24 August 2010

Righteous Forefather Abraham

Abraham (Hebrew: אַבְרָהָם, Modern Avraham Tiberian ʼAḇrāhām, Arabic: إبراهيم‎, Ibrāhīm, ʼAbrəham, Greek: Aβραάμ) is the founding patriarch of the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, and the Midianites and kindred peoples, according to the book of Genesis.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions" because of the progenitor role that Abraham plays in their holy books. In both the Jewish tradition and the Quran, he is referred to as "our Father". Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider him father of the people of Israel. For Jews and Christians this is through his son Isaac, by his wife Sarah; for Muslims, he is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael, born to him by Sarah's handmaiden, Hagar.

Abraham was the tenth generation from Noah and the twentieth from Adam. He was originally named Abram, and his father's name was Terah; he had two brothers, Nahor and Haran, wife was Sarah, and he was the uncle of Lot. He was sent by God from his home in Haran to take possession of the land of Canaan. In Canaan, Abraham entered into a covenant with God: in exchange for recognition of Yahweh as his God, Abraham would be blessed with innumerable progeny and the land would belong to his descendants. God's promise to Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the world would come to be blessed is interpreted in the Christian tradition as a reference particularly to Jesus Christ and his message of salvation for all men.

Abraham's name first appears as Abram (Hebrew: אַבְרָם, Modern Avram Tiberian ʾAḇrām), meaning either "exalted father" or "my father is exalted" or "the father is exalted". Later in Genesis, God renamed him Abraham, a name which the text glosses as av hamon (goyim) "father of many (nations)"; however, the name does not have any literal meaning in Hebrew. Many interpretations based on modern textual and linguistic analysis have been offered, including an analysis of a first element abr- "chief", which yields a meaningless second element, however. Johann Friedrich Karl Keil suggests there was once a word raham (רָהָם) in Hebrew, meaning "multitude", on analogy with the word ruhâm which has this meaning in Arabic, but no evidence that this word existed has been found; and David Rohl suggests the name comes from Akkadian "the father loves."

The story of his life is found in Genesis, from chapter 11:26 to 25:10.

Terah, the tenth in descent from Noah, fathered Abram, Nahor and Haran, and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in Ur, and Abram married Sarai, who was barren. Terah, with Nahor, Abram, Sarai and Lot, then departed for Canaan, but settled in Haran, where Terah died at the age of 205. There God spoke to Abram, telling him to leave the land of his birth, his father's house, and his kindred and go "to the land that I will show you", where Abram would become a great nation and the vehicle for the blessing of all mankind. So Abram left Haran with Sarai, Lot, and all their followers and flocks and traveled to Canaan, where, at Shechem, God gave the land to him and his descendants. There Abram built an altar and continued to travel towards the south.

On two separate occasions, Abram/Abraham travels west, where he asks his wife to say that she is his sister, because he fears he would otherwise be killed because of her beauty. On each occasion, the ruler in question, first Pharaoh and later Abimelech, is attracted to Sarai/Sarah and attempts to marry her. On both occasions God and the ruler send Abraham away with great wealth.

Following the period spent in Egypt, Abram, Sarai, and his nephew Lot returned to the Bethel-Ai area in Canaan. There they dwelt for some time, their herds increasing, until strife arose between the herdsmen. Abram thereupon proposed to Lot that they should separate, allowing Lot the first choice. Lot took the fertile land lying east of the Jordan River and near to Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram lived in Canaan, moving south to the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, where he built an altar.

After this, an invading force from Mesopotamia, led by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, attacked and subdued the Cities of the Plain, forcing them to pay tribute. After twelve years, these cities rebelled. The following year Chedorlaomer and his allies returned, defeating the rebels and taking many captive, including Lot. Abram assembled his men and chased after the invaders, defeating them north of Damascus, Syria. Upon his return he is met by the king of Salem (Jerusalem), Priest Melchizedek, who blesses him. The king of Sodom offers Abram the rescued goods as reward, but Abram refuses, so that the king of Sodom cannot say "I have made Abram rich".

God again promises Abram a multitude of descendants during an episode in which Abram sacrifices to God, who also reveals to Abram the future enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, as well as their escape. During this period, Sarai, being barren, offers her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abram. Hagar soon conceives, and as a result begins to see herself as superior to Sarai. Sarai complains to Abram, who gives Sarai carte blanche. After Sarai treats Hagar harshly, Hagar flees. When in the desert, God appears to Hagar, telling her to return, but promising that her son shall also be the father of a "multitude". Her son is called Ishmael.

When Abram is ninety-nine, God again appears to him and affirms his promise. A covenant is entered into: Sarai will give birth to a son who will be called Isaac, and Abram's house must thenceforth be circumcised. It is promised that Isaac will father twelve princes, who will become a great nation. Abram's name is changed to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah.

Soon after, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah bring three angels, or God and two angels, down to investigate. Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if first fifty, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten righteous men are found in the city. In each case God agrees that the city would be spared. The angels enter the city, where they meet Lot, who offers them hospitality. Soon a crowd gathers around Lot's house, demanding the two angels that they may "know" them: traditionally interpreted as a desire to have sex with them. Lot pleads with the men and offers his daughters instead, but the men of the city press forward until the angels smite them with blindness. In the morning Lot is told to flee and not to look back as the cities are destroyed. However, his wife disobeys and is turned into a pillar of salt.

After this, Abraham and Sarah live in Philistine Gerar, where king Abimelech, having been told that Sarah is Abraham's sister, not his wife, takes her. After warnings from God and returning her, Abimelech enters into a treaty with Abraham.

A recurring feature of the story of Abraham are the covenants between him and God, which are reiterated and reaffirmed several times. When Abram is told to leave Ur Kaśdim, God promises "I will make of thee a great nation". After parting from Lot, God reappears and promises "All the land that you can see" to Abraham and that his seed would be "like the dust of the earth" in number. Following the battle of the Vale of Siddim, God appears and reaffirms the promise, while prophesying that "your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years." Abram makes a sacrifice and enters into a covenant, with God declaring: "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites."

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God again appeared to him to reaffirm the covenant and changed his name to Abraham. Abraham is instructed, for his part, to circumcise all males of his house.

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

Sarah is said to have died at the age of 127, and Abraham buried her in the Cave of the Patriarchs (also called the Cave of Machpelah), near Hebron which he had purchased, along with the adjoining field, from Ephron the Hittite.

After the death of Sarah, he took another wife, or concubine, named Keturah, who bore Abraham six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

Abraham is said to have died at the age of 175 years. Jewish legend says that he was meant to live to 180 years, but God purposely took his life because he felt that Abraham did not need to go through the pain of seeing Esau's wicked deeds. The Bible says he was buried by his sons Isaac and Ishmael in the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Abraham is held as a founding father in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions. Genesis states that the nation of Israel descended from him through his second son, Isaac. Many Arab nations are said to have descended from him through his first son, Ishmael, and Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad is his direct descendant - this tradition is attested as early as the 3rd/2nd-century BC book of Jubilees.

Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. As a reward for his act of faith in one God, he was promised that Isaac, his second son, would inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan).

In the New Testament Abraham is mentioned prominently as a man of faith (see e.g. Hebrews 11), and the apostle Paul uses him as an example of salvation by faith, as the progenitor of the Christ (or Messiah) (e.g. Galatians 3:16).

The New Testament also sees Abraham as an obedient man of God, and Abraham's interrupted attempt to offer up Isaac is seen as the supreme act of perfect faith in God. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called', concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Hebrews 11:17-19) The imagery of a father sacrificing his son is seen as a type of God the Father offering his Son on Golgatha.
The traditional view in Christianity is that the chief promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 is that through Abraham's seed all the people of earth would be blessed. Notwithstanding this, John the Baptist specifically taught that merely being of Abraham's seed was no guarantee of salvation. The promise in Genesis is considered to have been fulfilled through Abraham's seed, Jesus. It is also a consequence of this promise that Christianity is open to people of all races and not limited to Jews.

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

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

Abraham, known as Ibrahim in Arabic, is very important in Islam, both in his own right as a prophet and as the father of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, his firstborn son, is considered the father of some of the Arabs—specifically Father of the Arabised Arabs, peoples who became Arab—and Isaac is considered the Father of the Hebrews. Abraham is mentioned in many passages in 25 of the 114 suras (chapters) of the Qur'an, more than any other individual with the exception of Moses, according to the Encyclopedia of Islam.

Abraham, commonly termed Khalil Ullah, "Friend of God" by Muslims, is revered as one of the Prophets in Islam, and the person who gave Muslims their name of Muslims ("those who submit to God"). He is considered a Hanif, that is, a discoverer of monotheism.

Abraham's supposed footprint is displayed outside the Kaaba, which is on a stone, protected and guarded by Saudi Arabian Mutawa (Religious Police). The annual Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, follows Abraham's, Hagar's, and Ishmael's journey to the sacred place of the Kaaba. Islamic tradition narrates that Abraham's subsequent visits to the Northern Arabian region, after leaving Ishmael and Hagar (in the area that would later become the Islamic holy city of Mecca), were not only to visit Ishmael but also to construct the first house of worship for God, the Kaaba—as per God's command.

The ceremony of Eid ul-Adha, most important festival in Islam, focuses on Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his promised son Ishmael on God's command, as a test of Abraham's faith. God spared his son's life and substituted a fit sheep from heavens for his son. On Eid ul-Adha, Muslims sacrifice a domestic animal—a sheep, goat—as a symbol of Abraham's sacrifice, and divide the meat among the family members, friends, relatives, and most importantly, the poor.

There are views stating that Qur’an does not specify whether it was Ishmael or Isaac whom Abraham was ordered to sacrifice, yet many Muslims believe it was Ishmael.

The standard Greek Septuagint text of the Bible places Abraham's birth 3312 years after the Creation, or 3312 AM (Anno Mundi, "Year of the World"). The two other major textual traditions have different dates,  the Samaritan version of Genesis at 2247 AM, and the new Masoretic Hebrew putting it at 1948 AM. All three agree that he died at the age of 175.
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