Alice C. Linsley
Jews speak of the sacrifice of Isaac as the "binding of Isaac" (Akeidat Yitzchak). Most Jews do not believe that Abraham intended to sacrifice his son. In The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders and 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 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's interpretation of Genesis 22 is that God was correcting 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.
It is apparent that Abraham intended that Isaac should be offered to God as a sacrifice of some sort. Genesis tells us that Abraham fully expected to return with Isaac to his men waiting at the base of the mountain. Abraham, the Horite Hebrew, expected resurrection and he told the men that both he and Isaac would return (Genesis 22:5).
Abraham knew to expect a son who would overcome death. He likely believed that Isaac would be raised to life after the sacrifice. In other words, he acted by faith. By provision of the ram on Mount Moriah, a site that was sacred to the Horites, Abraham received confirmation that his offering was accepted, and he also discovered that Isaac was not the anticipated Ruler foretold in Eden (Gen. 3:15). That one would be revealed in the future.
Paul and James are perceived to be in conflict on the question of justification, yet they both argue based on this story of Abraham and Isaac. There is no conflict in their understandings of this event if they understood that Abraham trusted God to confirm the truth to him. This is the man who posed the great question: "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25) This same Abraham believed God's promise concerning the appointed Son on a deep level.
What Abraham discovered on Mount Moriah is that Isaac was not the long-awaited Messiah who would overcome death and lead the people to immortality. That Lamb of God was yet to be born, and He would die a ram (in full strength of manhood) in the future. James tells us that Abraham discovered justification through acting on his Messianic faith... that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:21-24).
The Jews call their ancestors "Horim" because they recognize the Horite Hebrew identity of Abraham and his ancestors. The Horites believed in the resurrection, but this fact has been suppressed by rabbinic teaching.
The Horites anticipated that a woman of their ruler-priest lines would miraculously conceive by the overshadowing of God and bring for the Son of God. This explains why their lines intermarried exclusively, as analysis of their marriage and ascendancy 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 Nilotic Horites held an annual a 5-day festival in which they mourned the death of the son of God. He is called Horus, from which come the terms "Horite" or "Hurrian." On the third day, the priests lead the people to the fields where they planted seeds of grain to symbolize his rising to life. This was a custom among Abraham's Nilotic ancestors who hung their hopes on the resurrection of the Righteous Ruler.
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 He spoke to his disciples about his impending death. He explained: "Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24)
The rabbis do not agree on the meaning of the binding of Isaac, but one thing is certain: the Horite Hebrew did not practice human sacrifice. The biblical evidence indicates that child sacrifice among the Semites developed after Abraham's time because God condemns it between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, about 1200 years after Abraham.
There is little evidence of human sacrifice among biblical peoples. This narrative of Abraham with Isaac isn't about human sacrifice. It is about Messianic expectation of the dying and rising son. The narrative concerning Jephath's sacrifice of his daughter is a moral lesson about not swearing rash oaths (compare James 5:12), and a critique of Canaanite practices surrounding war.
Related reading: Ram Symbolism in the Ancient World; Jesus: From Lamb to Ram; What Abraham Discovered on Mount Moriah; Genesis and the True Meaning of Christmas