I Call Bullshit on Genesis 22

What would you say about a parent who was willing to murder her own child because she thought God was telling her to do it? You’d say she was unfit to be a parent, let alone a leader. You might even call her a monster.

But in Genesis 22, we see God apparently endorsing exactly that behavior. Abraham takes his son Isaac on a trip to the mountains to present a burnt offering to God, only Abraham doesn’t tell Isaac that M. Night Shyamalan apparently wrote this screenplay because the twist is that Isaac IS the burnt offering. So they set off for the top of a mountain, and Isaac is carrying enough wood to immolate a sheep — surely a heavy load — while Abraham has packed light, carrying only a knife and a torch. Well, okay, Abraham is over 100 years old; Isaac is stronger. And Isaac knows something is up, because when you have to climb to the top of a mountain, you make damn sure you didn’t leave something essential back at ground level. And Isaac knows there’s something missing. “So, Dad, I see we’ve got the wood and the fire, but where’s the sacrifice?” Abraham plays it cool. “Oh, don’t worry, God will provide a sacrifice.” Keep climbing, schlimazl. I don’t want to have to drag you up this hill. Cue dramatic chords.

So they get up to the top of the mountain, and Abraham explains his plan to Isaac, who gulps and agrees to the plan. JUST KIDDING! They build the altar together, and when they’ve got all the heavy lifting done, THEN Abraham ties Isaac up and heaves him onto the altar. So at this point, if you’re Isaac (and we all ought to be seeing this from his perspective), you are utterly freaked out. And so exhausted from carrying all that wood up a mountain that you’ve got no chance of escaping. And finally an angel of the Lord appears to interrupt the fun and games. “Abraham!

No response.

ABRAHAM!

“Here I am,” he replies. That’s my name — don’t wear it out.

Do not lay a hand on the boy!

No response. Perhaps Abraham is now trying to aim the knife at a wriggling Isaac without using his other hand to hold him down.

Do not do ANYTHING to him!

Oh. Abraham finally understands. He looks up and sees a ram caught in the woody vegetation by its horns, and sacrifices that instead.

And what does God have to say about the fact that Isaac is now permanently fucked in the head? What does God have to say about the fact that Abraham has proven himself willing to lead his own son to his death, willing to be the one who cuts his own son’s throat wide open and watch him bleed out? Does God say “You are one seriously psychotic dude and I already told you human sacrifice was bad, mmmkay?” No way. God says “I will bless you and you’ll have the largest and most successful family on Earth because you did this.

That’s bullshit.

You wanna hear the punchline? Abraham used to be the kind of guy who would stand up to God and argue with God. Back in the day, God was planning to nuke an entire city, and Abraham was certain that there was at least one good person living there. (Genesis 18:22-25.) So Abraham pushed back. He said “Far be it from You to kill the righteous with the wicked! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And God went along with Abraham’s plan.

Now, part of this story seems to have been retconned — edited later to make it a nice parallel to Jesus’ death. Note how the text carefully says “your son, your only son, whom you love” (so Ishmael is chopped liver?). Note how we’re told about the logistics of the trip — Abraham carrying the knife and the torch, leaving the sacrificial son to carry to the place of his death the very mass of wood upon which he was to be killed. Uh huh. Either this passage has been retconned by scholars between then and now, or the Lord God, Almighty and Omniscient, has no idea how to avoid overselling.

But the heart of the story remains. Abraham thinks that it’s so important to do what the voices are telling him to that he’s willing to murder his son. And this is not an occasion when the son understands what is asked of him and why, as Jesus does. This is the worst kind of child abuse. This leaves Isaac with more baggage than Joe “vs. the Volcano” Banks. And God, we’re told, admires this sort of batshit badassery.

That’s bullshit. And I’ll say it to God’s face.

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