Also known as Abram; first of the patriarchs of Israel. His kind of life, depicted in Gen. 11–25, might be that of about 2000 to 1500 BCE, but the Abraham of the stories is an individual merchant from the Hittite realm typical of a people who migrated from the urban civilization of Ur into Palestine. So also, the account of Abraham's agreement with Lot (Gen. 13: 8) about their respective choice of land (Lot settled for the valley of Sodom) is meant to explain the origin of the Moabites. This story is thought by some scholars to reflect the historical fact that there was a change of occupation when the decline in trade necessitated entry into stock-breeding. But throughout the events recorded of Abraham there runs the theological motif of God's promise of the land of Canaan, and of Abraham's faith in response. This faith was put to the test when he was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac, who was essential for the fulfilment of the promise; but at the last moment a divine intervention saved Isaac and a ram trapped in an adjacent pile of scrub was offered instead. The Abraham patriarchal history ends with his buying a plot of ground for his burial and with his death (Gen. 25: 10). All three strands in Genesis contribute to the saga. For J, he is a father of all nations; for E, a model of faith; for P, the pledge of the nation's survival. After Genesis, Abraham is only mentioned in the later parts of the OT. But in the NT Abraham is venerated as a pioneer in the OT of trust in God (e.g. Rom. 4; Heb. 7: 1–10), second only to Moses.
Abraham was acceptable to God in virtue of his faith long before the Law was given (Gal. 3: 7), so that his true sons are not the Jews who claim descent from Abraham (Matt. 3: 9, John 8: 33) and live by the Law, but Christians who live by faith in Christ. Thus, for Paul, Abraham was an illustration even within Judaism of what constitutes a true mode of relationship with God.
Abraham is revered as a prophet by Muslims, and throughout the Islamic world Eid al-Adha, commemorating the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, is the second great annual festival. See also aqeda.