born should be reckoned as her own. Ishmael was accordingly thus brought up, and was regarded as the heir of these promises ( Genesis 16 ). When Ishmael was thirteen years old, God again revealed yet more explicitly and fully his gracious purpose; and in token of the sure fulfilment of that purpose the patriarch's name was now changed from Abram to Abraham ( Genesis 17:4 Genesis 17:5 ), and the rite of circumcision was instituted as a sign of the covenant. It was then announced that the heir to these covenant promises would be the son of Sarai, though she was now ninety years old; and it was directed that his name should be Isaac. At the same time, in commemoration of the promises, Sarai's name was changed to Sarah. On that memorable day of God's thus revealing his design, Abraham and his son Ishmael and all the males of his house were circumcised ( Genesis 17 ). Three months after this, as Abraham sat in his tent door, he saw three men approaching. They accepted his proffered hospitality, and, seated under an oak-tree, partook of the fare which Abraham and Sarah provided. One of the three visitants was none other than the Lord, and the other two were angels in the guise of men. The Lord renewed on this occasion his promise of a son by Sarah, who was rebuked for her unbelief. Abraham accompanied the three as they proceeded on their journey. The two angels went on toward Sodom; while the Lord tarried behind and talked with Abraham, making known to him the destruction that was about to fall on that guilty city. The patriarch interceded earnestly in behalf of the doomed city. But as not even ten righteous persons were found in it, for whose sake the city would have been spared, the threatened destruction fell upon it; and early next morning Abraham saw the smoke of the fire that consumed it as the "smoke of a furnace" ( Genesis 19:1-28 ).

After fifteen years' residence at Mamre, Abraham moved southward, and pitched his tent among the Philistines, near to Gerar. Here occurred that sad instance of prevarication on his part in his relation to Abimelech the King ( Genesis 20 ). (See ABIMELECH) Soon after this event, the patriarch left the vicinity of Gerar, and moved down the fertile valley about 25 miles to Beer-sheba. It was probably here that Isaac was born, Abraham being now an hundred years old. A feeling of jealousy now arose between Sarah and Hagar, whose son, Ishmael, was no longer to be regarded as Abraham's heir. Sarah insisted that both Hagar and her son should be sent away. This was done, although it was a hard trial to Abraham ( Genesis 21:12 ). (See HAGAR; ISHMAEL.)

At this point there is a blank in the patriarch's history of perhaps twenty-five years. These years of peace and happiness were spent at Beer-sheba. The next time we see him his faith is put to a severe test by the command that suddenly came to him to go and offer up Isaac, the heir of all the promises, as a sacrifice on one of the mountains of Moriah. His faith stood the test ( Hebrews 11:17-19 ). He proceeded in a spirit of unhesitating obedience to carry out the command; and when about to slay his son, whom he had laid on the altar, his uplifted hand was arrested by the angel of Jehovah, and a ram, which was entangled in a thicket near at hand, was seized and offered in his stead. From this circumstance that place was called Jehovah-jireh, i.e., "The Lord will provide." The promises made to Abraham were again confirmed (and this was the last recorded word of God to the patriarch); and he descended the mount with his son, and returned to his home at Beer-sheba ( Genesis 22:19 ), where he resided for some years, and then moved northward to Hebron.

Some years after this Sarah died at Hebron, being 127 years old. Abraham acquired now the needful possession of a burying-place, the cave of Machpelah, by purchase from the owner of it, Ephron the Hittite ( Genesis 23 ); and there he buried Sarah. His next care was to provide a wife for Isaac, and for this purpose he sent his steward, Eliezer, to Haran (or Charran, Acts 7:2 ), where his brother Nahor and his family resided ( Genesis 11:31 ). The result was that Rebekah, the daughter of Nahor's son Bethuel, became the wife of Isaac ( Genesis 24 ). Abraham then himself took to wife Keturah, who became the mother of six sons, whose descendants were afterwards known as the "children of the east" ( Judges 6:3 ), and later as "Saracens." At length all his wanderings came to an end. At the age of 175 years, 100 years after he had first entered the land of Canaan, he died, and was buried in the old family burying-place at Machpelah ( Genesis 25:7-10 ).

The history of Abraham made a wide and deep impression on the ancient world, and references to it are interwoven in the religious traditions of almost all Eastern nations. He is called "the friend of God" ( James 2:23 ), "faithful Abraham" ( Galatians 3:9 ), "the father of us all" ( Romans 4:16 ).

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Abraham". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

Abraham [N] [B] [E] [S]

father of a great multitude
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names. Public Domain. Copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Hitchcock, Roswell D. "Entry for 'Abraham'". "An Interpreting Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names". . New York, N.Y., 1869.

Abraham [N] [B] [E] [H]

(father of a multitude ) was the son of Terah, and founder of the great Hebrew nation. (B.C. 1996-1822.) His family, a branch of the descendants of Shem, was settled in Ur of the Chaldees, beyond the Euphrates, where Abraham was born. Terah had two other sons, Nahor and Haran. Haran died before his father in Ur of the Chaldees, leaving a son, Lot; and Terah, taking with him Abram, with Sarai his wife and his grandson Lot, emigrated to Haran in Mesopotamia, where he died. On the death of his father, Abram, then in the 75th year of his age, with Sarai and Lot, pursued his course to the land of Canaan, whither he was directed by divine command, ( Genesis 12:5 ) when he received the general promise that he should become the founder of a great nation, and that all the families of the earth should be blessed in him. He passed through the heart of the country by the great highway to Shechem, and pitched his tent beneath the terebinth of Moreh. ( Genesis 12:6 ) Here he received in vision from Jehovah the further revelation that this was the land which his descendants should inherit. ( Genesis 12:7 ) The next halting-place of the wanderer was on a mountain between Bethel and Ai, ( Genesis 12:8 ) but the country was suffering from famine, and Abram journeyed still southward to the rich cornlands of Egypt. There, fearing that the great beauty of Sarai might tempt the powerful monarch of Egypt and expose his own life to peril, he arranged that Sarai should represent herself as his sister, which her actual relationship to him, as probably the daughter of his brother Haran, allowed her to do with some semblance of truth. But her beauty was reported to the king, and she was taken into the royal harem. The deception was discovered, and Pharaoh with some indignation dismissed Abram from the country. ( Genesis 12:10-20 ) He left Egypt with great possessions, and, accompanied by Lot, returned by the south of Palestine to his former encampment between Bethel and Ai. The increased wealth of the two kinsmen was the ultimate cause of their separation. Lot chose the fertile plain of the Jordan near Sodom, while Abram pitched his tent among the groves of Mamre, close to Hebron. ( Genesis 13:1 ) ... Lot with his family and possessions having been carried away captive by Chedorlaomer king of Elam, who had invaded Sodom, Abram pursued the conquerors and utterly routed them not far from Damascus. The captives and plunder were all recovered, and Abram was greeted on his return by the king of Sodom, and by Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who mysteriously appears upon the scene to bless the patriarch and receive from him a tenth of the spoil. ( Genesis 14:1 ) ... After this the thrice-repeated promise that his descendants should become a mighty nation and possess the land in which he was a stranger was confirmed with all the solemnity of a religious ceremony. ( Genesis 15:1 ) ... Ten years had passed since he had left his fathers house, and the fulfillment of the promise was apparently more distant than at first. At the suggestion of Sarai, who despaired of having children of her own, he took as his concubine Hagar, her Egyptian main, who bore him Ishmael in the 86th year of his age. ( Genesis 16:1 ) ... [HAGAR; ISHMAEL] But this was not the accomplishment of the promise. Thirteen years elapsed, during which Abram still dwelt in Hebron, when the covenant was renewed, and the rite of circumcision established as its sign. This most important crisis in Abrams life, when he was 99 years old, is marked by the significant change of his name to Abraham, "father of a multitude;" while his wifes from Sarai became Sarah. The promise that Sarah should have a son was repeated in the remarkable scene described in ch. 18. Three men stood before Abraham as he sat in his tent door in the heat of the day. The patriarch, with true Eastern hospitality, welcomed the strangers, and bade them rest and refresh themselves. The meal ended, they foretold the birth of Isaac, and went on their way to Sodom. Abraham accompanied them, and is represented as an interlocutor in a dialogue with Jehovah, in which he pleaded in vain to avert the vengeance threatened to the devoted cities of the plain. ( Genesis 18:17-33 ) In remarkable contrast with Abrahams firm faith with regard to the magnificent fortunes of his posterity stand the incident which occurred during his temporary residence among the Philistines in Gerar, whither he had for some cause removed after the destruction of Sodom. It was almost a repetition of what took place in Egypt a few years before. At length Isaac, the long-looked for child, was born. Sarahs jealousy aroused by the mockery of Ishmael at the "great banquet" which Abram made to celebrate the weaning of her son, ( Genesis 21:9 ) demanded that, with his mother Hagar, he should be driven out. ( Genesis 21:10 ) But the severest trial of his faith was yet to come. For a long period the history is almost silent. At length he receives the strange command to take Isaac, his only son, and offer him for a burnt offering at an appointed place Abraham hesitated not to obey. His faith, hitherto unshaken, supported him in this final trial, "accounting that God was able to raise up his son, even from the dead, from whence also he received him in a figure." ( Hebrews 11:19 ) The sacrifice was stayed by the angel of Jehovah, the promise of spiritual blessing made for the first time, and Abraham with his son returned to Beersheba, and for a time dwelt there. ( Genesis 22:1 ) ... But we find him after a few years in his original residence at Hebron, for there Sarah died, ( Genesis 23:2 ) and was buried in the cave of Machpelah. The remaining years of Abrahams life are marked by but few incidents. After Isaacs marriage with Rebekah and his removal to Lahai-roi, Abraham took to wife Keturah, by whom he had six children, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbok and Shuah, who became the ancestors of nomadic tribes inhabiting the countries south and southeast of Palestine. Abraham lived to see the gradual accomplishment of the promise in the birth of his grandchildren Jacob and Esau, and witnessed their growth to manhood. ( Genesis 25:26 ) At the goodly age of 175 he was "gathered to his people," and laid beside Sarah in the tomb of Machpelah by his sons Isaac and Ishmael. ( Genesis 25:7-10 )


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Abraham'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.

ABRAHAM

a'-bra-ham:

  1. Name.
    1. Various Forms:
      In the Old Testament, when applied, to the patriarch, the name appears as 'abhram, up to Genesis 17:5; thereafter always as 'abhraham. 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:

      '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 just where from the Biblical tradition we should expect to find it, namely, 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 BC). 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.

    2. Etymology:
      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 probably ramu (= Hebrew racham) "to love," etc.; so that the name would mean something like "he loves the (his) father." (So Ungnad, also Ranke in Gressmann's article "Sage und Geschichte in den Patriarchenerzahlungen," ZATW (1910), 3.) Analogy proves that this is in the Babylonian fashion of the period, and that judging from the various writings of this and similar names, its pronunciation was not far from 'abh-ram.

    3. Association:
      While the name is thus not "Hebrew" in origin, it made itself thoroughly at home among the Hebrews, and to their ears conveyed associations quite different from its etymological signification. "Popular etymology" here as so often doubtless led the Hebrew to hear in 'abh-ram, "exalted father," a designation consonant with the patriarch's national and religious significance. In the form 'abh-raham his ear caught the echo of some root (perhaps r-h-m; compare Arabic ruham, "multitude") still more suggestive of the patriarch's extensive progeny, the reason ("for") that accompanies the change of name Genesis 17:5 being intended only as a verbal echo of the sense in the sound. This longer and commoner form is possibly a dialectical variation of the shorter form, a variation for which there are analogies in comparative Semitic grammar. It is, however, possible also that the two forms are different names, and that 'abh-raham is etymologically, and not merely by association of sound, "father of a multitude" (as above). (Another theory, based on South-Arabic orthography, in Hommel, Altisraelitische Ueberlieferung, 177.)

  2. Kindred.
    Genesis 11:27, which introduces Abraham, contains the heading, "These are the generations of Terah." All the story of Abraham is contained within the section of Genesis so entitled. Through Terah Abraham's ancestry is traced back to Shem, and he is thus related to Mesopotamian and Arabian families that belonged to the "Semitic" race. He is further connected with this race geographically by his birthplace, which is given as 'ur-kasdim (see UR), and by the place of his pre-Canaanitish residence, Haran in the Aramean region. The purely Semitic ancestry of his descendants through Isaac is indicated by his marriage with his own half-sister (Genesis 20:12), and still further emphasized by the choice for his daughter-in-law of Rebekah, descended from both of his brothers, Nahor and Haran (Genesis 11:29; 22:22 f). Both the beginning and the end of the residence in Haran are left chronologically undetermined, for the new beginning of the narrative at Genesis 12:1 is not intended by the writer to indicate chronological sequence, though it has been so understood, e.g. by Stephen (Acts 7:4). All that is definite in point of time is that an Aramean period of residence intervened between the Babylonian origin and the Palestinian career of Abraham. It is left to a comparison of the Biblical data with one another and with the data of archaeology, to fix the opening of Abraham's career in Palestine not far from the middle of the 20th century BC.

  3. Career.
    Briefiy summed up, that career was as follows.
    1. Period of Wandering:
      Abraham, endowed with Yahweh's promise of limitless blessing, leaves Haran with Lot his nephew and all their establishment, and enters Canaan. Successive stages of the slow journey southward are indicated by the mention of Shechem, Bethel and the Negeb (South-country). Driven by famine into Egypt, Abraham finds hospitable reception, though at the price of his wife's honor, whom the Pharaoh treats in a manner characteristic of an Egyptian monarch. (Gressmann, op. cit., quotes from Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, 12, 142, the passage from a magic formula in the pyramid of Unas, a Pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty:

      "Then he (namely, the Pharaoh) takes away the wives from their husbands whither he will if desire seize his heart.") Retracing the path to Canaan with an augmented train, at Bethel Abraham and Lot find it necessary to part company. Lot and his dependents choose for residence the great Jordan Depression; Abraham follows the backbone of the land southward to Hebron, where he settles, not in the city, but before its gates "by the great trees" (Septuagint sing., "oak") of Mamre.

    2. Period of Residence at Hebron:
      Affiliation between Abraham and the local chieftains is strengthened by a brief campaign, in which all unite their available forces for the rescue of Lot from an Elamite king and his confederates from Babylonia. The pursuit leads them as far as the Lebanon region. On the return they are met by Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of 'el `elyon, and blessed by him in his priestly capacity, which Abraham recognizes by presenting him with a tithe of the spoils. Abraham's anxiety for a son to be the bearer of the divine promises conferred upon a "seed" yet unborn should have been relieved by the solemn renewal thereof in a formal covenant, with precise specifications of God's gracious purpose. But human desire cannot wait upon divine wisdom, and the Egyptian woman Hagar bears to Abraham a son, Ishmael, whose existence from its inception proves a source of moral evil within the patriarchal household. The sign of circumcision and the change of names are given in confirmation of the covenant still unrealized, together with specification of the time and the person that should begin its realization. The theophany that symbolized outwardly this climax of the Divine favor serves also for an intercessory colloquy, in which Abraham is granted the deliverance of Lot in the impending overthrow of Sodom. Lot and his family, saved thus by human fidelity and Divine clemency, exhibit in the moral traits shown in their escape and subsequent life the degeneration naturally to be expected from their corrupt environment. Moabites and Ammonites are traced in their origin to these cousins of Jacob and Esau.

    3. Period of Residence in the Negeb:
      Removal to the South-country did not mean permanent residence in a single spot, but rather a succession of more or less temporary resting-places. The first of these was in the district of Gerar, with whose king, Abimelech, Abraham and his wife had an experience similar to the earlier one with the Pharaoh. The birth of Isaac was followed by the expulsion of Ishmael and his mother, and the sealing of peaceful relations with the neighbors by covenant at Beersheba. Even the birth of Isaac, however, did not end the discipline of Abraham's faith in the promise, for a Divine command to sacrifice the life of this son was accepted bona fide, and only the sudden interposition of a Divine prohibition prevented its obedient execution. The death of Sarah became the occasion for Abraham's acquisition of the first permanent holding of Palestine soil, the nucleus of his promised inheritance, and at the same time suggested the probable approach of his own death. This thought led to immediate provision for a future seed to inherit through Isaac, a provision realized in Isaac's marriage with Rebekah, grand-daughter of Abraham's brother Nahor and of Milcah the sister of Lot. But a numerous progeny not associated with the promise grew up in Abraham's household, children of Keturah, a woman who appears to have had the rank of wife after Sarah's death, and of other women unnamed, who were his concubines. Though this last period was passed in the Negeb, Abraham was interred at Hebron in his purchased possession, the spot with which Semitic tradition has continued to associate him to this day.

  4. Conditions of Life.
    The life of Abraham in its outward features may be considered under the following topics:
    1. Economic Conditions:
      Abraham's manner of life may best be described by the adjective "semi-nomadic," and illustrated by the somewhat similar conditions prevailing today in those border-communities of the East that fringe the Syrian and Arabian deserts. Residence is in tents, wealth consists of flocks, herds and slaves, and there is no ownership of ground, only at most a proprietorship in well or tomb. All this in common with the nomad. But there is a relative, or rather, intermittent fixity of habitation, unlike the pure Bedouin, a limited amount of agriculture, and finally a sense of divergence from the Ishmael type--all of which tend to assimilate the seminomadic Abraham to the fixed Canaanitish population about him. As might naturally be expected, such a condition is an unstable equilibrium, which tends, in the family of Abraham as in the history of all border-tribes of the desert, to settle back one way or the other, now into the city- life of Lot, now into the desert-life of Ishmael.

    2. Social Conditions:
      The head of a family, under these conditions, becomes at the same time the chief of a tribe, that live together under patriarchal rule though they by no means share without exception the tie of kinship. The family relations depicted in Ge conform to and are illuminated by the social features of Code of Hammurabi. (See K. D. Macmillan, article "Marriage among the Early Babylonians and Hebrews," Princeton Theological Review, April, 1908.) There is one legal wife, Sarah, who, because persistently childless, obtains the coveted offspring by giving her own maid to Abraham for that purpose (compare Code of Hammurabi, sections 144, 146). The son thus borne, Ishmael, is Abraham's legal son and heir. When Isaac is later borne by Sarah, the elder son is disinherited by divine command (Genesis 21:10-12) against Abraham's wish which represented the prevailing law and custom (Code of Hammurabi, sections 168 f). The "maid-servants" mentioned in the inventories of Abraham's wealth (Genesis 12:16; 24:35) doubtless furnished the "concubines" mentioned in Genesis 25:6 as having borne sons to him.

      Both mothers and children were slaves, but had the right to freedom, though not to inheritance, on the death of the father (Code of Hammurabi, section 171). After Sarah's death another woman seems to have succeeded to the position of legal wife, though if so the sons she bore were disinherited like Ishmael (Genesis 25:5). In addition to the children so begotten by Abraham the "men of his house" (Genesis 17:27) consisted of two classes, the "home-born" slaves (Genesis 14:14; 17:12,23,27) and the "purchased" slaves (ibid.). The extent of the patriarchal tribe may be surmised from the number (318) of men among them capable of bearing arms, near the beginning of Abraham's career, yet after his separation from Lot, and recruited seemingly from the "home-born" class exclusively (Genesis 14:14). Over this entire establishment Abraham ruled with a power more, rather than less, absolute than that exhibited in detail in the Code of Hammurabi:

      more absolute, because Abraham was independent of any permanent superior authority, and so combined in his own person the powers of the Babylonian paterfamilias and of the Canaanite city- king. Social relations outside of the family-tribe may best be considered under the next heading.

    3. Political Conditions:
      It is natural that the chieftain of so considerable an organism should appear an attractive ally and a formidable foe to any of the smaller political units of his environment. That Canaan was at the time composed of just such inconsiderable units, namely, city-states with petty kings, and scattered fragments of older populations, is abundantly clear from the Biblical tradition and verified from other sources. Egypt was the only great power with which Abraham came into political contact after leaving the East. In the section of Genesis which describes this contact with the Pharaoh Abraham is suitably represented as playing no political role, but as profiting by his stay in Egypt only through an incidental social relation:

      when this terminates he is promptly ejected. The role of conqueror of Chedorlaomer, the Elamite invader, would be quite out of keeping with Abraham's political status elsewhere, if we were compelled by the narrative in Genesis 14 to suppose a pitched battle between the forces of Abraham and those of the united Babylonian armies. What that chapter requires is in fact no more than a midnight surprise, by Abraham's band (including the forces of confederate chieftains), of a rear-guard or baggage-train of the Babylonians inadequately manned and picketed ("Slaughter" is quite too strong a rendering of the original hakkoth, "smiting," 14:17) Respect shown Abraham by the kings of Salem (14:18), of Sodom (14:21) and of Gerar (Genesis 20:14-16) was no more than might be expected from their relative degrees of political importance, although a moral precedence, assumed in the tradition, may well have contributed to this respect.

    4. Cultural Conditions:
      Recent archaeological research has revolutionized our conception of the degree of culture which Abraham could have possessed and therefore presumably did possess. The high plane which literature had attained in both Babylonia and Egypt by 2000 BC is sufficient witness to the opportunities open to the man of birth and wealth in that day for the interchange of lofty thought. And, without having recourse to Abraham's youth in Babylonia, we may assert even for the scenes of Abraham's maturer life the presence of the same culture, on the basis of a variety of facts, the testimony of which converges in this point, that Canaan in the second millennium BC was at the center of the intellectual life of the East and cannot have failed to afford, to such of its inhabitants as chose to avail themselves of it, every opportunity for enjoying the fruits of others' culture and for recording the substance of their own thoughts, emotions and activities

  5. Character.
    Abraham's inward life may be considered under the rubrics of religion, ethics and personal traits.
    1. Religious Beliefs:
      The religion of Abraham centered in his faith in one God, who, because believed by him to be possessor of heaven and earth (Genesis 14:22; 24:3), sovereign judge of the nations (Genesis 15:14) of all the earth (Genesis 18:25), disposer of the forces of Nature (Genesis 18:14; 19:24; 20:17 f), exalted (Genesis 14:22) and eternal (Genesis 21:33), was for Abraham at least the only God. So far as the Biblical tradition goes, Abraham's monotheism was not aggressive (otherwise in later Jewish tradition), and it is theoretically possible to attribute to him a merely "monarchical" or "henotheistic" type of monotheism, which would admit the coexistence with his deity, say, of the "gods which (his) fathers served" (Joshua 24:14), or the identity with his deity of the supreme god of some Canaanite neighbor (Genesis 14:18). Yet this distinction of types of monotheism does not really belong to the sphere of religion as such, but rather to that of speculative philosophical thought. As religion, monotheism is just monotheism, and it asserts itself in corollaries drawn by the intellect only so far as the scope of the monotheist's intellectual life applies it.

      For Abraham Yahweh not only was alone God; He was also his personal God in a closeness of fellowship (Genesis 24:40; 48:15) that has made him for three religions the type of the pious man (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23, note the Arabic name of Hebron El-Khalil, i.e. the friend (viz of God)) To Yahweh Abraham attributed the moral attributes of Justice (Genesis 18:25), righteousness (Genesis 18:19), faithfulness (Genesis 24:27), wisdom (Genesis 20:6), goodness (Genesis 19:19), mercy (Genesis 20:6). These qualities were expected of men, and their contraries in men were punished by Yahweh (Genesis 18:19; 20:11). He manifested Himself in dreams (Genesis 20:3), visions (Genesis 15:1) and theophanies (Genesis 18:1), including the voice or apparition of the Divine mal'akh or messenger ("angel") (Genesis 16:7; 22:11)

      On man's part, in addition to obedience to Yahweh's moral requirements and special commands, the expression of his religious nature was expected in sacrifice. This bringing of offerings to the deity was diligently practiced by Abraham, as indicated by the mention of his erection of an altar at each successive residence. Alongside of this act of sacrifice there is sometimes mention of a "calling upon the name" of Yahweh (compare 1 Kings 18:24; Psalms 116:13 f). This publication of his faith, doubtless in the presence of Canaanites, had its counterpart also in the public regard in which he was held as a "prophet" or spokesman for God (Genesis 20:7). His mediation showed itself also in intercessory prayer (Genesis 17:20 for Ishmael; Genesis 18:23-32; compare Genesis 19:29 for Lot; Genesis 20:17 for Abimelech), which was but a phase of his general practice of prayer. The usual accompaniment of sacrifice, a professional priesthood, does not occur in Abraham's family, yet he recognizes priestly prerogative in the person of Melchizedek, priest-king of Salem (Genesis 14:20). Religious sanction of course surrounds the taking of oaths (Genesis 14:22; 24:3) and the sealing of covenants (Genesis 21:23). Other customs associated with religion are circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14), given to Abraham as the sign of the perpetual covenant; tithing (Genesis 14:20), recognized as the priest's due; and child-sacrifice (Genesis 22:2,12), enjoined upon Abraham only to be expressly forbidden, approved for its spirit but interdicted in its practice.

    2. Morality:
      As already indicated, the ethical attributes of God were regarded by Abraham as the ethical requirement of man. This in theory. In the sphere of applied ethics and casuistry Abraham's practice, at least, fell short of this ideal, even in the few incidents of his life preserved to us. It is clear that these lapses from virtue were offensive to the moral sense of Abraham's biographer, but we are left in the dark as to Abraham's sense of moral obliquity. (The "dust and ashes" of Genesis 18:27 has no moral implication.) The demands of candor and honor are not satisfactorily met, certainly not in the matter of Sarah's relationship to him (Genesis 12:11-13; 20:2; compare Genesis 11-13), perhaps not in the matter of Isaac's intended sacrifice (Genesis 22:5,8). To impose our own monogamous standard of marriage upon the patriarch would be unfair, in view of the different standard of his age and land. It is to his credit that no such scandals are recorded in his life and family as blacken the record of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38), Reuben (Genesis 35:22) and Judah (Genesis 38:15-18). Similarly, Abraham's story shows only regard for life and property, both in respecting the rights of others and in expecting the same from them--the antipodes of Ishmael's character (Genesis 16:12).

    3. Personal Traits:
      Outside, the bounds of strictly ethical requirement, Abraham's personality displayed certain characteristics that not only mark him out distinctly among the figures of history, but do him great credit as a singularly symmetrical and attractive character. Of his trust and reverence enough has been said under the head of religion. But this love that is "the fulfilling of the law," manifested in such piety toward God, showed itself toward men in exceptional generosity (Genesis 13:9; 14:23; 23:9,13; 24:10; 25:6), fidelity (Genesis 14:14,24; 17:18; 18:23-32; 19:27; 21:11; 23:2), hospitality (Genesis 18:2-8; 21:8) and compassion (Genesis 16:6; 21:14 when rightly understood, Genesis 18:23-32). A solid self-respect (Genesis 14:23; 16:6; 21:25; 23:9,13,16; 24:4) and real courage (Genesis 14:14-16) were, however, marred by the cowardice that sacrificed Sarah to purchase personal safety where he had reason to regard life as insecure (Genesis 20:11).

  6. Significance in the History of Religion.
    Abraham is a significant figure throughout the Bible, and plays an important role in extra-Biblical Jewish tradition and in the Mohammedan religion.
    1. In the Old Testament:
      It is naturally as progenitor of the people of Israel, "the seed of Abraham," as they are often termed, that Abraham stands out most prominently in the Old Testament books. Sometimes the contrast between him as an individual and his numerous progeny serves to point a lesson (Isaiah 51:2; Ezekiel 33:24; perhaps Malachi 2:10; compare Malachi 2:15). "The God of Abraham" serves as a designation of Yahweh from the time of Isaac to the latest period; it is by this title that Moses identifies the God who has sent him with the ancestral deity of the children of Israel (Exodus 3:15). Men remembered in those later times that this God appeared to Abraham in theophany (Exodus 6:3), and, when he was still among his people who worshipped other gods (Joshua 24:3) chose him (Nehemiah 9:7), led him, redeemed him (Isaiah 29:22) and made him the recipient of those special blessings (Micah 7:20) which were pledged by covenant and oath (so every larger historical book, also the historical Psalms 105:9), notably the inheritance of the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 6:10) Nor was Abraham's religious personality forgotten by his posterity: he was remembered by them as God's friend (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8), His servant, the very recollection of whom by God would offset the horror with which the sins of his descendants inspired Yahweh (Deuteronomy 9:27).

    2. In the New Testament:
      When we pass to the New Testament we are astonished at the wealth and variety of allusion to Abraham. As in the Old Testament, his position of ancestor lends him much of his significance, not only as ancestor of Israel (Acts 13:26), but specifically as ancestor, now of the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:5), now of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1), now, by the peculiarly Christian doctrine of the unity of believers in Christ, of Christian believers (Galatians 3:16,29). All that Abraham the ancestor received through Divine election, by the covenant made with him, is inherited by his seed and passes under the collective names of the promise (Romans 4:13), the blessing (Galatians 3:14), mercy (Luke 1:54), the oath (Luke 1:73), the covenant (Acts 3:25). The way in which Abraham responded to this peculiar goodness of God makes him the type of the Christian believer. Though so far in the past that he was used as a measure of antiquity (John 8:58), he is declared to have "seen" Messiah's "day" (John 8:56).

      It is his faith in the Divine promise, which, just because it was for him peculiarly unsupported by any evidence of the senses, becomes the type of the faith that leads to justification (Romans 4:3), and therefore in this sense again he is the "father" of Christians, as believers (Romans 4:11). For that promise to Abraham was, after all, a "preaching beforehand" of the Christian gospel, in that it embraced "all the families of the earth" (Galatians 3:8). Of this exalted honor, James reminds us, Abraham proved himself worthy, not by an inoperative faith, but by "works" that evidenced his righteousness (James 2:21; compare John 8:39). The obedience that faith wrought in him is what is especially praised by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:8,17). In accordance with this high estimate of the patriarch's piety, we read of his eternal felicity, not only in the current conceptions of the Jews (parable, Luke 16), but also in the express assertion of our Lord (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28). Incidental historical allusions to the events of Abraham's life are frequent in the New Testament, but do not add anything to this estimate of his religious significance.

    3. In Jewish Tradition:
      Outside the Scriptures we have abundant evidence of the way that Abraham was regarded by his posterity in the Jewish nation. The oldest of these witnesses, Ecclesiasticus, contains none of the accretions of the later Abraham-legends. Its praise of Abraham is confined to the same three great facts that appealed to the canonical writers, namely, his glory as Israel's ancestor, his election to be recipient of the covenant, and his piety (including perhaps a tinge of "nomism") even under severe testing (Ecclesiasticus 44:19-21). The Improbable and often unworthy and even grotesque features of Abraham's career and character in the later rabbinical midrashim are of no religious significance, beyond the evidence they afford of the way Abraham's unique position and piety were cherished by the Jews.

    4. In the Koran:
      To Mohammed Abraham is of importance in several ways. He is mentioned in no less than 188 verses of the Koran, more than any other character except Moses. He is one of the series of prophets sent by God. He is the common ancestor of the Arab and the Jew. He plays the same role of religious reformer over against his idolatrous kinsmen as Mohammed himself played. He builds the first pure temple for God's worship (at Mecca!). As in the Bible so in the Koran Abraham is the recipient of the Divine covenant for himself and for his posterity, and exhibits in his character the appropriate virtues of one so highly favored: faith, righteousness, purity of heart, gratitude, fidelity, compassion. He receives marked tokens of the Divine favor in the shape of deliverance, guidance, visions, angelic messengers (no theophanies for Mohammed!), miracles, assurance of resurrection and entrance into paradise. He is called "Imam of the peoples" (2 118)

  7. Interpretations of the Story Other than the Historical.
    There are writers in both ancient and modern times who have, from various standpoints, interpreted the person and career of Abraham otherwise than as what it purports to be, namely, the real experiences of a human person named Abraham. These various views may be classified according to the motive or impulse which they believe to have led to the creation of this story in the mind of its author or authors.
    1. The Allegorical Interpretation:
      Philo's tract on Abraham bears as alternative titles, "On the Life of the Wise Man Made Perfect by Instruction, or, On the Unwritten Law." Abraham's life is not for him a history that serves to illustrate these things, but an allegory by which these things are embodied. Paul's use of the Sarah-Hagar episode in Galatians 4:21-31 belongs to this type of exposition (compare allegoroumena, 4:24), of which there are also a few other instances in his epistles; yet to infer from this that Paul shared Philo's general attitude toward the patriarchal narrative would be unwarranted, since his use of this method is incidental, exceptional, and merely corroborative of points already established by sound reason. "Luther compares it to a painting which decorates a house already built" (Schaff, "Galatians," Excursus).

    2. The Personification Theory:
      As to Philo Abraham is the personification of a certain type of humanity, so to some modern writers he is the personification of the Hebrew nation or of a tribe belonging to the Hebrew group. This view, which is indeed very widely held with respect to the patriarchal figures in general, furnishes so many more difficulties in its specific application to Abraham than to the others, that it has been rejected in Abraham's case even by some who have adopted it for figures like Isaac, Ishmael and Jacob. Thus Meyer (Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstamme, 250; compare also note on p. 251), speaking of his earlier opinion, acknowledges that, at the time when he "regarded the assertion of Stade as proved that Jacob and Isaac were tribes," even then he "still recognized Abraham as a mythical figure and originally a god." A similar differentiation of Abraham from the rest is true of most of the other adherents of the views about to be mentioned. Hence also Wellhausen says (Prolegomena 6, 317): "Only Abraham is certainly no name of a people, like Isaac and Lot; he is rather ambiguous anyway. We dare not of course on that account hold him in this connection as an historical personage; rather than that he might be a free creation of unconscious fiction. He is probably the youngest figure in this company and appears to have been only at a relatively late date put before his son Isaac."

    3. The Mythical Theory:
      Urged popularly by Noldeke (Im neuen Reich (1871), I, 508) and taken up by other scholars, especially in the case of Abraham, the view gained general currency among those who denied the historicity of Gen, that the patriarchs were old deities. From this relatively high estate, it was held, they had fallen to the plane of mere mortals (though with remnants of the hero or even demigod here and there visible) on which they appear in Gen. A new phase of this mythical theory has been developed in the elaboration by Winckler and others of their astral-theology of the Babylonian world, in which the worship of Abraham as the moon-god by the Semites of Palestine plays a part. Abraham's traditional origin connects him with Ur and Haran, leading centers of the moon-cult.

      Apart from this fact the arguments relied upon to establish this identification of Abraham with Sin may be judged by the following samples: "When further the consort of Abraham bears the name Sarah, and one of the women among his closest relations the name Milcah, this gives food for thought, since these names correspond precisely with the titles of the female deities worshipped at Haran alongside the moongod Sin. Above all, however, the number 318, that appears in Genesis 14:14 in connection with the figure of Abraham, is convincing because this number, which surely has no historical value, can only be satisfactorily explained from the circle of ideas of the moon-religion, since in the lunar year of 354 days there are just 318 days on which the moon is visible--deducting 36 days, or three for each of the twelve months, on which the moon is invisible" (Baentsch, Monotheismus, 60 f). In spite of this assurance, however, nothing could exceed the scorn with which these combinations and conjectures of Winckler, A. Jeremias and others of this school are received by those who in fact differ from them with respect to Abraham in little save the answer to the question, what deity was Abraham (see e.g. Meyer, op. cit., 252, 256 f).

    4. The "Saga" Theory:
      Gunkel (Genesis, Introduction), in insisting upon the resemblance of the patriarchal narrative to the "sagas" of other primitive peoples, draws attention both to the human traits of figures like Abraham, and to the very early origin of the material embodied in our present book of Genesis. First as stories orally circulated, then as stories committed to writing, and finally as a number of collections or groups of such stories formed into a cycle, the Abraham-narratives, like the Jacob-narratives and the Joseph-narratives , grew through a long and complex literary history. Gressmann (op. cit, 9-34) amends Gunkel's results, in applying to them the principles of primitive literary development laid down by Professor Wundt in his Volkerpsychologie. He holds that the kernel of the Abraham-narratives is a series of fairy-stories, of international diffusion and unknown origin, which have been given "a local habitation and a name" by attaching to them the (ex hypothesi) then common name of Abraham (similarly Lot, etc.) and associating them with the country nearest to the wilderness of Judea, the home of their authors, namely, about Hebron and the Dead Sea. A high antiquity (1300-1100 BC) is asserted for these stories, their astonishing accuracy in details wherever they can be tested by extra-Biblical tradition is conceded, as also the probability that, "though many riddles still remain unsolved, yet many other traditions will be cleared up by new discoveries" of archaeology.

J. Oscar Boyd


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ABRAHAM'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.