What was Abram’s religious understanding prior to hearing and responding to the call of YHWH? The moon God Sin and his daughter Inanna were the patron deities of Ur and the names given to Abram’s family members seem to reflect homage to this Akkadian/Sumerian pantheon. Perhaps this is the reason God changes the names of Abram and Sarai after they enter into covenant with Him.
However, consider this account from the Hebrew Talmud;
Once Terah left his son Abram in his shop to sell the idols which he had fashioned. An old man wished to buy a fresh idol for his birthday. Abram said: “Here is a new idol, completed this very day. Do you not think that you are of more importance than a god a day old?” The greybeard left in confusion, and Abram did not sell the idol.
“You are incompetent as a salesman,” said Terah. “I shall try you out as a priest.” Abram asked his mother to prepare a tasty dish for the idols. He then took an axe, smashed all the idols with the exception of the largest one, in whose hand he placed the axe. When Terah returned, Abram said: “The large idol became incensed at the presumption of the others in wishing to partake of the food before him, and he smashed them.” Terah was angry at this conduct on the part of his son and informed King Nimrod that he had desecrated the temple. Nimrod asked Abram: “Why do you not worship my god?”
“Is it an idol of wood or stone that you mean? If so, how can I worship that which I have seen made before my eyes?” replied Abram.
“Nay, those are for fools. My god is the consuming fire that gives light and destroys,” said Nimrod.
“But how can fire be god if water quenches it?” asked Abram.
“Then worship water,” commanded the king.
“But a cloud is mightier, carrying water where it wills.”
“Worship the cloud then.”
“But the wind is stronger, for it disperses the clouds.”
“Then worship wind.”
“But man withstands wind, and I cannot worship man because death overcomes him.”
“I still maintain that fire is god,” said Nimrod. “I shall hurl you into a cauldron of fire, and then you may be saved by whatever you worship as god.”
Abram was thrown to the flames, but they harmed him not. Nevertheless Nimrod was stubborn in his idolatry.
(Bereshit Rabbah, 38,19)
- Idolatry – Select Quotes
- God’s Name in the 10 Commandments
- Paradise and Gehenna According to the Talmud and Midrash