Between 2000 B.C. and 500 B.C., small kingdoms arose in southwestern Asia. Among them was the kingdom of the Israelites, the ancestors of the Jewish people. The Israelites contributed greatly to the religious and cultural ideas of ancient peoples of southwestern Asia. Many people look to the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, as the source for information about the Israelites. Modern scholars, using the Bible, other ancient writings, and archaeological findings, have added to our understanding of these people.
Many people all over the world trace their identity as a people to a man named Abram. Scholars believe that Abram may have lived at about the time of Hammurabi. According to the Bible, Abram was born in the Sumerian city of Ur.
The Mesopotamians, like most early people, worshipped many gods. They prayed to one god for water, another god for good harvests, and still another for both love and war. The Mesopotamians also thought of the sun, the moon, and the winds as gods.
Unlike their neighbors Abram and his family worshipped one God. Belief in one God is called monotheism. According to the Bible, God spoke to Abram, saying, "Leave your country, your people, and your father's house and go to the land I will show you."
Abram left southern Mesopotamia and traveled north to Haran along with his family. After living for a while in Haran, Abram and his family continued their journey. This time they traveled first west and then south into the land of Canaan until they reached a place called Shechem (SHEH»kuhm). It was there, according to the Bible, that Abram heard God say, "I will give this land to your children." The Bible tells that Abram made a covenant, or special agreement, with God. In the covenant, Abram promised to be faithful to God and God promised to give Abram's descendants the land of Canaan. As a sign of his promise, Abram changed his name to Abraham. The name means "father of many nations." Abraham became known as the father of the Jewish people through his son Isaac and the father of the Arab people through his son Ishmael.
Hozv did Abraham's religious beliefs differ from the beliefs of other people of Mesopotamia?