Chapter II

 

 

The Bible categorically states that the son, who was required to be offered for sacrifice, was Abraham’s ‘only son’. It is a very conspicuous, pivotal, and decisive point and is not to be ignored, overlooked or taken lightly. The firstborn and the ‘Eldest son of Abraham’[1]was Ishma‘el . ‘And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishma‘elto him.’ The Bible says:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, (…).(3) And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid[2], and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. (…).(15) So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishma‘el.(16) And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishma‘el to him.[3]

But when Isaac was born to Abraham, he was one hundred years old, which means that Ishma‘el was already fourteen years old when Isaac was born. The Bible states:

(15) Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.(16) And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’(17) Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’(18) And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishma‘el might live before thee!’[4]

Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.[5]

And as such Ishma‘el retained the status of the ‘only son of Abraham’ until the age of fourteen years.

If the relevant passage of the Bible, given in the beginning of this book, be studied again, it will be noted that God has used in it the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ three times, qualifying the ‘lad’ to be offered for sacrifice; but He has used this son’s name as ‘Isaac’ only once in all His speech. Setting aside the words that have been added by the storywriter and the redactor to complete this narrative, the words ascribed to God in the said passage are as follows:

Abraham: …Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac [stress added], whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. … Abraham, Abraham: Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing upon him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son [stress added] from me. … By myself have I sworn, …, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son [stress added]: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

The son to be offered for sacrifice has been mentioned here:

(a)    For three times with the pronouns: ‘whom, him’(if the interpolation of the word Isaac be ignored, it cannot be determined by means of these pronouns which of the sons is here meant);

(b)   Once with the word ‘lad’(which also does not indicate which of the two sons the lad’was); and

(c)    Three times with the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ (Obviously, it can be none other than Ishma‘el, because Isaac could not have been called ‘thine only son’ at any stage of his life).

It is only once that the word Isaac has been used in it; and this is when the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ have been used for the first time. Any reader, having a little bit of literary taste together with objective, unprejudiced and independent thinking, can appreciate that the word ‘Isaac’is quite superfluous, irrelevant, and out of place here. Had it been Isaac, who was required to be sacrificed, it had been sufficient to say: ‘Take now your son Isaac’. God would not have used the phrase ‘thine only son’, because it was, by all means, a false statement in favor of Isaac and it is unbecoming that God may have made a false statement. ‘Thine only son’ and ‘Isaac’ cannot stand together for a single entity, and could in no case have been used simultaneously, because, circumstantially, they are quite contradictory to each other. The structure and use of the words make it quite clear that originally it was the ‘only son’ who was required for offering; and it was the distinctive trait of ‘singularity’, which was conspicuously a prerequisite for the son to be offered. That’s why ‘Thine only son’, which has been used for three times in the passage, has been used twice without ‘Isaac’ independently and only once with ‘Isaac.’ The structure of the phrase ‘thy son, thine only son’ indubiously declares that the stress is: (i) on the ‘singularity of the son’, which shows the intention of the speaker that the son required is the ‘only’ one; and (ii) on the qualifying pronouns ‘thy, thine’, which shows that the son required to be offered is ‘your son, O Abraham, and your own one only (and not your wife’s only)’. Had God meant ‘Isaac’ to be offered for sacrifice, He would have categorically asserted: ‘Sarah’s only son’ or ‘your only son from Sarah’; and would, in no case, have said ‘thy son, thine only son’, to confuse him, and subsequently the whole of the religious world for all times to come. The use of the name ‘Isaac’ in such an ugly and self-contradictory way shows that an interpolation has been exercised by some unwitty redactor quite unbecomingly.

It would be very useful if, at this juncture, the reader once again goes through the relevant passage (Gen. 22:1-18) attentively, and without any reservations. The flow of the passage reveals the intent and purpose of the speaker quite clearly. The speaker (the Lord) uses the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ for the boy, required to be sacrificed, in the passage. The Lord does not use anywhere in the passage the words of merely ‘thy son’ without attaching ‘thine only son’ to them, so that any possibility of misunderstanding be completely ruled out. Obviously the words ‘thine only son’ and ‘Isaac’ are mutually opposed and contrary words and cannot be used together, as Isaac had never been an ‘only son’ at any stage of his life. That’s why Abraham did never use the words ‘only son’ for Isaac. It has been pointed out that the Jews added deleted, altered, and interpolated freely in the text of the Bible for ‘theological’ or ‘religious’ purposes. They saw no harm in it. It may also be borne in mind that it was the ‘religious’ necessity of the Israelites to present the offspring of Isaac as a chosen and superior people. It is, therefore, easy to understand that when some ‘pious’ rabbi would have seen the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ for the first time, he must have inserted the word ‘Isaac’ as an explanation under his ‘wishful preconception’. Finding it useful for their purpose, the later scribes would have included it in the text. 

It is strange that the Bible claims ‘Isaac’ to be the ‘only’ son of Abraham. Obviously, it is one of the interpolations, or, as the Encyclopaedia Biblica puts it, ‘alterations’, as quoted above.[6]The scholars and commentators of the Bible might have discerned that it was a discrepancy (which, they, of course, discerned)[7]and they ought to have been bold enough to rectify it (but, alas, they have not been bold enough to rectify it). In spite of understanding that it was clearly an addition and adulteration of the redactor of the Bible, they willfully clung to it. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary suggested a revised and improved rendering of the Hebrew Bible by adding ‘one’ to the ‘only’:

That son whom thou lovest. It was a trial of Abraham’s love to God, and therefore it must be in a beloved son[8], and that string must be touched most upon: in the Hebrew it is expressed more emphatically, and, I think, might very well be read thus, Take now that son of thine, that only one of thine,whom thou lovest, that Isaac.[9]

It suggests that the correct translation required the qualifying words ‘only one’ and not mere ‘only’. Even if the translation suggested by Matthew Henry be adopted, the sense remains the same. Even the suggested translation,‘that only one of thine’,implies that Abraham had got only one son at that time and no other son had yet been born. Naturally, it could have been none other than Ishma‘el, who was really the only one son of Abrahamuntil the second son, Isaac, was born; and by that time Ishma‘el  was already fourteen years of age.

The Biblical scholars have fruitlessly and futilely tried to evade the real sense of the word. It is, therefore, imperative that a study of the word ‘only’ be undertaken. In the Hebrew Bible the word ‘yaheed’ (יחיד) has been used for ‘only’. The meanings of the word ‘yaheed’ are: ‘sole; lonely; only (child, son), solitary’ (Strong’s Dic. p.49:3173, Heb. & Aramaic Dic. of OT, Brill, 2001, 406). In the whole of the OT of the Bible it has been used at the following four places else:

When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one (Pr 4:3).

Make mourning as for an only son (Jer 6:26).

I will make it like mourning for an only son (Amos 8:10).

(…) as one mourns for his only son (Zec 12:10).

At all these places it can only be translated with the word ‘only’ and no other meanings go well with the context. It can thus be appreciated that the Bible uses ‘yaheed’ only in the sense of ‘only’; and no other meanings can be given to this word according to the usage and context of the Bible.

Some of the commentators of the Bible have afforded ridiculous expositions to justify this adulteration. One of the renowned Jewish Rabbis, the French-born Shelomoh Yitschaki, Solomon ben Isaac, commonly known as Rashi (1040-1105 AD), has recorded some interesting observations on this passage of the Bible in his commentary on the Pentateuch. He has given it the shape of an imaginative conversation and has thus exhibited a wonderful skill of subjectively interpreting or twisting a simple statement according to his presumptions in his following exposition. No comments on this quotation have been recorded in the body text of the book. On the spot comments, however fairly lengthy they be, have been afforded in the footnotes.

 

Rashi’s comments (with their rejoinders in footnotes):

thy son. ‘But I have two sons,’[10] Abraham said. ‘Thine only son,’[11]was the reply. ‘But each is the only one of his mother!’[12]Whom thou lovest,’[13] he was told. ‘But I love both!’[14] and the answer came ‘Even Isaac.’[15] Why did not God name Isaac at once?[16] Lest Abraham’s mind reeled under the sudden shock.[17] Further, to make His command more precious to him.[18] And finally, that he might receive a reward for every word spoken.[19]

It may also be noted in this connection that the words ‘thine only son’ signify that no other son (even Isaac) had been born by that time. It means that Abraham might have offered Ishma‘el  for sacrifice when he was about thirteen; because when Ishma‘el was fourteen, Isaac had already been born; and the status of Ishma‘el being the ‘only son’ of Abraham had come to an end. 

To recapitulate the theme of the second point, here are some salient features of it:

  1)  God had asked Abraham to offer ‘thy son, thine only sonfor sacrifice categorically and not one/any of his sons.

  2)  Abraham’s first-born son was ‘Ishma‘el’ and was born when Abraham was 86.

  3)  Isaac was Abraham’s second-born son and was born when Abraham was 100.

  4)  As such, ‘Ishma‘el’ remained Abraham’s only son unto the age of about 14 years, during which period Abraham had no other son: as Isaac was born when Ishma‘elwas already of about 14 years. It also signifies that when Abraham offered his ‘only son’ for sacrifice, Isaac should not have been born by that time.

     5)    God had asked Abraham to offer his own ‘only’ son for sacrifice. In the whole of the Bible, God had no where asked Abraham to offer Sarah’s ‘only’ son for sacrifice, as the learned commentators of the Bible have tried to make God purport. So the son required to be offered for sacrifice could have been none other than ‘Ishma‘el’.

  6)  As recorded above, the Encyclopaedia Biblica has asserted that the story of the offering of Abraham’s only son for sacrifice had been subjected ‘considerably’ to a number of ‘alterations’ for so many times. The addition of ‘even Isaac’ to ‘thy son, thine only son’looks obviously an ‘addition’ by the redactor of the Book.

     7)    The ‘only son’ required to be offered for sacrifice, was, and should naturally have been, the beloved son of Abraham, to make the ‘test’ perfect; or, as the commentator Rashi,puts it, ‘to make His command more precious to him’. And it has been discussed in detail elsewhere in this book that Abraham’s beloved son was ‘Ishma‘el’ and not ‘Isaac’ (see chapter IV).

     8)   The son required to be offered was a ‘lad’, i.e., in his early teens; whereas according to the commentators of the Bible Isaac was either a child of approximately 3 years (just weaned) or a young man of 20-37 when he was allegedly to be offered for sacrifice. It means that Isaac was not a ‘lad’ when he was allegedly required to be sacrificed, whereas the Bible uses the word ‘lad’ or ‘boy’ for the son required to be offered. Besides it being a discrepancy, at no stage of his life Isaac could have been an ‘only lad’ of his father.

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