The main place of Isaac in the Bible is as a demonstration that when one utterly depends on God, God will provide the way, and thus, no task or trial is beyond the strength of the one who makes God their strength.

Abraham waited quite a while to start trying to have kids, and by the time he got there, his wife, Sarah, was a bit old for the task. However, God had promised that the descendents of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars, or sand at a beach, or whatever "hah, it's really fairly uncountable, though you probably could give it a shot if you had a computer, which nobody will invent for 5000 years, so why are we still talking about this?"

Sarah even, at one point, sneaks in her handmaiden Hagar, figuring that they may as well start the whole descendent thing going, even if not by the direct literal wifish means. This is seen by God and by Abraham as being rather sneaky and not what God had in mind, and Hagar is sent away with her son Ishmael to start the whole Palestine/Philistine thing going hard core, because God is a firm believer in one's mistakes having consequences, and because life is tough like that.

Finally, at somewhere near a century old (give or take 5 years as per anuam percentage, compounded anually) Sarah conceives Isaac, and Abraham goes off on a Dennis Leary style rant about how powerful his sperm is, thank the Lord.

And then, a number of years afterward, the Lord says "Okay, Abraham, I need you to come up on this mountain a couple of days away...yes, you can charge your walker first...and make a sacrifice to me. Oh, and it's the boy."

It's a test of character, and of faith, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And yes, God has done the impossible and had Sarah have a kid at WAY past menopause, so hey, he should be good for it, whatever that entails. But of course the human reaction is "Er...how gauche."

But Abraham goes and does it. He takes Isaac up a hill, carefully telling him that it's a science trip, and he's going to show him that thing with the magnifying glass and the ant, and he's just laying him on this altar because, honestly, he hasn't seen all of the things he can do as a chiropractor...

And just as he's about to run the kid through, the dagger's dropping, etc., the Angel of the Lord steps out, grabs Abraham's hand, and says "landshark?" and presents him with a goat.

It becomes very easy to be flippant toward the story after years of hearing it in sunday school over and over, and becoming rather sick of the 2 dimensional manner in which it's presented, and because, quite honestly, just because we're sick of a cliche doesn't mean it isn't true...

But it is true. I can't count how many times I've been up the creek, it's on fire, etc. and God pulls it out of the hat that I wasn't even aware I was wearing. This does happen. Beyond all belief, beyond all reason, things happen. And then the next time I'm asked to step out... I balk again, and the cycle continues.

P.S., There are also voices, now and again, about how Ishmael was actually the first born from Abraham, and so Israel's not the proper nation, but the Palestinians, or something. But the bible is very clear on how proper first borns are to be, within wedlock, etc. You can shake your fist all you want and scream "but our book says..." which is fine. But if that's so, then why are you bothering to argue about a story in another book?

Primary Impressions: A Critical Comparison of Two Portrayals of The Sacrifice of Isaac

As told in the Old Testament, the story of Abraham and Isaac is founded in sacrifice:

Abraham is the first of the Hebrew patriarchs of the Old Testament. To test Abraham’s faith, God commands him to make a burnt offering of his son, Isaac. Torn between great love for his son and his desire to obey God’s command, Abraham decides that his duty to God ultimately takes precedence. He binds Isaac, lays him on the altar and draws his knife. An angel appears, grasps Abraham’s hand and says, “Now I know that you are a god-fearing man. You have not withheld from me your son.” Greatly relieved, Abraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son.1

Throughout modern history, countless artists have captured this scene in painting and sculpture; each adding their own expressive elements to capture and relate to the viewer in a new way. Abraham and Isaac of the Workshop of Rembrandt von Rijn leaves the observer with an appreciation for how powerless man is in the face of God.2 However, Sacrifice of Isaac, by Marc Chagall, imparts a sense of awe on the perceptive viewer, rather than one of fear.3 Both Rembrandt and Chagall employ several different techniques incorporating color, lines, perspective and proportion to project their own unique vision.

Rembrandt’s portrayal of the story of Abraham and Isaac is characterized by alternating light and dark values, emphasizing and de-emphasizing different areas of the painting. The scene is dominated by blackness; much of Abraham’s clothing is in a darker hue of red and intermingles in with the landscape in the background as if they are one form, flowing together. In stark contrast, Isaac is all but glowing in a saturated golden hue of yellow, drawing the eyes of the viewer toward his exposed flesh. Parallel to the opposing light and dark values, Isaac is again isolated from the rest of the piece by virtue of his consistent and definable hue. While there is a marked simplicity in Isaac’s color key, many of the hues in the painting are more intermediate blending color and void. Overall, Abraham and Isaac is warm in tone, tending toward yellow and red, with the only cool tones in the piece coming from the dark blue-greens on the garments of the angel.2

There is a great sense of movement expressed in the lines in this painting; the majority of it flowing forth from the upper left down across the scene diagonally. However, the landscape in the background slopes gently from the right to the left. Similarly, Isaac’s body lies parallel this slope, contrasting with the remainder of the foreground. These overlaying differences lend a balance to the painting by offsetting one another. Many of these lines seem to be within the actual forms of the figures, connecting each form with another. Everything in this painting is in someway chained together and linked to another portion the painting, contributing a feeling of a stratified relationship between each element in the piece. This stratified feeling progresses from the angel to Abraham and finally to the Isaac who is bound and tied, from the powerful to the vulnerable.

As far as the shape of the entire work is concerned, the painting is appreciably taller than it is broad, yet it is only as tall as it need be. Furthermore, the scale of the scene is quite small, as the arms of Abraham nearly scale the breadth of the painting, yet the focus is on the foreground and the scale serves to frame the figures in the painting, further distinguishing them from the landscape. By keeping the scale of the picture smaller, Rembrandt presents a more intimate view to the observer. This has a profound effect on the viewer’s reaction to the piece. By keeping a narrow angle, there is almost no way for the figures in the painting not to be touching each other. The viewer is left with a feeling of weakness in the face of God; there are no means of escape from his watchful eye.

The color environment for Chagall’s Sacrifice of Isaac is the epitome of simplicity, including for the most part only single hues of the primary colors.3 The painting seems to be split in half diagonally from the lower left corner to the upper right corner. All of the colors to the left of this imaginary line are cool tones, while all those to the right are warmer tones. Blues with a few isolated greens dominate the upper left half of the painting, swirling freely and flowing, unconfined to any specific form. Similarly, in the lower right half, the warmer red and yellow tones exist without a form. There is some degree of blending, yet the intermediate hues do not seem to be incredibly different from the pure hues. Red blends into yellow and yellow then blends into blue. Orange and green hues may be found in the picture, but they do not stand out. Instead they serve to help complete a cycle, one color transition to another, in a circle, through the painting.

Chagall is able to create a circular progression in Sacrifice of Isaac, not only through his use of color, but also through his use of lines.3 Beginning near the top left, swirls in the color draw the viewers eyes down to the concrete lines of the angels wings to the angels outstretched arm. From there, the viewers eyes enter a cycle of clockwise progression through the piece, following along the contours of Abraham’s head and back and the down and swooping between Isaac’s body and Abraham’s arm to his knife held upright. The viewer then traces a path past the angels wings once more, moving to the right along swooping circular lines, and the cycle repeats itself.

Sacrifice of Isaac offers a vastly different sense of scale, perspective and depth than Rembrandt’s interpretation.3 Chagall has chosen to flatten out the image, removing most of the qualities that would suggest a three-dimensional space; found in most other versions of the scene. Additionally, he has framed a broader picture, centering the figures of Abraham, Isaac and the angel on a simple background. There is a merging of the background and the foreground into one simple layer. An intimate sense of proportion as found in Rembrandt’s piece, is all but absent in Chagall’s rendition. The characters are slightly distorted in relationship to one another, furthermore, because of the open nature of the painting, the characters are spaced more evenly bringing about a sentiment of reciprocal unity as opposed to one of stratification.

Although these two paintings portray the same biblical scene, the markedly different treatments by each artist clarify the different connotations of meaning for the viewer. The general effect that Rembrandt’s Abraham and Isaac has, is planted in the traditional mindset of the god-fearing Christian.2 In contrast, Chagall’s Sacrifice of Isaac distinguishes itself by leaving the viewer with a consummate admiration for the mercy of God and his divine power.3


Notes:

1 MU Museum of Art and Archaeology, December 2002, University of Missouri, Columbia, 21 April 2004--http://museum.research.missouri.edu/.

2 Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, Abraham and Isaac, MU Museum of Art and Archaeology, Columbia, Missouri.

3 Marc Chagall, Sacrifice of Isaac, Acadamy of Nice, Paris.

One of the prime differences of beliefs existing today among some Jews and some Christians vs. standard Muslim argument is the story of Abraham sacrifice toward his only son. Jews and Christians maintain it was Isaac to be sacrificed. Muslims retain it was Ishmael to be sacrificed. Who is precise and who is at fault? Such a problem is best answered with coherence.

The Bible is a tainted book transliterated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English (several editions in print) to a multitude of languages. Furthermore, scribes had a tendency to distort the Bible either through lack of knowledge or through intentional fraud. That being said, Muslims only corroborate parts of the Bible apparently in direct parallel with Quran.

Quran regularly contain summarized biblical stories in poetic graceful form. Condensed story of the sacrifice is recorded in Quran beginning from Safat (ranks) 37:100 and ending at 37:111. However, nowhere in these verses do we see an explicit statement calling for Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael by name. Nonetheless, it can be implicitly reasoned it was Ishmael to be sacrificed because after sacrifice event, Quran continue afterward in 37:112 and 37:113 that Allah promised to offer Isaac as a second son to Abraham.

Bible has a longer story to offer as per Genesis. Only essential points will be extracted from Genesis for scrutiny. Abraham was 75 when he arrived in Cannan.(1) Abraham was married to his half sister Sarah.(2) Abraham is 10 years older than Sarah.(3) Sarah can not bear children. As a result, she gave her handmaid Hagar as a wife to Abraham.(4) Hagar became pregnant when Abraham was 86. Hagar was twice driven away by Sarah, before the child was born and after the child was born.(5) Abraham took his only son to be sacrificed.(6) Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90.(7)

The biblical statement, "take your son, your only son Isaac." is paradoxical. According to both Genesis and Safat, Isaac was not born yet when Abraham took his only son to sacrifice. It is possible that Isaac was inserted in place of Ishmael. It is also possible that Isaac was added after your only son. There are abundant justifications offered by Jews and Christians to the illogical statement, "take your son your only son Isaac." None of these validations are strong enough or relate to each other to support this illogical statement.

Today, without a doubt in their mind, Muslims celebrate Eid Al Udha (festival of sacrifice) in remembrance of Abraham near sacrifice to Ishmael. Moreover, it has caused a spin in recent time between the three religions on who rightfully own the land of Canan.

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1 Genesis (12:11-16)
2 Genesis (20:12)
3 Genesis (17:17)
4 Genesis (16:3)
5 Genesis (16:4-12) Genesis (21:9-20)
6 Genesis (22:2-12)
7 Genesis(21:5)
Welcome to a problem-identifying node of the Pandeism index!!


The thing that has always bothered me most about this story is the ram. So Old Biblegod instructs faithful Abraham to sacrifice his own son (and really it matters not from a moral perspective whether it is his first or last or only son) -- sacrifice to who? Well, to Abraham's god, naturally, the god instructing the sacrifice wishes the sacrifice to be to itself. Never mind whether this all turns out to be a test or a joke or an elaborate heist plot, Abraham chooses to worship a deity whom Abraham believes would accept the murder of a defenseless, innocent human being. And had Abraham refused the request? Had Abraham declared, "no, it is immoral to kill another person, even at the demand of one's deity"? "No, it is wrong for a man to kill his own unsuspecting son"? Naturaly, by my view a response such as those would have been the one which passed the test.

But Abraham believes that his deity is indeed of the sort which would accept such a sacrifice, of a human, of a man's own unconvicted, unsuspecting son, at all; and believes apparently not simply that it is in his own best interests to comply with his god's demand (since, after all, this deity when angry can cause horrific sorts of grief), but that it is morally correct to obey such a command. His lament is that he will be without his son, not that it is wrong in any moral dimension to plunge a knife into his son's heart at the behest of a metaphysical voice, even one to whom Abraham accords ultimate moral accreditation.

But, so the story goes, Abraham's deity sees that Abraham is indeed prepared to murder his own son for the deity's delight, and the deity is satisfied with that-- and so sends along the ram to be sacrificed in the boy's place. Whatever difference there are to be papered over in the accounts offered by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, this element abides in all of them. But why is that necessary? Abraham has proved his point, that he'd commit the most vile of murders on the tug of a string, there seems no reason to not simply proclaim, "Abraham, you've done well in being ready to go through with it, so don't kill anything, but instead have yourself a picnic, play some touch football with the lad. Whatever." But, no, there still must be a killing. Abraham's deity still requires a sacrifice, an infliction of pain and death on a haplass animal, as innocent and unsuspecting as the son had been. And it is a wasteful death at that if the tradition of burning all the good parts to a cinder is to be observed. It might be claimed that it would have been Abraham's tradition to perform such a sacrifice, but that seems to be of little value given that it was surely Abraham's tradition to, by way of example, not murder his own son as a sacrifice.

So though it may be a crime to trick a man into believing that he is to murder his beloved child, by my view the greater crime committed in this tale is the actual needless murder of the innocent ram.

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