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Abraham

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Abraham sacrificing Isaac, as painted by Harold Copping (1883-1932)
Abraham sacrificing Isaac, as painted by Harold Copping (1883-1932)

Abraham is the founder of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jews consider Abraham to be the supreme Patriarch and founder of their faith. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was a descendant of Isaac (Abraham's son), while Muslims believe that Muhammed was a descendent of Ishmael (Abraham's son by Hagar). He is believed by followers of all three faiths to be descended from Noah's line. Abraham is petitioned by those who seek spiritual guidance, fertility blessings, safe pregnancies (especially later in life), divine mercy, strong fathering abilities, as well as mastery and leadership skills.

Abraham's life story is read in weekly Torah portions by observant Jews. He was born with the name Abram and was married to Sarai-they were an older, childless couple. He changed his name to Abraham after Yahweh appeared to him and made a covenant with him wherein he promised that he would "make of him a great nation" thereby indicating that Abraham and Sarai (whose named changed to Sarah) would have children. At age 75 Abraham's belief in this covenant was at first uncertain as he and his wife Sarah had tried for years to have children without any success. However, they followed the mandate given by Yahweh and went into the land of Canaan where they hoped to conceive.

After 10 years of dwelling in Canaan, Sarah gave up hope of conceiving and persuaded Abraham to conceive a child with her handmaid Hagar. Hagar did conceive, and the boy was named Ishmael. After Ishmael's birth Sarah finally conceived Isaac. In a jealous rage Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael off into the wilderness so that there would be no competition between her son and Hagar's child. Abraham did seek Hagar out to comfort her and offer her limited support. In order to fulfill his covenant with God after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised himself and his son. Several Bible stories concern Abraham and his unique relationship to God and divine mercy. The best known of all stories concerning Abraham, took place when Isaac was a young boy. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice him. Heavy-hearted Abraham nonetheless prepared to follow God 's command and made ready to sacrifice his son. At the last moment God revealed a ram to take Isaac's place, indicating that he was well pleased with Abraham's faith and obedience. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham rather boldly pleaded with Yahweh not to destroy the city although it was known to be full of unrighteous people. God agreed to spare the town if ten righteous men could be found, but it soon became clear to Abraham that the city would be destroyed. However, God spared Abraham's kinsmen Lot and his family from the destruction. Abraham is often depicted in painting and sculpture in scenes from his life. The sacrifice of Isaac, the entertaining the three angels that appear to him, and the comforting Hagar in the desert are the most popular. He is usually depicted as an older man with a long flowing beard.

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