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» Ship of Fools   » Things we did   » Chapter & Worse   » Genesis 22:2... Take now thy son for a burnt offering

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Source: (consider it) Thread: Genesis 22:2... Take now thy son for a burnt offering
Simon

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Verse nominated by Ron Webb:

"And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, 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." (Genesis 22:2, in context)

Ron comments: If you EVER hear a mysterious disembodied voice claiming to be God and urging you to kill an innocent person, the only rational response (aside from perhaps checking yourself into a psychiatric hospital) is: "You are not God, you are Satan. You are a liar and I will not obey you." Any other response is madness.

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Eternal memory

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Chorister

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This verse could be a problem for people with mental disorders, who believe they are hearing voices. I know of someone who did this and, given that they had got involved in fundamentalist Christianity, wonder if it was linked to obsessing over this verse (fortunately the son didn't actually die). Christian preachers therefore have a great responsibility, when preaching on this chapter, to be aware of how their words may be taken by those of disturbed mind.

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GrahamR
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# 11299

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The thing is though, God doesn't actually make Abraham go through with this. It seems to me that the point of this episode is anti-human sacrifice. It seems probable that Abraham lived in a culture where human sacrifice was not unknown and God takes him from his expectations (and Isaac's as well - v9 suggests that Isaac was passively accepting) and moves them on.

I think that this verse has to be read in the context of God finally refusing the sacrifice that Abraham was going to offer him and in the context of God being prepared to sacrifice his son for us.

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Kelly Alves

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# 2522

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I see this verse through a teacher's eye, and therefore vote it worthy. Sometimes you coach a person through the wrong thing to do before you reveal the right way. (Maybe a lot of the Bible is like that? [Big Grin] )

In my read, God deliberately lead Abraham up to the edge of that atrocious act, and said, "See your kid in front of you? See what you're about to do? I fuckin' HATE that. Now go tell everyone in your tribe. Oh, and here's a ram."

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
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Kelly Alves

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quote:
Originally posted by GrahamR:
I think that this verse has to be read in the context of God finally refusing the sacrifice that Abraham was going to offer him and in the context of God being prepared to sacrifice his son for us.

Kelly said glibly:
quote:
Oh, and here's a ram.
[Hot and Hormonal]

Sorry about that, Graham.. that, too. But at the time people heard this story, without a clear idea of the sacrifice to come, they probably focused more on what the story was telling them about what to do with their kids.

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
Kelly Alves, somewhere around 2003.

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Lamb Chopped
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[Overused] [Killing me] [Overused]

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
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GrahamR
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quote:
Originally posted by Kelly Alves:
Sorry about that, Graham.. that, too. But at the time people heard this story, without a clear idea of the sacrifice to come, they probably focused more on what the story was telling them about what to do with their kids.

[Big Grin] Absolutely! [Big Grin]

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Jack o' the Green
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As an aside, in Jewish Rabbinical tradition, Issac is in his 20s or even 30s when Abraham is told to sacrifice him.
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Chorister

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An indication that this was highly symbolic, then? I can't see Isaac as a young man willingly allowing his father, who would have been very, very old by then, unless he also realised that it wouldn't actually happen.

"Yeah, dad, go on - stick a knife in me. If God says it's OK then it's OK by me!"

Sure. [Roll Eyes]

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hatless

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Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

"Just a minute," said Abraham.

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Lamb Chopped
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Chorister, the text itself makes it clear that Isaac was old enough and strong enough to overpower his father had he wished. He's carrying the load of wood, remember? [Biased]

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
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Bullfrog.

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One Jewish friend told me there's a midrash, or perhaps a Jewish theory that Isaac had Downs Syndrome, which explains why he was so passive at this point, why he wasn't sent to go himself to find a bride at the well (a servant was sent instead), and why he was so easily duped by his wife and son later on.

I'm not sure I believe it, but it's an interesting idea.

[ 25. July 2009, 15:29: Message edited by: Bullfrog. ]

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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GrahamR
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quote:
Originally posted by Chorister:
An indication that this was highly symbolic, then? I can't see Isaac as a young man willingly allowing his father, who would have been very, very old by then, unless he also realised that it wouldn't actually happen.

Like LC, I'm not so sure about this. I think that it's possible that Isaac could have been a willing victim, depending on his beliefs and psychology. My impression is that not all human sacrifices were unwilling (although I don't have any references to back that up - anyone?). Textually, the passage certainly seems to imply that Isaac accepted this - the parallels of v6 and v9 are telling - first the wood is placed on Isaac and then Isaac is placed on the wood. The problem is that the passage doesn't tell us what anyone is actually thinking at any stage, which makes any arguments ones from silence.

And, if Isaac was willing, then it becomes a lesson for him as well as for his father: God doesn't want human sacrifices, God does want you to rely on him. "The Lord will provide" (v14).

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Simon

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I don't think you can finesse this story into some kind of positive event. If God is trying to instill a "I hate child sacrifice" message in Abraham, it's a very weird and compromised way of doing it to say, "kill your son and burn him as an offering to me". If that's the real agenda in the story, then God is screwing with Abraham's mind... and of course Isaac's too. It doesn't take much empathy to think of what this ordeal would do to real, flesh and blood people.

I think God comes out very badly from this incident, almost any way you look at it. The best you can say is that Abraham thought God was like this, but God is not like this, and therefore Abraham was deluded. Which is pretty drastic for what is a major Old Testament story.

Funnily enough, Abraham's "sacrifice" of Isaac was the subject of a comedy sketch on UK TV's "That Mitchell and Webb Look" a week ago. In it, God is tentatively trying out a new idea on Abraham, and Abraham and Isaac are basically robots, thrilled with any stupid suggestion God makes. See it here...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqC73omSk4o

From outside the Jewish and Christian faiths, this story looks pretty bad for God and religion generally.

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Eternal memory

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by Simon:
It doesn't take much empathy to think of what this ordeal would do to real, flesh and blood people.

But why treat them as flesh and blood people? The genre is "myth", not "hyper-realist character study".

[ 25. July 2009, 15:51: Message edited by: Ricardus ]

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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GrahamR
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quote:
Originally posted by Simon:
Funnily enough, Abraham's "sacrifice" of Isaac was the subject of a comedy sketch on UK TV's "That Mitchell and Webb Look" a week ago. In it, God is tentatively trying out a new idea on Abraham, and Abraham and Isaac are basically robots, thrilled with any stupid suggestion God makes.

Because, of course, God as a doddering old fool and Abraham as someone who never argued with God is precisely the characterisation we get from the rest of Genesis.

Yes, Genesis 22 is a troubling story in that it's challenging and makes us think and wrestle about God and faith and obedience and what we would have done and why Abraham didn't do what we would have done. But isn't that sort of the point? If it wasn't a least intended as a "positive event", then I think you have to suggest a reason why it was in there in the first place.
quote:
Originally posted by Simon:
If that's the real agenda in the story, then God is screwing with Abraham's mind... and of course Isaac's too. It doesn't take much empathy to think of what this ordeal would do to real, flesh and blood people.

Here, I think you're onto something. And I still think the answer is that Abraham and Isaac expected this. Otherwise, why didn't Abraham challenge God, as he did in Genesis 18? Why did Isaac seemingly so passively accept his role? The challenge for us is that God ever asked this of them in the first place. It seems to me that the challenge for them (and the first readers of Genesis?) was that God stopped the sacrifice happening. The challenge for us and them is to rely on God and be obedient to him.

I think that a lot of these sort of verses are so problematic because we're still reading them with some sort of literalist modernist mindset in that we still seem to expect individual verses to be immediately comprehensible to us, we expect them all to speak directly to us from God, we don't take into account context, or that verses weren't necessarily intended to be positive in the first place, that some arguments were set up to be knocked down (eg most of Job), or that we can learn from negative examples as well as positive (eg Jonah). I'm not saying that passages don't remain troubling, but I think that at least some can trouble us in different, perhaps more helpful, ways.

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Kelly Alves

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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
quote:
Originally posted by Simon:
It doesn't take much empathy to think of what this ordeal would do to real, flesh and blood people.

But why treat them as flesh and blood people? The genre is "myth", not "hyper-realist character study".
Well yeah, and that might be an assumption I was making as I was delving into things as well-- that this is an instructive folk tale. The characters of Abraham and Isaac are iconographical representations-- perhaps based on real folk, perhaps some sort of composite characters-- of some philisophical shift the early Hebrews went through in regards to human sacrifice.

Another thought occurs-- could this be a description/ backstory of a tribal ritual of some sort? I'm thinking of Robert Grave's similar explanations of Greek folk stories.

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
Kelly Alves, somewhere around 2003.

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The Great Gumby

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# 10989

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I must admit, I'm quite amused by the way so many verses have been nominated because liberal, non-literalist types don't like the result if you take the verses as the sort of literal, factual history they say they aren't. [Razz]

The OT's full of nasty stuff which needs careful handling, of which this verse is definitely one of the most disturbing, but I just can't see it as anything other than a folk myth. It's even quite clear, by the end of the story, that God doesn't actually want any human sacrifices. Keep it.

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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. - Richard Feynman

A letter to my son about death

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Kelly Alves

Bunny with an axe
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I guess part of the reason I have trouble with parting with this verse is that it is so troublesome, that it is one of those stories about which everyone seems to have an opinion, and it really gets people thinking about and discussing the nature of God.

It's like Jesus calling that pagan woman a dog; why did he say it? Was it what he really thought, or was he goading her to respond? We have to guess the answer, and the journey we go through while trying to do so gets us involved with God.

So maybe that's another way I see this story: it was a literary provocation, designed to get people thinking. And even if you are a literalist, and decide to believe that God was setting up some bizarre performance art teaching experience, doesn't that help set up the Incarnation? We have record of some of the stuff Jesus did and said pissing off even his closest followers while the event was in progress, and choosing weird, frustrating symbolism that "made it hard" for folk.

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I cannot expect people to believe “
Jesus loves me, this I know” of they don’t believe “Kelly loves me, this I know.”
Kelly Alves, somewhere around 2003.

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Lyda*Rose

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# 4544

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We are shocked by this and its very graphic OT-ness, but what of...?
quote:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26

It could easily come to the same thing. Basically, God says he's got to be first, no exceptions for doubts. Me, I've got lots of doubts and mostly exceptions much further down the list than this.

This is pretty interesting in the context of the whole Judeo-Christian faith history. What if a modern, faithful Christian were visited by an angel of God and told to do something that scripture says is unclean and morally dubious? Would someone like that, say, obey God's command and become a living metaphor for the shoddy condition of his nation's/religion's soul like Hosea did with his whore of a wife? Would your average upstanding Christian obey God even if the command appeared to turn God's previous directions on their head? Or would the Christian follow Scripture?

Me, I'd probably just keep following "the devises and desires of my own heart". These kinds of decisions are out of my league.

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"Dear God, whose name I do not know - thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG... thank you. Thank you for my life." ~from Joe Vs the Volcano

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The Revolutionist
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I don't have a problem with this, especially within the context with the whole story of the Bible.

The idea of sacrifice, even of humans, seems to be deeply embedded in the human psyche - it was widespread in most human cultures at one point, and the heroic sacrifice (or even unheroic, as in Torchwood recently) is still a common trope in fiction to the point of cliche. We seem to have an instinctive understanding firstly that something, somehow is very wrong, and secondly that blood is needed for propitiation.

The Bible doesn't tell us that sacrifice is unnecessary; rather, it tells us that sacrifices, whether of human or of animals, are inadequate. They are unable to take away our guilt before God.

The point of the story of Abaraham and Isaac is that human sacrifice is not needed because God will provide. The need for propitiation is real, but God is going to solve the problem. This much is evident from the story itself.

In the New Testament, we find out how God solves the problem: through the self-sacrifice of his perfect son, the God-man, the only adequate sacrifice to atone for our sins.

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Joan_of_Quark

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The theories about why Isaac did not resist are interesting, but if the rule that fathers could put their children to death for disobedience had already been invented, he'd have been toast either way, wouldn't he?

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Lamb Chopped
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# 5528

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I think you're referring to the passage in Mosaic Law (and that was talking about a son who was habitually and incurably rebellious, not just disobedient once). But in any case, that came more than 400 years later. Besides, I'm not sure it matters--Abraham and Isaac were alone (saith the text) and right or wrong, Isaac could have easily toasted his old Dad if he'd wanted to! Nobody around to prevent him.

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georgiaboy
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And by the way --

Just was Sarah thinking, letting her husband traipse off to sacrifice their only son?

I bring this up because it was a question that nearly de-railed several weeks of Genesis study in my EfM (Education for Ministry) course a few years back.

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TiggyTiger
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Would she have known? I thought they went off to get firewood or something.

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Orlando098
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I think it's reading too much into this to suggest God is trying to give a message about how he doesn't like human sacrifice - the reasons for doing it are explicit in the text:

1 Some time later God tested Abraham....

12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

It was a test to see if he was willing to give up the thing that was most dear to him on God's orders.

As for whether Isaac was willing, there is not enough information in the text - until the last minute he did not know he was going to be sacrificed and we are not told about his reaction or whether Abraham explained his reasons. I agree if he was "aged 30" as someone said, it would not have been so easy for Abraham to bind him (why would this be needed if he was willing BTW?), but I don't know what the evidence for this age is and the fact he is carrying some firewood doesn't seem conclusive to me. However there is an example of a willing human sacrifice in the Bible - Jephthah's daughter, as mentioned in the other thread

I think this verse is pretty unedifying - it does seem to imply if you think you hear God telling you to commit and atrocity, just do it. Also Abraham is praised for his willingness to do an immoral action because an authority figure told him to do it, which we don't admire in other contexts

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Lamb Chopped
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One of my posts has gone missing, doubtless due to my new ISP--but I doubt Abraham told Sarah the truth. She'd likely have "sacrificed" Abraham then and there--quite a strong-minded person.

As for the firewood thing, stop a moment and think. It takes quite a bit of wood to make a decent pyre for a human being, or even an indecent one . Certainly this amount is well past the carrying capacity of (say) a ten-year-old. And they could not be sure of finding any suitable wood at all when they got to wherever God was sending them.

As for the binding--well, you might conceivably convince me to sacrifice myself if the reason were good enough (believe me, filial obedience wouldn't do it in my case). But if you DID convince me, you'd still need to tie me down. I'd be all too likely to flinch at the last moment.

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Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

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Geneviève

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I consider this passage (using Phylis Trible's phrase) a "text of terror". I don't see any way you can square this with a loving God, and it really makes me wretch...particularly when I think of how the Christian faith has turned this into a "wonderful" story of God's testing of Abraham's "faithfulness"....these same people seem to forget that the story of Jepthah's daughter didn't have the same so-called happy ending.
I refuse to use it at the Easter Vigil.

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archangel0753
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quote:
Originally posted by Geneviève:
I consider this passage (using Phylis Trible's phrase) a "text of terror".

I can't buy any of the 'testing Abraham's faith' business. If God really does go in for that kind of thing well ... I for one would fail every time.

The most helpful reading I've seen of this is that it reflects a folk memory of the time when the emerging people of God realised that God didn't ever want human sacrifice. Some of the nations around 'Israel' did sacrifice human life to deities, but this was one of the significant ways in which the people of J. were to be different.

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aggg
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Big problem for me. Isaac, Jacob and the rest never seemed to be quite the whole picnic set and my guess would be this incident was one of the things that tipped them over the edge. I can't really imagine the trauma this would have caused to anyone, never mind trying to understand why we teach this stuff to our kids.

To me it boils down to two choices: either God is actually a sadist who enjoys dangling us close to the flame and at the last minute pulls us away with an 'AH-HA - you never seriously thought I was actually going to do that did you?' or this verse has nothing to do with the God I see in Jesus of Nazareth.

By faith Abraham nearly did something crazy. Yeah, thanks for that.

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by aggg:
Big problem for me. Isaac, Jacob and the rest never seemed to be quite the whole picnic set and my guess would be this incident was one of the things that tipped them over the edge. I can't really imagine the trauma this would have caused to anyone.

But again, why read a chunk of myth as though it were a 19th-century character-study? ISTM that inventing details about Abraham's psychological state is just as much of an interpolation as using the text as an allegory of Christ.

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

Posts: 7247 | From: Liverpool, UK | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged
BWSmith
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# 2981

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How one interprets this passage is largely a function of how people think the Bible functions as a whole.

Some protests come from those who think Biblical characters are supposed to be an "example for behavior today". Others come from those who think it is reporting "historical data" that can be used to mount a case against the character of God.

I really don't think the presence of this account (in a history that spans through 2 Kings) is particularly complicated.

Whatever its origins in the local traditions about Abraham, I think this account was included in Genesis sometime after the return from exile because of what it implies about the eventual fate of the nation of Israel, (particularly foreshadowing "babies being dashed upon the rocks" as a result of following God).

The point of the story is not that our mean-spirited God put Isaac on the altar on the first place, but that in the face of remarkable faith, he stopped the knife from falling and restored "the nation" in the land, just as he would do later in the 530s BC.

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leo
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# 1458

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And yet later, in about 33CE, this 'mean spirited God' required a human sacrifice and 'witheld not his only son' - which is why those who believe in penal substitutionary atonement have to take this text of terror at face value.

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Freddy
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# 365

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Leo, I agree.

As taken literally, I see this story as an illustration of what kind of people the patriarchs were. Abraham expected these kinds of demands from God, and would not have accepted Him had they not materialized in some form. This kind of thinking was deeply ingrained in the culture.

In that context we are supposed to look past the cruel demands of a God who demanded to be feared and admire the obedience of a man who was willing to give up his most precious thing, his son, for Him.

The reality that I believe in does not include the remotest possibility that the God of the universe would demand such a sacrifice. Instead we are reading about the inner world of a very primitive Abraham, whose story God used as part of a process to bring about the salvation of the human race.

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"Consequently nothing is of greater importance to a person than knowing what the truth is." Swedenborg

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