Scriptural Reasoning at Heythrop: Abraham's Sacrifice of his son
Achtar (Ahmad)
Source: Seminar Hand-out
Paper - Abstract

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Email Announcement

  1. I am very delighted to invite you to our first bi-annual Scriptural Reasoning event at Heythrop. Scriptural Reasoning is "a dynamic and evolving practice in which Jews, Christians and Muslims meet to study their sacred Scriptures together, often around a common theme. The aim of SR is to further understanding of one another through the opportunity of mutual study, accompanied by listening, questioning, contributing, and going deeper".
  2. The topic of this session is Abraham's sacrifice of his son. The three chosen texts are attached with this email. What you need to do is to read the texts and bring them with you to the session (it might also be helpful to bring the Bible / the Quran with you).
  3. The presenters of the texts:
    • Mr. Jonathan Gorsky, Dr. Richard Price, Ahmad Achtar
    • Date: Thursday 11 November, 2010
    • Time: 6-8 pm
    • Venue: Walker Room
  4. If you want to find out more about Scriptural Reasoning practice; I recommend the following websites:

Note: The texts were:-
The Texts

The Jewish Text: Genesis Chapter 22
  • 1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham'; and he said: 'Here am I.' 2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, 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.' 3 And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said unto his young men: 'Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come back to you.' 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father, and said: 'My father.' And he said: 'Here am I, my son.' And he said: 'Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' 8 And Abraham said: 'God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So they went both of them together. 9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said: 'Abraham, Abraham.' And he said: 'Here am I.' 12 And he said: 'Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.' 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-jireh; as it is said to this day: 'In the mount where the LORD is seen.' 15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: 'By Myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, 17 that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast hearkened to My voice.' 19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba.
  • 20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying: 'Behold, Milcah, she also hath borne children unto thy brother Nahor: 21 Uz his first-born, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram; 22 and Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel.' 23 And Bethuel begot Rebekah; these eight did Milcah bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. 24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she also bore Tebah, and Gaham, and Tahash, and Maacah.
  • Source: The Hebrew Bible in English according to the JPS 1917 Edition
  • Link

The Christian Text: The Sacrifice Of Isaac (Genesis 22) - Two commentaries by fifth-century Greek Fathers, translated by Richard Price
  1. Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyra in Genesin III, ‘Abraham and Isaac’ (PG 69. 140B-144C)
    • The blessed Abraham was put to the test and ordered to sacrifice his beloved [= only] son; he was distressed as a father (as was to be expected) and stirred to affection by the hot goad of natural love, but nevertheless he gave priority to what was good in the situation. This evokes for us, and most clearly, the saying of the Saviour, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ [John 3:16). For, since I need to speak in human terms in order to express the meaning plainly, God the Father, in sending His Son to death on our behalf, was in some way distressed, even though He knew that His Son would suffer nothing painful, since He too was impassible as God. Nevertheless, intending something useful out of the death, namely salvation and life for all, He ignored the affection natural to a father. In amazement at this, Paul too says, ‘He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on behalf of us all’ (Roman 8:32). For how could the marvel of God the Father’s love for us be more appropriately displayed than by His handing over His own Son on our behalf, and by His being seen in this way to endure one of the things that are indeed undesired? For this is what Paul makes us understand when he says, ‘He did not spare…’…
    • The two servants who accompanied the old man till the third day are a type of the two peoples called to service by the Law, namely Israel and Judah. They thought it necessary simply to follow the commandments of God the Father, as they did those of Abraham, being unaware of the Son, through whom all things were made, nor acknowledging the Father’s heir, of whom there is a most attractive image for us in Isaac, still small and in the bosom of his father, and not yet wielding the authority due to a master. The Son was, and always is, all-perfect Lord and God; but because He was not manifest to all and especially not to the Jews, who looked only on the flesh, He was thought to be someone small and insignificant. Knowledge of Him is analogous to our conceptions of everything else; for the prophets said that ‘He is great and fearful in the presence of all those around Him’ (Psalm 89:7) that is, to those who have become near to Him through acuteness of mind. Paul again was in travail with certain people ‘until Christ was formed’ in them (Galatians 4:19) – that is, until the great and transcendent characteristics of His Godhead were gradually formed in their minds.
    • That the servants followed only till the third day and were not permitted to ascend to high and sacred ground, but were ordered to stay behind with the ass, indicates the two peoples’ obedience to God through the Law, which lasted till the third age, the final one, in which Christ was manifested to us. For the whole of time is divided into three parts, namely the past, the present, and the future; so the end occurs in the third. Holy Scripture says that Christ came to us at the end of time. And so Israel, having followed God through the Law, and until the time of our Saviour’s coming, refused to follow Christ through faith, when He ascended to death on our behalf. For Israel suffered a partial hardening [of the heart]. This is symbolized by the ass that at this time accompanied the servants; for the ass is the symbol of extreme irrationality, and hardening is a consequence of irrationality. The father’s leaving the servants and going off with his son signifies the temporary departure of God from the sons of Israel and His future return to them at the end of time, which will be perfected by [their receiving] faith in Christ; for when the totality of the Gentiles come over, then the whole of Israel will be saved [cp. Romans 11:15]. Blessed Abraham’s not saying clearly that he was ascending in order to sacrifice his son clearly refers to the failure of the Jews to believe in the mystery of Christ. We can perceive the truth of this in Christ’s speaking to the Jews in parables and enigmas, but plainly to His disciples: ‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest only in parables’ (Matthew 13:11).
    • The child, namely Isaac, was loaded by the hand of his father with the wood for the sacrifice, and so came to the place of sacrifice. So too Christ carried His cross on His shoulders and suffered outside the gate. He was not compelled by human force, but suffered of His own free will, and according to the plan of God the Father, according to what He said to Pontius Pilate, ‘You have no power over me save what has been given you from above’ (John 19:11). Isaac was placed on the wood, but was rescued from death and suffering.
    • A ram ascended to the sacrifice as a gift from God. For the Word who shone forth from the essence of God the Father was truly in His own temple, I mean the one He took from the Virgin and which was nailed to the wood. Though being impassible and immortal as God, He subjected himself to death and suffering. He ascended to God the Father in the odour of sweetness by means of His own body, which He is described as having received from the Father, according to the Psalm that is uttered as if by Him: ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for me, while burnt offerings and sin-offerings You have not required. Then I said, Lo I come. At the head of the book it is written of me, I desired to do Your will’ (Psalm 40: 6-8). The ‘book’ is the whole of the Pentateuch composed by the most wise Moses. The ‘head’ is its opening, called Genesis, in which this story was written about Christ.
  2. Procopius of Gaza, Commentary on Genesis, ch. 22 (PG 87A. 388C-392). (The textual tradition is poor, and this part of the work survives only in a Latin translation.)
    • God wished to carry out a test, whether Abraham would subject his spirit to the divine commands or bend to human understanding, rejecting the authority of God…
    • Because Abraham did not spare his son, both he and the whole mortal race received many gifts from God, since He too, in order to redeem us from the devil’s tyranny, did not spare His only-begotten Son. For He was handed over as a ram, He was shorn as a lamb, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Why did Isaac ask, ‘Where is the sheep?’, and not ‘Where is the bull?” or some other clean animal? The victim that God offered was neither a lamb nor a sheep but a ram, which signifies the perfection of Christ, who carried the ill-fated wood on His shoulders, being led to the slaughter and bound like Isaac, who put up no resistance, just as Christ did not, but let himself be sacrificed. For Christ was not compelled, but carried the cross voluntarily…
    • The passion of Christ was not imaginary. In the sacrifice of Isaac death came first as a figure, and the type survived. But the sacrifice of Christ revealed the resurrection, resurrection following on a real death. So Isaac, being but a type, suffered nothing. Consequently, as a type he causes some degree of fear and terror to men; for the mystery was shocking and novel, to see a son being led up a mountain by his father and destined for slaughter. Perhaps Abraham was so utterly confused in his mind by the perfection of his faith that he did not recognize his son, that he was his son, nor remember that he was the father, while in contrast Christ was so rooted in both that the Son did not fear to become a victim, nor did the Father grieve at offering up His Son. But in addition, Abraham remembered what Paul later said, that God, who had made Sarah fertile although she had been sterile, was able to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Moreover, he relied on the promise, which ran, ‘In him will all the nations be blessed’ (Genesis 18:18)…
    • [‘The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven’] Sacred Scripture later calls the angel ‘Lord’…This cannot be the Father, who is nowhere called an angel; but the Son is called one – ‘the angel of great counsel’ (Isaiah 9:5, Greek)…
    • [‘Now I know that you fear God’] This does not mean that God was ignorant… What these words mean is that the judgement of the divine verdict was scrupulous and exact.
    • [‘Lo, a ram was caught by its horns in a tree called sabek’, Greek] The Syriac has ‘Lo, a ram was suspended’ and not ‘caught’, and it does not add ‘in a tree called sabek’. Sabek is a species of fruit-tree, from which the ram was hanging; for when it climbed the tree with its front feet, it got entangled in the tree, and its feet jutted out, making the form of a cross. In Hebrew the word sabek can mean ‘forgiveness’. This is why the word is not translated, because it has many meanings. The ‘cross of forgiveness’ is a name for the cross of Christ… The sacrifice of the ram saved Isaac from death; likewise, the killing of the Lord saved us from eternal death. [Just as the ram was caught in the tree,] so the Saviour was bound with fetters, so that we might be released from our fetters.
    • Note this striking point. Abraham saw the ram but did not otherwise see God, nor even the angel speaking from heaven… Why, then, did the Lord say in the gospel, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day’ (John 8:56)? Here ‘day’ means death, as in ‘The Lord will laugh at them, because He sees that their day is coming’ (Psalm 37:13). So Abraham saw the ‘day’, that is, the passion of Christ. And when was this? When he saw the ram; for when he saw the ram, he recognized the passion of Christ.

The Islamic Text: The Qur’an: Chapter 37. Ranged In Rows (Surat al-Saffat)
  1. General introduction to the chapter: The central point of this Meccan sura is the unity of God1 (verses 4 and 180–2) and the refutation of the pagan belief that the angels were daughters of God and worthy of worship. The angels themselves are quoted to refute this (verses 164–6). The prophethood of Muhammad, is affirmed, as is the Hereafter. There are two supporting sections: the scenes in the Hereafter (verses 19–68) and the stories of earlier prophets (verses 75–148).
  2. The story of Ibrahim (Abraham) verses 83-113: 83 Abraham was of the same faith: 84 he came to his Lord with a devoted heart. 85 He said to his father and his people, ‘What are you worshipping? 86 How can you choose false gods instead of the true God? 87 So what is your opinion about the Lord of all the Worlds?’ 88 then he looked up to the stars. 89 He said, ‘I am sick,’ 90 so [his people] turned away from him and left. 91 He turned to their gods and said, 92 ‘Do you not eat? Why do you not speak?’ 93 then he turned and struck them with his right arm. 94 His people hurried towards him, 95 but he said, ‘How can you worship things you carve with your own hands, 96 when it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?’ 97 They said, ‘Build a pyre and throw him into the blazing fire.’ 98 They wanted to harm him, but We humiliated them. 99 He said, ‘I will go to my Lord: He is sure to guide me. 100 Lord, grant me a righteous son,’ 101 so We gave him the good news that he would have a patient son. 102 When the boy was old enough to work with his father, Abraham said, ‘My son, I have seen myself sacrificing you in a dream. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Father, do as you are commanded and, God willing, you will find me steadfast.’ 103 When they had both submitted to God, and he had laid his son down on the side of his face, 104 We called out to him, ‘Abraham, 105 you have fulfilled the dream.’ This is how We reward those who do good – 106 it was a test to prove [their true characters]– 107 We ransomed his son with a momentous sacrifice, 108 and We let him be praised by succeeding generations: 109 ‘Peace be upon Abraham!’ 110 This is how We reward those who do good: 111 truly he was one of Our faithful servants. 112 We gave Abraham the good news of Isaac– a prophet and a righteous man– 113 and blessed him and Isaac too: some of their offspring were good, but some clearly wronged themselves.
  3. Source: The Qur’an: A New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, OUP, Oxford, 2005.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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