Since I wrote At the Core of the Judeo-Christian Ethos: What Animates Its Critics 5 August 2006 [update 6 Feb 2012: or, if that link goes bad again, here instead], it became one of my most hit upon pieces. All that interest led me to become even more aware of the many ways Genesis 22 is interpreted. I prove how much of it is blatant misinterpretation.
The Reason For This Essay
Of all the misinterpretations, I think there is one most damaging, most slanderous.
In numerous places I found serious people asserting variations of the opposite of what God intended. I am not going to link to them. They already get too much attention. It should be needless to say that I am strongly at odds with these other people.
It is clear that scripture, in Genesis 22, in all that followed in scripture, and from much that preceded it, that God did not demand Abraham kill Isaac in sacrifice. (Nor was Abraham eager to do so, perhaps the second most damaging misinterpretation.)
Reading What Has Been Written
It clearly says that God asks Abraham to offer Isaac at the place of sacrifice. I am sure there are some who will try to get off the hook by charging me with nitpicking. To them, well, you can go to Hell.
To the rest of you, you should rightly be asking: "So why the offer?"
The Purpose of Life
The purpose of the offering was to demonstrate to the world how the God of Abraham (not Abraham's god), The Creator of the universe, was different from other gods, especially those to whom human sacrifice was practiced. Look.
The Creator made existence itself. He made life and death. He gives life to all and then reclaims all eventually. He does not need puny men to put to death others -- especially innocent human beings -- for Him. (As I wrote in my prior essay, men too easily kill other men for their own "reasons," fears and hatreds.)
For all life, for whatever lifespan one is given, is supposed to be a blessing and to a purpose. And the purpose may stand as a blessing to other men, as a temporal angel, and as a testament to God. (Those who live for any length of time in great pain and disability is another issue entirely. Certainly such a state is nothing to be wished for. I'm willing to explore this at another time. For now my position is that the occasional awful state of existence still does not make all existence any less of an overall blessing. That is, unless one hates existence itself. People who hate in that manner do indeed exist. They may arise from anywhere in the people. Maybe they are another form of birth defect. They make war with God in every generation.)
The Key Point Of The Offering
Abraham and Isaac would go through the formality of making such an offer for a purpose. The formality had to be in the manner familiar to those who so practiced to the other blood demanding gods of the ancient world such as Moloch.
For, in that way, it could then not be said that Abraham was less willing, less god-fearing, than the other practitioners. And it gave the God of Abraham the opportunity to specifically deny such an offer. The formality offered to Him the opportunity to show that the slaying of innocent human life is not required by Him. The God of Abraham offered the world a break from the cruelest traditions in common practice at that time.
Yes, there are other things implied with the offering. And The Covenant followed from it. But what I have just written is what the central reason for the offering appears to me to be.
My understanding is supported thus:
- It is consistent with the idea of an all powerful Creator.
- It is consistent with the idea of justice and charity that is the basis of all The Law.
What prompted this essay
As I stated at the top, the hits to my old essay led me to discover many interpretations of Genesis 22. Quite a lot of that was so at odds with the whole context of scripture that to ascribe simple error to all of it stretches credulity to the breaking point. Without doubt some of it is deliberate misinterpretation. Animosity towards religion, and hate for the Judeo-Christian ethic in particular, is probably what drives it. Is it a sign of willing acceptance that so many repeat the wrong interpretations without looking deeper into their accuracy? Well, dear Reader, since you have gotten this far, it looks like you must be a blessed exception. I hope I may have made clearer what the decent explanation to this passage must be. I hope I have made it easier for the faithful to battle their detractors. Please drop me a line if I have.
But more importantly, if you did find that this was helpful, then I pray you help spread this explanation so that it reaches people both who have been misled and those who would otherwise be misled. Silence serves the detractors.
I challenge anyone to demonstrate how this interpretation of Genesis 22 is wrong.
Update on support and indirect challenges:
10/11/2012: The Rabbi who authored the essay at this link allowed me one comment. He responded to it, but without adding much light. I then further responded to fill in the gaps for what could have been his misunderstanding of sustainability, but he moderated out my follow-up comment. Even worse, 3 months later he allowed an anonymous 3rd party "A Reader" (sounds like a sock-puppet) to side with him against my comment. I posted a rebuttal to that, and the rabbi refused to publish that one too. The details of the follow-ups not published there I will publish in a new post soon. [TBD].It appears the rabbi committed or permitted the erasure of the entire commentary history that he previously allowed to appear. Fortunately we have the Wayback Machine's snapshot preservation available.