Saturday, 23 July 2016

Chapter 22: God asks Abraham for a sacrifice

…And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of, Genesis 22:2

That the Bible’s writers weren’t revolted by the idea of a god that demands his creatures to offer up their heir, who has been promised a future of a “great nation”, demonstrates that the idea of child sacrifice was not something unfamiliar.

This continues into the New Testament where the idea of Jesus being sacrificed isn’t abhorrent to the writers of the Epistles. In a modern world, one would imagine that God demanding Abraham sacrifice his child would cause theology to rethink the worship of this deity, but they excuse it with “he didn’t let him actually slaughter him”.

This brings me to the worship of the god Molech/Moloch.

Moloch, also known as Molech, Molekh, Molok, Molek, Melek, Molock, Moloc, Melech, Milcom, or Molcom (representing Semitic מלך m-l-k, a Semitic root meaning "king") is the name of an ancient Ammonite god. Moloch worship was practiced by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant.As a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites, Moloch had associations with a particular kind of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents. Moloch figures in the Book of Deuteronomy and in the Book of Leviticus as a form of idolatry (Leviticus 18:21: "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch"). In the Old Testament, Gehenna was a valley by Jerusalem, where apostate Israelites and followers of various Baalim and Canaanite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2–6). 
I see in Abraham’s preparedness to obey the order to sacrifice his son, and even the sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament, as familiarity with child sacrifice. The abhorrence that I experience at the idea, and I would imagine that any caring person would feel, is the reason most westerners resist the idea of animal sacrifice today.

He trusts God, so he willingly takes his son to the altar where Isaac asks where the lamb is for them to offer up to God, and as he puts Isaac on the altar, ready to cut his throat, God tells him to stop.

Those of us who watch the Game of Thrones television show, in which we witnessed child sacrifice, albeit fictional, have seen a visual representation of a child’s reaction to this idea. This is mythology, however, not to be taken seriously, or the child was real, and the father really was prepared to kill him. That says more about the nature of the father than about a god he was worshipping. Who would be that trusting of his god that he would go to the extent of lighting the fire, with his son in danger of dying? Not any parent I know, no matter how deep the faith in their god.

God presents him with a ram caught in a thicket, and Abraham names the place Jehovahjireh, “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (verse 14).

Again God makes the promises of multiplying Abraham’s seed “as the stars of heaven”.

Why was the test necessary? He’d already made the same promise, several times, and even though Abraham showed himself to be a little corrupt by selling his wife, and throwing out his mistress and her son, God still tests him further. 

Read what "New Atheism" thinks of this story here.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Chapters 20 and 21: Abraham and Abimelech (and the birth of Isaac)

Chapter 20 has the story of Abraham selling Sarah to Abimelech, the king of Gerar. In this story, he travels to Gerar, which is “between Kadesh and Shur”, introduces her to the king of Gerar, Abimelech, and claims she is is sister.

The king takes her, an almost 100-year-old woman, but is prevented from “taking” her when God appears to him telling him that he’s a “dead man” if he does that.

Abimelech interrogates Abraham who makes excuses about how she is his sister, but not the “daughter of his mother”, and that he had asked her to claim to be his sister whenever they travelled to a strange place as a “kindness” to him. 

The king hands over sheep, oxen, and servants to Abraham telling him to take his wife and to stay wherever he likes on his land. He tells Sarah he’s given “her brother” a thousand pieces of silver. Abraham asks God to “heal” Abimelech and his wife, and maidservants, after he’d made them infertile, because of his, Abimelech’s, purchase of Sarah.

In chapter 21 Abraham is 100 years old when, finally, Sarah gives birth to her son, Isaac, and although she is happy about the child, she is jealous of Hagar. 

God speaks to Abraham, telling him that in Isaac will be the seed of a great nation, but also through Ishmael. He does as God tells him, giving Hagar bread and a bottle of water, to go on their way into the wilderness of Beersheba. 

The story continues with Hagar’s distress when the water runs out. She hides her child under a shrub and moves away so that she may not see him die of thirst. God hears her, and sends an angel to tell her that she should “lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand’ for I will make him a great nation”. Which is strange for an all-seeing, all-knowing god, who would have known how the birth of Ishmael would impact the world for thousands of generations in the future.

Abimelech and his army arrive at the well where God spoke to Hagar, where they challenge Abraham’s use it, the “well of the oath”. Abraham and Abimelech renew their treaty of peace, and livestock changes hands as witness to the oath between Abraham and Abimelech, regarding the use of the well.

Establishing the place where Hagar almost died of thirst before she, and her son, who was to found a “great nation” were saved, establishes it as a “holy place” in the theology of the Jewish people, and also the people who would later create a new religion from this tradition in Arabia.
Hagar settles in the “Wilderness of Paran”.
The Wilderness or Desert of Paran is said to be the place where Abraham's second wife Hagar and their first-born son Ishmael were sent into exile from Abraham's dwelling in Beersheba (Genesis 21)…Paran is later mentioned in the Book of Numbers as a place where the Israelites temporarily settled during the Exodus (Numbers 10:12)…Paran again features in the opening lines of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1:1)…King David spent some time in the wilderness of Paran after Samuel died (I Samuel)…It is not certain precisely where the wilderness of Paran is to be located. It is often associated with Mount Sinai in Egypt, and there is some evidence that it may originally have referred to the southern portion of the Sinai Peninsula.

Placing this story in the early mythological history indicates that the places mentioned were well-known and that the mythology surrounding them had been repeated enough times for them to be written into the final story. Connecting the place via the story of the sale of Sarah, serves to make the two men known to each other through earlier contact.