The Sacrifice of Isaac

Should I kill you, or pretend to kill you ... tough choice.

Should I kill you, or pretend to kill you ... tough choice.

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is a controversial one; often held up as being a story of great devotion by Believers and shunned as a story of a brutal father by skeptics. A bit of deeper study of the story may make it even more controversial.

The story is attributed to the E source, originating in the northern kingdom of Israel. In the story, God is referred to as Elohim. That is, until verse 11 in which there is a sudden switch; the divine character changes from Elohim, to the “angel of Yahweh”. Because of this change and because of the content of the passage, these verses (11-16a) appear to be a later addition. Once the story switches back to the E source, Isaac is never mentioned. Abraham is mentioned walking back down the mountain, but Isaac is not. God says “because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son”. He does not say, “because you were willing” rather “because you have”. This curious wording leads some scholars to believe that in the original story, Isaac was sacrificed, but an editorial change during the compilation was made to create a more palatable story.

I have included the text, taken from the New American Standard version, below. I have replaced the references to God to the original Hebrew “Elohim” or “Yahweh” (in translations of the  Bibel, whenever god is referred to as “God”, it correlates to Elohim, when “LORD” is used it correlates to Yahweh). The E source in in italics, the Redactor’s alteration is underlined.

1Now it came about after these things, that Elohim tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

2He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

3So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

4On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.

5Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”

6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.

7Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8Abraham said, ” Elohim will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9Then they came to the place of which Elohim had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

10Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

11But the angel of Yaweh called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

12He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

13Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.

14Abraham called the name of that place Yaweh Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of Yaweh it will be provided.”

15Then the angel of Yaweh called to Abraham a second time from heaven,

16and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares Yaweh, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son,

17indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.

18″In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

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