Chapter 12:1 of Genesis bluntly introduced the narrative between Abraham and God with simply:

The LORD (YHWH) had said to Abraham...

No information was given about the religious life of Abraham and his family. Nor how they came to know about YHWH. Chaldea was known, from archaeology, to have been a polytheistic culture, with many false gods.

So, from whence came Abraham's familiarity with the LORD? Did he learn of YHWH, up in Haran, from some clan of the Canaanites? Abraham was so confident in the YHWH religion that he responded immediately to the LORD's command. But where did this confidence (faith) come from? What could have happened in Haran that introduced Abraham to God--not just any god, but the LORD?

  • 1
    Josh. 24:2 does tell us that Abr.'s father was an idolater. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 22:37
  • Pretty sure things like this are explained in the Talmud (in Oral component of the Torah).
    – setszu
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 0:29
  • @setszu-Thanks for the reference; will check them out, and they would be interesting. But the two Talmuds were written down in C.E. , two thousands years afterward. So would they be considered "secondary sources"? Besides the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, are the Talmuds all we have to go by? Other rabbinical commentaries?
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 0:41

4 Answers 4


In Acts 7:1-4, Stephen addresses the Sanhedrin:

1 The high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And he said, “Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living. (NASB)

1 Now the high priest (probably Caiaphas, see 4:6) asked [Stephen], “Are these charges true?” 2 And he answered, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory [the Shekinah, the radiance of God] appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and He said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives, and come to the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. And from there, after his father died, God sent him to this country in which you now live. (AMP)

Abram didn't fully obey God because he didn't leave his relatives, he took practically the whole mishpocha with him! The Talmud says that Terah worshipped no less than 12 deities. After Terah died, God sent Abram to the land which He had promised to show him.

  • Gen 12:4 "So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him". Not quite. He took Lot and everyone else with him. Contradiction? No, maybe more like, we get the end of the story right at the beginning (he obeyed) then we get the details of how difficult it actually was for Abram to obey God. He didn't really know what he was getting himself into.
    – moron
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 4:25

The OP has answered his own question - it was the LORD who took the initiative, NOT Abraham. This is typical of God's encounters with the prophets - God appointed the prophets. There is not any prophet who simply decided to become a prophet. For example:

  • it was God who initiated the encounter with Noah in Gen 6:13, and initiated the Noahide covenant in Gen 8:22-9:17 ("God established the covenant ... ", V17)
  • it was God who initiated the encounter with Moses in Ex 3 (who was very reluctant to be called!!)
  • it was God who initiated the encounter with Isaac in Gen 26:2
  • it was God who initiated the encounter with Jacob in Gen 28:12ff
  • it was God who initiated the encounter with Samuel in 1 Sam 3
  • it was God who initiated the encounter with all the judges of Israel throughout the book of Judges (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson, etc)
  • It was God who took the initiative in anointing and calling David to the throne of Israel, 1 Sam 16.
  • etc, etc.

Thus, we should not be surprised that it was God who took the initiative in speaking to Abraham

  • 1
    Initiative True, God is active in redemptive history. But we wonder "how" and in "what" form that initiative occurred. What were the circumstances? Right out of the blue, God showed up? Inquisitive minds want to know!
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 23:00
  • 6
    @raygrant - that we are not told, so we do not know.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 23:34
  • 2
    @raygrant God's glory appeared to Abraham (acts 7:2). That would certainly be enough to gain Abe's attention. Moses only got to see the backside. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 13:15
  • There was no written word of God then, like we have today, so God had no choice but to make miraculous appearances to those He called. Whatever it was, it probably would seem far more mind blowing to us today than it was to people back then. People in general had more knowledge of God then than we have today.
    – moron
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 4:34

Gen. 4:26 tells us

To Seth also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

From this we know that at least some knowledge of the LORD was available to fallen humanity even before the Flood. Moreover, Abraham was a descendant of Noah's son Shem. Civilizations that originated from Shem may have preserved the LORD's name and the story of God's saving them from the Flood, even though many of them fell into idolatry. Indeed, if we take the biblical timeline literally, Noah was still living when Abraham was born.

The story of Noah was known to the people of Mesopotamia through legends such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, although in that culture it was told in a polytheistic context. We cannot know for certain what Abraham understood about his ancestor Noah or if the name of the LORD was mentioned along with the other gods when Abraham heard the story of the Flood as boy. What spiritual and psychological process did Abraham go though in relation to his cultural surroundings and his family? Joshua 24:2 says that Abraham's father was an idolater, and rabbinical tradition tells of a stormy relationship between the two over the issue of idolatry even before God called Abraham to move away from Ur.

From the above we can imagine that at least some knowledge of the LORD was inherited by Abraham from his ancestral culture dating back to Noah through Shem. Jewish tradition holds that Abraham had a strong conscience and an ardent passion for the LORD even before he was called, to the extent that he even destroyed his father's idols. But as far as the biblical text itself goes, we only know that - whatever course Abraham might of traveled in his search for religious truth - at some point, God called him.

  • @DanFefferman-Excelent point: cultural history provides several possibilities for understanding the milieu Abraham was raised in. But as one answer pointed out (Acts 7:2), it took a special "appearance" by God to put Abraham on the straight path of holiness. One still wonders "what kind" of appearance it was: physical Christophany (Angel of the LORD), dream, vision, Damascus-type encounter, etc.? Whichever, it was convincing. For which all nations are to be thankful and grateful (Galatians 3:8, Acts 3:25).
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 22:50

I can only answer this from my own faith tradition. We believe in a book called The Book of Abraham. Abraham chapter 1 gives an explanation to your question.

1 In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;

2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

28 But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.

31 But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.

By this account, certain records from the fathers (perhaps Noah, Enoch, etc.) had come into Abraham's hands and from these scriptural accounts he learned about God and developed faith in Him.

  • 2
    This is not a Biblical answer as this "text" is not part of the Bible.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 22:07
  • 2
    "other sources, I'm not sure how this is different." It would be interesting to bring this up on the Meta site if it has not been done so already. Notwithstanding what @Dottard might say, I think the issue is that the answer in its entirety is premised on a non-authoritative, derivative, non-biblical source devoid of actual references to the Bible. It might be hard for this to be otherwise, though, since it is not clear that the underlying question itself has anything to do with Hermeneutics. Make sure you notify a user, with prefix @, when you address his comment.Lastly, I did not downvote. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 9:32
  • 4
    This was not my downvote either. However, while no one objects to non-Biblical sources being quoted, one does expect an answer contain some Biblical content relevant to the question. This has no such content.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 10:07
  • 2
    @irrational-I'm not sure how this is different With all due respects, the difference is in the presentation of the writings. Scholars know that the Pseudepigrapha contains false statements (literary devices, and imagery), hence that genre begins with "Pseudo..." However, The Book of Abraham ,which is a piece of Mormon hierology, purports to be a "factual" rendition of the history of Abraham. But, in fact, it is a fictional narrative (novel) written in the early 1800s by Joseph Smith (and Rigdon Spaulding?) The uneducated, creative young man did not know Ancient history...
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 21:02
  • 4
    The opening paragraph of the site Tour says: "We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist, and other viewpoints, as long as they take seriously the process of understanding Biblical texts. Answers are welcome to be diverse and must always explain the hermeneutical process, quoting Biblical texts and citing sources for facts." This answer is interesting and useful, although it may not meet the criterion of explaining the hermeneutical process other than to cite the Book of Abraham. I encourage @irrational to keep trying. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 21:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.