Thursday, July 27, 2006

Will the Real Akeidah Please Stand Up?

So I just came back from praying Mincha and Ma’ariv (the evening and night prayers) at the synagogue, where our Rabbi taught us some of the halakhot (laws) of building the mizbe’ach, or altar where the sacrifices were brought. It resides in Jerusalem on the site of the Temple, built on the land of Moriah, a hill to be exact, where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed – the Akeidah. It was the same spot where Noah offe
red a sacrifice to G-d after the Flood. It was also the same spot where Adam brought an offering to G-d and from the same mound of dirt from which he was created. The point is that he was forgiven in the same place from which he was made, and it is where we will be forgiven.

So here comes the point where I glean and focus the information into something relevant for a different purpose, other than rebuilding the Temple.

As the Torah says, Abraham was to sacrifice his (second born) son Isaac on that site on Mt. Moriah. Muslim tradition has it that Abraham was to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac, and it also says that the Akeidah took place in Mecca, on the future site of the Qaba, not Jerusalem. Take a look at a map of where Mecca is located. In Genesis 12:5 we read, "Abram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother's son, and all their wealth that they had amassed, and the souls they made in Haran; and they left to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed into the land as far as the site of Shechem, until the Plain of Moreh." The walk from Jerusalem to Mecca is about twice as long as the walk from Haran to Jerusalem. Haran is located in modern-day southeast Turkey, the northernmost black dot. Jerusalem is in Israel, which is in green, and Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, in yellow. Nevertheless, the walk from Haran to Jerusalem is about 550 miles, or 890 kilometers away from Jerusalem, which is one place Abraham travelled. From Jerusalem to Mecca it's about 931 miles, or about 1,500 kilometers, or in other words, almost twice as long. But Muslim tradition doesn't say that Abraham went to Jerusalem, but rather Mecca, so cutting Jerusalem out of the trip and going straight from Haran to Mecca would be about 1,211 miles, or about 1,950 kilometers. This means that Abraham took a camp of people 1,211 miles on donkey and camelback to a place that was "out of the way," i.e., nothing of import was taking place there until much later. They would have gone all this way to sacrifice Ishmael, which serves the purpose of making Mecca and the Hijaz (Saudi Arabian Peninsula) the inheritance of the legacy of Abraham, but we see that his legacy was born with the Jewish monarchy in around the year 1020 BCE, meaning that there was about a 1,742 year long period where there was no Islam. The Jewish monarchy even lived out its duration long before Islam was born and fell in 722 BCE with the Assyrian invasion; Islam finished spreading in 722 CE. Even today neither Mecca nor Saudi Arabia are the center of Middle Eastern politics, but Jerusalem. Mecca is definitely the center, or the major center, of the Muslim world, but only the Muslim world.

The most unfitting thing here is that G-d told Abraham to go to Canaan (later Israel) to establish his legacy there. Why only during Muhammad's life some 3,000 year later did Arabs suddenly realize that Abraham brought Ishmael to Mecca? If Abraham had really taken Ishmael to Mecca, where was his religious legacy for all that time?

In Genesis 12:5 we read, "Hashem appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will this land,'" a reference to Isaac then Jacob's offspring. In 13:8-9 we read, "So Abram said to Lot: 'Please let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please, separate from me: If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right then I will go left.'" In verses 14 adn 15 we read, "Hashem said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Raise now your eyes and look out from where you are: northward, southward, eastward, and westward. For all the land that you see, to you will I give it, and to your descendants forever.'"

Now, aside from the questionable line of logic that Muslim tradition has in showing that Abraham brought Ishmael and not Isaac (due to its location) to Mecca, how do we explain that throughout human history it has been Jerusalem, and specifically the site of the Beit Hamikdash, or Temple and not Mecca and the site of the Q'aba that has been wrought with strife? Why is that invading peoples and nations have always wanted to get their hands on Jerusalem, not Mecca? How do we explain that the Crusaders persistently wanted to take over Jerusalem and not Mecca? Why are today’s problems concentrated in Jerusalem, not Mecca? Mecca, in purely relative matters, is marginal to the core of the conflict in the Middle East, it’s a sort of “backwater” and only important to Muslims. Why, why aren’t Jews, Christians, and Muslims fighting over the holiest site of Islam, or even Christianity? Why is that it, to go along with the common maxim, Jerusalem is a holy site to the three major religions and not Bethlehem, Nazareth, Mecca, or Medina? Why is Jerusalem a pillar that the people involved want?

Perhaps it is possible, in alignment with the Torah tradition of Abraham bringing Isaac to Mt. Moriah, that the world’s religious populations have internalized a certain tradition, that Abraham brought his son Isaac to the future site of Jerusalem to be sacrificed. Whether or not peoples have passed on this tradition in the same form, the fact is that Jerusalem has stayed at the center of interest for many world powers over; why is it that Mecca never became the new Jerusalem? This wasn’t achieved even after Muhammad shifted the direction of prayer, or Qibla
of Muslims from Jerusalem to Mecca and stated that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael there. Even if it was true that Abraham brought Ishmael and not Isaac, it still wouldn’t explain why Muslim tradition doesn’t declare that Ishmael is only concerned with making statements about Ishmael with regards to Mecca but not to Noah, or Adam. The Qur'an doesn't say that Noah made an offering in Mecca or that G-d formed Adam from a mound of dirt in Mecca, in fact, they probably agree that those events took place in Jerusalem. We indeed see that Islam makes many of the same or similar claims that Judaism does, for example, that Abraham came from a family of polytheists in Babylon (modern day Iraq), but it was necessary for them to alter their stance on Ishmael. And of course we can’t ignore that the Jewish religious monarchy was started by King Saul and passed on to many “greats,” such as King David, who moved it to Jerusalem, and his son Solomon. They are all figures which Muslim tradition recognizes as “Muslims,” (submitters to G-d) and that this monarchy, which was in fact an ancient Jewish state, was the center of world politics for some one thousand and seven hundred years before Muhammad was born. If, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon were Muslims and they erected the first ever religious monarchy to G-d, we could even say that Israel was the first Muslim state. Equally, we can say that it should serve as the prototype for all future Muslim states, "Palestine" included.

Perhaps the world tradition, at least for “Western” religionists, that human civilization started with Adam and eventually centered around a location fixed in the heart of a Land called “Israel,” is unshakeable no matter what new religions say. The Jews are much less populous than the Muslims, making up .002% of the world compared to Islam’s 23%, but Islam will always be Judaism’s little sister regardless of her enormity.


This is one of the major rebuttals coming from the Muslim tradition as to the veracity of the Torah tradition that Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac in Jerusalem and not Ishmael in Mecca. If there are any that you know about that I missed, please leave a comment.

According to Wikipedia, the Muslim traditions states this:

“Traditionally, Muslims believe that it was Ishmael rather than Isaac whom Abraham was told to sacrifice. In support of this, Muslims note that the text of Genesis as it stands, despite specifying Isaac, appears to state that Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son ("Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac," Genesis 22:2) to God. Since Isaac was Abraham's second son, there was no time at which he would have been Abraham's only son, so they take this to imply that the original text must have named Ishmael rather than Isaac as the intended sacrifice. The Qur'an itself does not specify which son he nearly sacrificed (Qur'an 37:99-111).

The entire episode of the sacrifice is regarded as a trial that Abraham had to face from God. It is celebrated by Muslims on the day of Eid ul-Adha.”

I must say that from a logical perspective that is a great point and it is not the first time that I have been pleased (logically) with an argument I’ve heard come from Islam. However, after just a bit of thinking it dawned on me that earlier in 21:9, “Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. So she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac!’” Later in 21:11, G-d says, “Be not distressed over the youth (Ishmael) or your slavewoman (Hagar): Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since through Isaac will offspring be considered yours.” Perhaps that by the time of the Akeidah, Ishmael was not around, and therefore Isaac was Abraham’s only son. Note, the Hebrew doesn’t say “even Isaac,” which is a product of translation. Further, which can be taken to confirm that Isaac was really the object of the Akeidah, is that, according to the above paragraph from the Wikipedia site, “The Qur'an itself does not specify which son he nearly sacrificed (Qur'an 37:99-111).”

The exact verses in the Qur’an mentioning the Akeidah are as follows,

“Allah the Almighty tells us of Ibrahim's affliction. After his rescue from the fire, Ibrahim (pbuh) says : ‘Verily, I am going to my Lord. He will guide me! My Lord! Grant me (offspring) from the righteous.’ So We gave him the glad tidings of a forbearing boy. And, when he (Isma'il) was old enough to walk with him, he said: ‘0 my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allah), so look what do you think!’ He said: ‘0 my father! Do that which you are commanded, Insha' Allah (if Allah wills), you shall find me of the patient.’ Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allah) and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering); and We called out to him: ‘0 Abraham! You have fulfilled the dream (vision)!’ Verily! Thus do We reward those who perform good deeds totally for Allah's sake only.’

This test was truly a manifest trial, and Isma'il (pbuh) and his father (pbuh) showed their complete submission to God. Allah granted their progeny with so many prophets.

"And We left for him (a goodly remembrance) among generations (to come) in later times.. Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves. (Qur'an Saffat 37:99-111)”

Interestingly enough, in the same manner, the Qur’an does not mention that Muhammad ascended to Heaven from Jerusalem, but rather from a place which the Qur’an refers to as the “furthest mosque.” Al aqsa means “nearest” in Arabic, the name given to the mosque built on the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site in honor of this verse from the Qur’an. However, if the Qur’an says that the place was “the farthest,” why was the mosque in Jerusalem named “the nearest,” the exact opposite? What this could mean is that “the place farther from all other places” was not a reference to Jerusalem, but maybe to Mecca, or maybe even to Heaven, and Jerusalem was “nearer,” or “the nearest.”

According to an article by Daniel Pipes about Al-Aqsa Mosque, of which the full article can be found

“The next Umayyad step was subtle and complex, and requires a pause to note a passage of the Qur'an (17:1) describing the Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey to heaven (isra'):

Glory to He who took His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the furthest mosque. (Subhana allathina asra bi-‘abdihi laylatan min al-masjidi al-harami ila al-masjidi al-aqsa.)

When this Qur'anic passage was first revealed, in about 621, a place called the Sacred Mosque already existed in Mecca. In contrast, the ‘furthest mosque’ was a turn of phrase, not a place. Some early Muslims understood it as metaphorical or as a place in heaven.14 And if the ‘furthest mosque’ did exist on earth, Palestine would seem an unlikely location, for many reasons. Some of them:

Elsewhere in the Qur'an (30:1), Palestine is called ‘the closest land’ (adna al-ard).

Palestine had not yet been conquered by the Muslims and contained not a single mosque.

The ‘furthest mosque’ was apparently identified with places inside Arabia: either Medina15 or a town called Ji‘rana, about ten miles from Mecca, which the Prophet visited in 630.16

The earliest Muslim accounts of Jerusalem, such as the description of Caliph ‘Umar's reported visit to the city just after the Muslims conquest in 638, nowhere identify the Temple Mount with the ‘furthest mosque’ of the Qur'an.

The Qur'anic inscriptions that make up a 240-meter mosaic frieze inside the Dome of the Rock do not include Qur'an 17:1 and the story of the Night Journey, suggesting that as late as 692 the idea of Jerusalem as the lift-off for the Night Journey had not yet been established. (Indeed, the first extant inscriptions of Qur'an 17:1 in Jerusalem date from the eleventh century.)

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya (638-700), a close relative of the Prophet Muhammad, is quoted denigrating the notion that the prophet ever set foot on the Rock in Jerusalem; ‘these damned Syrians,’ by which he means the Umayyads, ‘pretend that God put His foot on the Rock in Jerusalem, though [only] one person ever put his foot on the rock, namely Abraham.’17

Just a thought:

Another argument made by the Muslim tradition is that the Jews maliciously corrupted the text of the “original Torah” (meaning that the Torah that the Jews read today is not the original) to replace Ishmael with Isaac. However, in verse 21:9 of the Torah we read, “Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. So she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this slavewoman with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac!’” This hardly seems like a corruption of the text; Hagar mocked Sarah because Sarah was barren and Hagar had just given birth. Sarah, who is also seen as a Muslim in Muslim tradition, was deeply offended by Hagar’s subtle patronizing and expelled her slavewoman, or handmaiden, from the home. Further, the Torah says in 22:11, “The matter greatly distressed Abraham regarding his son (Ishmael).”

Wait just a matzah-pickin’ minute here! If the Jews corrupted the text, they are treating “the bad guys” very nicely. Maybe this is how it really happened? There are a series of verses that deal with Hagar and her son Ishmael quite compassionately, hardly indications of malicious corruption. Guess what, there are even Rabbi’s with the name “Ishmael.” 22:14-20 says, “So Abraham awoke early in the morning, took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them on her shoulder along with the boy, and sent her off. She departed, and strayed in the desert of Beer-sheba. G-d heard the cry of the youth, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state. Arise, lift up the youth and grasp your hand upon him, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then G-d opened her eyes and she perceived a well of water; she went back and filled the skin of water and gave the youth to drink. G-d was with the youth and he grew up; he dwelt in the desert and became an accomplished archer. He lived in the desert of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

Interestingly enough, Genesis 22:4-5 says, “So Abraham woke up early in the morning and he saddled his donkey; he took his two young men with him and Isaac, his son; he split the wood for the offering, and stood up and went to the place of which G-d had spoken to him. On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and perceived the place from afar. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here by yourselves with the donkey, while I and the lad will go yonder; we will worship and we will return to you.” The Talmud commentary says that Abraham told the young men that “they,” he and Isaac, would worship and return because he knew that G-d was going to tell him not to sacrifice Isaac. Genesis 22:14, which starts with the same wording, “So Abraham awoke early in the morning,” has a similar occurrence. Abraham gives Hagar a skin of water, and it is that same skin that she fills up later when the angel of G-d showed her the well of water. It is as if Abraham also knew that she would be saved in the desert in the same way that Isaac was saved from sacrifice. This is just something I am inferring from the text, but nevertheless, it hardly seems to be a malicious corruption.

Oh yes, the Talmud also says that Ishmael and Isaac made amends upon burying their father Abraham and also says that Ishmael made "tshuva", he repented, and was a tzaddik, a righteous person. It seems that the Muslim tradition has had to be a bit hasty in its conclusions about the Torah's treatment of Ishmael in the name of establishing that they are the correct religious heirs to Abraham.

Further, Muslim tradition is bound by certain laws of logic, so it cannot denigrate any of the Prophets and so the Jews serve as that antithesis to Islam, true submission. In reality, and with the utmost respect and love for Abraham who is our father too, Muslim tradition faithfully ignores that he too could have been implicated in acting erroneously, as a Jew. What about Jacob, whom stole Esav's birthright? "Ah," they would say," you see how the Jews even stoop so low as to insult their own Patriarch? This is something that a Muslim never does." Perhaps in the Qur'an Esav, in an act of exhuberant and excited utter submission gives his birthright over to Jacob with joy. That way they can tell the story without "insulting" any of the Prophets the way that those horrible Jews do. On the other hand, they end up with shallow and less believable characters, and what is a worst act of corruption than turning complicated Prophets into mindless zombie drones? We are supposed to simulate our Prophets; most Muslims do a fine job of simulating the Prophets the way the Qur'an describes them. Again, I can't help but to wonder if how the Torah says it went down is how it really all happened; all the evidence points in that direction.

One final thought; why are Muslims so quick to offer high respects to Hagar as a Muslim, a woman who insulted another who was not able to give birth? Some submitter.

Comments, quips, and complaints greatly appreciated.


andrea said...

Wow! I had to create an account to respond to you, and now I have lost what I was gonna say...Well, interesting thoughts about Jerusalem being the center of conflict through the ages, etc. I have totally lost what I was gonna write though..I have to read it again...Sorry :)

jjew said...

No, that's fine, take your time. Do you know how I can set it up so people don't need to create an account to comment on here?

Anonymous said...

Yaniv, 'asita 'od pa'am, tamid sodeq v'ein hazbara kemo ha'eHad shelkha. Hazaq Hoo Barukh l'Yaniv ben-Barukh