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Abraham

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac by Laurent de La Hyre, 1650

The Binding of Isaac, in Genesis 22:1-24, is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah.

The narration is referred to as the Akedah (עקדה) or Akedat Yitzchak (עקידת יצחק) in Hebrew and as the Dhabih (ذبح) in Arabic. The sacrifice itself is called an Olah in Hebrew — for the significance of sacrifices, especially in Biblical times, see korban.

According to the narration, Abraham sets out to obey God's command without questioning. After Isaac is bound to an altar, the angel of God stops Abraham at the last minute, at which point Abraham discovers a ram caught in some nearby bushes. Abraham then sacrifices the ram in Isaac's stead.

While it is often imagined that Isaac was a young little child upon arrival to the setting of the Altar, some traditional sources claim he was an adult (This is because at 13 in Judaism you are considered an adult and Isaac was 13). According to the Book of Genesis Isaac was 13; the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac is thirty-seven, likely based on the next Biblical story, which is of Sarah's death at 127 (she was ninety when Isaac was born).

Genesis 22:14 states that it occurred at "the mount of the LORD": in 2 Chronicles 3:1; Psalm 24:3; Isaiah 2:3 & 30:29; and Zechariah 8:3, the Bible seems to identify the location of this event as the hill on which Solomon later built the Temple, now known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Jewish responses

File:IsaacWindow.jpg

The majority of Jewish Biblical commentators argue that God was testing Abraham to see if he would actually kill his own son, as a test of his loyalty. However, a number of Jewish Biblical commentators from the mediæval era, and many in the modern era, do not agree with this notion. They read the text in another way.

The early rabbinic midrash Genesis Rabbah imagines God as saying "I never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac (using the Hebrew root letters for "slaughter", not "sacrifice")". Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God demanded only a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early 14th century) wrote that Abraham's "imagination" led him astray, making him believe that he had been commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes "How could God command such a revolting thing?" But according to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples," and suggests that "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it." Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. "Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required." In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech "had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination."

Other rabbinic scholars also note that Abraham was willing to do everything to spare his son, even if it meant going against the divine command: while it was God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, it was an angel, a lesser being in the celestial hierarchy, that commanded him to stop. However, the actions and words of angels (from the Greek for "messenger") are generally understood to derive directly from God's will, and indeed, the angel in question speaks as if he were God Himself.

In some later Jewish writings, most notably those of the Hasidic masters, the theology of a "divine test" is rejected, and the sacrifice of Isaac is interpreted as a "punishment" for Abraham's earlier "mistreatment" of Ishmael, his elder son, whom he expelled from his household at the request of his wife, Sarah. According to this view, Abraham failed to show compassion for his son, so God punished him by ostensibly failing to show compassion for Abraham's son. This is a somewhat flawed theory, however, since the Bible says that God agreed with Sarah, and it was only at His insistence that Abraham actually had Ishmael leave. In The Last Trial, Shalom Spiegel argues that these commentators were interpreting the Biblical narration as an implicit rebuke against Christianity's claim that God would sacrifice His own son.

The Tzemach Tzedek[1] cites a question asked by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk: At first glance, this appears to have been mainly a test of Isaac, for he was the one to be giving up his life al kiddush Hashem (in order to sanctify God’s Name). But if that is so, why does the Torah state (Gen. 22:1) that God meant to test Abraham, and omits Isaac?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel answers that although it is a very great Mitzvah to give up one’s life, it is unremarkable in the annals of Jewish history. Even the most unlettered and “ordinary” Jews would surrender their lives in martyrdom. Thus, as great a Mitzvah as it is, this test is considered trivial for someone of the spiritual stature of Isaac, who, as one of our forefathers, was likened to God’s “chariot” (Gen. Rabba 47:6) for he served as a vehicle for the divine traits of kindness, strictness, and compassion.

Rather, at the binding the main one tested was Abraham. It was a test of faith to see whether he would doubt God's words. Abraham had been assured by God that “Your seed will be called through Isaac” (Gen. 21:12), i.e., Isaac (and not Ishmael) would father a great nation—the Jewish people. However, Abraham could apparently have asked a very glaring question: At the time that God commanded him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, Isaac was still single, and if Isaac would die now, how could he possibly father the nation which was to be born from Abraham? Moreover, isn’t God eternal and unchanging, as God declares: “I have not changed” (Malachi 3:6), implying that He does not change His mind?

Yet Abraham paid no attention to this altogether logical question. Instead, he dismissed it totally from his consciousness, and believed with pure and simple faith that if this is what God was telling him to do now, this was surely the right thing to do. It was passing this test that was remarkable even for someone of Abraham’s stature.

In The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders & Kabbalah, Lippman Bodoff argues that Abraham never intended to actually sacrifice his son, and that he had faith that God had no intention that he do so.

Others suggest[who?] that Abraham's apparent complicity with the sacrifice was actually his way of testing God. Abraham had previously argued with God to save lives in Sodom and Gomorrah. By silently complying with God's instructions to kill Isaac, Abraham was putting pressure on God to act in a moral way to preserve life. More evidence that Abraham thought that he won't actually sacrifice Isaac comes from Genesis 22:5, where Abraham said to his servants, "You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you." By saying that we (as opposed to I), he meant that both he and Isaac will return. Thus, he didn't believe that Isaac would be sacrificed in the end [2]

In The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides argues that the story of the Binding of Isaac contains two "great notions." First, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac demonstrates the limit of humanity's capability to both love and fear God. Second, because Abraham acted on a prophetic vision of what God had asked him to do, the story exemplifies how prophetic revelation has the same truth value as philosophical argument and thus carries equal certainty, notwithstanding the fact that it comes in a dream or vision.[3]

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, in the Baroque tenebrist manner.

Christian responses

The Binding of Isaac is mentioned in the New Testament Book of Hebrews among many acts of faith recorded in the Old Testament:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. (Hebrews 11:17–19, NKJV)

The Author of Hebrews here considers Abraham's faith in God to be of such a magnitude that he felt reassured that if God would allow him to perform the task which he'd requested, God would be able to resurrect the slain Isaac, in order that his prophecy (Genesis 21:12) might be fulfilled. Such faith in God's word and in his promise lead this particular Old Testament passage to be regarded by many Christians as an incredibly significant (and exemplary) one.

Early Christian preaching sometimes simply received Jewish interpretations of the binding of Isaac without elaborating on them. For example Hippolytus of Rome says in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, "The blessed Isaac became desirous of the anointing and he wished to sacrifice himself for the sake of the world" (On the Song 2:15).[4] Since other Christians from the period saw Isaac as a type of the "Word of God" who prefigured Christ (Origen, Homilies on Genesis 11–13), it is easy to see how early Christian interpreters might have made sense of this Jewish tradition. The majority of Christian Biblical commentators hold this whole episode to be an archetype of the way that God works; this event is seen as prefiguring God's plan to have his own Son, Jesus, die on the cross as a substitute for humanity, much like the ram God provided for Abraham. And Abraham's willingness to give up his own son Isaac is seen, in this view, as foreshadowing the willingness of God the Father to sacrifice his Son; also contrasted is Isaac's submission in the whole ordeal with Christ's, the two choosing to lay down their own lives in order for the will of God to be accomplished, as no struggle is mentioned in the Genesis account. Indeed, both stories portray the participants carrying the wood for their own sacrifice up a mountain.

There has been speculation within Christianity whether the Binding occurred upon the Temple Mount or upon Calvary, the hill upon which Christ was crucified, which is in the vicinity. Genesis 22:2 states that it occurred "in the region of Moriah" and not necessarily upon the Temple Mount, specifically. Some Christians view Abraham's statement in 22:14, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided," as a prophecy that upon this spot God would provide the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.

An alternate interpretation contains the proposition that Calvary was on a section of Mount Moriah, the temple mount, which has subsequently been divided from the main part for the purpose of defending Jerusalem. Following this and the unproven indication that the mountain of Isaac's Sacrifice is the Temple Mount. As such the crucifixion would occur on the same mountain. Again this supports the prophetic nature of Genesis 22:14 and also in Isaiahs[where?] comment "You did not desire sacrifice, but a body you prepared for me" which is a strong reference to Abrahams sacrifice.

Muslim responses

Fresco Binding of Isaac (Persian)

Fresco with image of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son in Shiraz

Muslims believe that it was Ishmael rather than Isaac whom Abraham was told to sacrifice. Some say that God would not have asked for the sacrifice after He has foretold Abraham and Sarah the glad tidings of Isaac and his offspring (Quran 11:71; 15:53, 37:112 etc). Others note that Genesis 22:2, despite specifying Isaac, states that Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son, so they believe this took place with Ishmael before Isaac was born, and that the name of Ishmael was later[when?] replaced by Isaac though this can also be interpreted as God's recognition of Isaac as the legitimate son.

37:101–113 (Pickthall). “So We gave him tidings of a gentle son.§ And when (his son) was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee. So look, what thinkest thou? He said: O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast.§ Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face,§ We called unto him: O Abraham!§ Thou hast already fulfilled the vision. Lo! thus do We reward the good.§ Lo! that verily was a clear test.§ Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim.§ And We left for him among the later folk (the salutation):§ Peace be unto Abraham!§ Thus do We reward the good.§ Lo! he is one of Our believing slaves.§ And we gave him tidings of the birth of Isaac, a prophet of the righteous.§ And We blessed him and Isaac. And of their seed are some who do good, and some who plainly wrong themselves.§

Muslims consider that visions experienced by prophets are revelations from God, and as such it was a divine order to Abraham. The entire episode of the sacrifice is regarded as a trial of God for Abraham and his son, and both are seen as having passed the test by submitting to God and showing their awareness that God is the Owner and Giver of all that we have and cherish, including life and offspring. The submission of Abraham and his son is celebrated and commemorated by Muslims on the days of Eid al-Adha Sacrifice festival. During the festival, those who can afford and the ones in the pilgrimage sacrifice a ram, cow, sheep or a camel. Part of the sacrifice meat is eaten by the household and remaining is distributed to the neighbor and the needy. The festival happens in the pilgrimage hajj season. The well-known site of Marwah (Arabic مروة) may be identified with the biblical Moriah (Hebrew מוריה) in Gn 22:2. The belief of Muslims in the sacrifice of Ishmael and not Isaac is strengthened by the above verse of Koran in which God gave merry tidings to Abraham of another son after he stood successful in the test of subjugation to God's will.

Modern-day interpretations

Biblical philologists commonly ascribe the Binding's narrative to the biblical source E, on the grounds that it generally uses God (אלוהים) for the deity, and also parallels characteristic E compositions. On that view, the second angelic appearance to Abraham (v. 14–18), praising his obedience and blessing his offspring, is in fact a later interpolation to E’s original account (v.1-13, 19). This is supported by the style and composition of these verses, as well as by the use of YHWH (יהוה) for the deity.[5] More recent studies question this analysis. It is argued that Abraham’s obedience to God’s command in fact necessitates praise and blessing, which he only receives in the second angelic speech.[6] That speech, therefore, could not have been simply interpolated into E’s original account. This has suggested to many that the author responsible for the interpolation of the second angelic appearance has left his mark also on the original account (v. 1-13-19).[7] More recently it has been suggested that these traces are in fact the first angelic appearance (v. 11–12), in which the Angel of YHWH stops Abraham before he kills Isaac.[8] The style and composition of these verses resemble that of the second angelic speech, and YHWH is used for the deity rather than God. On that reading, in the original E version of the Binding Abraham disobeys God’s command, sacrificing the ram “instead of his son” (v.13) on his own responsibility and without being stopped by an angel: "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son; but Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked and beheld, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went, and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son" (v. 10,13). By interpolating the first appearance of the angel, a later redactor shifted responsibility for halting the test from Abraham to the angel (v. 11–12); due to that shift of responsibility, the second angelic appearance, in which Abraham is rewarded for his obedience (v. 14–18), became necessary. This analysis of the story sheds light on the connection between the Binding and the story of Sodom (Genesis 18), in which Abraham protests against God's unethical plan to destroy the city, without distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked: "Far be it from you to do such a thing.. Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?" Abraham's ethical rebellion against God in Sodom culminates in his disobedience to God, refusing to sacrifice Isaac.[9]

The Binding also figures prominently in the writings of several of the more important modern theologians, such as Søren Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling and Shalom Spiegel in The Last Trial. Jewish communities regularly review this literature, for instance the recent mock trial held by more than 600 members of the University Synagogue of Orange County, California.[10] Jacques Derrida also looks at the story of the sacrifice as well as Kierkegaard's reading in The Gift of Death.

In Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, the literary critic Erich Auerbach considers the Hebrew narrative of the Binding of Isaac, along with Homer's description of Odysseus's scar, as the two paradigmatic models for the representation of reality in literature. Auerbach contrasts Homer's attention to detail and foregrounding of the spatial, historical, as well as personal contexts for events to the Bible's sparse account, in which virtually all context is kept in the background or left outside of the narrative. As Auerbach observes, this narrative strategy virtually compels readers to add their own interpretations to the text.

The binding of Isaac in art

The binding of Isaac in literature

  • Faith by Christopher Smart
  • Abraham to kill him by Emily Dickinson
  • Abraham Instate by Amy Meckler
  • The Sacrifice by Adele Wiseman
  • "Sarah's Story" by Galina Vromen interprets the story from the Sarah's point of view
  • There are six English mystery plays that deal with the binding of Isaac: The Northampton Abraham, The Brome play of Abraham and Isaac, and plays from the surviving mystery cycles of Chester, N-Town, Wakefield, and York
  • The binding of Isaac also features in the Cornish language Ordinalia
  • Fear and Trembling: 1843 philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard. Explores the ethical implications of Abraham's act, tries to place it in his contemporary world, and distills from this an admirable picture of how a "knight of faith" is more than just someone who knows the rules of religion. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, but this submission to the will of God was not where he stopped, for he believed that he would have him back: he trusted the "absurd" — a trust that is a paradox, beyond ethics and intellectual comprehension. It develops the leap of faith, that faith is separate from religious or empirical knowledge, and thus always "absurd".
  • The Parable of the Old Man and the Young: 1920 poem by Wilfred Owen. It used the binding of Isaac, altered to a successful slaughter, as an allusive metaphor for World War I.
  • Without Feathers: 1975 book by Woody Allen. Contains an essay (The Scrolls) that humorously re-tells the Binding of Isaac. Excerpt embedded in speech
  • Roderick: 1980 satiric science fiction novel by John Sladek. The title character offends and confuses the teachers at his Catholic school when he creates a flow chart to document the various ways that the Binding of Isaac could have been played out, as well as their possible meanings.
  • Hyperion: 1989 science fiction novel by Dan Simmons. The novel is first in the science-fiction series Hyperion Cantos. One of the characters, Sol Weintraub, ponders the binding of Isaac in relation to his own problem of being told by a voice to take his daughter Rachel to the planet Hyperion and offer her to the Time Tombs, publishing a number of widely-read works on the ethical dilemma. In The Fall of Hyperion, Weintraub concludes (after giving his daughter to the Shrike) that the answer is that Abraham was testing God, not the other way around: if God had allowed the sacrifice, then he would thereby have proven that he was not to be worshipped.
  • Testament: 2005 comic book by Douglas Rushkoff. The binding of Isaac is directly paralleled by a father refusing to implant an RFID chip into his adolescent son and putting it into the family dog instead.
  • The Lost Symbol: 2009 — In Dan Brown's novel a man prepares himself as a sacrifice to be killed on an altar in an act which is a parody of the Akedah. The knife used is called the "Akedah knife" and claimed to be the knife of Abraham.

The binding of Isaac in music

The binding of Isaac in film

The binding of Isaac in television

  • The Law & Order episode "Angel" (first aired 29 November 1995): loosely based on the story of Susan Smith, but added a religious motive for the murder.
  • The Xena: Warrior Princess episode "Altared States" (first aired 22 April 1996): changes the names ("Anteus" for Abraham, "Icus" for Isaac, "Mael" for Ishmael, "Zora" for Sarah) but follows the story of the command and the final reprieve.
  • The Family Guy episode "Holy Crap" (first aired 30 September 1999): Brian Griffin mentions the Old Testament narration in which "God told Abraham to kill Isaac." In the show's irreverent style, a cutaway then shows President Abraham Lincoln shooting bartender Isaac from the television show The Love Boat.
  • The Lost episode "Catch-22" (first aired 18 April 2007): the binding of Isaac is a theme in the episode.
  • The Family Guy episode "Peter's Daughter" (first aired 25 November 2007): Peter states that he has been a worse father than Abraham, leading to the scene quickly cutting to Abraham and Isaac walking down a hill and Isaac stating "You wanna tell me what the f*** that was?"
  • The The West Wing episode "Isaac and Ishmael" (first aired 3 October 2001): Episode deals with Islam and terrorism immediately following the September eleventh attacks.

See also

References

  1. Derech Mitzvosecha186b
  2. Hebrew-English TANAKH., Page 39, The Jewish Publication Society, 1999
  3. Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol. 2, Book III, Ch. 24. English translation by Shlomo Pines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
  4. See Yancy Smith, "Hippolytus' Commentary On the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context" (Unpublished PhD Dissertation; Brite Divinity School, 2008), 312.
  5. G. J. Wenham. Genesis 16-50, Dallas: Word Biblical Commentary, 1994.
  6. G. W. Coats: "Abraham's Sacrifice of Faith: A Form Critical Study of Genesis 22", Interpretation, 27 (1973), pp. 389–400.
  7. G. J. Wenham. Genesis 16-50, Dallas: Word Biblical Commentary,1994.
  8. O. Boehm: "The Binding of Isaac: An Inner Biblical Polemic on the Question of Disobeying a Manifestly Illegal Order", Vetus Testamentum, 2002 52(1) pp. 1–12.
  9. O. Boehm The Binding of Isaac: A Religious Model of Disobedience, New York: T&T Clark, 2007.
  10. Bird, Cameron (12 January 2009). "For 'jury,' a case of biblical proportions". The Orange County Register 105 (12): p. 11. 

Further reading

  • Berman, Louis A. (1997). The Akedah: The Binding of Isaac. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-56821-899-0. 
  • Bodoff, Lippman (2005). The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders & Kabbalah: Seeds of Jewish Extremism and Alienation?. Devora Publishing. ISBN 1-932687-52-1 (Cloth), ISBN 1-932687-53-X (Paper). 
  • Bodofff, Lippman (1993). "The Real Test of the Akedah: Blind Obedience versus Moral Choice". Judaism 42 (1). 
  • Bodofff, Lippman (1993). "God Tests Abraham - Abraham Tests God". Bible Review IX (5): 52. 
  • Boehm, Omri (2002). "The Binding of Isaac: An Inner Biblical Polemic on the Question of Disobeying a Manifestly Illegal Order". Vetus Testamentum 52 (1): 1–12. doi:10.1163/15685330252965686. 
  • Boehm, Omri (2007). The Binding of Isaac: A Religious Model of Disobedience. T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-567-02613-2. 
  • Caspi, Mishael Maswari and Sascha Benjamin Cohen (1995). The Binding and Its Transformations in Judaism and Islam. Mellen Biblical Press. ISBN 0-7734-2389-3. 
  • Delaney, Carol (1998). Abraham on Trial. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05985-3. 
  • Delaney, Carol (1999). "Abraham, Isaac, and Some Hidden Assumptions of Our Culture" ([dead link]Scholar search). The Humanist May/June. http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles%5Cdelaney.html. 
  • Feiler, Bruce (2002). Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-083866-3. 
  • Firestone, Reuven (1990). Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0332-7. 
  • Gassner, John (Ed.) (1963). Medieval and Tudor Drama: Twenty-Four Plays (2000 reprint ed.). Applause. ISBN 0-936839-84-8. 
  • Josephus, Flavius (93–94 C.E.). Antiquities of the Jews. Interhack Digital Library. ISBN 1-58827-612-0. http://www.interhack.net/projects/library/antiquities-jews/b1c13.html. 
  • Jensen, Robin M. (1993). "The Binding or Sacrifice of Isaac: How Jews and Christians See Differently". Bible Review 9 (5): 42–51. 
  • Levenson, Jon D. (1995). The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06511-6. 
  • Plaut, W. Gunther (1974). The Torah: A Modern Commentary I. Genesis. Union of American Hebrew Congregations. ASIN B0006DJTU8.  p. 210.
  • Aviezer Ravitzky of Hebrew University , Abraham: Father of the Believers, (Hebrew)
  • Sarna, Nahum (1989). The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0326-6. 
  • Spiegel, Shalom (1967). The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac As a Sacrifice: The Akedah (1993 reprint ed.). Jewish Lights Publishing. ISBN 1-879045-29-X. 
  • Vaux, Kenneth L. (2003). Jew Christian, Muslim: Faithful Unification or Fateful Trifurcation? Word, Way, Worship and War in the Abrahamic Faiths. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 1-59244-363-X. 

External links

ru:Жертвоприношение Исаака sr:Жртвовање Исака th:เอบราฮัมสังเวยไอแซ็ค

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