Saturday, December 17, 2011

Did Abraham Intend to Sacrifice Isaac?

Alice C. Linsley


Jews speak of the sacrifice of Isaac as the "binding of Isaac" (Akeidat Yitzchak) because their rabbis do not agree on what this story means.  Most do not believe that Abraham intended to sacrifice his son.

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

Genesis Rabbah holds that God "never considered telling Abraham to slaughter Isaac. Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach wrote that this story is about a symbolic sacrifice. Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi maintained that Abraham's "imagination" led him astray. Ibn Caspi wrote, "How could God command such a revolting thing?"

Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), maintains that child sacrifice was "rife among the Semitic peoples," and finds it "astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it."

Hertz' interpretation of Genesis 22 is that God was correctiong the practice of human sacrifice among Abraham’s people. Unfortunately, there is little anthropological and archaeological support for this view. The is no evidence that the Horites practiced human sacrifice.

Jacques Kinnaer reports, "The earliest known example of human sacrifice may perhaps be found in Predynastic burials in the south of Egypt, dated to the Naqada II Period. One of the discovered bodies showed marks on the throat from having been cut before having been decapitated."-- Human Sacrifice, Jacques Kinnaer

Kinnaer also provides two definitions of human sacrifice:

  • "The ritual killing of human beings as part of the offerings presented to the gods on a regular basis, or on special occasions."

  • "Retainer sacrifice, or the killing of domestic servants to bury them along with their master."

For the first definition there is no evidence among Abraham's ancestors, and regarding the second definition, there is dispute among Egyptologists. Caroline Seawright has written, "Human sacrifice is not generally connected with ancient Egypt. There is little evidence of human sacrifice during most of the dynastic period of ancient Egypt... but there is some evidence that it may have been practiced in the Nile Valley during the 1st Dynasty and possibly also Predynastic Egypt.

Seawright is referring to subsidiary graves at Abydos, the burial place for the first kings of a unified Egypt. These were Kushite rulers. However, these were the graves of domestics and officials who probably died naturally, not the graves of servants who were sacrificed to serve the ruler in the afterlife. Even the most provocative National Geographic report has to admit that this is probable, lacking hard evidence that the ancient Nilotic peoples sacrificed humans.


Conclusion

The Jews call their ancestors "Horim" because they recognize the Horite identity of Abraham and his ancestors. The Horites originated in the Nile Valley. The rabbis do not agree on the meaning of this story.  One thing is fairly certain; since the Horites did not practice human sacrifice, it is doubtful that Genesis 22 is about blood sacrifice. The biblical evidence indicates that child sacrifice among the Semites developed well after Abraham's time because God condems it between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, about 1200 years after Abraham.

So what is this story about?  How are we to interpret this event?  That is the focus of this essay.  Stay tuned!


Related reading:  Did Abraham Believe Isaac to be Messiah?; Jesus: From Lamb to Ram

11 comments:

GretchenJoanna said...

I have read brief references to these questions elsewhere, but not so thoroughly summarized. Thank you! I'll look forward to the next installment.

I just discovered your blog via Kyrie, Eleison! and haven't poked around much yet.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

When my niece was just beginning to read, someone gave her a childrn's Bible. She told me she had read nearly the whole thing. So, to test her knowledge about various stories, I mentioned this. "Did you read about when Abraham sacrificed Isaac?"

"You mean DIDN'T sacrifice Isaac!" she replied, horrified.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Welcome to Just Genesis, Gretchen Joanna.

You will find all the essays here listed alphabetically by topic. Simply click on INDEX, then click on the essay of interest.

yemitom said...

Abraham was aware of resurrection and was probably expecting that to happen. Hence he told his young men that both he and Isaac would return (Genesis 22:5). I want to believe he said so confidently and with prophecy. The sacrifice eventually was not allowed (who knows if years later people would have argued that Isaac was the Messiah and subsequently start a cult about him) as it was a glimpse of the precious one to come.

Genesis 22:5


Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go yonder. We will worship, and come back to you."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks for that excellent comment, Yemitom.

The Horites believed that a woman of their ruler-priest lines would miraculously conceive by the overshadowing of God and bring for the Son of God. That is why their lines intermarrried exclusively, as analysis of their marriage and ascendency pattern shows. Both Joseph and Mary are descendants of the Horite ruler-priest lines. This is attested by the fact that Joseph had to register for the census in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a Horite town. I Chronicles 4:4 lists Hor as the "father of Bethlehem".

The Horites had a 5-day festival in which they mourned his death and on the third day planted seeds of grain to symbolize his rising to life. So it is apparent that Abraham believed in the resurrection.

Genesis 3:15 speaks of how the Woman would bring for the Seed who would crush the serpent's head. Jesus claimed to be that Seed when His disciples questioned Him about his impending death. He responded with these words: "Except a grain of wheat fall ointo the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24)

Jason said...

I agree with yemitom and not the rabbis.

Without Jesus Christ this passage cannot be properly understood, as evidenced from those rabbinical writings.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I agree.

The sequel to this post wil appear on December 25.

Arimathean said...

I think Rabbi Hertz's position is supported by Numbers 18:15: "Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall redeem . . ." The principle that the firstborn is owed as a sacrifice is acknowledged here, even as it is trumped by the requirement to redeem the firstborn of man.

Alice Linsley said...

That's true, but Isaac was not Abraham's first born son. That was Joktan (Yaqtan).

BibleGeorge said...

In 1979, Archaeologists Yannis and Efi Sakellarakis have found evidence of human sacrifice exactly as described in Genesis 22. The human sacrifice scene was found at Arkhanes in northern Crete (taking place around 1700 BC). The Minoans of Crete had close affinities with that of the Canaanites. It has been said that this chapter may have been written by someone in the northwest area of Canaan close to the Island of Crete. The author of "Who Wrote The Bible" Richard Elliott Friedman lists Genesis 22 as the 1st document from the 'Elohist'. He believes that at the time of Jeroboam - when Israel was divided into 2 kingdoms, the Jahwist and Elohist wrote separate Torahs (including folk-tales based on location)for their people and an editor at a later date unified the documents. He has a very unique take on JEPD. One that may not conflict with the Horite system. I know you disagree with the JEPD theory but... Could this (or something close to this) be the explanation for Genesis 22? What do you think?

Alice Linsley said...

George,

My problem with the Documentary Hypothesis is that it has obscured and obfuscated the Biblical data concerning Abraham and his Horite people.

Child sacrifice was practiced in Carthage in North Africa. This practice spread to Crete and into Tyre and Sidon of Galilee, and it was criticized by the prophets who opposed the sacrifice of children to Mo-lech. It found its way into Judah as evidenced by Jephthah (Judges) who swore an oath to sacrifice the first thing he saw - that being his own daughter. Oaths were stronger than blood among those men. This practice represented a decadent and corrupt form of worship.

Abraham's binding of Isaac is older than the practice in Carthage. It isn't about child sacrifice, though it ties that to an oath. Only this oath is that of God who has sworn to Abraham that He will provide the Lamb who becomes the Ram. That is Messiah, the Christ.