Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Fatherhood

First Things, December 1994.


My theme is the education of the patriarch Abraham, Father of Judaism, father of Christianity, father of Islam. God Himself undertakes Abraham’s education in order to address and to overcome the natural psychic and social human obstacles to righteous and reverent living, obstacles amply displayed in the pre-Abrahamic stories of Genesis. Abraham, the new man, is to be the founder of a new nation steeped in God’s new way, which this nation is to carry as a light unto all the nations of the world. The new way entails rightful conduct toward and rightful relations with members of one’s household, members of the tribe, strangers and members of other nations, and the divine. I have taken as my focus Abraham’s education in matters domestic: in the first part of this essay. (First Things, November), the meaning of wife; here, the closely connected meaning of fatherhood. Educating the father of his people means, in the first instance, educating him to be a proper husband and father; for the perpetuation of God’s new way will depend not on a fortuitous succession of naturally virtuous men and women but on the proper rearing of the young in every generation to the task of transmitting their moral and spiritual heritage.

First Things