(Heb., Avraham Heb., Avram)

is the name of the progenitor of the Hebrew people. At first he is called Abram (Gn. 11.26–27, 12.1), perhaps meaning “exalted father.” (This form of the name occurs some sixty-one times in the Hebrew scriptures, all but two of them in Genesis.) Later his name becomes Abraham (Gn. 17.5), meaning “father of a multitude.” (This form of the name occurs some 175 times in the Hebrew scriptures). Abraham's story is told in Genesis 12–25. Among the many noteworthy episodes in his life were his calling (Gn. 12.1–9), his battle with the tribal kings (Gn. 14), his covenant with God (Gn. 15), and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gn. 22). His most surprising failing was his fear and deceit with regard to his wife Sarah (with Pharaoh, Gn. 12.10–20; with Abimelech, Gn. 20). In subsequent books of the Hebrew scriptures Abraham, the “friend of God” (Is. 41.8; 2 Chr. 20.7; cf. Jas. 2.23), emerges as the most venerable of all Jewish figures (Jos. 24.2–3; Is. 29.22, 51.2; Ezek. 33.24; Mi. 7.20; Sir. 44.19–23). It was this great respect for Abraham that led to much of the interpretation and embellishment found in later Jewish and Christian sources.

Abraham is often mentioned as the ideal example of Jewish piety and orthodoxy; his election is a subject of great interest in many of these sources. Whereas Abraham's virtues and accomplishments are often greatly magnified, his failings are explained or even justified. Although by no means a major character in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Abraham does figure significantly in a few passages.

The name Abraham (or Abram) is found some eighty times (including restorations) in the Dead Sea Scrolls published thus far. About one third of these occurrences are found in the Genesis Apocryphon (where he is called Abram). These appearances in the Scrolls cohere with other early Jewish traditions.

Abraham in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There are three extended treatments of the figure of Abraham among the Dead Sea Scrolls. One is found in the Commentary on Genesis A (4Q252), a fragmentary Hebrew scroll; another is in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen, 1Q20), a poorly preserved Aramaic scroll; and the third is found in Pseudo-Jubileesa (4Q225), a paraphrase of portions of Genesis and Exodus. All three scrolls are similar to Jubilees in that they are dependent on Genesis, yet they take certain liberties with the text. This is especially so in the Genesis Apocryphon.

Commentary on Genesis A.

According to the Commentary on Genesis A (4Q252), God “gave the land to Abraham, his beloved. Terah was one hundred and [for]ty years old when he left Ur of the Chaldees and came to Haran; and Ab[ram was se]venty years old. Abram lived five years in Haran, and afterwards [Abram] went [to] the land of Canaan” (4Q252 1.ii.8–10). At this point the text breaks off, making it impossible to discern what interpretive slant, if any, might have been given to the story. Column iii (6–7) treats briefly the events of Genesis 22: “Abraham stretched out his hand … your only …,” but again too little of the scroll has been preserved.

Genesis Apocryphon.

Columns ii, xii, and xix–xxii of the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) are substantially preserved. Column xviii, which is lost, probably introduced Abram, who becomes the principal figure in the remainder of the scroll. Columns i–xvii had dealt with the ancient patriarchs, leading up to Noah. The surviving portion of column xix begins with Abram's building an altar and confessing that God is eternal. Sometime later, famine forces Abram to travel to Egypt. But shortly after entering the country, he has a dream: “And I, Abram, had a dream in the night of my entering into the land of Egypt and I saw in my dream [that there wa]s a cedar, and a date palm (which was) [very beautif]ul; and some men came intending to cut down and uproot the cedar but leave the date palm by itself. Now the date palm remonstrated and said, ‘Do not cut down the cedar, for we are both from one family.’ So the cedar was spared with the help of the date palm, and [it was] not [cut down]” (xix.14–16). Perhaps attempting to mitigate the patriarch's deception, the dream, in which Abram is the cedar and Sarah the date palm, implies that Abram's life was in danger and that Abram and Sarah (or Sarai) were blood relatives. The story goes on to tell of Pharaoh Zoan's infatuation with the beautiful Sarah and the adventure to which this leads. There is nothing about the Genesis Apocryphon that suggests that it was composed at Qumran or by an Essene.


Perhaps the most interesting paraphrase of the story of Abraham is found in Pseudo-Jubileesa (4Q225). Most of the extant material is concerned with “[the covenant that] was made with Abraham” (1.4). According to this scroll, God tested Abraham in Genesis 22 because of “Prince Mastemah” (2.i.9–11). The introduction of Mastemah, who is Satan (he is called Belial in 2.ii.14), coheres with Jewish interpretive lore found elsewhere (cf. Jub. 17.15–16; B.T., San. 89b) and probably owes its origin to Job 1.6–12.

Abraham in Jewish Piety and Theology.

There are several important aspects of Abraham's life that became foundational for later Jewish ideas regarding piety. Abraham's faith, moreover, is viewed as exemplary and informs later Jewish and Christian doctrine concerning righteousness and justification (being declared righteous or guiltless by God).

Conversion of Abraham.

The Damascus Document presents Abraham as the ideal convert and supreme example of a proselyte. This is because “Abraham did not walk in (the stubbornness of his heart), but was counted as a friend for keeping the precepts of God and not following the desire of his spirit. And he passed (the precepts) on to Isaac and to Jacob” (CD iii.2–3). Appropriately, the true faith may be called the “covenant of Abraham” (CD xii.11; cf. 4Q225 1.4). This idea is followed up later in the Damascus Document. “And on the day which a man undertakes to be converted to the Law of Moses, the angel of hostility will depart from him if he fulfills his promises. For this reason Abraham circumcised himself on the day of his knowledge” (CD xvi.4–6). The scrolls offer other references to the life and example of Abraham, but the fragmentary condition of the materials makes it impossible to tell what points are being made.

God's election of Abraham.

Several explanations in Jewish lore and legend are given for God's election of Abraham (Jub. 12.12–22; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 1.7.1, 154–157; Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities, 6.1–8.3; Ap. Ab. 8.1–6). All these traditions, which introduce fire in various ways, are ultimately based on a wordplay involving “Ur of the Chaldees.” Vocalized differently, it can mean “fire of the Chaldees” (cf. Tg. Neofiti Gn. 11.31).

The Dead Sea Scrolls may shed light on Paul's emphasis on faith and how it is supported by what is said of Abraham in Genesis 15.1–6. According to Paul, “one is not justified by works of the Law [erga nomou] but through faith … thus, Abraham ‘believed [episteusen] God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [elogisthē autō eis dikaiosunēn]’” (Gal. 2.16, 3.6). According to Pseudo-Jubileesb (4Q226), “Abraham was recognized as faithful to [G]o[d … ] that he might be accepted. And the Lord blessed [him … ]” (7.1–2). The word translated as “faithful” is from the same root as the word “believe” in Genesis 15.6. Pseudo-Jubileesb is saying that Abraham's faith led to his acceptance. Here we seem to have agreement with Paul's position. But in Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah (MMT; 4Q394–399) a different understanding of Genesis 15.6 is expressed, possibly very similar to the one opposed by Paul. Near the end of the letter the author writes: “Now, we have written to you some of the works of the Law, those which we determined would be beneficial for you and your people…. And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before him, to your own benefit and to that of Israel” (4Q398 2.ii.2–3, 7–8 = 4Q399 1.i.10–11; 1.ii.4–5). The words “will be reckoned to you as righteousness” echo Genesis 15.6. Yet it is performing the “works of the Law” (ma῾asei ha-torah = erga [tou] nomou in Greek) that will lead to one's being reckoned as righteous before God. This concept may parallel 1 Maccabees 2.51–52: “and remember the works [ta erga] of the fathers, which they did in their time, and received great honor and an eternal name. Was not Abraham found faithful [pistos] when tempted, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?” These materials, especially as seen in MMT, probably reflect the theology against which Paul so vigorously argues in Galatians.

[See also Genesis Apocryphon; Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah; and Sarah.]


  • Evans, Craig A. “The Genesis Apocryphon and the Rewritten Bible.” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988), 153–165.
    Compares the rewriting techniques of the Genesis Apocryphon with those of other writings, such as Jubilees and Josephus's Jewish Antiquities
  • Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I: A Commentary. Biblica et Orientalia, 2d. ed., vol. 18a. Rome 1966.
    Critical study; provides Aramaic text, English translation, and notes on the Genesis Apocryphon
  • Kuiper, G. J. “A Study of the Relationship between A Genesis Apocryphon and the Pentateuchal Targumim in Genesis 14.1–12.” In In memoriam Paul Kahle, edited by Matthew Black and Georg Fohrer, pp. 149–161. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 103. Berlin, 1968.
  • Lehman, Manfred R. “1Q Genesis Apocryphon in the Light of the Targumim and Midrashim.” Revue de Qumrân 1 (1958–1958), 249–263.
  • Millard, Alan R. “Abraham.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, vol. 1, pp. 35–41. New York, 1992. Helpful overview of major issues.
  • Qimron, Elisha. “Towards a New Edition of the Genesis Apocryphon.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 10 (1992), 11–18.
    Observes that new photographic techniques will enable scholars to produce a better and fuller edition of the Genesis Apocryphon
  • Steiner, Richard C. “The Heading of the Book of the Words of Noah on a Fragment of the Genesis Apocryphon: New Light on a ‘Lost’ Work.” Dead Sea Discoveries 2 (1995), 66–71.
    Discusses the words ktb mly nwḥ, concluding that they should be read “the book of the words of Noah.”
  • van Seters, John. Abraham in History and Tradition. New Haven, 1975.
    Scholarly study of the stories of Abraham in Genesis
  • Wacholder, Ben Zion. “How Long Did Abram Stay in Egypt?: A Study in Hellenistic, Qumran, and Rabbinic Chronology.” Hebrew Union College Annual 35 (1964), 43–56.

Craig A. Evans