Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

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Overview

Jews, Christians, and Muslims supposedly share a common religious heritage in the patriarch Abraham, and the idea that he should serve only as a source of unity among the three traditions has become widespread in both scholarly and popular circles. Inheriting Abraham boldly challenges this view, demonstrating Abraham's distinctive role in each tradition, while delineating the points of connection as well.

In this sweeping and provocative book, Jon Levenson subjects the powerful story in Genesis of Abraham's calling, his experience in Canaan and Egypt, and his near-sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac to a careful literary and theological analysis. But Levenson also explores how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have given unique distinctive interpretations to these narratives, often reimagining Abraham and his life in mutually exclusive ways. Historically, the three traditions have differed sharply over what Abraham's life foreshadows, how the Abrahamic community is constituted and sustained, and what practices the patriarch's example authorizes. In these disputes, Levenson finds illuminating signs of profound and enduring theological divergences alongside the commonalities.

A stunning achievement that is certain to provoke debate, Inheriting Abraham traces how each community has come to revere Abraham as an exemplar of its own distinctive spiritual teachings and practices. This probing and compelling book also reveals how the increasingly conventional notion of the three equally "Abrahamic" religions derives from a dangerous misunderstanding of key biblical and Qur'anic texts, fails to do full justice to any of the traditions, and is often biased against Judaism in subtle and pernicious ways.

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Editorial Reviews

Christian Century
Levenson's book will be acutely sobering for those who favor easy accommodation between traditions. . . . And no one has been more effective than Levenson in calling Christian interpreters to a more honest self-awareness.
Jerusalem Post
[A] learned, lucid and luminous examination of the distinctive character of Abraham.
— Glenn C. Altschuler
Commentary
[E]xcellent. . . . Inheriting Abraham is informed throughout by Levenson's characteristically great learning. . . . [G]raceful and clear . . .
— Hillel Fradkin
Jewish Review of Books
Levenson's literary skill and encyclopedic grasp of the exegetical traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam makes this volume a valuable exercise in comparison. But the book also makes a strong and controversial argument about what that comparison actually reveals about the role of Abraham in the relationship between the three 'Abrahamic' religions. . . . [Levenson's] study encourages us to look unflinchingly at the limits of difference and commonality within and across religious traditions.
— Martin S. Jaffee
Jerusalem Post - Glenn C. Altschuler
[A] learned, lucid and luminous examination of the distinctive character of Abraham.
Commentary - Hillel Fradkin
[E]xcellent. . . . Inheriting Abraham is informed throughout by Levenson's characteristically great learning. . . . [G]raceful and clear . . .
Jewish Review of Books - Martin S. Jaffee
Levenson's literary skill and encyclopedic grasp of the exegetical traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam makes this volume a valuable exercise in comparison. But the book also makes a strong and controversial argument about what that comparison actually reveals about the role of Abraham in the relationship between the three 'Abrahamic' religions. . . . [Levenson's] study encourages us to look unflinchingly at the limits of difference and commonality within and across religious traditions.
Jewish Ideas Daily - D.G. Myers
The best Jewish book in each category this past year? Inheriting Abraham is the most impressive work of Jewish scholarship published during 2012. For more than three decades, Jon Levenson has been quietly developing a biblical theology that would revolutionize Jewish understanding and worship, if only more Jews were to learn of it. Inheriting Abraham is his most accessible book yet—a model of how exacting scholarship can be written for the well-educated layman.
Islam and Muslim Societies - Tauseef Ahmad Parray
Written very well, argued delightfully, with deep insights, . . . Inheriting Abraham makes a superb contribution to our understanding and perception, opinion and insight, of the figure of Prophet Abraham.
Commonweal - Donald Senior
Jon Levenson's superb book demonstrates that despite some simplistic and ill-conceived attempts to harmonize the three Abrahamic faiths, and some lingering supersessionist antagonisms, we live in a period remarkable for serious and thoughtful dialogue among these cousin religions. It is a dialogue grounded in responsible awareness of the complexity, beauty, and defining commitments of each one. Working from this awareness is our best hope of developing the vital mutual respect and harmony our divided world requires.
Choice
This well-conceived, elegantly written book traces how the figure of Abraham known from Genesis came to be understood in unique ways by the later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. While many speak of Abraham as a figure shared by these three traditions, Levenson shows how each tradition's image of Abraham reflects its own distinct theological assumptions. . . . Rather than grounding interreligious dialogue in various conceptual false cognates in hopes of finding the lowest common denominator, Levenson has led the way in showing how true interreligious understanding can be achieved only if one grasps the nuanced theological grammar of each religious tradition.
Moment Magazine - Allan Nadler
[E]asily accessible to a wide readership. . . . [Levenson's] book is a masterful corrective to the ever more popular, pat and misleading myths that have emerged under the 'Abrahamic' banner.
New York Review of Books - Adam Kirsch
[T]he figure of Abraham has more often been a battleground than a meeting place. This is the brilliantly elaborated theme of Levenson's book, which retells the Abraham story while examining the use made of Abraham in later Jewish, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) Muslim thought.
From the Publisher
Best Nonfiction Jewish Book of 2012, Jewish Ideas Daily.com

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"[T]he figure of Abraham has more often been a battleground than a meeting place. This is the brilliantly elaborated theme of Levenson's book, which retells the Abraham story while examining the use made of Abraham in later Jewish, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) Muslim thought."—Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books

"Levenson, a well-known biblical studies scholar and professor of Jewish studies at Harvard, makes a contrarian argument against those who would oversimplify the differences between the three religions that claim Abraham as a seminal figure. . . . Educated general readers interested in biblical studies may be awed by how closely Levenson reads the text."Publishers Weekly

"Levenson's book will be acutely sobering for those who favor easy accommodation between traditions. . . . And no one has been more effective than Levenson in calling Christian interpreters to a more honest self-awareness."Christian Century

"[A] learned, lucid and luminous examination of the distinctive character of Abraham."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Jerusalem Post

"Written very well, argued delightfully, with deep insights, . . . Inheriting Abraham makes a superb contribution to our understanding and perception, opinion and insight, of the figure of Prophet Abraham."—Tauseef Ahmad Parray, Islam and Muslim Societies

"Levenson's literary skill and encyclopedic grasp of the exegetical traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam makes this volume a valuable exercise in comparison. But the book also makes a strong and controversial argument about what that comparison actually reveals about the role of Abraham in the relationship between the three 'Abrahamic' religions. . . . [Levenson's] study encourages us to look unflinchingly at the limits of difference and commonality within and across religious traditions."—Martin S. Jaffee, Jewish Review of Books

"The best Jewish book in each category this past year? Inheriting Abraham is the most impressive work of Jewish scholarship published during 2012. For more than three decades, Jon Levenson has been quietly developing a biblical theology that would revolutionize Jewish understanding and worship, if only more Jews were to learn of it. Inheriting Abraham is his most accessible book yet—a model of how exacting scholarship can be written for the well-educated layman."—D.G. Myers, Jewish Ideas Daily

"[E]xcellent. . . . Inheriting Abraham is informed throughout by Levenson's characteristically great learning. . . . [G]raceful and clear . . ."—Hillel Fradkin, Commentary

"Jon Levenson's superb book demonstrates that despite some simplistic and ill-conceived attempts to harmonize the three Abrahamic faiths, and some lingering supersessionist antagonisms, we live in a period remarkable for serious and thoughtful dialogue among these cousin religions. It is a dialogue grounded in responsible awareness of the complexity, beauty, and defining commitments of each one. Working from this awareness is our best hope of developing the vital mutual respect and harmony our divided world requires."—Donald Senior, Commonweal

"This well-conceived, elegantly written book traces how the figure of Abraham known from Genesis came to be understood in unique ways by the later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. While many speak of Abraham as a figure shared by these three traditions, Levenson shows how each tradition's image of Abraham reflects its own distinct theological assumptions. . . . Rather than grounding interreligious dialogue in various conceptual false cognates in hopes of finding the lowest common denominator, Levenson has led the way in showing how true interreligious understanding can be achieved only if one grasps the nuanced theological grammar of each religious tradition."Choice

"[E]asily accessible to a wide readership. . . . [Levenson's] book is a masterful corrective to the ever more popular, pat and misleading myths that have emerged under the 'Abrahamic' banner."—Allan Nadler, Moment Magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691155692
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2012
  • Series: Library of Jewish Ideas
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 633,400
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Jon D. Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University. His many books include "Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life", which won the National Jewish Book Award, and "Creation and the Persistence of Evil" (Princeton).
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

A Note on Transliteration from Hebrew xiii

Abbreviations xv

Introduction ? Who Was (and Is) Abraham? 1

Chapter One ? Call and Commission 18

Chapter Two ? Frustrations and Fulfillments 36

Chapter Three ? The Test 66

Chapter Four ? The Rediscovery of God 113

Chapter Five ? Torah or Gospel? 139

Chapter Six ? One Abraham or Three? 173

Notes 215

Index of Primary Sources 235

Index of Modern Authors 243

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