Abraham (father of a multitude?) In the Bible, O.T. (Gen. 11:26–17:4), the first Patriarch, the founder of the Hebrew people, who was at first called Abram; son of Terah; father of Isaac. Abraham was brought up worshipping many gods; then Yahweh, the Hebrew cult god, revealed himself to Abraham. As a young man Abraham married his half sister Sara, later called Sarah, and then, under the direction of Yahweh, moved from Ur to Haran. He was driven by famine to Egypt and was accompanied by his nephew Lot. In Egypt he told Sarah to pretend she was his full sister and not his wife, for he feared he would be killed. Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem, and Yahweh sent a plague on Egypt. When Pharaoh discovered he had taken Abraham’s wife, he sent Abraham and his wife back to Canaan (Genesis repeats this tale at the court of King Abimelech). Abraham settled in Mamre, and Lot moved to Sodom. Sarah, who had been barren, gave her maid Hagar to Abraham for childbearing, so she could claim the child as her own. When Hagar bore Ishmael to Abraham, the child became a source of contention between Sarah and Hagar. At one point Hagar and Ishmael were sent into the desert to die, but they were saved by an angel of Yahweh. The Lord blessed Abraham, appearing to him
one day with two companions (often portrayed in art as three angels). One of the men told him that Sarah would bear a child. She laughed at that because she was too old to bear children. However, a child was born and named Isaac. To test Abraham’s faith, Yahweh commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but an angel of Yahweh stopped him at the last moment. When Sarah died at 127 years of age, Abraham bought a cave for her resting place at Machpelah. At the end of his life Abraham gave all of his possessions to Isaac. Then Abraham “died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). Nonbiblical works that deal with Abraham are The Apocalypse of Abraham, which tells of his youth and his journey to heaven escorted by the angel Jaoel, and The Testament of Abraham, which tells of Abraham’s death. In the latter the archangel Michael is sent to fetch Abraham to heaven. Abraham, who does not want to die, is shown heaven and the judgment of the dead and then returned to earth. There he is tricked into giving his hand to the Angel of Death. In medieval Christian belief Abraham was looked on as a prefiguration of Christ. His meeting with the high priest Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18–24), who blessed bread and wine, was seen as a prefiguration of the Last Supper of Jesus and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Abraham’s meeting with the three young men (Gen. 18:1–19) was seen as a symbol of the Christian Trinity and the sacrifice of Isaac as a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus, God the Father sacrificing his only Son. In Islamic tradition Abraham’s sacrifice took place on the site of the Mosque of Omar at Jerusalem. In Islam, Abraham is called Khalilu’illah (the friend of Allah). In Christian art, Abraham is portrayed as a patriarch with a full beard, and sometimes carrying a knife, alluding to the sacrifice of Isaac. Dierick Bouts’s Abraham Being Blessed by Melchizedek portrays the patriarch in rich medieval garb.

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