The Family of Abraham

The Family of Abraham

Carol Bakhos
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Family of Abraham
    Book Description:

    "Abrahamic religions" has gained currency in scholarly and ecumenical circles as a way to refer to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Carol Bakhos steps back from the convention to ask: What is Abrahamic about these three faiths? She challenges references to Judaism and Islam as sibling religions and warns against uncritical adoption of the term.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-41994-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Over the past several years, the term “Abrahamic religions” has gained purchase in scholarly and ecumenical circles to refer to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its purchase in these arenas has seeped into common parlance and secured its widespread usage, especially by those who seek to foster peaceful interactions among believers in the three religions. But an emphasis on the common spiritual threads, the shared scriptural heritage and ethical teachings, can lead to major differences being swept under the rug and, ironically, breed misunderstanding. It is crucial to ask, then, exactly whatisAbrahamic about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

    In the...

  5. 1 Scriptures and Interpreters
    (pp. 15-50)

    At the core of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is the belief that God revealed himself¹ to humans through a series of revelations. For Jews and Christians, this revelation is known as the Bible, from the Greekta biblia,“the books.” Each religion, however, understands “Bible” and its content differently. Often we speak of canon and Scripture as if they were synonyms, but the term “canon”—meaning the collection of writings deemed holy—would have been foreign to ancient Jews and Christians. Canon assumes Scripture, in that it is a cataloguing, a listing, but Scripture does not require canon. Furthermore, the...

  6. 2 The Biblical and Qur’anic Abraham
    (pp. 51-79)

    Songs, stories, and tales about Father Abraham abound, but we know nothing of the real Abraham, who he was, where and when he lived. No mention of him is made in any of the hundreds of thousands of ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Syro-Palestinian documents in our possession. It is in the Book of Genesis that we first meet Abraham and his family.

    Genesis 1–11 is an account of primordial history from the creation of the world to God’s unsuccessful attempts to maintain a relationship with human beings. Beginning with Adam and Eve and leading up to the Tower of...

  7. 3 The First Monotheist
    (pp. 80-105)

    The Bible tells us very little about Abraham’s family prior to his departure from his homeland, and even less about Abraham himself:

    Now this is the line of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. Haran died before his father Terah,¹ in his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took to themselves wives, the name of Abram’s wife being Sarai and that of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren, she had no child. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the...

  8. 4 The Wives of Abraham
    (pp. 106-136)

    Abraham’s wives Sarah and Hagar have historically received far less attention than their husband and sons, and Keturah, whom Abraham married after Sarah’s death in Genesis, even less so. Exegetes nonetheless have recognized the need to interpret specific verses and storylines as well as define the role played by Abraham’s wives in broader theological and moral narratives.¹ How are these women depicted? What role do Sarah and Hagar play as matriarchs in the founding family of Abraham?

    Most interpreters extol Sarah’s virtues, from her astounding beauty to her impeccable character and devotion to her husband, and whitewash her behavior toward...

  9. 5 Sibling Rivals
    (pp. 137-153)

    References to the siblings Ishmael and Isaac populate ecumenical as well as political discourse. Since the medieval period, Ishmael and Isaac have represented, respectively, Arabs and Jews (or Muslims and Jews, or Islam and Judaism). More often than not, underlying the rhetoric of the siblings—as with the use of the term “Abrahamic religions”—is a genuine desire to foster the notion of confraternity of religious and political communities. At the same time, however, the rhetoric brings a relationship marked by strife to the surface; ironically, the evocation of the biblical brothers subverts the peacemaking intention. Allusion to the biblical...

  10. 6 Firstborn Son
    (pp. 154-189)

    Perhaps no other biblical figure evokes a sense of liminality quite like Ishmael. He is Abraham’s firstborn, circumcised with Abraham, yet he is not the son of the covenant but the son of a promise. He is a full-fledged member of the family, yet he is sent away, and Genesis 22:2 can speak of Isaac as Abraham’s “only” son.¹ His presence is felt, yet his actions are few. He is spoken about yet never speaks. God hears his voice, but the reader hears silence. He will be a great nation, but “his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand...

  11. 7 The Sacrifice of Isaac and Ishmael
    (pp. 190-213)

    God’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) is one of the best-known episodes in the patriarch’s life, perhaps one of the most read and discussed stories in the entire Bible. One cannot overestimate its significance in Jewish and Christian theological musings or the role it plays in the liturgical life of each religious community. The story was told on funerary objects in ancient times, has been represented in paintings throughout history, and was reimagined in religious as well as secular writings.¹ It is recounted on Rosh Hashanah; it is mentioned in Christian Eucharistic prayers and read on...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 214-220)

    Over the course of these chapters I have investigated the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writers of the ancient and early medieval periods depicted the story of Abraham. I have considered how they understood and wrestled with scriptural stories about the members of his family, stories that at times raise questions about the character of the patriarch and his wife Sarah. In this inquiry I have shown how biblical and qur’anic narratives were retailored in ancient and medieval sources in order to address concerns in the scriptural narrative, highlight certain aspects, and make them meaningful for contemporary readers...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-274)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 275-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-285)