Bible Review 9:5, October 1993

The Binding or Sacrifice of Isaac

How Jews and Christians see differently

By Robin M. Jensen

The Akedah (ah-kay-DAH), or binding of Isaac, is one of the most powerful narratives in the Hebrew Bible. For nearly 2,000 years, however, it has been read somewhat differently by Jews and Christians. It is even portrayed differently in the pictures they make. For most Christians, the Hebrew word akedah is unfamiliar; more often than not, they will refer to the episode as the sacrifice of Isaac rather than the binding of Isaac.

Yet, as we shall see, at various times Christians and Jews were aware of each other’s interpretation of the story.

According to the narrative in Genesis 22:2–18, God, without any warning, commands Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son as a burnt offering. Father and son travel three days to Moriah, the place of sacrifice, where they build an altar. Abraham binds Isaac, lays him on the firewood and raises his knife to slay him. At the last moment, however, an angel calls out to Abraham to do no harm to the lad, and a ram caught in a nearby thicket is substitute for Isaac.

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