—Biblical Data:

As early as the Biblical period Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are nearly always invoked together. God remembers the covenant which He has made with the three Patriarchs, and will therefore liberate their descendants from the bonds of Egypt (Ex. ii. 24). God appears to Moses for the first time as the God of the three fathers (Ex. iii. 6); Moses shall free his brethren from oppression in the name of El Shaddai, their God (Ex. iii. 15, 16 [iv. 5, Hebr.]). When Israel sins and is driven out of the country, God will remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Lev. xxvi. 42). Elijah prays to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to work through him the miracle that shall turn Israel again to God (I Kings xviii. 36). On account of the Patriarchs God does not allow the Arameans to gain complete victory over Israel in the time of King Jehoash (II Kings xiii. 23). When the Exile is ended, says Jeremiah, then a descendant of the three Patriarchs shall again rule over Israel (xxxiii. 26). King David calls upon the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (I Chron. xxix. 18). King Hezekiah exhorts the people in the name of the God of the three Patriarchs to celebrate the Passover according to ancient custom (II Chron. xxx. 6). Only rarely are the Patriarchs named separately, as in Micah vii. 20; Isa. xxix. 22, xli. 8, li. 2, lxiii. 16; Ezek. xxxiii. 24; Ps. xlvii. 9.

  • Ph. Bergèr, Essai sur la Signification Historique des Noms des Patriarches Hébreux, in Mémoires de la Société Linguistique, 1886, vi. 150;
  • Forster, The Codices of the Patriarchs, in Pal. Explor. Fund, Quarterly Statement, xiii. 270;
  • Paton, The Historical Character of the Narratives of the Patriarchs, in Biblical World, 1893, ii. 243, 421;
  • I. Kämpf, Genealogisches und Chronologisches Bezüglich der Patriarchen, in Monatsschrift, ii. 201, 231;
  • iii. 39, 98;
  • H. Ewald, Neue Untersuchungen über den Gott der Erzvüter, in Jahrb. für Bibl. Wissenschaft, 1860, x. 1.
E. C. S. O.—In Rabbinical Literature:

"Abot," the Hebrew equivalent of the term "Patriarchs," is applied to the heads or fathers of the Jewish nation, namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Talmud distinctly says that the title "Abot" belongs only to the "Three," and the title "Amahot" (= "matriarchs") only to the "Four," namely, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah (Sem. i. 14; Ber. 16b). This definition is made to bar the sons of Jacob from being reckoned as patriarchs (Rashi, ad loc.). Accordingly all Jews are born equal and can not claim any distinction of birth.

The origin of divine devotion is traced to the Patriarchs (Ber. 26b). Hence the "'Amidah" prayer begins with the patriarchal benediction "Birkat abot". ("the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"); but it concludes with "Praised be the Lord, the shield of Abraham," as a special reference to God's promise to make for Abraham a "great name" (Gen. xii. 2; Pes. 117b). Abraham was the head of the Patriarchs; and Jews were identified as "the people of the God of Abraham" (Ps. xlvii. 9) because he was the first to recognize the true God (Suk. 49b). Jacob, however, was the most important among the Patriarchs. It required three generations to purge the impurity of the patriarch's ancestry. Thus Abraham begat Ishmael, Isaac begat Esau, but Jacob's seed were all immaculate (Shab. 146a). The development of the knowledge of God among the Patriarchs is shown by the fact that Abraham called God's sanctuary "the mount of the Lord" (Gen. xii. 14), Isaac referred to it as the "field" (ib. xxiv. 63), but Jacob named it "the house of God" (ib. xxviii. 17). Therefore the Temple of the future will be known as "the house of the God of Jacob" (Isa. ii. 3; Pes. 88a).

Zekut Abot.

As "the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," the Jews may demand special privileges (B. M. vii. 1) and have a claim to nobility. This patriarchal prestige is known as "zekut abot," relying on which Moses successfully pleaded for Israel when his personal appeal had proved unavailing (Ex. xxxii. 13; Shab. 30a). Zekut abot became a criterion whereby to distinguish the honorable pedigrees of Jews (Ber. 27b), who often traced their ancestry to some celebrated God-fearing and learned man as their "patriarch." But the Rabbis, fearing perhaps the moral consequence of reliance on the merit of the Patriarchs at the risk of neglecting personal merit and worthiness, boldly declared that zekut abot was no longer valid. Rab said that zekut abot ceased at the time of the prophet Hosea, when the latter exclaimed, "None shall deliver her out of my hand!" (Hos. ii. 10). Samuel said it ceased with Hazael, King of Syria, as the words "as yet" (= "'ad 'attah"; II Kings xiii. 23) indicated the end of the covenant with the Patriarchs. R. Joshua was of the opinion that it ended with Elijah, when he prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, saying, "Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel" (I Kings xviii. 36). R. Johanan dated its cessation from Hezekiah, quoting: "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isa. ix. 7; Shab. 55a). Thus the future of Israel would be independent of zekut abot for its salvation, relying solely on the will of God. "Though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not, thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer" (Isa. lxiii. 16; Shab. 89b). In Ezekiel's description of the just man who does only what is lawful and right "and hath not eaten upon the mountains" (Ezek. xviii. 6), the latter phrase is interpreted by R. Abba b. Ḥanina to mean "who is independent of zekut abot" (Sanh. 81a). The Talmudists went so far as to express the opinion that there are living counterparts of the Patriarchs, and pointed to R. Ḥiyya and his sons (B. M. 85b). R. Ishmael and R. Akiba were called "the patriarchs of the world" (= "abot ha-'olam"; Yer. Sheḳ. iii. 2). Nevertheless, nearly all the prayers contain more or less references to the patriarchal influence. The devotional prayers for women plead in the name of the Matriarchs, especially the "Teḥinot Amahot." But in many prayers there is a noticeable addition of the words "Our God," precedingthe phrase "God of our fathers," to indicate that sole dependence is not upon the Patriarchs.

Buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

The Patriarchs were all born in the month of Tishri, according to R. Eliezer, or in Nisan according to R. Joshua (R. H. 11a). They are buried in the cave of Machpelah. The Mohammedans had built three minarets on this cave above the supposed locations of the respective graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but the center minaret, that of Isaac, soon collapsed, and after it had been rebuilt it fell again. Since then, tradition says, the Mohammedans have abandoned the idea of replacing Isaac's minaret, as the Jews claim that Isaac, being the holiest of the Patriarchs, objects to a heathen tower over his grave.

R. Johanan claimed that the "Sefer ha-Yashar" was the record of the Patriarchs; and that when Balaam exclaimed, "Let me die the death of the righteous" (= "yesharim"; Num. xviii. 10), he referred to the Patriarchs ('Ab. Zarah 25a).

The Patriarchs are among the seven with whom God made His covenant: (1) Abraham (Gen. xv. 18), (2) Isaac (ib. xvii. 19), (3) Jacob (Lev. xxvi. 42), (4) Moses (Gen. xxxiv. 27), (5) Aaron (Num. xviii. 19), (6) Phinehas (ib. xxv. 12), and (7) David (Ps. lxxxix. 3). The Patriarchs are also among seven who, in their sepulchers, were not touched by worms or rot (Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa i. 7). Among others, the Patriarchs were not dominated by the evil spirit or by the angel of death. The Patriarchs were given a taste of paradise by being supplied with all the world's good. Abraham was blessed "in all things" ("ba-kol"; Gen. xxiv. 1); Isaac had eaten "of all" ("mi-kol"; ib. xxvii. 33); and Jacob said "I have enough" ("kol"; ib. xxxiii. 11; B. B. 17a). These words "kol," "mi-kol," "ba-kol" were inserted as a blessing in the grace after meals.

See Abraham; Isaac; Jacob; Machpelah.

W. B. J. D. E.
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