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Abraham [according to the Book of Genesis, Heb.,=father of many nations] or Abram (āˈbrəm) [Heb.,=exalted father], in the Bible, progenitor of the Hebrews; in the Qur'an, ancestor of the Arabs. As the founder of Judaism, he is said to have instituted the rite of circumcision as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jews, who are descended from Isaac, son of Abraham's old age. Abraham also received the promise of Canaan for his people. In response to divine command, Abraham left Haran, taking his wife Sara and his nephew Lot to Canaan, where God promised him many descendants who would become a great nation. His devotion and trust in God and his promises are exemplified pre-eminently in Abraham's preparedness to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Book of Joshua confesses Abraham as a one-time worshiper of other gods before he entered Canaan.

Muslims believe that Arabs are descended from Abraham and Hagar through their son Ishmael. Abraham is further regarded as an ancestor of Muhammad. According to the Qur'an, Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaaba in Mecca and instituted pilgrimages there. The Qur'an depicts him destroying the idols of his father and of his clan; hence, Islam is the restoration of the religion of Abraham.

Other Abraham traditions are to be found in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, especially in the Book of Jubilees. See also Josephus' Jewish Antiquities. Modern biblical scholarship has revealed anachronisms in Genesis that cloud attempts to place chronologically Abraham's historical existence.


See T. L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (1974); J. van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (1975); A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, ed., Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives (1983); J. D. Levenson, Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (2012).

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Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

No colossus stands astride the monotheistic religious history of the world quite like Abraham. Three world religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—trace their ancestry back to him. He is considered to be the father of both Judaism and Islam, through his sons Isaac and Ishmael, respectively, and the spiritual father of Christianity, according to Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 4, verse 1. Indeed, except for the name of Jesus, Abraham's name appears more times in the Christian New Testament than does any other.

Although scholars will probably always wonder whether he was an actual man or a composite of characters, his story, set in about 2000 BCE, is told in a straightforward, historical manner beginning in the book of Genesis, chapter 12.

He is first introduced as Abram (the name means "exalted father"), living in Ur of the Chaldees, in what is now Iraq. The ancient city of Ur, a Sumerian capital, has been excavated. As a result of archaeological work done there, many believe it has been demonstrated that a people called Hapiru, or Hebrew, lived in Ur until about the time of the biblical narrative. They apparently migrated to Haran, in northern Mesopotamia, and then, it is assumed, to Canaan, later called Palestine, now Israel. Critical scholarship, however, like all sciences, is continually in flux, and it must be noted that further research sheds doubt on the connection.

Abraham is presented as a man of great faith although, like most biblical heroes, his feet of clay make him disarmingly appealing. The religious "call" that begins his story occurs in Genesis 12:

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your father's house to the land 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 him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves."

"So Abram departed," according to the Bible, without a single word of protest or explanation. This act of unquestioning faith became the foundation for three religions.

After demonstrating this faith, however, Abram does an unexpected thing. He goes to Canaan as instructed, but at the first sign of famine, he continues on to Egypt. While there he is so worried about the Egyptian response to the beauty of his wife, Sarai, that he passes her off as his half-sister so no one will kill him in the hopes of marrying his widow. His plot almost backfires, and Sarai barely escapes becoming a member of Pharaoh's harem.

When Abram does return to Canaan, his name is changed to Abraham, which means "father of a multitude." It is by this name, and his wife's new name of Sarah, that they are known by three world religions. Abraham promises to remain faithful to his covenant with God, and circumcision will be the physical sign of that covenant, so as to set apart his descendants forever (see Circumcision).

Abraham is told that he and his wife will have a son whose ancestors will grow to become a great nation. When the miracle of birth fails to materialize (the couple is, after all, more than ninety years old), Sarah decides Abraham should father a baby by her Egyptian servant, Hagar. This practice was apparently fairly common in those days. A woman incapable of bearing children would often adopt as her own the child of her husband and a household servant.

The baby boy born of this union was named Ishmael. It is from Ishmael, the firstborn, that Muslims believe the religion of Islam begins. Significantly, the Hebrew Bible inserts an editorial at this point. Ishmael is called "a wild ass of a man" whose "hand will be against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell against all his kinsmen" (Genesis 16:12).

All was not happy in the tents of Abraham, however. Right after Ishmael was born, Sarah gave birth to her own son, naming him Isaac. This being a patriarchal social system, she believed Hagar, her servant, now felt superior to her, having given birth to Abraham's firstborn son. Casting Hagar and her son Ishmael out into the desert, Sarah began to raise Isaac, who was to become father to the Hebrew people.

Thus in these two sons is prophesied two great peoples who, it is said, will forevermore be in competition.

Abraham's complete story is recounted in the rest of the book of Genesis, but a few highlights are especially important.

In Genesis 14:17-24, the mysterious Melchizedek appears. Chedorlaoma, king of Elam, had captured Abraham's kinsman, Lot. Abraham and his family army attacked by night, effecting a rescue. Upon Abraham's return from the battle, Melchizedek, "king of Salem" and "priest of the most high God," appears on the scene, offering a blessing and a gift of bread and wine. Abraham promptly gives him a tithe, or one-tenth, of the spoils captured in battle. This action is never explained. Indeed, Melchizedek is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Bible, except for an enigmatic reference in Psalm 110. "The Lord says to my Lord... You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." The Christian author of the book of Hebrews, however, uses this passage to form the basis for a central New Testament theology of "The Melchizedek Priesthood" of Christ. Jesus Christ, the "Prince of Peace," is described as both priest and king, gives his followers bread and wine, and is deserving of their tithes and offerings (Hebrews 7:1-4).

Also central to Abraham's story is the aborted sacrifice of Isaac, his son. In Genesis 22, God tells Abraham to offer a sacrifice in the hills of Moriah. Today many Jews believe this to be the place in Jerusalem where the important Muslim mosque called the Dome of the Rock now stands. Its familiar golden roof dominates pictures of the Jerusalem skyline.

Because child sacrifice was practiced in the Canaanite religion of those days, this story is not quite so outlandish as may appear to modern sensibilities. What may seem strange, however, was that Isaac was "the promised seed" who was to become the "father of a multitude." How was he to fulfill his destiny if he were killed? The question was answered when God provided a ram, caught in nearby bushes, that became Isaac's substitute.

The story is interpreted three different ways by three different religions. Besides being a test of faith, Jews see this as a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system later inaugurated by Moses and brought to its highest expression in the Temple of Solomon, built a thousand years later on this same spot of ground. Animal sacrifice as substitutionary atonement for sin here replaces human sacrifice, a step up on the religious evolutionary scale.

Christian theologians take the story further, saying that Jesus, the Son of God, himself became "the Lamb of God" that would replace the animal sacrifice. Because the crucifixion took place in the same geographical area, a progression is seen on this spot of ground that leads from human to animal to God becoming the substitute for the guilty sinner in need of atonement. In other words, Abraham's son could be spared; God's son could not.

Muslims have another version of the story. The events are the same but the place and people change. The name of Abraham's son and the place of the sacrifice are not mentioned in the Qur'an; it is usually understood that it was Ishmael, the firstborn, who was offered. And the place of sacrifice was not the scene of present-day Jerusalem, but rather south, in Mecca. According to Muslim belief, Abraham and Ishmael practiced true faith in God by "submitting." The word "Muslim" means "a submitter." Tradition states that Abraham brought Ishmael to Mecca when Sarah forced them to leave. Later, Ishmael and Abraham together rebuilt in Mecca the Kaaba

(shrine) that had been destroyed by Noah's flood. There they prayed that Allah would raise up from their descendants a messenger who would declare God's revelations and teach wisdom. This messenger, Muslims believe, was Muhammad.

Abraham, then, is the most revered patriarch of the major monotheistic religions. Although views about him differ widely depending on which religion's scriptures are consulted, his story, as interpreted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, has undeniably affected the course of human history.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also Abram). Mythological forefather of the Hebrews.

Biblical tradition (Genesis 11–25) gives Ur as Abraham’s homeland and tells of his wanderings in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. Abraham is credited with the victory over the Elamites and their ally the Babylonian king Hammurabi (Amraphel). The story of Abraham’s unsuccessful attempt to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice to the god Yahweh testifies to the incipient transition away from human sacrifice and is comparable to the ancient Greek myth about Iphigenia. In the Koran, Abraham (Ibrahim) is considered the forefather of both the Hebrews and the Arabs and one of the precursors of Muhammad. In the Mandaean sect Abraham is one of the false prophets.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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An 1870 engraving by Gustave Dore depicts Abraham visited by three angels, one of whom tells him that the city of Sodom will be destroyed. Abraham also dreamed that God foretold that His people would be enslaved.



Like Jacob and Joseph, the patriarch Abraham, ancestor of the Hebrew nation, was one of the most prolific dreamers in the Hebrew Bible. The first dream reported in Genesis is a dream by Abraham:

When the sun was setting, a deep sleep overcame Abram…. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen. 15:12–16)

Prior to this particular occasion, God had appeared several times to Abraham and spoken with him, but this is the only time God ever came to Abraham in a vision.

In the sleeplike condition that overcame his senses, Abraham was awake to spiritual impressions and was in a condition where God alone could be seen and heard—everything else was excluded. In this manner the establishing of the Hebrew covenant, as well as the prophecy for Abraham’s descendants for the next several centuries, was deeply impressed upon his consciousness.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


initiated rite in covenant with God. [O.T.: Genesis 17:11–14]


in obedience to God, would sacrifice his only son. [O.T.: Genesis 22:1–18]


progenitor of a host of nations. [O.T.: Genesis 17:3–6]


graciously receives and treats three wayfarers. [O.T.: Genesis 18:1–15]


promised countless descendants by God. [O.T.: Genesis 13:16]


his faith is tested when God demands the sacrifice of his son Isaac. [O.T.: Genesis 22:13]
See: Test
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Old Testament the first of the patriarchs, the father of Isaac and the founder of the Hebrew people (Genesis 11--25)
2. Abraham's bosom the place where the just repose after death (Luke 16:22)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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