Aug 14, 2011

An unconventional reading of Genesis:22 in the original Hebrew suggests that an impostor, not the One God, told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

The Binding of Isaac, “Akeidat Yitzchak”

In Genesis, Chapter 22, God tests Abraham’s faith and loyalty in the most ungodly way imaginable. He tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering, as if he were an animal.

In Hebrew, this story is called Akedat Yitzchak, “The Binding of Isaac.” Jews read it from the Torah every year on the Jewish New Year, so they must think the story is mighty important. Rosh Hashonah (New Year), which comes in September, is one of the two most important holidays in the Jewish calendar.

Rabbis usually interpret the story as absolute proof that the God of Abraham never requires or condones human sacrifice, which was practiced regularly by many of the pagan nations in the Middle East in Biblical times. It also shows Abraham’s complete faith and devotion to God, enough to make this horrible sacrifice without argument or question.

The Hebrew word Hineini (“Here I Am”), which is Abraham’s answer to God before he even knows what God wants, is an ideal of faith and obedience to God that is the subject of countless sermons by countless rabbis on Roeysh Hashonah.

The Chabad Chasidim tell a story of three boys who sweep floors in a Jewish academy talking about the binding of Isaac. In a discussion of Hineini, cach tries to top the others explaining how devoted and obedient Abraham and Isaac were in Genesis 22. Chabad is a charismatic, ultra-orthodox Jewish sect with a long tradition of telling little stories (midrashim) to highlight ethical elements of Bible stories.

But the story also raises the question, what kind of God would put anyone to such a test, and let it continue until the altar and fire are built, the child is tied up, and Abraham is standing over Isaac holding the knife?

Leonard Cohen addresses that in his haunting, enigmatic song “The Story of Isaac,” that Judy Collins recorded. leonard cohen/story of isaac

A small number of people say the test might have been the work of an impostor, not the real God of Abraham.

Looking at a dozen English translations of the story — Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, from the King James to Revised Standard to the most modern plain English versions — not one of them recognizes that interpretation, said Joseph Baumgarten, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Biblical archaeolo. He pointed out that all translations of the Bible are interpretations.

But the original Hebrew version of the story can be read “the gods” tested Abraham, Dr. Baumgarten said.

Elohim is one of the names the Bible uses for God. But it’s an irregular noun. Normally, the suffix immakes masculine Hebrew nouns plural, as in the expression elohim achairim, which means other gods. We know that because achairim is a plural form of the adjective other, which is only used with plural nouns.

In the original Hebrew “Binding of Isaac” story  ha-Elohim is used until God intervenes to stop  the sacrifice, at the last second, when Abraham is standing over the boy with a knife.  Then, the story switches to God’s other Biblical name, the Hebrew consonants YHVH, which modern scholars guess  is pronounced something like Yahweh.  Of the two names, Yahweh is considered the more personal (human-like) side of God, the name God used with Moses at the burning bush.

Elohim created the world in Genesis 1 by saying “let there be….”  Yahweh, in Genesis 2 and 3, formed Man from the dust, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.  Then, God walked through the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve admitted they had eaten the forbidden fruit. Yahweh kicked them out of Paradise.

Elohim and Yahweh are two different sides of the one God.


Joseph Baumgarten, Baltimore Hebrew University, public presentation, 1989

Rabbi Scheur Zalman, Lubuvitscher Rebbe

Braiterman, Ken, “In the Bible, God is a 4-Letter Word,”

Copyright Ken Braiterman. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.




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