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A Second Look at Papa Abraham

alec vanderboom

Rembrandt van Rijn
Abraham's Sacrifice, 1655
etching and drypoint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

"Here Rembrandt portrays the moment in the story when Abraham has raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac. An angel suddenly appears, calling, "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God. In Rembrandt's work, the angel does not call to Abraham but swoops down in a stream of light and embraces him, seizing his arms to prevent him from killing his son. Many interpretations emphasize Isaac's terror. But Rembrandt focuses on Abraham, whose hand covers Isaac's eyes protectively, a tender gesture toward the son he has prepared to sacrifice. Abraham's eyes, pools of black, suggest blindness—his unwavering, blind faith in God." (NGA website)

I learned a new fact today. Muslims celebrate a religious holiday called Eid ul Adhaa, in which a sheep or goat is sacrificed and its meat shared with the poor, each year in rememberance of the "Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command" (Wikipedia).

Did you notice the change? Muslims belive that Ishmael (their direct descendant through Abraham's relationship with Sarah's slave Hagar) was the one to be sacrificed, instead of Isaac. Curiously, my preliminary online research showed that the text of the Torah, our Holy Scriptures and the Qur'an are fairly similar. The Torah and our Bible versus clearly say that Abraham was called to sacrifice "his only son, Isaac." I'm no expert on the Qur'an, yet the text appears to be silient on the actual name of the son to be sacrificed. The Qur'an states that Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice "his only son". Catholics (and Jews) believe that Isaac was the promised son, the one through whom Abraham was promised descendants "as countless as the stars." The text that I read from the Qur'an doesn't seem on its face to contradict this passage of Genisis. Yet some (not even all) Muslim experts insert Ishmael's name into the text since "only son" must mean that the events occured to Ishmael before Isaac was born.

This inter-family fight between all our brothers in the faith (Jews and Muslims) highlight the importance of this central event in establishing the initial priviledged relationship with God.

I realize how little I know about Islam. I want to read the Qur'an myself. I'll get more out of it if I have a good supportive text. Does anyone know a Catholic scholar who writes about passages in the Qur'an?

Prayer: Lord, as we prepare to celebrate your Passion, help us unite our prayers with our brothers in the faith, the descendants of Abraham. May all Jews, Muslims and Christians be one day united in singing praises to our one Creator in heaven.