(c. 1813 BCE - c. 1638 BCE)
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was born
under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948
from Creation (circa 1800 BCE). He was the son of Terach, an idol
merchant, but from his early childhood, he questioned the faith of
his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire
universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this
belief to others.
Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the
folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the
store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the
largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol.
When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said,
"The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the
other ones." His father said, "Don't be ridiculous. These
idols have no life or power. They can't do anything." Abram
replied, "Then why do you worship them?"
Eventually, the one true Creator that Abram had
worshipped called to him, and made him an offer: if Abram would leave
his home and his family, then G-d would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this
offer, and the b'rit (covenant) between G-d and the Jewish
people was established. (Gen.
The idea of b'rit is fundamental to traditional
Judaism: we have a covenant, a contract, with G-d, which involves
rights and obligations on both sides. We have certain obligations to
G-d, and G-d has certain obligations to us. The terms of this b'rit
became more explicit over time, until the time of the Giving of the Torah.
Abram was subjected to ten tests of faith to prove his worthiness for
this covenant. Leaving his home is one of these trials.
Abram, raised as a city-dweller, adopted a nomadic
lifestyle, traveling through what is now the land of Israel for many
years. G-d promised this land to Abram's descendants. Abram is
referred to as a Hebrew (Ivri), possibly because he was
descended from Eber or possibly because he came from the "other
side" (eber) of the Euphrates River.
But Abram was concerned, because he had no
children and he was growing old. Abram's beloved wife, Sarai,
knew that she was past child-bearing years, so she offered her
maidservant, Hagar, as a wife to Abram. This was a common practice in
the region at the time. According to tradition, Hagar was a daughter
of Pharaoh, given to Abram during his travels in Egypt. She bore
Abram a son, Ishmael, who, according to both Muslim and Jewish
tradition, is the ancestor of the Arabs. (Gen
When Abram was 100 and Sarai 90, G-d promised
Abram a son by Sarai. G-d changed Abram's name to Abraham (father of
many), and Sarai's to Sarah (from "my princess" to
"princess"). Sarah bore Abraham a son, Isaac (in Hebrew,
Yitzchak), a name derived from the word "laughter,"
expressing Abraham's joy at having a son in his old age. (Gen
17-18). Isaac was the
ancestor of the Jewish people.
Abraham died at the age of 175.
Sources: Judaism 101