Sacrificing Isaac: A Kaleidoscopic view

 

Abstract to my Master’s thesis for Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki

The sacrificing of Isaac, described in Genesis 22, is one of the most troubling stories in Bible. In that story, Abraham was faced with a moral dilemma and compelled to choose between two bad options: to disobey God or to kill his son.

Why was Abraham willing to commit the most horrendous thing one can imagine: killing his own child? Did God really ask Abraham for such a sacrifice, and if yes, did he really expect Abraham to obey? Several attempts to explain Abraham’s behavior as well as God’s command have been made. Most often, Abraham is portrayed as a model of faith. God, on the other hand, is usually seen as ”only testing” Abraham, but not really expecting a sacrifice. Many scholars are questioning these interpretations, though. To some of them, Abraham is no more than a criminal, and God a moral monster.

In this study, I am taking an analytical approach to existing literature and commentaries on the sacrificing of Isaac. I am describing, classifying and comparing different attempts to resolve the obvious conflict between divine obedience and morality. Since the command to sacrifice Isaac is often regarded as a divine test, I will also examine, what exactly might have been the focus of that test: faith, obedience, fear or something else? I am also referring to some contemporary crime cases to show that sacrificing a child in God’s name doesn’t belong only to history. Thus, contrary to some Bible commentators who claim that nothing similar could happen today, I will show that some people have used the story of Abraham and Isaac as a justification for their pernicious action.

Finally, and as the title of my thesis implies, I will propose a ”kaleidoscopic” approach to the story of sacrificing Isaac. Just like an image in a kaleidoscope is prone to change with each new treatment, so is the interpretation of the story. Even more, the story in Genesis 22 is like a Rorschach test: it allows for the viewer to see what she wants to see, and to project her preconceptions of Abraham and God to the troublesome image.

Read the full thesis (PDF) here 

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