Inheriting Abraham

Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Jon D. Levenson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Inheriting Abraham
    Book Description:

    Jews, Christians, and Muslims supposedly share a common religious heritage in the patriarch Abraham, and the idea that he should serve only as a source of unity among the three traditions has become widespread in both scholarly and popular circles.Inheriting Abrahamboldly challenges this view, demonstrating Abraham's distinctive role in each tradition, while delineating the points of connection as well.

    In this sweeping and provocative book, Jon Levenson subjects the powerful story in Genesis of Abraham's calling, his experience in Canaan and Egypt, and his near-sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac to a careful literary and theological analysis. But Levenson also explores how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have given unique distinctive interpretations to these narratives, often reimagining Abraham and his life in mutually exclusive ways. Historically, the three traditions have differed sharply over what Abraham's life foreshadows, how the Abrahamic community is constituted and sustained, and what practices the patriarch's example authorizes. In these disputes, Levenson finds illuminating signs of profound and enduring theological divergences alongside the commonalities.

    A stunning achievement that is certain to provoke debate,Inheriting Abrahamtraces how each community has come to revere Abraham as an exemplar of its own distinctive spiritual teachings and practices. This probing and compelling book also reveals how the increasingly conventional notion of the three equally "Abrahamic" religions derives from a dangerous misunderstanding of key biblical and Qur'anic texts, fails to do full justice to any of the traditions, and is often biased against Judaism in subtle and pernicious ways.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4461-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. A Note on Transliteration from Hebrew
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION Who Was (and Is) Abraham?
    (pp. 1-17)

    The oldest source for the story of Abraham is in the biblical book of Genesis, where it occupies about fourteen chapters, or roughly twenty pages. Readers who are unfamiliar with the story would be well advised to read it now, and in a modern, accessible translation.² When they do, they will see that it is the deceptively simple tale of a person to whom God, suddenly and without preparation, makes some rather extravagant promises. This childless man (whose wife is infertile) is to be the father of a great nation; he will become famous and blessed, in fact a source...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Call and Commission
    (pp. 18-35)

    With the introduction of Abraham (called “Abram” until Genesis 17), the narrative of the Torah subtly yet momentously changes direction. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are marked by a pattern of human rebellion followed by divine punishment, which is then tempered by divine forbearance. By the end of chapter 11, the high hopes that God had held for the human race seem dashed. He had created them in his image and charged them with worldwide dominion under his sovereignty, yet they had repeatedly disobeyed him—in the Garden of Eden, with Cain’s murder of Abel, with the evil that...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Frustrations and Fulfillments
    (pp. 36-65)

    One of the most extraordinary aspects of the story of Abraham in Genesis is the long, circuitous, and difficult route that lies between the Lord’s initial promises to him and their fulfillment in the emergence of a great nation descended from him and in possession of the land of Canaan. Indeed, though aspects of those promises are fulfilled in Abraham’s own lifetime—in most cases, only after enormously discouraging and painful delays—the promise in its fullness is not realized until long after his life has come to an end and, even more, after the Torah story itself comes to...

    (pp. 66-112)

    Known in the Jewish tradition as the “Binding (or,Aqedah) of Isaac” and in Christianity as the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” the episode narrated in Genesis 22:1–19 has been of enormous significance in both traditions; it has indirectly generated an important parallel in Islam as well. In the case of Judaism, the Aqedah has played a central role in two of its most defining sacred occasions, Passover and Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s), and to this day it reverberates revealingly in the liturgy not only of the latter holiday but also of much other Jewish prayer. In the case of Christianity,...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Rediscovery of God
    (pp. 113-138)

    One aspect of the Hebrew Bible that immediately draws even a casual reader’s attention is the intense and pervasive rivalry it records between the God of Israel and the deities of the environing peoples. The former, most often referred to by the four-letter name “YHVH” (rendered into English as “the Lord”), is very often depicted as embroiled in fierce competition against the other gods for the loyalty of the people Israel. Although the biblical texts portray these rivals as foreign, they cannot deny their appeal to the Israelites or disguise the fact that those loyal to the Lord alone found...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Torah or Gospel?
    (pp. 139-172)

    In chapter 4, we traced the process by which Abraham the father of the Jewish people became Abraham the founder, or rediscoverer, of belief in the one true God as well. Whereas the chapters about him in Genesis focus on God’s promise of progeny, land, and blessing and give no indication that Abraham had any teaching at all, by some point in the second century B.C.E. he has become an active adversary of idolatry and the materialist presuppositions upon which it rests. Abraham has, in a word, become a philosopher, and with this came the notion that his vocation is...

  12. CHAPTER SIX One Abraham or Three?
    (pp. 173-214)

    Several years ago, the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University began developing a novel and dramatic initiative in quest of interreligious and international cooperation and reconciliation. Known as “Abraham’s Path,” the project aims to develop a kind of modern, interfaith, and intercultural pilgrimage following the supposed footsteps of the biblical figure on his route from his Mesopotamian homeland to Canaan, the land that, according to the book of Genesis, was promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.

    That the initiative focuses on the figure of Abraham makes eminent sense. He is, as the various publications of the project are at...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-234)
  14. Index of Primary Sources
    (pp. 235-242)
  15. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 243-244)