Mistaken ideas about Abraham

Some rabbinical imaginative notions about Abraham

Many claims are made about Abraham, most likely to enhance his stature, reputation, distinction, and prestige. Perhaps also because it was felt that Abraham must have had some kind of relationship with God before he was 75 years old. None of these views are even hinted in the Torah.

Many people think that Abraham was the first Jew and was the first to recognize the existence of God. He was the first to convert people to have a relationship with God and even watched for passing wayfarers whom he could welcome, feed, and then speak with them about God.

His father sold idols and Abraham as a child destroyed them, got into trouble with King Nimrod who had him tossed into a fiery furnace from which God miraculously saved him.

When Abraham went to war against four kings who kidnapped his nephew Lot, he tossed sticks and sand at them which turned into swords and arrows which killed the foe.

Abraham brought back men and women from the war, but not children, because the children freed themselves when they saw Abraham and became proselytes to Judaism.

Melchizedek was superior to Abraham

While there were rabbis who extolled Abraham as indicated above, other rabbis gave a contrary interpretation, also not mentioned in the Bible, showing that the king and priest Melchizedek who came to Abraham in Genesis 14 after the war to save Lot was superior to the patriarch.

For example, some rabbis wrote in Midrashim that Melchizedek was called King of Shalem, Shalem means whole, and the title King of Shalem is suggesting that Melchizedek was such a holy man that he was born circumcised.

They say that the reference to Melchizedek bringing bread and wine to Abraham when he returned after fighting and beating four kings means Melchizedek revealed Torah to Abraham.

The Bible itself negates these claims

Besides the fact that none of these fascinating fables are even hinted in the Bible, a close reading of the Torah text show that they are untrue. One example is the well-known tale that Abraham’s father made and sold idols, Abraham destroyed them, his father complained to King Nimrod, and the king tossed Abraham into a fiery furnace. There is no indication that Abraham had any conflict with his dad Terah. The opposite is true.

The only information about Abraham’s life before age 75 is in Genesis 11. That chapter states that Abraham’s father took his family and left Ur of the Chaldees, came to Haran where the family settled, and Abram’s father died there. What is being described is a dutiful son who had an apparently good relationship with his dad and who took his wife and went with him when his father decided to resettle in a different country and different culture. It was only when Abraham was 75 that he left his dad.

Was Abraham the first Jew?

There are three conflicting ways that many Jews view Abraham. Some say that he was the first Jew. They feel that Abraham introduced the concept of God to humanity. They forget that Adam and Noah also had dealings with God. They do not know that the noun Jew is not in the Bible. It is a term used to describe the people after the northern country with ten tribes of Israel was conquered, the ten tribes disappeared, and the remaining people in the south in the land were primarily from the tribe of Judah and the land was called Judea, and the people Judeans, Jews for short.

Abraham was not the first Jew. Judaism did not exist during the days of the patriarchs. The Torah does not say this. What it says is that Abraham will be the ancestor of many nations and the forerunner of a great people.

Also, by paying attention to what the Bible writes, we see that many people knew about the existence of God long before Abraham.

Adam, Eve, and Cain spoke with God. Noah the ancestor of all humanity spoke with God and he and his son Shem were still alive during a large part of Abraham’s lifetime.

If we accept the view of the rabbis that Melchizedek was Noah’s son Shem and he served not only as a king but also as a priest, and Abraham accepted his role as a priest of God, then Abraham was not the first to recognize God and was even arguably subservient to Shem/Melchizedek who had a ceremonial and sacramental connection to God.

An alternative interpretation

As previously stated, it is possible that many of the legends were developed about Abraham to explain what he did during the first 75 years of his life. This is a long time, and a man like Abraham must have done many great things before he reached age 75.

However, it is likely that the Bible calculates years differently. The average life span before the flood of Noah may not have been hundreds of years, as indicated by a literal reading of the Bible. When the Torah states that Adam lived for 930 years, it may have been referring to years that lasted from one lunar cycle to the next, about 29 ½ days. If the 930 “years” are divided by twelve (months), the result is around 77 currently-calculated years, which is about the length of lives today. It is also possible that after the flood, the calculation of years changed and people considered the difference from a warm to a cold season as a year, the winter and summer equinox, so that two biblical years during this period equal to one year today. While the Bible states that Abraham lived 175 years, he died at age 87.

Understanding this, we recognize that Abraham was 37 years old when he left Haran with his wife and nephew and moved to Canaan, not 75. This is a typical age when men seek a new path of life, restarting his and his family’s life in a new land. It is therefore possible that for the 37 years until he sought this change, Abraham did not do anything extraordinary.

Looking at Abraham’s life in this way, seeing that he was not unusually old, he serves as a model for all of us today, men and women. As we mature and begin to better understand the world and our responsibilities, we, like Abraham can change.

When Abraham came to the new land, to Canaan, later called Israel, he had a vision of future success. Genesis 12:7 tells us his first reaction. “The Lord appeared to Abram and said: ‘I will give this land to your descendants.’ And he built there an altar for the Lord who appeared to him.” At age 37, he created a new life.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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