Scala/Art Resource, NY

“Separate yourself from me” (Genesis 13:9), Abraham, left of center, tells his nephew Lot, at right, when the land they share can no longer support them both. Isaac, at far left, leads Abraham, the elderly Sarah, Hagar and the rest of their household to Canaan, while the bearded Lot directs his two daughters, wife and servants toward Sodom. The presence of Isaac, however, is an anachronism; at this point in the story, he has not yet been born. Dating to about 430 C.E., “The Parting of Abraham and Lot” from the nave of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome belongs to the oldest extant cycle of mosaics depicting biblical subjects.

Until Lot moves away, Abraham treats his nephew as his son and probably considers him his heir. Through Lot, Abraham hopes to fulfill God’s vow to make him “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). When Lot departs, Abraham continues to search for his own successor, but he ultimately learns that he must rely on God for an heir.