The Binding of Isaac refers to a narrative found in the Old Testament section of the Bible whereby God instructs Abraham to offer Isaac, Abraham’s son, as a burnt sacrifice. This narrative is found in Genesis chapter 22. Owing to its weighty thematic significance, The Binding of Isaac has been interpreted by a range of Jewish and Christian scholars. This essay compares and contrasts Jewish and Christian interpretations of The Binding of Isaac and analyses the significance of these interpretations in today’s world.
Adopting a Jewish standpoint, Ladin observes that The Binding of Isaac is a brutal and horror story. The narrative is brutal because God asked Abraham, His first faithful follower, to kill the son, Isaac. This story is similarly farcical in that God caused Abraham and Isaac, father and son respectively, to go through remarkable simulation. In this charade, God watched in complimentary silence as Abraham prepared Isaac for the proposed sacrificial death. Subsequently, God provided Isaac with a reprieve at the last minute and proclaimed that, owing to Abraham’s willingness to commit filicide, He would give Abraham innumerable descendants who would serve as a blessing to the whole of humankind. Ladin avers that this divine proclamation was bitter because Abraham and Isaac had to go through trauma to cause God to make this pronouncement. Such horror demonstrates that, when He is present, God is either an observer of, or the cause of immense cruelty and anguish. Consequently, God held that there was some advantage to the suffering depicted in The Binding of Isaac. If they do not encounter such horror, Jews cannot draw closer to God. The horrifying experiences of Jews arouse God’s forgiveness. In such moments of suffering, Jews and God confront each other symbolically in an unequal playing field. With no guiding laws, no orienting relationships, and no reassuring covenants, Jews cannot differentiate love from hatred, curse from blessing, or life from death at such times. Such uncertainty allows God to serve as a genesis of blessing, causing Jews to stop agonising.
Ladin, Jay. Akedah 5760. Cross Currents. 2000, Vol. 50 Issue 1/2, 131.