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Posts Tagged ‘Josephus’

Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh — the Lord will provide

Count the stars. From an old woodcut. Wikipedia

Most of us have heard the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac — near, because it nearly happened! If you have read the book of Genesis, or the articles preceding this one, you know Abraham and his wife Sarah had a son in their old age, Isaac, the first of a vast multitude of descendants, the Hebrew nation, the Israelites. Look now toward heaven, God said to Abraham, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them, . . . so shall thy seed be. (Genesis 15:4-5)

God had promised this son years earlier, but as time drew on and Sarah did not conceive, she gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Here is what she said, Go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. (Genesis 16:2) We don’t know why she did this. Was she trying to help God fulfill his promise? Was she trying to diminish the reproach of her barrenness? We don’t know. But, we do know Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmael.

Thirteen years later the Lord spoke to Abraham and told him that Sarah would have a son the next year. When Abraham voiced some concern for Ishmael at this point, God was quick to tell him what he had already promised Hagar, that he would make Ishmael fruitful, and . . . multiply him exceedingly; . . . and . . . make him a great nation. (Genesis 17:20)

God further stated: But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. Though long in coming, this was God’s plan. May we be patient to wait for his plan. There had been conflict between Hagar and Sarah already, and now Ishmael is causing distress in the family. In Galatians is a comment by Paul that indicates Ishmael “persecuted” Isaac, who was much younger than him. (Galatians 4:28-29) Then Sarah said to her husband, Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son. (Genesis 21:10) The Bible says Abraham was grieved about this, but God told him, Let it not be grevious in thy sight . . . in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Genesis 21:12) So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, and the angel of the Lord took care of them. After that Hagar and Ishmael lived in Paran. (See Genesis 21.)

Now, can you imagine what consternation Abraham experienced later on when God spoke to him saying, 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 the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Genesis 22:2) By then Isaac was a youth, old enough to understand that an animal was necessary for a burnt offering. He questioned his father as they were on their way to the land of Moriah, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? In answer Abraham told his son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:7-8)

Rembrandt painting
Abraham and Isaac

Here we need more revelation than Genesis provides. Let’s go to Hebrews Chapter 11 where the writer is talking about faith. By faith Abraham, when he was tested (that is, while the testing of his faith was still in progress), offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises (of God) was ready to sacrifice his only son (of promise); to whom it was said “IN ISAAC SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE CALLED.” for he considered (it reasonable to believe) that God was able to raise Isaac, even from among the dead. (Hebrews 11:17-19 Amplified Bible)

When they came to the place God showed him, Abraham made an altar, laid the wood on it, bound his son and laid him upon the wood. Oh my! And as he took up the knife to kill his son the angel of the Lord stopped him. And he said, lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Genesis 22:12) At that point Abraham saw a ram caught by his horns in a thicket. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh. (Genesis 22:13) And it is said to this day, On the mount of the Lord it will be provided. (Genesis 22:14 Amplified Bible) Isaac’s life was spared by God, who provided the lamb for the burnt offering. What a wonderful picture of Jesus, the Lamb who died in our place!

After the sacrifice of the ram Abraham and Isaac came down from the mountain and joined their two traveling companions who were waiting for them, and together they left the land of Moriah and returned home to Beersheba. Where had they been? Just where is the land of Moriah? There is only one other mention in scripture of the word Moriah and that is: Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (Second Chronicles 3:1) Here is a mount Moriah which is synonymous with the temple and another  place — the threshing floor of Ornan.  Now that puts the temple, the threshing floor, and Mount Moriah all in one place. Who can argue with that!

Well, the Samaritans will. Their land was the land of Moreh, the place where God first spoke to Abraham, promising his descendants the land on which he stood. Their city was Shechem of old, and their mountain, Gerazim, the Mount of Blessing, where Joshua convened all of Israel upon their entrance into their promised land. The Samaritans believe their mountain to be the sacred mountain, where God provided his own sacrifice, the ram caught in the bushes. The Samaritans number less than a thousand today, yet those few cling tenaciously to their beliefs and customs, as witnessed by their annual celebration of Passover. https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/samaritans-perform-sacrificial-passover-ritual-452001

Samaritan ruins at Sebastia

These people are a remnant of those Jews in the northern kingdom of Israel of whom nearly all were taken captive by the Assyrians and resettled along the Euphrates River and beyond.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25079122/ Those Jews that were taken captive are now considered “lost tribes” since they never returned to Israel. The northern tribes of Israel had separated from their southern brothers shortly after the death of Solomon and in time established the city of Samaria as their capital. The northern kingdom lasted over 200 years, but finally fell in 722 BC after a three year siege by the Assyrians. Many years later Samaria became a Roman possession and the Emperor Augustus gave Samaria to King Herod; he renamed it Sebaste. Today, the ruins of ancient Samaria can be seen near the modern town of Sebastia.

Returning now to our subject — concerning the words the land of Moriah, Robert Harris, a professor of ancient languages in an excellent web publication from 2006 tells us that the translation is actually the land of THE Moriah. He also gives us the medieval interpreter Rashbam’s opinion that God was sending Abraham to the Amorites. Professor Harris does not claim to give us any clear facts, which is understandable (since there aren’t any) but he does give a short discussion of Moriah from an important (and very old) Jewish commentary. https://www.jtsa.edu/torah/examining-the-word-moriah/

So, what do we have now? We know the threshing floor of Ornan (or Araunah, see First Chronicles) was named Mount Moriah according to Ezra the writer of Second Chronicles, and that Solomon built the temple there. We have the traditional narrative (repeated by Josephus in the first century AD) that the temple was built on the site of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac. Then, we know the Samaritans claim their land to be the land of Moriah and their mountain of Gerazim to be the sacrificial site. Further, we have the translation (in the foregoing paragraph) that speaks of the land of THE Moriah.

Proximity of Temple Mount to City of David. Temple Mt. at top; City of David on hill east of paved street. Avram Graicer/Wikimedia Commons

Now, some folks hold fiercely to a tradition that the Temple Mount was the place Abraham brought his son Isaac intending to sacrifice him to the Lord. But, we need to consider that we still don’t know for certain where the land of Moriah was, let alone the mountain where it all took place. Further, and more importantly, we need to consider that the Temple Mount is a mere one third of a mile (or less) from the City of David, which at the time of Abraham’s sacrifice was an inhabited settlement, the walled city of Salem. We know Abraham had been there before and was already acquainted with Melchizedek, king and priest of that city. Melchizedek had come down out of Salem bringing bread and wine to Abraham in the valley of Shaveh as he was returning from the battle of Siddim. (Genesis 14:18-20) The Temple Mount location, so near the city of Salem, within shouting distance even, seems very unlikely.

So where is that mountain that Abraham saw afar off?  Obviously the answer can not be found in the Bible. Is there a preponderance of extrabiblical evidence that gives a clear answer to that question? Not that I have found. But I have found some scholarly folk who admit not knowing where it was the Lord sent Abraham. Regardless of that, by the first century AD certain suppositions about this event were already beginning to solidify. Josephus, the Jewish historian from that era wrote that the temple was  built on the site of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son. (The Antiquities of The Jews, Book 1, Chapter 13, Section 2, Paragraph 226)  Josephus can be counted a reliable source reporting the events he actually saw and lived through; but, can he be expected to give a first hand account of an event 2,000 years before his time. Of course not.

But, there are certain things people want to believe. It sounds right. It seems right. Grandma said it. It must be so. It is here we come up against an immovable stone — the rock of tradition — can we ever chip it all away?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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