Avraham - Part Three
Tales, Myths and Legends
by: Shmuel ben Shlomi
In the first two parts of the essay on Avraham he was introduced and looked at from the culture, traditions and times he lived in. We also saw hints of his life from both the Torah — a Jewish perspective, and a bit from the Muslim perspective in the Quran.
This third and final part of the essay will measure the man from the myriad of tales, myths and legends that have grown up around him over the last four millennia. Generally all historical persons of fame have surrounding them a list of stories that cannot be found grounded in the actual history of their lives but have become so entrenched in the various human cultures that they become embedded in the lore of the people. Examples of this can be found when speaking or reading about such figures as King David of Israel, King Arthur of Britain, Joan of Arc of France and of more recent memory the Baal Shem Tov from 18th Century Poland. Someone of Avraham’s stature who was responsible for an entire peoples will surely gain a bevy of legends about him that, while interesting, do not reveal any historicity.
One of the most lasting and profound tales of Avraham occurred when he was still quite a young lad. As noted in Part One and Two Avraham’s father Terah was a priest who served the Annunaki god Nanna-Sin in the ziggurat at Ur, the city of Avraham’s birth. Terah was also responsible for the production and sale of idols in statue form. This was the main source of revenue for his family, aside from his share in the food offerings to the god brought by the people to the ziggurat or to his store. On one day when Terah left to fulfill his priestly duties he put his young son Avraham in charge of the shop in which the idols were made and sold. A worshipper of Nanna-Sin stops into the shop to buy one of Terah’s idols when Avraham asks the man, “My lord, how old are you?” “I am fifty years old,” the customer replies. Avraham says to the man, “What! An old man like yourself bows down before a mere image of an idol that was just fashioned yesterday? Think it over.”
Another tale relates how one day when again Avraham, now a little older but still a lad was keeping watch at the shop and a woman patron stops in to place a bowl of flour as an offering before one of the idol statues. Once the woman left the shop Avraham took a stick and destroyed every idol in his father’s shop, save one, the largest of the idols. Avraham took his stick and placed it in the hand of the idol. When Terah arrived home from his priestly duties and saw all his idol statues destroyed save one, Terah fell on his knees and cried out to his son, “Who dare did this horrible thing to our gods?” Avraham replied, “A woman came and brought a full bowl of flour for an offering. I placed the bowl at the feet of the idols. Instantly, a brawl of murderous proportions ensued among the idols each claiming the sacrificial offering belonged to them alone and while the arguing was going on this big one picked up that stick, in order to bring order out of the chaos and, well, as you can see — he killed them all!” “You little liar!” cried Terah. “How can you say the idols fought over the flour offering when they can neither speak, understand are move about?” “Dear father!” replied Avraham, “the holy truth lies in your own words!”
In another legend related to the one just mentioned, Nimrod (aka Gilgamesh or possibly Ur-Nammu in Sumerian cuneiform texts), the king of Sumer (Shinar) learned of Avraham’s disrespect and bad-mouthing of the Annunaki idols and has him brought before him. Nimrod looked sternly upon Avraham and ordered by royal decree, “Here is fire; prostrate yourself and worship it!” “My Lord,” answered Avraham fearlessly, “wouldn’t it be better to worship water since it can put out out the fire?” Nimrod ordered, “Let it be as you said now worship water!” “Shall I do injustice to the clouds which gives the earth all of its water?” replied Avraham. “Fine,” Nimrod answered, then worship the clouds now!” “But,” stated Avraham, “how can the clouds compare with the winds who have the power to scatter them about the heavens?” “Very well then,” said the exasperated king, “Then worship the wind!” “The wind?” asked Avraham. “What will He who directs the fire, water, clouds and wind say to that? Oh, my king, you blind man! Don’t you perceive the mighty Hand that guides the world?” King Nimrod embarrassed before his courtiers at the wisdom of this young lad releases Avraham and sends him back in peace to his father Terah.
Many years later when Avraham is now much older and living in tents as a nomad in Canaan a very old man approaches his tent. With great hospitality Avraham invites the elderly man to sit, get cooled in the shade of his tent and receive refreshment and have his feet washed and cooled with the water. The old man said no thanks and started to continue on his way, bent and obviously straining from the heat. Avraham implores the man to stop and rest himself and following after him for a ways the old man relents and the two return to Avraham’s tent. Avraham placed before him some goat’s milk, butter and fresh cakes of bread. Washed his feet and said nothing but allowed the old stranger to cool down and eat his meal. Once the man ended his meal Avraham said to him, “Now praise El ‘Elyon (G-d Most High), the Adonai and G-d of Heaven and earth, Who gives bread to all His creatures!” In reply to this the old man said, “I do not know your G-d, I will only praise the god that my own hands has fashioned!” Then Avraham used that opportunity to tell the old man of HaShem’s greatness, His power, His loving kindness and forgiveness. He spoke to him of the total uselessness of idols that cannot speak, hear, move or do anything at all except just stand there in place with no power or will of their own. After much entreaty the old man with much indignation in his voice shouted, “How dare you talk to me this way, trying to turn me away from my gods! You and I have nothing in common so do not impose on me any further with your foul words, because I will not heed you!” At this Avraham shouted back to the old man to leave his tent immediately. And the old man did just that and disappeared into the dark of night. HaShem called out to Avraham saying, “Where is the man who came to you this night?” Avraham replied, “That old man was indignant and stubborn. I tried to persuade him that if he believed in You everything would be well with him. He refused to heed my words so I grew angry and drove him out of my tent with not even a fond farewell.” Then G-d said to Avraham, “Have you given any consideration to what you have done? Reflect for a moment: Here am I, the G-d of all Creation — and yet have I endured the unbelief of this old man for many, many years. And, in all his unbelief I still clothed and fed him and supplied all his needs. But when he came to you for just one night you dispensed with all duties of pure hospitality and compassion and drove him from you into the darkness of the wilderness with not so much as a torch for light!” Upon hearing this Avraham fell upon his face and prayed for G-d to forgive him for this great sin. But, HaShem said to Avraham, “I will not forgive you unless you first ask forgiveness from that unbelieving old man to whom you have done this great evil.” Avraham arose immediately grabbed a torch and disappeared into the dark wilderness looking for the old man. Upon finding him a few hours later he fell at the old man’s feet and wept real tears of repentance and begged the old man for his forgiveness for the way he was treated. The old idol worshipper was so moved by Avraham’s pleas and authentic contrition that he forgave him. They sat together with only the torch for light and warmth until the break of day upon which they hugged and kissed each other’s cheek and each went on their separate ways. Upon his return to his tent Avraham was met by HaShem Who said to him, “Because you have done what is righteous (right living) in My eyes I will never forget My covenant with your posterity. When they sin I will indeed have to punish them for I am Just and Righteous, but never will I sever My covenant with them!”
There is an ancient myth concerning Avraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the Hebrews who died in the wilderness during the Exodus along with Moshe and is brother Aaron. It states that the Olam HaBa (The World to Come) is composed of several layers: Heaven and Hell also known as Paradise and Gehenna. The Jewish Hell, however, has little to nothing in common with the Christian idea of Hell (See: my essay on Hell).
One of these layers eventually took on a new name. That layer of Paradise by the First Century CE became known as Avraham’s Bosom and was the place all righteous souls dwell until the final resurrection in the aḥarit ha-yamim (אחרית הימי - End of Days). The term Avraham’s Bosom is not found anywhere in the Jewish Bible and is only mentioned once in the Christian Bible found in the Gospel According to Luke Chapter 16 verses 19 - 31. However, in Jewish folklore the term and idea was a mainstay by the time of Herod the Great circa 72 BCE.
In the “Tales of the Patriarchs” a legend with fuller detail of Avraham and Sarah’s journey into Egypt is given in the first person. It states that:
Abraham built an altar (at Bethel) and called to G-d, praising Him. I then went to the Holy mountain and to Hebron where I lived for two years. Because there was famine in the land my family and I traveled to Egypt where grain was plentiful. I went across the branches of the Nile to enter Egypt, the land of the sons of Ham. I had a dream about a cedar tree and a date-palm tree. When people came to cut down the cedar tree, the date-palm tree objected, saying that they were grown from a single root. The cedar tree was spared. I became fearful of the dream and told it to my wife. I explained it as it pertained to us telling Sarah that the men will come for her and try to kill me. I warned Sarah that she must tell everyone that I am her brother so that my life can be spared. She became scared and did not want to go to Zoan for fear of being seen. Five years later, councilors of the Egyptians court and advisors of the Pharaoh of Zoan came, having heard the words of my wife. They brought gifts and requested knowledge from me. I read to them from the Book of the words of Enoch. The men return to the Pharaoh and describe Sarah's features: beautiful face, supple hair, lovely eyes, pleasant nose, radiant face. He continued on describing her shapely breasts, perfect hands, and everything down to her long and delicate fingers. the men compared her to and rated her far higher than virgins and birds, and all other women alike. Hearing this, and then seeing Sarah, the pharaoh wanted her and took her for his wife. Sarah saved me by telling the pharaoh that I was her brother and that night I and my nephew Lot cried together, I prayed to HaShem for justice. I wanted G-d to raise up against the pharaoh and protect Sarah. G-d listened and sent an evil spirit to the entire household that prevented the pharaoh from having sexual relations with Sarah for the two years that they were together. At the end of the two years, the plagues and afflictions were so great that magicians and healers were sent for. They were, of course, ineffective, and they all soon left. Hyrcanos went to me pleading for help against the plague because I had been seen in a dream. I agreed to help only when my wife Sarah is returned to me. The pharaoh heard this and confronted me, himself asking why I lied saying that Sarah was my sister. He agreed to give Sarah back and I exorcised the evil spirit from the house of the pharaoh. The pharaoh swore to me that he had not touched Sarah while they were together and gave her gifts of gold, silver, linen, and purple-dyed clothing. Sarah and I were then led out of Egypt. I, Sarah, Lot, and his wife took our flocks and the gold and silver I had received and traveled together.
And, there is a bit longer account concerning Lot and the near civil war that broke out between his clan and that of Avraham, as well as the war with the kings of the east — also in the first person:
I went to all my old campsites until I reached Bethel, the place where I once built an alter, and then I built another one and offered up burnt offerings and a cereal offerings to the G-d Most High, and invoked the name of the Creator of the Universe there. I praised G-d’s name and blessed G-d and gave thanks to Him there for all the flocks and goods and wealth which he has given me, for the good he has done for me, and because He had returned me to this land safely.
After this day, Lot left me on the account of our shepherd's behavior. He went to live in the Valley of Jordan (Siddim) taking all his flocks with him. And I also added greatly to what he had. He pastured his flock and kept moving until he reached Sodom and bought a house there, while I still lived in the mountains of Bethel. It bothered me that Lot and I had separated.
G-d came to me in a dream and said to me: Go up to Ramat Hazor which is north of Bethel, the place you are living now, and look to the east, west, south and to the north. Look at the land which I am giving you and your descendants forever. The next morning I went up to Ramat Hazor and looked at the land from that height, from the river of Egypt up to Lebanon and Senir, and from the Great Sea up to Hauran, and all the land of Gebel to Qadesh, and all the Great Wilderness, as far as the Euphrates and He said to me: I shall give all this land to your descendants; and they will inherit it forever. I will multiply your descendants like the dust of the earth that none can count. Your descendants will be numberless. Arise, walk about, go see how long and how wide it is, for I will give it to you and to your descendants after you, forever.
Then I, Abraham, went out traveling in a circuit to survey the land. I began the circuit at the Gihon River, I went along the Mediterranean Sea until I reached the Mountain of the Bull (Baalbek in Lebanon). I circled from the coast of this great river saltwater sea, skirting the Mount of the Bull, and continued eastward through the breadth of the land until I came to the Euphrates river. I traveled along the Euphrates until I reached the Red Sea in the east, whence I followed the coast of the Red Sea until I came to the branch of the Reed Sea, jutting out from the Red Sea. From there I completed the circuit, moving southward to arrive at Gihon River. Then I returned home safely and found all is well with my men. Then I went and settled next to the oaks of Mamre, which is northeast of Hebron. There I built an altar and offered up burnt offering and a cereal offering to the G-d Most High. I ate and drank there, I and all the men of my household, and invited Mamre, Arnem, and Eshkol, three Amorite brothers and my friends. We ate and drank together.
Prior to those days Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam, Amraphel, the king of Sumer, Arioch, the king of Cappadocia, and Tidal, the king of Goiim, which lies between the two rivers had come. They had waged war on Bera, the king of Sodom, Birsha, the king of Gomorrah, Shinab, the king of Admah, Shemiabad, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela. All these formed an alliance to do battle in the Valley of Siddim. Now the king of Elam, and the kings with him proved to be stronger than the king of Sodom and imposed tribute upon them. Over twelve years they continued paying their tribute to the king of Elam, but in the thirteenth they rebelled against him. Thus the fourteenth year the king of Elam sallied forth with all his allies, and they ascended by the way of the desert. They smote and plundered beginning from the Euphrates. They kept on smiting and smiting the Rephaim who were in the Asteroth- Kernaim, the Zumzammin who were Amman, the Emim who were in Shaveh- hakerioth, and the Horites who were in the mountain of Gebal until they reached El- Paran, in the wilderness. They returned [in] Hazazon-tamar. The king of Sodom went out to meet him, together with the king of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and the king of Bela. They engaged in battle in the valley of Siddim against Chedorlaomer, and allies that were with him. The king of Sodom was defeated and put to flight while the king of Gomorrah fell into the pits... The king of Elam plundered all the property of Sodom and of Gomorrah and they captured Lot.
Tradition states that Avraham, with just his 318 men of fighting age was able to defeat this much larger army and take back Lot and his family and possessions by tying torches to the horns of hundreds of rams and stampeding them into the enemy's camps causing them to be awakened confused and in a panic turning their swords and arrows against one another.
Some tales of the early life of Avraham not found in the Torah are his birth month which some traditions hold as the month of Nissan and others the month of Tishrei. While the Torah does tell us his father’s name as Terah it is only through tradition that we know his mother’s name which has come down orally to us as Amathlaah. Avraham’s birthplace according to the Torah was more a location than an actual city named - Ever-haNahr (Beyond the River) but, again tradition tells us he was born in the city of Cutha in Sumer. He was raised, however, in Ur.
One major tale that has lasted for generations concerned the birth of Avraham. When he was born King Nimrod’s (Gilgamesh/Ur-Nammu) astrologer’s warned him that this son of Terah the priest of Nanna-Sin (an Annunaki Moon god) would one day become a threat to the king’s rule and to the Annunaki gods Nimrod worshipped. Nimrod ordered Terah to take his son out and kill him. Terah did no such thing but outwitted the king and gave baby Avraham to his mother and a wet nurse and hid them in a nearby cave for a full decade. By age three Avraham already was aware that there was only One True G-d who made the sun, moon, earth and the universe and all that is in them. He informed his mother of this reality while still living in the cave. By age ten he left the cave and sought out Noach and Shem who, while very old, were still very much alive. He wanted to meet these great men of G-d that he heard so much about from his mother when they lived in the cave. Stealthily moving about as to not be seen by any of King Nimrod’s people he made his way to Mount Ararat in Kedem (modern day Turkey) where he met up with his ancestors Noach and Shem - the progenitor of his people the Semitics. He had a great hunger to know about this One True G-d. He just knew in his soul this One G-d had to be real and both Noach and Shem taught him everything they knew and experienced about and with the G-d of Creation. He stayed off and on with them almost four decades learning at the feet of these venerable old men of G-d. Then news came to him about the events of the Tower of Babel which, according to some of our traditions, resulted in the death of Nimrod. Others say he was just injured and survived but never the same again even though he continued to rule what was left of his empire after so many of his people fled the area and migrated throughout the rest of the world (the migration of the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth). So, at the age of fifty years Avraham returned to Ur and his family. It was at this time that Terah arranged the marriage of his son to Avraham’s half-sister Sarah (also known as Sarai - Sumerian or Yiskah - Akkadian). Weakened but not yet incapacitated Nimrod upon hearing that Avraham had returned to Sumer ordered him to be throne into a fiery furnace but Avraham came out unscathed (just as happened to Shadrach, Meshech and Abendego millennia later under the Babylonian ruler of Nebuchadnezzar).
Another myth says that when Avraham was fifty-five years old HaShem called him to go to Canaan. And, Avraham did so immediately, stayed there for fifteen years but returned to Haran where he remained for another five years to age seventy. Then upon his father Terah’s death he packed up for good and returned to Canaan with his wife and nephew Lot. Avraham’s brother Nahor remained in Haran with his family which years later was the family Jacob went to when fleeing from Esav and to find a wife from his own kin.
There are a few other myths concerning Avraham but they are so shrouded in linguistic acrobatics and are obvious much later CE inventions they do not deserve any mention in this essay.
It is my hope that all three parts of this work has aided in your own discoveries concerning the life of this man who nearly single-handedly has been the founding father of all three existing monotheistic religions on planet Earth — Judaism, Christianity (a monotheism until Council of Nicaea under Emperor Constantine) and Islam.
Avraham’s life and ideology has inspired countless authors, songwriters, rabbis, preachers, priests and prophets from antiquity until our very day. His contribution to the culture of countless lives has and will, without doubt, continue until our Sol one day blinks out with either a whimper or a bang, But, this man’s legacy will remain forever emblazoned on the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of all human beings wherever they be found in this G-d created universe and in the Eternal Beyond. His is and forever will be G-d’s friend.
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Origin and Significance of Our Time Honored Biblical Tradition
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Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People
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by: Imam Mufti
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 Abraham’s Early Life
by: Nissan Mindel
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by: Paulsen-Reed, Amy Elizabeth
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Translated from the Ethiophic by: George H. Schodde, Ph. D.
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aka: Genesis Apocryphon (300 - 100 BCE)
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Marriage in Ancient Egypt