We meet Abraham through his family: he is introduced near the end of a long genealogy that includes numerous ancestors as well as his two brothers, his wife, two nieces (one of whom is also a sister-in-law), and a nephew (
With Sarah unable to bear a child, Abraham takes a concubine, Hagar, who bears his first son, Ishmael. Taking a concubine, or a secondary wife, was an accepted practice in the ancient Near East and seems to have been a common solution when the first wife could not have children. Although Abraham and Sarah later disinherit Ishmael, he is the ancestor of the Ishmaelites, a neighboring nomadic people from whom Arab peoples trace their descent; Ishmael is also an important figure in the Qur’an. Abraham’s family continues with his second son, Isaac, born to Sarah at the age of ninety—with God’s intervention. The theme of barrenness and miraculous birth appears with all of the matriarchs in Genesis (and with characters in other biblical books, like Hannah in the book of Samuel) and highlights the importance of the child who is ultimately born. It is through Isaac and one of his sons, Jacob, that the promise and the covenant of Yahweh are passed down to the whole Israelite people. This passing over of the older son in favor of the younger is another common theme in the Hebrew Bible: Jacob, Judah, and David are all younger sons.
In a final episode, Abraham marries a second wife, Keturah, who bears him six children (
However, Abraham has a bad habit of putting his family in peril. Twice when visiting a foreign land, he has Sarah tell the locals that they are brother and sister, with the result that she is taken into the harem of the foreign king (
- Van Seters, John. Abraham in History and Tradition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
- Moyers, Bill. Genesis: A Living Conversation. New York: Broadway Books, 1996.
- Steinberg, Naomi. Kinship and Marriage in Genesis: A Household Economics Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
- Sarna, Nahum. Understanding Genesis: The World of the Bible in the Light of History. New York: Schocken, 1966.