The Akedah

by peacefulpete 9 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • peacefulpete

    The Genesis 22 episode, often referred to as the Akedah (Aqueda) ie "the binding" is a topic worthy a masterclass in textual and theological development. A comprehensive discussion regarding this development would involve volumes and still leave much to be uncertain. In short, the internal contradictions the narrative offers as it appears in Genesis have inspired millennia of interpretive expansions and elaborations. The apparent contradictions involve the promise for Isaac's future, the command to offer him as sacrifice and the subsequent command not to.

    Itis my opinion that these contradictions arose as the result of the incorporation of divergent legends into a 5-6th century composition. Without laboring that point, I'll suggest the story at its core was either an ancient tale that depicted human sacrifice or was a conscious effort to parody that past using the framework and language of such a tale. As a stand alone tale it certainly leaves the reader with confusion. The episode itself ends with the clear impression that Issac was sacrificed and Abraham traveled back down alone:

    15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”
    19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

    The introjection of the voice to halt the sacrifice (an angel/God himself) contributed to the 'second power' in heaven theological development of centuries later, but that is another topic. IOW, many have concluded the story was reworked as part of its incorporation into the Torah.

    As we know, theologians such as the writer of Hebrews made interpretive inferences from the story, implying that Abraham understood the resurrection doctrine, which wasn't in the text anywhere. This author was hardly alone in assuming there was more to the story than what the text itself offered. We have preserved for us other retellings of the story that reveal a movement toward the eventual Christian usage as a type of the Christ Son of God sacrifice. That is, the idea that Isaac represented an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of Israel.

    The story as it appears in the book of Jubilees (2nd cent. BC) introduces the character of 'Mastemah' (opposer) and his evil angels into the scene, which has the effect of universalizing the episode, giving it greater cosmic significance and it gives Isaac a more active role, giving his consent. It locates the 'mount' as Mt Zion, (aka Moriah, Temple mt.) It also places the episode on the Passover date (17:15, 18:3). Here are some excerpts:

    The prince Mastemah came and said in God's presence, 'Look,
    Abraham loves his son Isaac and is more pleased with him than
    anything else; command him to offer him as a burnt offering on an
    altar and see whether he will carry out this order. Then you will know
    whether he is faithful in every test to which you subject him' (Jub
    The Lord knew that Abraham was faithful in all his afflictions,
    because he had tested him with a command to leave his country, and
    with famine; he tested him with the wealth of kings, and he tested him
    again with his wife, when she was taken away from him; and with
    circumcision; and he had tested him with Ishmael and Hagar, his
    slave-girl, when he sent them away. In every test to which the Lord
    subjected him, Abraham had been found faithful. His soul was not
    impatient, or slow to act. For he was faithful and loved the Lord (Jub

    The parallel to the opening chapters of Job are inescapable. Again giving a private scene in Genesis a universalizing aspect.

    In the Qumran materials was found what has been named 'Pseudo Jubilees' or 4Q225. It is clearly another recension of the book of Jubilees. It retains some interesting variations:
    8 be[lieved] God, and righteousness was reckoned to him. A son was born af[ter] this
    9 [to Abraha]m, and he named him Isaac. But the prince Mastemah
    10 [to G]od, and he lodged a complaint against Abraham about Isaac.
    [G]od said
    1 1 [to Abra]ham, 'Take your son Isaac, [your] only one, [whom]
    12 [you lo] ve, and offer him to me as a burnt offering on one of the
    [hig]h mountains,
    13 [which I shall point out] to you'. He aro[se and w]en[t] from the
    wells (10) up to Mo[unt Moriah].
    14 [ ]And Ab[raham] raised[his ey]es, [and there was a] fire; and he pu[t the wood on his son
    Isaac, and they went together.]
    2 Isaac said to Abraham, [his father, 'Here are the fire and the wood,
    but where is the lamb]
    3 for the burnt offering?' Abraham said to [his son Isaac, 'God
    himself will provide the lamb'.]
    4 Isaac said to his father, 'B[ind me fast ]
    5 Holy angels were standing, weeping over the [altar ]
    6 his sons from the earth. The angels of Mas[temah ]
    7 rejoicing and saying, 'Now he will perish'. And [in all this the
    Prince Mastemah was testing whether]
    8 he would be found feeble, or whether A[braham] would be found
    unfaithful [to God. He cried out,]
    9 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Yes?' So He said, 'N[ow I
    know that ]
    10 he will not be loving'. The Lord God blessed Is[aac all the days of
    his life. He became the father of]
    11 Jacob (n), and Jacob became the father of Levi, [a third]
    generation (12). (vacai) All]
    12 the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Lev[i were ]
    13 The prince Mastemah bound on ac[count of them. Holy
    angels were
    14 The prince Ma[s]temah, and Belial listened to [the prince

    The subtle intorduction of Isaac's consent is noteworthy. This idea is repeated and elaborated in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

    And Isaac said to his father, 'Bind me well that I may not struggle in
    the agony of my soul and be pitched into the pit of destruction and a
    blemish be found in your offering.

    This notion of the consent of Isaac is also expressed in Josephus:

    (Antiquities 1 .232): 'Isaac . . . received these words [of his father] with joy, declaring that he was not worthy to be born at all if he were to reject the decision of God and of his father.

    PseudoPhilo (32:3, 40:2) goes so far as to suggest the notion of expiatory sacrifice for Israel's sins;

    ..generations will be instructed by my case and peoples will understand because of me that the Lord has considered the life of a
    human being worthy [to be offered] in sacrifice.... and who would be sorry to die, seeing a people freed?"

    This topic is much larger, but I wanted to open discussion regarding the story and its evolving character. It's usage by Christians, while unique in it's specific application, was not entirely without prior and parallel symbolism. The location of the story to Moriah/Zion (Jerusalem and it's temple), the consent of Isaac, the cosmic importance of the scene involving God's chief adversary, the association with the Passover, even hinting that, like the suffering servant of 2nd Isaiah, Isaac was a symbol of sacrifice for the nation's welfare.

  • peacefulpete

    Apparently not a topic of great interest. I had a few additional thoughts. It's actually rather surprising that while 2 passages allude to the story (Hebrews and James) no direct linkage of the Isaac role to that of Jesus is made in the NT. Early Church fathers as early as Irenaeus do of course. Often the focus of the comparison by these early church fathers is the Isaac bearing the wood for his sacrifice equating to Jesus's cross. As I've mentioned before this story might have actually contributed this detail to the passion story. I have a theory that, given the very real controversy with early Gnostic Christians regarding whether Jesus survived the attempted crucifixion by means of substitution, the comparison might have lent to the Gnostic argument, and if there were any direct references they may have been removed.

    As another interesting thought, the Koran includes a version of the story with the son unnamed. This seems unusual. The story in Genesis as it appears in context has raised lot of questions. First the story describes Isaac as the first and only son yet surrounding material has Abraham father Ishmael, his firstborn according to Genesis and the Koran famously. The Koran follows apparently later traditions regarding the son's consent, even mirroring traditions that have him insist he be 'bound tightly' to prevent ruining the sacrifice. All this leads to more questions than answers. If the Koranic author was using later Jewish material then why leave the son unnamed? The obvious answer is the identification of the son as Ishmael but if that was intended why not simply name him Ishmael in the story? It's true the Koran immediately follows that pericope with Abraham learning of the birth of Isaac, so it is implied. Who knows, maybe the writer used different sources and wove his version from what he saw.

    Another point that demonstrates the Rabbinic usage of the Torah. In a number of ancient Midrashic references Isaac was actually killed. In some versions the ancient Rabbis said Isaac died by some means other than the penetration of the knife but in another not only is he sacrificed but burned to ashes. His ashes are scattered but God uses a dew and resurrects him. It's all fascinating how a confusing disturbing story inspired so much.

    In the end what is quite clear is that around the turn of the era the son had been interpreted as an adult (25-37yrs old in sources I found) and the model of willing martyrdom, something not suggested in Genesis.

    It's also kind of ironic that a story that likely originated in the context of human sacrifice of firstborns was rehabilitated to mean something else but wound up returning to the baser notion of human sacrifice.

    I'd love if Caleboutwest or PioneerSchmioneer would discuss the modern understanding of these elements.

  • Phizzy

    Several matters you touch on in the two posts above have long fascinated me.

    This section of Genesis you refer to for a start, as it is plain that a number of "hands" have been involved in editing this story, and redacting it, actions we see a good number of times in Genesis, as with every other Bible Book of course, but Genesis is a bit of a mess, it could have done with a proper Editor with a keen eye to tidy it up ! I'm glad there was not, as we can clearly see where interpolations have been made, and where thinly disguised clues are that show the continuing influence of Canaanite religion, including child sacrifice, which continued probably almost up to the Babylonian Exile perhaps, or even longer ?? (I really must read Prof. Stavrakopoulou's Book on this in the time of Manasseh. ).

    It is easy too to actually see the clumsy Interpolations, as in this passage, and with the Flood Story etc.

    On the matter of the beliefs of the various Gnostic Christians, we have a distinct lack of material, no doubt a lot destroyed by the "orthodox" group who prevailed as the main Christian group.

    I hope maybe someone else will comment on this Thread with more info. on these fascinating things

  • peacefulpete

    Phizzy!....thanks for commenting. Yes we can be thankful the compiler/s of the material had an almost pathological desire to retain phraseology of his sources as much as possible while attempting to create a new narrative.

    From material I've read it seems the sacrifice of firstborns may have been eclipsed with the idea of the firstborn sons serving as priests, this then later replaced with the use of foreign slaves and the birth of the Levite concept. It's horrific topic and like so much we are left with historic crumbs. It is suggestive that the Deuteronomist scribes did feel compelled to offer explanations that made reference to the practice. Three solutions are offered. The death of the Egyptian firstborns, the ability to offer money as a payment for the firstborn and thirdly the Levites were designated as replacements for the firstborn that belonged to YHWH for sacrificial purpose. I think you are right that in at least some quarters the practice of human sacrifice to YHWH continued until the Exile.

    Something interesting is that in 7 of the 8 "Molech" mentions, the definite article precedes Molech, IOW, it likely refers to a particular sacrifice method not a god. The one instance where there is no definite article is 1Kings 11:7 and there the LXX has Milcom, suggesting the Masoretic is a scribal error. Many etymologies have been proposed but a new and persuasive one is simply a ProtoSemitic word for 'sacrifice'. In light of this "the Moloch" references were likely a child sacrifice to Yahweh, which later scribes deny was officially prescribed.

  • KalebOutWest

    I personally cannot speak to much of what has been written here.

    I was taught some of the Document Hypothesis but only as in "that is what we used to teach," almost sort of the way the Governing Body offers "new light" except that this is due to new archological scholarship.

    While Jews do talk about the "Deuteronomist" author(s), this is for a very limited portion of the Torah, actually limited mostly to verses found only in Deuteronomy itself. The rest of the Torah is actually divided, along with the work of other books of the Hebrew text, namely into the work of the Israelites and the work of the Judahites. The reason for this is that it is no longer believed that we were ever originally one people, or that the Biblical stories originally came from a singular culture. It appears that what we have is a story politcally manipulated by the Judahite people to read the way it does, and instead of the Torah and the Nevi'im (Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings) being separate collections written by different writers at separate times, the Torah and Nevi'im is actually one collection produced by one redactor or set of redactors, namely the Jedahites. They merely collected some legends and folktales from Israelites who merged with them after the Assyrians destroyed their northern territory.

    While this does not mean that there are no more separate composers like "J" and "E," etc. There are, and in fact, there are a plethora more. Many others have been identified since the original Document Hypothesis was developed in the mid-18th century. "J" and "E" have now, for example, been merged, and they are considered the probable source of the Akedah.

    While this doesn't mean that some of what was posted above isn't correct or that some of what many scholars have posited is no longer applicable. (You did great work, PeacefulPete. I should have teach my Sunday Hebrew school for me. My kids would love you.) What it does suggest is that we have to make room for what we now are coming to understand and that this could mean that we might have to abandon some very long-held theories.(I can hear some people crying in the backrow. It's okay. Let it out.)

    Whatever the critical data shows doesn't change the traditions or applications much, nor does it makes our previous study a waste. To illustrate, of interest are the midrash traditions where Isaac does indeed seem to die and Satan plays a trick on Sarah coming to her as her son only to announce he is dead which causes Sarah's own death. There are a few versions of this. But the particular one with "the Satan" is one of the few where one can see the development of a personification that leaped from Judaism to Christianity, only to be abandoned once the character takes off as Jesus' archenemy. (See Sarah and the Akedah for more interesting details of the narratives themselves.) Jews had only a short history of demonology that came from our exposure to Persian culture but became lost with the introduction of great sages like Rambam (Maimonides) who introduced rationalism and a return to stricter adherence to traditional Judaism which has no demons. It was believed that good and evil should be morally attributed to God in the end according Scripture.--Job 2:10.

    I think the Akedah is less a story about a deity and more a story about us. Where do we come from? What do we do? Do we sacrifice our children ever so blindly on altars? We do it when there is a call for secular war. We do it when there are politcal demands when we vote someone in office that our young people don't like and make them live by laws they don't agree with or can't live by. We do it when we take away their rights by these laws. We do it when we carelessly do things in this generation that makes it difficult for the young to inherit the world we live behind. We sacrifice our children on altars to our gods all the time, gods that we blindly follow because we believe in them, but gods they might not, whether it's the God of the Bible or the gods of our disbelief.

    It's a shame we don't put up more of a fight for our children before we sacrifice them to something we think is best for them. There are no angels to call from the heavens to stop us. There will be no rams to wonderously appear to take their place. If we don't learn from myths or legends, then we obviously aren't smart enough to face reality.

  • Phizzy

    Thanks Kaleb O.W. a helpful contribution to this subject for me. And as a person who has long been fascinated by how Israelite Theology evolved, and how the Bible was corrupted almost as soon as the Writers put Quill to Parchment, and yet how the attempts at disguising the early beliefs and practices can be revealed by careful Study, your Post was informative and enjoyable.

    Your use of the Stories as metaphor is the only practical use for Scripture that I see today, that, and understanding the beliefs and culture of Jews and Christians.

  • peacefulpete
    the Bible was corrupted almost as soon as the Writers put Quill to Parchment,

    That might reflect more of our own indoctrination. The idea of purity and permanence of a text follows from a literalist mindset. Every culture has the right to naturally evolve. Maybe rather than thinking of it as corruption we should credit it with progression.

  • peacefulpete

    KoW....I understand the strict D.Hypothesis as it was originally formulated has fallen out of favor, especially outside the US. I had Jeremiah 7:31 in mind, where Yahweh is the recipient and insistent He never desired it, and my mind leapt to D. Given the multiple explanations offered, it makes sense to suggest multiple revisionists.

  • KalebOutWest
    I understand the strict D.Hypothesis as it was originally formulated has fallen out of favor, especially outside the US.

    I see some of these views as possibly threatening to US/Christian/Western society. They are based on the understanding that we Jews were likely not descendants of an "Abraham" type figure and thus the Canaanite or original Lavant people.

    It puts forth the view that there were no 12 Tribes of Israel and no "Lost 10 Tribes."

    It also posits that "King David" and "selected tribe of Judah" narrative were inventions.

    While Jews seem to swallow these things because you can do a lot when you realize you are talking about your own culture and looking back millennia (and are not surprised anymore on how your own people or anyone's manipulates history or tall tales in their favor), this doesn't work well for a civilization that totters on the belief that these things are true as a Cecil B. DeMille flick.

    Western civilization loves carving its idols, whether in its mountainside rocks or especially those mental recesses where they can be denied that they do not exist and can be the most dangerous and do the most damage. God is so real that it is the central figure of the culture war in the United States that neither side can do without. Who are the theists or the atheists without this God? Who are the Fundamentalists/Conservatives and the Liberals without him?

    It's not as if this data has not reached the shores of the US. It is here and has been here for some time. It is that it is Jewish and scary because it is coming from a place of theological evolution, an evolution moving at a speed that is disturbing to Westerners.

    God went from Entity to Ineffable Entity over the course of 2000 years in Judaism. But went from Ineffable Entity to Ineffable, period, in the next 400, and then from Ineffable to Non-personal, to Questionable, to "legally" non-existent in less than 50. Who would think that rabbis would ever agree on a large scale theologically across so many spectrums that as long as a Jew doesn't worship another God that "not believing in God" is still "O.K." in the history of Judaism? But that is where we are today.

    But such views like this cannot work in a society where the status quo is "us-against-them." If there is no such thing as "God," what is there to argue about? What is there to believe in? What is there not to "not" believe in? Who and what are you in a society that defines you by where you stand in this great culture war then?

    So no one is going to seriously buy into something that begins to pick away at the very floor they stand on unless they don't realize it will make them vanish. That might be why it's not rushing out to be widely accepted. People need God, even anything to disbelieve in. They need Judah so they can have King David, so he can be the forefather of Jesus, so they can have their religion, so they can have their political view that they stand for or against.

    They need the 12 Tribes so they can be part of the "Lost 10 Tribes" so that America can be special or they themselves can be part of a special race that replaces the Jews because they believe the Jews are special.

    But we are not. We aren't even what people thought we were.

    So people keep all this quiet, less they disappear too, no matter what side you are on, no matter what you believe or don't believe. Don't look behind the curtain.

  • peacefulpete

    Or maybe we (US) are just slow. lol.

    BTW just a reminder that I'm thumbs-uping a lot of comments but still am restricted from doing so for reasons unknown.

Share this