Holy Land: Abraham, the Friend of God

Just as there are many legends about Abraham in the Islamic tradition, there are also many extra-Biblical Jewish legends. You can read the Jewish versions of these same two legends about the young Abraham in Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews: Abraham.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Holy Land Folklore unit. Story source: Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer (1907).




Abraham, the Friend of God

IBRAHÌM, whose surname is Khalìl Allah, or the Friend of God, was the son of Azar or Terah, a sculptor, and also wazìr to Nimrûd, King of Kûtha. The impiety of Nimrûd was so great that he compelled his subjects to worship him as a god.

A dream which greatly disturbed Nimrûd was interpreted by soothsayers to portend the speedy birth of a great prophet who should overthrow idolatry and cause Nimrûd's ruin. To prevent this, the tyrant collected all men into a large military camp, had every male infant in his dominions massacred, and ordered that all women likely to become mothers should be closely watched and their offspring, if male, destroyed at birth.

In spite of all these precautions, Azar's wife was delivered of Ibrahìm without the knowledge of any mortal but herself. When the hour of her trouble approached, she was led secretly by angels to a concealed and well-furnished cavern. Her trial was rendered painless by Allah's grace, and, leaving her new-born babe in the care of celestial ministrants, she returned to her home in perfect health and vigour.

Azar, who, like all the other men, was away from home in constant attendance upon Nimrûd, was for a long time ignorant of what had happened during his absence. His wife was allowed to visit her child every few days and was every time surprised at his growth and extraordinary beauty. In one day he grew as much as any ordinary child would in a month, and in one month as much as another would in a year.

He was also fed in a marvellous manner. Entering the cave one day, his mother found the infant sitting up and sucking his fingers with great gusto. Wondering why he did this, she examined his finger, and found that from one there gushed forth milk, from the next honey, whilst butter and water respectively exuded from the others. It was most convenient, and she ceased to be surprised that the child throve so remarkably.

At the age of fifteen months, he could already speak fluently, and, being very inquisitive, put the following shrewd questions to his parent: "Mother, who is my Lord?"

She answered, "I am."

"And who is thy Lord?"

"Thy father."

"And who is my father's Lord?"

"Nimrûd."

"And who is Nimrûd's Lord?"

"Hush!" said the mother, striking the child on its mouth.

She was, however, so delighted that she could no longer keep the child's existence hid from Azar. The wazìr came and was conducted to the cavern. He asked Ibrahìm whether he really was his son. The infant Patriarch answered in the affirmative, and then propounded to his father the same series of questions that he put to his mother, with the same result.

One evening Ibrahìm begged his mother to allow him to go out of the cave. His request being granted, he marvelled greatly at the wonders of creation and made the following remarkable declaration. "He that created me, gave me all things needful, fed me, and gave me drink, shall be my Lord, and none but He."

Then, looking skywards, he perceived a bright star, for it was evening, and he said, "Surely this is my Lord!"

But the star, as he watched it closely, sank to westward and disappeared, and Ibrahìm said, "I love not things that change. This could not have been my Lord."

In the meantime the full moon had risen and was shedding her mild beams on all around, and the child said, "Surely this is my Lord!" and he watched her all through the night.

Then the moon also set, and, in great distress, Ibrahìm exclaimed, "Verily, I was in error; the moon could not have been my Lord, for I love not things that change."

Soon after this the sky was tinged with all the glorious colours of the sunrise, and the sun arose in all his brightness, waking men and birds and insects to life and energy, bathing all things in a golden glory. At his splendour, the boy cried, "Surely this is my Lord!"

But, as the hours wore on, the sun also began to sink westwards, and the shadows to lengthen, till at last the shades of night again covered the earth, and in bitter disappointment the child said, "Verily I was again in error; neither star nor moon nor sun can be my Lord. I love not the things that change."

And in the anguish of his soul he prayed: "O Allah, Thou Great, Unsearchable, Unchangeable One, reveal Thyself to Thy servant, guide me, and keep me from error."


(800 words)





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