Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God Asked Abraham To OFFER Isaac, Nothing More

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.
Be it the Christian or Jewish interpretations of the laws, the central theme remains, and that stems from what I think is the correct interpretation of the offering in Genesis 22. The strong have an obligation to protect the weak; to prevent the weak from being forced to sacrifice themselves to cover the failings of the strong. Even to the point of voluntarily sacrificing ones life or possessions in keeping faith with this idea. Many of us would not be alive but for the prior sacrifices of earlier generations. The concepts of duty and obligation to those who sacrificed before us are attendant when one follows this ethos. It actually endows ones life with a greater purpose that is timeless. It is something completely unknowable to the poor resigned cynic. And it is a concept that the "Progressives" have been actively seeking to eradicate. It is a key aim of Critical Theory.

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:
  • Did Abraham Fail his Final Test?

    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.  
  • Objects in the rear view mirror

  • Highway 61


  1. Always seemed pretty clear for me.

  2. You are not looking to slander God. But there are those who do. I hope I shut down at least one slander.

    To see an example or two or twenty of the slanders, try search words such a Abraham Isaac offering pathology. Right away you'll discover a few instances of the hatefully inclined.

    Their words are stark evidence of the point of my first essay: how and why the Judeo-Christian ethic is under attack.

    Also, it is clear that the Anti-theists have been around longer than Richard Dawkins, et al.

    Agenda21 raises its ugly head. With the turn of the century the assault on Western religion and culture has been elevated and peddled as a moral necessity.

    I give you as an example Christopher Hitchens' new book: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I doubt it is pleasing to you that the establishment print world made this book a best seller even before its release.

  3. I do not know what is wrong with Blogger's link facility. Sometimes it links from anywhere on the web to any post published here, and sometimes it doesn't. Some direct links never show up here, And then other links are here one day and not another, appearing and disappearing like a will-o'-the-wisp.

    Anyway, here is Abraham, Isaac and Kierkegaard, a post that appeared about a year after I published to which I linked this post for his reference.

    I had responded at this young man's blog that neither God nor Abraham intended any harm to Isaac, but I fear he was unpersuaded. The fault was mine since I really never addressed his questions directly. I hope to remedy that oversight soon.

  4. I'm not so sure Abraham didn't mean harm to Isaac. He was obviously ready to go through with the sacrifice; his faith was such that he believed God would do something, but until that something came he was willing to follow through. Anything less than complete commitment on his part would negate the entire scene, since it was his faith, trust and obedience that were being tested.

  5. I've no idea why your comment was held up in moderation Joanna. I only just found this and two others today accidentally. If it happens again, please email me.

    I see your point Joanna. I see trust more than faith involved here. This was a collaboration on the part of Abraham and God. We do not know how long Abe hovered over Isaac, it is not told. Have you ever asked why the ram was tied up in the thicket by its horns? Surely God had prepared it for this occasion, so why is he held back? That's life. When we find ourselves at a loss for a solution, He gave us something akin to His ingenuity to figure it out without having to sacrifice innocent humans.

    I think that we in each generation have an opportunity match that occasion. Especially so today wherein the authoritarians have now been tipping their hand that it's the number of people on the planet that troubles them so.

    I, in particular, am pleading with them to reform their outlook. Throw out the pessimists and embrace the optimists like myself. I pray I can sway many to adopt my outlook: that we will find a way to replenish to the earth all that we need without threatening any innocent lives. It is man who would bring Armageddon through this immorality. It is not God's wish -- as He demonstrated to Abe in the end of Gen 22.

    Trust Him so that the collaboration may continue.

  6. Our default human nature still seeks to either free ourselves from our dust, or kill other perceived threats by projecting our shortcomings on the Other and killing it. The study of the human need for a scapegoat is a key element of understanding blood sacrifice. You rightly note that we have not moved from this default.

    To take Abraham and Ike out of the context of the long view and make it stand alone as a refutation of blood sacrifice is to torture it out of its plain meaning, and to in turn sacrifice a hard truth for the purpose of a desirable context.

    Paul said that Abraham received Isaac as back from the dead. That speaks more plainly to the purpose and intent. God stayed a human hand that was willing to simply acknowledge that He who gave life where there was no possibility of life, (Sarah's barren womb) had the simple right to assume His ownership of that life, and require it again. In Abraham's duller understanding of obedience to a Greater, he would not have thought twice about the sacrifice and the story would be a lesson of brutish obedience; but Abe already had many years to think about where life came from. He fully understood that Isaac was not his own doing, and that was a new concept. THAT was the beginning of the Covenant. The Promise and the Gift from above, as echoed in the Nativity.

    If Abraham, being the first of all who believe, was the first to value the Gift that was in the blood more than the blood itself, then it goes back to the visitation. God came to earth in human form to reveal what Abraham could have never guessed on His own. I can posit that Abraham fully believed that if God truly "required" again the life He had given, then it was no problem for Abraham to consider that God was not breaking His promise of an heir and a son, but would indeed raise up Isaac from the dead, if necessary.

    I have to go to work, and so should not have started spouting all these thoughts as I wade through them.

    But I do have a question: who else witnessed the offering besides Abe and Ike?

    1. Joan, I just realized that I had not responded to your second paragraph.

      As I reread it now over 3 years later it is possible that I did not understand it. I'm still not sure what "sacrifice a hard truth for a desirable context means."

      However, I do think I understand "To take Abraham and Ike out of the context of the long view and make it stand alone as a refutation of blood sacrifice is to torture it out of its plain meaning."

      In the long view there were and still are many sacrifices. But it is only those performed of ones own volition that could be significant. True sacrificers are voluntary in service to a perceived cause that matters to the martyr. When coerced or seized, the sacrifice is illegitimate. Jesus offered Himself, and turned down every chance. Who was more stiff-necked than He? Martyrs before and after know what I mean.

      It has been written that G_d chose a stiff-necked people to carry out the covenant that began officially after the Akidah. That remains true today. When Daniel Greenfield wrote of New Age Jews, he may not have realized it, but those are people who've had their necks relaxed so that they fit in better with other peoples of the world. Only the stiff-necked will continue to fight. They will continue to sacrifice themselves to their covenant with Him. And so it must be with all who take up that covenant for the world at large is relentlessly seeking to force our compromise with it using everything from rationalizations to lies to lethal force. The sacrifice per se has not been thrown out; only those forced upon the innocent and non-volunteers.

  7. Other witnesses to the akidah:
    The angel (messenger), possibly in human form,
    The accuser (Satan)
    The lamb


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