Abraham's Legacy

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sometimes referred to as the "Abrahamic religions" because of the role Abraham plays in their holy books and beliefs. The Hebrew Bible describes Abraham as the first patriarch of the Israelites. He is the one to whom God gave the blessing of descendants "like the sands of the sea" and the promise of a nation that would keep the ways and commandments of God. Abraham's journeys through the land of Canaan mark out the territory that would later become the land of Israel. In the Qur'an Abraham is a prophet blessed by God, and it is he who established the Ka'bah in Mecca as a holy sanctuary. His son Ishmael is said to be the father of the Arabs. Both Judaism and Islam credit Abraham with being the first monotheist. Living in a polytheistic culture, Abraham had the revolutionary insight that there is but one God, the Creator of the universe. In Christian belief, Abraham is a model of faith, and his intention to obey God by offering up Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of God's offering of his son, Jesus of Nazareth.

Abraham in Judaism

Abraham is considered the father of the Jewish nation, as its first patriarch, having fathered (Isaac), who in turn fathered Jacob, the father of the Twelve Tribes. God promised the land of Israel to Abraham's children. This promise is the basis for the first claim of the Jews to Israel. Abraham was the first to know God personally and intimately, and through him God instituted many of the regulations for Jewish family life (Gen. 18:19), notably circumcision.

Rabbinical tradition is rich with tales and spiritual insights about Abraham. God "tested" Abraham with ten tests, the greatest being his willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Jewish tradition ascribes a special trait to each patriarch. Abraham's was kindness. Therefore, Judaism considers kindness to be an inherent Jewish trait.

In addition to describing Abraham's original insight into monotheism, rabbinic tradition teaches that God commissioned Abraham to spread the truth, even in Haran. He and Sarah made many converts, some of who came with them to Canaan.

Abraham in Christianity

In the New Testament, Abraham is mentioned prominently as a man of faith and the root of the spiritual lineage that is open to all people of faith.

  • “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:11)
  • “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)

Jesus also uses the example of Abraham to support his belief in the resurrection of the dead and the abiding life of the righteous in heaven:

  • “The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away... So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’” (Luke 16:22-24)

The Roman Catholic Church calls Abraham "our father in Faith," in the Eucharistic prayer, recited during mass.

Abraham in Islam

Abraham (called Ibrahim) is important to Islam, both in his own right as prophet and as the father of the prophet Ismail (Ishmael). Abraham is commonly termed Khalil Ullah, “Friend of God.” While most Muslims believe that Adam was the first Muslim, they universally agree that Abraham was a model of faith in Allah.

Many Muslims recite daily prayers that ask God to bless both Abraham and Muhammad. In the Qur'an, Abraham is the spiritual father of all believers, and the first to submit to God. He was the first monotheist (Q 6:76-83).

Traditionally, most Muslims believe that it was Ismail rather than Isaac whom Abraham was told to sacrifice. The Qur'an does not say that it was God who told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Many Muslims affirm that God would not order Abraham to commit what he prohibited—human sacrifice—even as a test. Abraham, however, thought the command—given in a dream—was from God. When the devil taunted them before sacrifice, Ibrahim and Ismail threw stones at the devil. This act is commemorated in one of rites of the hajj where the faithful throw stones at the symbol of the devil. It also symbolizes the rejection of evil ways in one's life.

While denying that God directly commanded Ishmael's sacrifice, the entire episode is nevertheless regarded as a trial from God. It is celebrated by Muslims on the day of Eid ul-Adha.

Source: Abraham's Legacy
New World Encyclopedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0

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