By Timothy F. Travis
WASHline, January 2007
Abraham is considered the patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is said to be of the thirteenth generation after Adam through Noah. Noah was of the tenth generation and, therefore, Abraham’s grandfather.
Believers hold that God chose Abraham and made great promises to him. If you read and analyze the accounts in Genesis, given below, two big problems emerge. No reason is given for why God chose Abraham. There are no indications that Abraham earned this selection in any meritorious way. How is the story of Abraham to be a lesson to everyone who has not been so chosen? Note also in Genesis 12:7 that God gave land to Abraham. If you claim that God gives you land is that it?
No one else’s claim has any validity, before or afterwards… forever? If you are God’s chosen, the answer, according to the chosen, is yes. Genesis: 12:1 ”Now the LORD had said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:” 12:2 ”And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:” 12:3 ”And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” 12:4 ”So Abraham departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abraham was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” 12:5 ”And Abraham took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.” 12:6 ”And Abraham passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.” 12:7 ”And the LORD appeared unto Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him”
The story goes that to escape famine, Abraham and his wife Sarai went to Egypt. Because of Sarai’s beauty Abraham pretended she was his sister. Pharaoh put her in his harem. God was angered and caused plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Abram and Sarai returned home. This part of the story is told in Genesis 12:10-13:1. Pharaoh rewarded Abraham for putting Sarai in his harem and when they left Egypt, Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. Gen. 13:2 (Note that in this story it is unremarkable for Abraham and Sarai to go and return from Egypt but later it took Moses forty years to lead two million or more Israelites out of Egypt. This was after the land of Egypt had been laid waste and the Egyptians decimated by ten horrific plagues.) Sarai was infertile and gave her Egyptian handmaid Hagar to Abraham as his second wife. Hagar bore Abraham his firstborn, a son who was named Ishmael. In Genesis17:1-17 God makes the circumcision covenant with Abraham that: “will multiply thee exceedingly”, “thou shalt be a father of many nations”, “thy name shall be Abraham”, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein See [thou art a stranger], all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession”, “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant”, “the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant”, “As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be”. Jews and Muslims keep the ritual of circumcision. Christians do not.
During the following year when Abraham will be 100 years old and Sarah 90, God promises they will have a son: “I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her”. Gen. 17:16. This son is named Isaac.
Jews and Christians regard Abraham as the biological father of the Jewish people through his son Isaac. Muslims consider Abraham the father of the Arabs through Ishmael. However, later it develops that all the Israelites, “children of Israel”, are descended from Isaac’s son Jacob who God renamed Israel.
Jews and Christians tell the story of Abraham offering to kill his son Isaac as a sign of obedience to God. Muslims tell the story but with Ishmael the son offered in sacrifice. Abraham, now a very old man, tied his mature son, now in his 20’s or 30’s, depending on the Old Testament verse, onto a pile of wood and is ready to kill him with a knife when an angel of God grabs his up-lifted arm. God promises: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Gen. 22:18
From Genesis 22:18, you could surmise that the sons of Abraham founded not just the Jewish and Arabic nations but all the nations of the world. After the death of Sarah, Abraham marries Keturah who bears him six additional sons. (For a total of eight?)
Abraham lived to be 175 years old!
There is nothing in the story of Abraham to indicate he has any social or family conscious, is wise, heroic, or good. He has no particular admirable qualities and accomplishes no special deeds, except as he is obedience to God. If there is a lesson it seems to be that if you are chosen by God and obedient, He will reward you with wealth, wives, sons, and a very long life. The significance of the story, and the problem with it, is that it presents a narrative and claims to authority for the religious cultures that are based on the story. The story of Abraham cannot be tied to historical records or critical scholarship. Scholars agree he is probably a composite of several older stories and as an historical figure Abraham likely does not exist. He and his story are legend and myth.
From The Skeptics Annotated Bible (www.skepticsannotatedbible.com) comes the following about the Bible’s contradictions concerning Abram/Abraham’s, age: Acts 7:4 says that Abram didn’t leave Haran until after his father died. Gen.11:26 says that Abram’s father was 70 years old when Abram was born, and Abram’s father lived to be 205 (11:32). Clearly, then, Abram was at least 135 when he left Haran. Yet Gen. 12:4 says he left Haran when he was only 75.
Timothy Travis is a member of the WASH Board of Directors and is a founding member of the Fredericksburg Secular Humanists (FSH) chapter of WASH.