No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
- Genesis 17:5
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
- Hebrews 11:8-9
“Abraham is the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”
- Bruce Feiler, Abraham
Early in the book (and for the life of me, I can’t find it – foggy thinking leads to bad note taking), Feiler writes that anyone who writes a book on Abraham writes with his own agenda in mind. A philosopher wrote a book about Abraham’s philosophy. A Jewish scholar wrote a book of Abraham as a rabbi. This got me momentarily interested in the very convoluted book, but only for a moment. My momentary interest was that if the author condemns all other books about Abraham as being agenda-driven, how will he be different? The point is that he wasn’t. Surprise, surprise!
The quoted verse from Genesis and the Feiler quote form the roots of Feiler’s agenda.
The Feiler quote is in a paragraph ending with Abraham being the first monotheist. I find the book both convoluted and with errors, but Feiler is writing from a Jewish point of view, trying to be non-partisan within the combined communities of Jew, Christian, and Muslim. With that in mind, there is no wonder that the book is convoluted. Even so, the book is organized, divided into several sections, each tying the section’s subject into such a knot that three teams of boy scouts would never be able to untie it.
Part of the confusion in the book is that he flips from Jewish thinking to Christian thinking to Muslim thinking to worldly thinking outside any of those religions. In some cases, it seems some sentences have multiple thought patterns.
After a brief introduction, the first section is on the God of Abraham. In this section, he gives a ‘history’ of Abraham growing up in a polytheistic world, as a polytheist, but maybe not a happy one. I am unfamiliar with what source this comes from. Maybe in my personal fog, it escaped me. Yet, the author points out that God elected Abram, to be renamed Abraham later. This he got right, but upon election, Abraham tossing his man-made gods aside does not seem to appear in any Scripture that I have read. I am speaking figuratively here as that ‘action’ may not have been written in the book, just an implication thereof.
In the section on the children of Abraham, the author lists Ishmael and Isaac only. In Genesis 25, Abraham took a second wife who bore several children, the children of Keturah. Possibly the best known of these was Midian. It was a group of Midianite traders that bought Joseph and sold him in Egypt. Moses fled to the land of Midian, marrying a Midianite. But the author’s agenda focused on Ishmael and Isaac and the conflict that has never stopped since the childhood of the two sons of Abraham. The author paints Sarah in a bad light, focusing God’s blessing on Abraham and diminishing blessing from Sarah, even ridiculing her. He goes on to hint that Isaac might have missed the blessing from God altogether, other than being Abraham’s son. Genesis 26 starts with Isaac getting the same promise that God gave Abraham. The land would be his and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Yes, Isaac seems pathetic in blessing Jacob instead of Esau, and little is written about Isaac compared to Abraham and Jacob, but this should not diminish Isaac’s importance. Yet, in these two chapters of the book, the author firmly establishes the conflict that continues today.
In the section on the people of Abraham, he has three chapters: Jews, Christians, Muslims. He interviews scholars of each. Being a Jew himself, the chapter on Jews is a chapter that I cannot comment upon.
The chapter on Christians was, from my conservative beliefs, a very strange chapter. His book is about Abraham. He focuses on Abraham, while almost desperately trying to avoid shifting any focus toward God. In so doing, and maybe based upon the scholars that he chose to interview, the discussion and conclusions from the chapter seem to deify Abraham. I felt it extremely disturbing.
Then, in the chapter on Muslims, I found little nuggets that were revealing and a bit disturbing. The Muslim scholar talked of the Arabs being descendants of Abraham. Throughout the book, the author mentions concepts written in the Koran, but never seems to quote anything, although an appendix called “Passages” provides several Biblical passages and one passage from the Koran. But one statement by the Muslim scholar was interesting. He stated that the Jews believed in the same God and nearly have similar faith, except for the rejection of the final prophet, that being Mohammed. The scholar then claimed that for the rejection of Mohammed, Jews must die. He then pointed out the attempts of Jewish extermination, such as the Holocaust, being “just” killing, by human hands, removing from this earth those who reject Mohammed. As such, the Muslim scholar revered Abraham as the great father, but he stopped short of calling Abraham a Muslim, since Abraham lived prior to Mohammed.
The final chapters, Blood of Abraham (Legacy) and Unity speak of the author’s concept to find common ground. Indeed, Abraham is the confluence of blood that connects three significant peoples on earth. Jews are descendants of Jacob (Israel), Abraham’s grandson. Many of the Muslims are descendants of others who trace their ancestry to Abraham, through Ishmael primarily, but also the children of Keturah mentioned in Genesis 25, and we cannot forget Esau and his descendants, all living in the Middle East and marrying among each other. And then Christians claim a spiritual connection to Abraham, but many may not go as far as to state that there is a blood connection through the sacrament of communion, as discussed in the chapter on Christianity. His chapter on Unity discusses his attempts at dialogue between the three faiths and the hope that in recognizing the common ground in Abraham, we may be able to negotiate peace.
Yet, my take on the author’s agenda is that in looking for a common ground in Abraham, are we forgetting God? After all, Abraham is listed as the fourth entry in the Hall of Fame of faith Heroes in Hebrews 11. With Abraham being fourth on the list, I cannot agree with the author’s assertion that Abraham was the first monotheist. Certainly, Abel, Enoch, and Noah believed in one God.
Is the book worth reading? The final two chapters might be well worth reading in trying to negotiate Middle Eastern peace, or wherever the Muslim/Christian/Jewish conflict arises. But we must place our focus and our confidence in God, not Abraham.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.