Did Abraham know about Adam and Eve

The cruel and the merciful God

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

Scholars still argue about the story of the sacrifice of Isaac today

From Gerald Beyrodt

Abraham is to sacrifice his only son Isaac to God. At the last second, God changes his mind. (picture alliance / dpa / Matthias Hiekel)

God demands absolute obedience from Abraham: he should kill his only son Isaac. Abraham's most important goal of founding a people would then be a thing of the past. At the last second, God prevents the sacrifice. The meaning of the story is still debated today.

It is a story in which God asks for blood and then does not want it. A terrible story with a happy ending, a story that outrages and calms and provokes and throws almost all clarity overboard. A story that addresses current issues. For example: Why are people willing to kill and die for religion?

As if by a miracle, the Torah tells us, Abraham and Sarah had a child: Isaac. Actually Sara was sterile. But in old age the long-awaited son came, from whom a whole people should arise. And now God asks Abraham to go up a mountain with his son and offer him as a sacrifice. This overturns Abraham's most important mission: for without a son there is no people.

Isaac asks where the sacrificial animal is. To which Abraham replies that God will show it. Isaac even carries the firewood for the sacrifice. On the mountain, Abraham ties up Isaac and puts the knife to his throat. But at the last moment an angel of God prevents him from doing his gruesome act. The Bible says:

"An angel of the Eternal called to him from heaven and said:" Avraham! Avraham! "He said:" Here I am! "He said:" Do not stretch your hand towards the boy and do nothing to him! Because now I know that you are God-fearing, because you did not deny me your only son. "Avraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram (running by). Afterwards his horns became entangled in the hedges. took the ram and offered it as a whole offering instead of his son. Avraham called the name of the place: "The Eternal will see."

In the case of a whole sacrifice, the animal is completely burned in archaic cultures and, according to the idea, given completely to the god. There are also sacrifices where humans eat parts of the animal. After God interrupted Abraham in his act, he swore allegiance to him: His descendants should become a great people. Helmut Ruppel is a Protestant pastor. For him, the story is primarily about the question:

"What kind of God is he who on the one hand demands such obedience, on the other hand does not allow the work at all? And that is why the core of this story is probably that in God both these things should be retained. His severity, his demand, his appeal and at the same time his Mercy and his continuation of life. "

One could almost think that God doesn't know what he wants here. Almost all interpretations and further narratives revolve around the question of the two faces of God in this story: First he is strict and cruel. Then he is gracious and almost warm-hearted. In the biblical story there are even different names for these different faces of God, says Helmut Ruppel:

"The demanding, the appellative, the supposedly strict, and certain people also say the cruel, the sadistic God, until then it goes, this voice has another name, the name Elohim. The one who says, don't put your hand on him Boy bears a name of God that is not pronounced in Judaism. It is this four-letter name: YHWH. And that is a merciful God. We have different names for God, with which different actions are connected. "

Jews call the story: the "Akeda", the binding of Isaac because Abraham tied him. Christian interpreters usually focus their interpretation on the strict, cruel God and on Abraham, who has to obey: for example Sören Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and Protestant theologian. "Fear and Trembling" is the programmatic title of his work on the Akeda story. Above all, the man from Copenhagen admires Abraham for his obedience to God and his faith:

"But Abraham believed and did not doubt, he believed the absurd. (...) And he stood there, the old man, with his only hope! But he did not doubt, he did not look anxiously to the right or left, he did not demand with his requests He knew it was God Almighty who was tempting him, he knew it was the heaviest sacrifice that could be made of him, but he also knew that no sacrifice was too heavy when God asked - and he took out the knife. "

Abraham as a hero of faith - that is certainly thought of in a very Christian way, because Christianity places special emphasis on faith: only there is a doctrine of justification by faith. According to this doctrine, whether a person can stand before God or not is made dependent on the person's faith. Such thinking is rather alien to Judaism and Islam. This is more about following divine instructions. Thus, for generations of rabbis, Abraham was an obedience hero. Obedience also plays a major role in the Koran. Ibrahim, as Abraham is called in the Koran, dreams that he has to kill his son and tells him about his dream. Ibrahim says in the Koran:

"My son! I saw in a dream that I was going to slaughter you. Now look, what do you think of that?" He said, "Father! Do as you are commanded! You will, God willing, find that I am one of the patient ones." Not only is the Father obedient, but so is the Son. As in the Bible, the son is allowed to go on living. And as in the Bible, a sacrificial animal dies instead of the son. "

When the Koran speaks of "we", then, according to Muslim beliefs, Allah himself speaks:

"When both had surrendered and he had laid him with his forehead on the ground, We called to him:" O Ibrahim! You have already confirmed the dream face! Certainly, in this way WE repay the righteous. "

In the Muslim tradition, Ishmael is then the son who was almost sacrificed. In the Bible, Ishmael is more of a minor character, son of Abraham's second wife Hagar. The Muslims, on the other hand, see him as their ancestor. For Muslims, the Koranic story is part of the festival of sacrifice. Animals are killed and sacrificed during the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those who cannot go to Mecca try to slaughter an animal at home or have it slaughtered. The religious scholar Mohsen Mirmehdi remembers his childhood in Iran:

"That was a sheep. It was the case that the animal was usually brought into the house a few days before the act of sacrifice. And then of course the children played with the animal, fed it and so on. And then it was for the children a bit sad that the animal had to suffer such a fate. There were also cases where the children then refused to eat the meat because they had become too friends with the animal. "

Jews and Christians no longer sacrifice animals these days. But Jews say prayers instead of the old animal and grain sacrifices. If you go to a church, you will find a so-called altar under the cross. The word is so common that one could almost forget: an altar is the table on which animals are slaughtered for a god.

The Hebrew Bible is also very preoccupied with the question of exactly how one should sacrifice. There is already strong criticism of the victim there. The odor of the burnt offerings is repugnant to God / disgusting God, say the prophets. One thing is clear in the Hebrew Bible: Israelites do not sacrifice people.

Historical-critical biblical research has read the story of Abraham and Isaac as a turning away from human sacrifice: According to this reading, God decides in history that no people should die for him ritually. Instead, people are now sacrificing animals. So Abraham sacrificed the ram as a substitute.

This plaintive, archaic sound can be heard on the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah: the horn of a ram - a shofar. On Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Jews ask God to be allowed to live another year. And right on Rosh Hashanah they read the story of Abraham and Isaac. They appeal to Abraham's loyalty, but also to the fact that Isaac lived on. The tenor of the prayers: "Let us go on living, you also let Isaac live on." Isaac also appears in the daily morning prayer. There, Jews expressly remind God of his promise that he made at the end of the Akeda: namely, to multiply the people of Israel. In the morning prayer it says:

"Lord of all worlds, we do not submit our requests to you because of our merits, but because of your great mercy. (...) Man has no preference over beasts, because everything is void. But we are your people, children of your covenant, children Awrahams, who loved you, to whom you swore a promise on Mount Morija. We are descendants of Yitzchak, his only one who was tied on the altar. "

The Jewish people have always identified strongly with Isaac over the centuries, says Anette Böckler, lecturer at the Leo Baeck College in London:

"Well, that is of course in the foreground, that Jewish history is read into Isaac, yes."

Because Jewish history reads like a sequence of atrocities: The Crusades begin with the synagogues in Europe burning first. Jews who refuse to be baptized are murdered. Then the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. Then the pogroms in Russia and Poland. Again and again Jews felt like Isaac tied up:

"Whenever it was threatening for us, this identification is of course stronger, and families are still affected to this day. You can't even say that we're fine today, we can forget that because we're still down the impression of the Shoah to this day. "

For the Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, the story of Isaac was the central metaphor for the fate of the Jews under National Socialism:

"The Akedah is probably the most mysterious, heartbreaking and at the same time one of the most wonderful chapters in our history."

And now Wiesel turns to the victim in the story. There is talk of a whole sacrifice in which the animal is completely burned. In Greek the whole sacrifice is called: Holocaust. Elie Wiesel was the first to use the term for the extermination of the Jews:

"I call Isaac the first survivor of the Holocaust because he survived the first tragedy. Isaac was on his way to being a korban olah [a burnt victim], which really is a Holocaust. The word 'Holocaust' has a religious connotation. Isaac was intended as a sacrifice to God. "

But that is precisely why the metaphor is problematic. Six million Jews were most certainly not destined to be sacrificed to a god, and the concentration camps were certainly not altars. Elie Wiesel later distanced herself from the term Holocaust for the extermination of the Jews.

Even today, current interpretations of Akeda history force themselves: For a dangerously long moment, Abraham appears like a terrorist of our day. While Abraham argues with God elsewhere in the Bible when it comes to commands and argues that God should not kill innocent people, there is not a word of contradiction to be heard from him here. Abraham appears like a fanatic who does anything for his religious mission - or whatever he thinks it is. One who no longer asks questions, does not look to the right or left, one who is blind because of sheer obedience. Such religious fanaticism has existed in all religions. But finally an angel interrupts Abraham in his act. Then the Bible tells us that Abraham lifts his eyes. Seeing always also means recognizing.

Isaac survives, Abraham learns. Maybe God is learning, but maybe God planned in advance to let Isaac live. If history teaches anything then this: people never know exactly what God wants, should never be too sure of their images of God. In any case, the Bible continues to tell about God: certainly not in the sense of an objective description, that's God. Instead, it depicts the relationship between God and his people, the relationship between God and humanity. In any case, Abraham calls the mountain: The Eternal will see. Or also: The Eternal saw. Perhaps it is also the mountain on which God saw it.

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