Abraham is the first biblical patriarch of the Israelites and, by extension, the modern-day Jewish people. His name at birth was Abram. God directed Abram to go to Canaan, where God gave that land to Abram and his descendants, establishing a covenant to make them a great nation that would be a blessing to all humanity. Because his wife, Sarai, was barren, Abram fathered a son, Ishmael, by her handmaiden, Hagar; God promised Hagar that Ishmael would also be the father of a nation. God then promised Sarai a son to be named Isaac, who, God promised, would father a great nation. In return, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah, and demanded that all males of Abraham’s line be circumcised from then on. As a test, God then commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham obediently attempted but was stopped by an angel. After Sarah’s death, Abraham fathered another six sons by a new wife, Keturah, before dying himself.
Abraham is the founding father of Judaism. Jews identify themselves as worshipping “the God of Abraham, Isaac [Abraham’s son], and Jacob [Abraham’s grandson].” The covenant he made with God—promising the land of Canaan (Israel) to the Israelites—has shaped Jewish spiritual and political activity from the beginning to the present day. Jews prayed for a return to their promised land throughout their 2000-year Diaspora, and their biblical connection with the area was a moving force behind the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Abraham is a foundational figure in Christianity and Islam as well. For this reason, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are known as “Abrahamic” faiths. In Islam, the Qur’an gives a slightly different narrative of Abraham’s life and holds his son Ishmael to be the ancestor of the Arab peoples and of the prophet Muhammad. Christians see God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants will be a blessing to all the world as a foreshadowing of the role of Jesus.