Friday, October 10, 2014

Was Isaac sacrificed?

TZEMAH YOREH: The Sacrifice of Isaac in Context. Recovering a Lost Ending of the Akedah (

HT Seth Sanders on Facebook. An interesting article that takes up and develops a case made by Shalom Spiegel in The Last Trial (see n. 26) that in the original story of the Aqedah (the Binding of Isaac) Isaac was not only bound, he was actually sacrificed by Abraham. Indeed there is a good case that there is more going on in the Akedah (Genesis 22:1-19) than first meets the eye. But that said, there is a piece of evidence missed by Dr. Yoreh which partly supports his argument, but overall raises serious difficulties for it. He accepts a source division of the passage based on the use of divine names: Elohim ("God," used by the E source or Elohist) throughout the narrative except in vv. 11 and 14-15, where YHWH ("the LORD," typical of the J source or Yahwist) is used instead. Then by omitting vv. 12b and 13-14 (and presumably vv. 15-18 also) as Yahwistic additions, he reconstructs an original Elohistic story in which no angel intervened and Isaac was sacrificed.

The piece of evidence I mentioned is literally a piece, a fragment of Genesis 22 preserved in our earliest surviving manuscript of Genesis, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and called 4QGenesisExodusa.* This fragment has just a bit of v. 14 on it: אלהים יראה אשר יאמר. (Some of the letters are damaged or missing, but the readings are not in doubt.) So the place name in v. 14 is called "Elohim Yir'eh; as it is said ... ." The Masoretic text here reads "YHWH Yireh," so this fragment supports the suggestion that the original version had Elohim. Indeed, this phrase refers back to the beginning of the verse where Abraham uses the phrase "YHWH Yir'eh," translated something like "YHWH will see to it." The implication is that the original of that phrase also used Elohim. Moreover, the reference to "the"Angel of YHWH" in v. 11 is read in the Syriac version as "the Angel of Elohim." So we see a pattern, enough of one to suspect that the use of YHWH in "the Angel of YHWH" in v. 15 is also secondary and it originally read "the Angel of Elohim."

In other words, the fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls gives us very good reason to infer that the whole passage originally read Elohim throughout.

So far, so good. The problem with Dr. Yoreh's theory is that v. 14, which he wants to delete as a secondary addition by the Yahwist, also originally read Elohim and therefore was probably part of the original E story. Or at least the original use of the divine name gives us no reason to suspect that the Yahwist has added the passage.

One could still argue that the verses he deletes are secondary additions and that still gives us an Aqedah in which Isaac wasn't saved, but the argument is much weaker without the change in divine names.

I still suspect that an earlier version of the Aqedah did involve the actual sacrifice of Isaac, although what happened next is far from clear. Did Isaac die and rise again like Baal? I don't know. Yoreh suggests (n. 33) that in E Abraham was not the ancestor of Jacob, which is also possible. But any such speculative reconstructions have to proceed without the help of traditional source criticism based on the use of the divine names.

*I published the fragment in "The Name of God at Moriah: An Unpublished Fragment from 4QGenExoda" in JBL 110 (1991): 577-82. The entire manuscript was later published in DJD 12. Incidentally, the handwriting of this fragment is the same as in the rest of the manuscript. And I reconstructed the whole manuscript and discovered that 22:14 came right at the top of a column, and the fragment does show the top margin of a column, so despite it's small size it is clearly a fragment from this part of Genesis in this manuscript.

UPDATE: I see I have an earlier post from many years ago which refers to Spiegel's reading of the Aqedah.