Chapter I

 

 

It is recorded in the Bible that the Lord asked Abraham to offer his ‘only son’ as a burnt offering. It is quite clear that it was only Ishma‘el  who could have been called the ‘only son’, because it was only he who remained the ‘only son’ of Abraham for fourteen years, until Isaac was born. The Jewish scholars thought it an honour to be offered before the Lord; and they did not like it to be attributed to the actual ‘only son’, Ishma‘el, who was not their ‘real ancestor’, but was their ‘uncle ancestor’. So they managed to manipulate it in favour of their ‘real ancestor’, Isaac.

According to the narrative of the Bible the objective of the sacrifice was to ‘tempt’ (test/try) Abraham which has been explained in the very first sentence. In the holy Qur’an, as well, there is the mention of ‘tempting’ Abraham:

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي قَالَ لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ [1]

And recall to mind when his Lord put Abraham to test with certain commands, all of which he fulfilled. He said: ‘I am going to make you the leader of the humankind.’ He asked: ‘Does this promise apply to my offspring!’ He answered: ‘My Promise does not apply to the transgressors.’

It is to be noted that it was merely a test and was not meant to be carried out verbatim, which is evident from the story.

 

 

The Bible Story

 

The story of the ‘Offering of Abraham his “only son” for Sacrifice’ goes in the Bible as follows:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here Iam. (2) And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thoulovest, 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. (3) And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. (4) Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (5) And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.[2] (6) And Abraham took the wood of the
burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife[3]; and they went both of them together. (7) And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Heream I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? (8) And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering:[4] so they went both of them together.(9) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.(10) And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.(11) And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.(12) And he said, 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[5] from me.(13) And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.(14) And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day[6], In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.(15) And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,(16) And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine onlyson:(17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed[7] as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed[8] shall possess the gate of his enemies[9];(18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed[10]; because thou hast obeyed my voice.[11]

 

 

The Status

of the Story of the Bible.

 

The above story regarding Abraham’s offering of his ‘only son’ for sacrifice had been subjected ‘considerably’ to a number of ‘alterations’ for so many times, as is evident from the following quotation from the Encyclopaedia Biblica, which is admittedly one of the most reliable authorities on the subject:

It has become certain that the story has been considerably altered since E wrote it. The editor or compiler of JE not only appended vv. 14b-18(an unoriginal passage, full of reminiscences),but also introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a. (2175…). So far, however, as an opinion is possible, the form of the Elohist’s story is, apart from the detail about the ram, all his own. It was suggested, indeed, by circumstances already related in the traditional narratives; but it was moulded by himself, and it is bathed throughout in an ideal light. Evidently this pious writer felt that for the higher religious conceptions no traditional story would be an adequate vehicle. The course which he adopted shows the writer to have been a great teacher. He admits the religious feeling which prompted the sacrifice of a firstborn son.[12]

The quotation calls for a conscientious perusal. Putting it forward under separate and specific clauses, it can be categorized as below:

(a)    ‘Alterations’ and ‘additions’ have been freely exercised in the story.

(b)   The act of  ‘alterations’is not merely a supposition; ‘It has,’rather, ‘become certain’.

(c)    The ‘alteration’is in a ‘considerable’ amount.

(d)   The main theme of the story relates to the ‘Elohist’narrative.

(e)    The editor (or, properly saying, ‘the redactor’), who compiled the story from the ‘Elohist’ and ‘Yahwist’ narratives etc, (a) ‘not only appended [added]vv 14b-18,’ (b) ‘but also introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a.’ It shows that (a) vv. 14b-18 are the addition from some redactor and they did not exist in the original story. (b) The redactor ‘introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a’ as well. It can thus be concluded that although the story relates the famous event of Abraham’s offering his only son for sacrifice, the credibility of none of its details is beyond doubt. Therefore one is to consider any of the events of the story on its own merit after a careful and critical analysis.

(f)    The editor, being a ‘pious writerand ‘a great teacher’, seeing that ‘no traditional story would be an adequate vehicle’ exercised full liberty and ‘moulded [it]by himself”as he deemed fit ‘for the higher religious conceptions’ of his own.

(g)    ‘Sacrifice of a firstborn son’was considered ‘religious’.

________