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The Family of Abraham

The Family of Abraham

Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Interpretations

Carol Bakhos

ISBN 9780674050839

Publication date: 06/16/2014

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The term “Abrahamic religions” has gained considerable currency in both scholarly and ecumenical circles as a way of referring to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In The Family of Abraham, Carol Bakhos steps back from this convention to ask a frequently overlooked question: What, in fact, is Abrahamic about these three faiths? Exploring diverse stories and interpretations relating to the portrayal of Abraham, she reveals how he is venerated in these different scriptural traditions and how scriptural narratives have been pressed into service for nonreligious purposes.

Grounding her study in a close examination of ancient Jewish textual practices, primarily midrash, as well as medieval Muslim Stories of the Prophets and the writings of the early Church Fathers, Bakhos demonstrates that ancient and early-medieval readers often embellished the image of Abraham and his family—Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac. Her analysis dismantles pernicious misrepresentations of Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, and provocatively challenges contemporary references to Judaism and Islam as sibling religions.

As Bakhos points out, an uncritical adoption of the term “Abrahamic religions” not only blinds us to the diverse interpretations and traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but also artificially separates these faiths from their historical contexts. In correcting mistaken assumptions about the narrative and theological significance of Abraham, The Family of Abraham sheds new light on key figures of three world religions.


  • In her lucid new book, [Bakhos] challenges the notion that the first patriarch can be so innocuously pressed into the service of interfaith reconciliation… She proves uniquely attuned to the interpretive richness with which each tradition fashioned and refashioned its own Abraham and, therefore, to the perils of detaching a pluralistic one-size-fits-all Abraham from the particular traditions that, for better or worse, have so enduringly granted him life and meaning. Alfred North Whitehead once quipped that the history of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. If Carol Bakhos is any guide, today’s contentious continuities and discontinuities among Jews, Christians, and Muslims may none too hopefully be said to be a footnote to Abraham.

    —Benjamin Balint, Weekly Standard


  • Carol Bakhos is Associate Professor of Late Antique Judaism at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Book Details

  • 296 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press