A wide-ranging biography of the patriarch and prophet who sallied forth from Mesopotamia swinging an iconoclastic hammer and earning himself a hallowed place in three world religions.
Biblical scholars have puzzled over Abram/Abraham for generations, debating whether he really wandered thousands of miles to preach a vision of the one true God and if he nearly sacrificed his son Isaac or actually did sacrifice the boy. (“A thread of tradition hints that the Binding of Isaac, contrary to what the Bible seems to say, did not end happily,” observes the author.) Former National Review editor Klinghoffer (The Lord Will Gather Me In, not reviewed) does a good job of sorting out the many, often conflicting interpretations. He assumes, with due qualification, that Abraham was a real person, born near Baghdad some 38 centuries ago, not long before Nimrod decreed that a ziggurat be built to storm the heavens and make war on God. Though he protests that he is not a fundamentalist, Klinghoffer seems to accept that the key events in Abraham’s life went pretty much as the Old Testament would have it. The author’s view of the prophet is appropriately awestruck, though he accords Abraham a full measure of humanity and mortal failings, all complicated by “a somewhat difficult wife” and a rather testy, unforgiving nature. Klinghoffer assumes that monotheism is a true and good thing in itself, venturing to suggest that believers in God writ large are ipso facto more moral than animists or polytheists. He also assumes, and here his argument grows a bit fuzzy, that “the household of Abraham” offers the one paradigm that can get Jews, Christians, and Muslims to stop killing one another in the name of God—a bit of wishful thinking that Bruce Feiler’s tougher-minded Abraham (2002) eschews.
Fruitful if sometimes exasperating: worthy of shelf space next to Jack Miles’s God and Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism.