Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/80

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ABRAHAM
ABRAHAM
52

the God of Abraham" etc. (Ex. iii, 6). The same expression is used in the Psalms (xlvi, 10) and is common in the Old Testament. Abraham is thus selected as the first beginning or source of the religion of the children of Israel and the origin of its close connection with Jehovah, because of his faith, trust, and obedience to and in Jehovah and because of Jehovah's promises to him and to his seed. So, in Genesis, xv, 6, it is said: "Abram believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice." This trust in God was shown by him when he left Haran and journeyed with his family into the unknown country of Chanaan. It was shown principally when he was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, in obedience to a command from God. It was on that occasion that God said: "Because thou hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake I will bless thee" etc. (Gen., xxii, 16, 17). It is to this and other promises made so often by God to Israel that the writers of the Old Testament refer over and over again in confirmation of their privileges as the chosen people. These promises, which are recorded to have been made no less than eight times, are that God will give the land of Chanaan to Abraham and his seed (Gen., xii, 7) that his seed shall increase and multiply as the stars of heaven; that he himself shall be blessed and that in him "all the kindred of the earth shall be blessed" (xii, 3). Accordingly the traditional view of the life of Abraham, as recorded in Genesis, is that it is history in the strict sense of the word. Thus Father von Hummelauer, S.J., in his commentary on Genesis in the "Cursus Scripturæ Sacræ" (30), in answer to the question from what author the section on Abraham first proceeded, replies, from Abraham as the first source. Indeed he even says that it is all in one style, as a proof of its origin, and that the Passage, xxv, 5–ll, concerning the goods, death, and burial of Abraham comes from Isaac. It must, however, be added that it is doubtful if Father von Hummelauer still adheres to these views, written before 1895, since he has much modified his position in the volume on Deuteronomy.

Quite a different view on the section of Genesis treating of Abraham, and indeed of the whole of Genesis, is taken by modern critical scholars. They almost unanimously hold that the narrative of the patriarch's life is composed practically in its entirety of three writings or writers called respectively the Jahvist, the Elohist, and the priestly writer, and denoted by the letters J, E, and P. J and E consisted of collections of stories relating to the patriarch, some of older, some of later, origin. Perhaps the stories of J show a greater antiquity than those of E. Still the two authors are very much alike, and it is not always easy to distinguish one from the other in the combined narrative of J and E. From what we can observe, neither the Jahvist nor the Elohist was a personal author. Both are rather schools, and represent the collections of many years. Both collections were closed before the time of the prophets; J some time in the ninth century b.c., and E early in the eighth century, the former probably in the South Kingdom, the latter in the North. Then towards the end of the kingdom, perhaps owing to the inconvenience of having two rival accounts of the stories of the patriarchs etc. going about, a redactor R.JE (?) combined the two collections in one, keeping as much as possible to the words of his sources, making as few changes as possible so as to fit them into one another, and perhaps mostly following J in the account of Abraham. Then in the fifth century a writer who evidently belonged to the sacerdotal caste wrote down again an account of primitive and patriarchal history from the priestly point of view. He attached great importance to clearness and exactness; his accounts of things are often cast into the shape of formulas (cf. Genesis, i); he is very particular about genealogies, also as to chronological notes. The vividness and colour of the older patriarchal narratives, J and E, are wanting in the later one, which in the main is as formal as a legal document, though at times it is not wanting in dignity and even grandeur, as is the case in the first chapter of Genesis. Finally, the moral to be drawn from the various events narrated is more clearly set forth in this third writing and, according to the critics the moral standpoint is that of the fifth century b.c. Lastly, after the time of Ezra, this last history, P was worked up into one with the already combined narrative J.E. by a second redactor R.JEP, the result being the present history of Abraham, and indeed the present book of Genesis; though in all probability insertions were made at even a later date.

View-Point of New Testament.—The generation of Jesus Christ is traced back to Abraham by St. Matthew, and though in Our Lord's genealogy, according to St. Luke, he is shown to be descended according to the flesh not only from Abraham but also from Adam, still St. Luke shows his appreciation of the fruits of descent from Abraham by attributing all the blessings of God on Israel to the promises made to Abraham. This he does in the Magnificat, iii, 55, and in the Benedictus, iii, 73. Moreover, as the New Testament traces the descent of Jesus Christ from Abraham, so it does of all the Jews; though as a rule, when this is done, it is accompanied with a note of warning, lest the Jews should imagine that they are entitled to place confidence in the fact of their carnal descent from Abraham, without anything further. Thus (Luke, iii, 8) John the Baptist says: "Do not begin to say: We have Abraham for our father, for I say to you God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham." In Luke, xix, 9 our Saviour calls the sinner Zacheus a son of Abraham, as he likewise calls a woman whom he had healed a daughter of Abraham (Luke, xiii, 16); but in these and many similar cases, is it not merely another way of calling them Jews or Israelites, just as at times he refers to the Psalms under the general name of David, without implying that David wrote all the Psalms, and as he calls the Pentateuch the Books of Moses, without pretending to settle the question of the authorship of that work? It is not carnal descent from Abraham to which importance is attached; rather, it is to practising the virtues attributed to Abraham in Genesis. Thus in John, viii, the Jews, to whom Our Lord was speaking, boast (33): "We are the seed of Abraham", and Jesus replies (39): "If ye be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham". St. Paul, too, shows that he is a son of Abraham and glories in that fact as in II Cor., xi, 22, when he exclaims: "They are the seed of Abraham, so am I". And again (Rom., xi, l): "I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham", and he addresses the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts, xiii, 26) as "sons of the race of Abraham". But, following the teaching of Jesus Christ St. Paul does not attach too much importance to carnal descent from Abraham; for he says (Gal., iii 29): "If you be Christ's, then you are the seed of Abraham", and again (Rom., lx, 6): "All are not Israelites who are of Israel; neither are all they who are the seed of Abraham, children". So, too, we can observe in all the New Testament the importance attached to the promises made to Abraham. In the Acts of the Apostles, iii, 25, St. Peter reminds the Jews of the promise, "in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed". So does St. Stephen in his speech before the Council (Acts, vii), and St. Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews, vi, 13. Nor was the faith of the ancient patriarch less highly thought of by the New Testament writers. The passage of Genesis which was most prominently before them