Monday, November 28, 2011

Was Aqedas Yishmael Originally a Jewish Idea?

An unendorsed guest post by BRAY

A few recent posts on DovBear probing X-tian borrowing of Aqeda themes got me thinking about Islamic borrowing of Aqeda themes.

Based on the Quran rather than the Torah, the predominant Islamic belief is that while an Aqeda indeed took place there never was an Aqedas Yitzchok. Instead, it was Avrahams older son, Yishmael, who was bound up and nearly slaughtered as a burnt offering. Here are the salient points from the Wikipedia article on the topic:

The Qur'an states that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son. The son is not however named in the Qur'an (e.g., 37:99–113). In early Islam, there was a dispute over the identity of the son. However, [later] Muslim scholars came to endorse the belief that it was Ishmael, not Isaac. The argument of those early scholars who believed it was Isaac rather than Ishmael (notably Ibn Kutyaba and al-Tabari) was that "God's perfecting his mercy on Abraham and Isaac" (12:6) referred to his making Abraham his friend and saving him from the burning bush, and to his rescuing Isaac. The other parties held that the promise to Sarah was of a son, Isaac, and a grandson, Jacob (11:71–74), excluded the possibility of a premature death of Isaac. The early dispute was more concerned with Persian rather than Jewish rivalry with Arabs, since the Persians claimed to be of descendants of Isaac. Al-Masudi, for example, reports a Persian poet (902 C.E.) who claimed superiority over Arabs through descent from Isaac.

The submission of Abraham and his son is celebrated and commemorated by Muslims on the days of Eid al-Adha Sacrifice festival. During the festival, those who can afford and the ones in the pilgrimage sacrifice a ram, cow, sheep or a camel. Part of the sacrifice meat is eaten by the household and remaining is distributed to the neighbors and the needy. The festival happens in the pilgrimage hajj season. The well-known site of Marwah may be identified with the biblical Moriah (Hebrew מוריה) in Gn 22:2. Marwah being the mount just outside the perimeter of the Kaaba.

The Quranic account of Abraham being saved from the burning bush sounds like an amalgam of Moshe at the Sneh and Avraham tried by fire by Nimrod in Ur Qasdim . I find it fascinating that the Persian-Arab rivalry is not merely a theological one but an ethnic/ racial one as the Persians hold Yitzchok to be a nobler ancestor than Yishmael! I wonder if in the contemporary Sunni and Shia branches of Islam the prevailing opinions over which son Abraham bound and nearly slaughtered breaks along the lines of "Rov" Islamic scholars vs. Ibn-Kutaba. It is also interesting and telling that the Quran shifts the location of the Aqeda from Jerusalem to Mecca. While we associate Aqedas Yitzchok with a fast day, they associate Aqedas Yishmael with a Feast day.

Some other twists of the Quranic narrative:

  • Hagar is taken by Avraham to Arabia and dumped there (with ample supplies) by direct command of G-d, not by command of Sarah.
  • A miraculous well is not merely seen by Hagar but "kicked" into existence by either Yishmael or the Angel Gavriel (anticipating Moshe Rabenus Mei Meriva?).
  • Yishmael is a little baby at this time not a 16 year old boy.(???)
  • Elsewhere it seems to imply that Aqedas "Yishmael" happens when Yishmael is 13. When then, per the Quran, did his circumcision take place? As I don't read Arabic, don't know how to search online Qurans and am unclear on this point form the various Wikipedia articles I presume that he was circumcised as a baby.

Claiming Yishmael was 13 at the time of "his" Aqeda seems to be a clever exercise in Islamic apologetic in response to our own Midrashic conversation between the sons of Avraham. In this conversation Yitzchak clearly wins the spitting contest. According to some (see Rashi Bereshis 22:1) the דברים האלה that served as the prelude to Aqedas Yitzchak went as follows: First Yishmael bragged to Yitzchok about his willing cooperation in his own circumcision in spite of his advanced age (13). Then Yitzchok responded "You're so proud about the sacrifice of one limb/organ? If G-d asked me to sacrifice my very life I would not hesitate to do so" . In the Quranic-Islamic narrative it is their patriarch Yishmael who, of his own volition, is willing to sacrifice life and not merely limb!

In the Quran there is no באר לחי רואי in southern Israel-Negev desert. Instead Hagar and Yishmael are saved by the Zamzam well in the Arabian desert. The Zamzam well is located approximately 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba paralleling Judaisms Shiloakh stream that flowed through the courtyard of the Bais HaMiqdash in Jerusalem.

In the Torah a death, Sarahs, is associated with the Aqeda. In the Quran it is the annunciation of a birth, Yitzchoks, that is associated with the Aqeda. How convenient. Yitzchok could not possibly have been the son who was bound and sacrificed as he wasn't yet born at the time of this great trial! I wonder how Ibn Kutyaba and al-Tabari explain that Quranic passage.

Loyal Maimonidian that I am, I dismiss all of these distortions, lies and Chinese-menu-one-from-column-A-and-one-from-column-B narratives as yet another proof of their authors inveterate prevaricating and mental instability. But when Jewish sources claim that there was an Aqedas Yishmael, I sit up and take notice.

I am not referring to the essay by Professor Uriel Simon, a latter day academic , drawing conclusions from the juxtaposition of the parshiyos of Yishmaels expulsion and Yitzchaks Aqeda and from the internal parallels between Avrahams near-loss through near-death of Yitzchak and actual loss and near-death of Yishmael. Intriguing as his essay is for all I know Dr. Simon may be afflicted with the Havdala Obliviousness that is pandemic in Academia. No, I am talking about the parshanus of the revered אור החיים הקדוש.

The problem in Bereshis 21:14
יד וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח-לֶחֶם וְחֵמַת מַיִם וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-הָגָר שָׂם עַל-שִׁכְמָהּ, וְאֶת-הַיֶּלֶד
is readily apparent; why is it necessary to put the child on her shoulder? We aren't talking about an infant or toddler but about a (presumably strapping) 16 year old adolescent. Couldn't he have walked away under his own power? Rashi handles this issue by explaining that Yishmael was feverish as a result of Sarah's ayin hora. But the אור החיים הקדוש takes a different approach:

על שכמה ואת הילד. פי׳ גס אותו שם על שכמה להיות שלא היה רוצה לצאת מבית אביו לזה עקדו כילד ושמו על שכמה
He (IE Yishmael) was also placed upon her shoulders. He did not want to leave his fathers house (and had to be compelled, dragged screaming and kicking as it were) Consequently he bound him like a little boy and placed him upon her shoulders.

Some will opine that Yishmael had to be expelled forcibly because he liked his cushy life as the scion of a rich and important man. I prefer to see his resistance in a more positive light. As cavalier an attitude that Yishmael might have affected towards his own holiness, he still retained enough Qedusha consciousness that when he felt the imminent threat of being cut off from Qedusha forever...
he fought like mad. [Per the Kohen, Yishmael retained enough in common with Avraham that it required דוקה Sara, who was totally antithetical to Yishamel (Gevura of Qedusha vs. Khesed of the Sitra Akhra) to banish him from Avrahams legacy.]

But whatever the cause of his resistance the fact of his resistance was remedied by an Aqeda. As was to be the case with the only, beloved son... Yitzchak, Avrahams final act before losing his elder son was to hog-tie / bind him. THAT is Judaisms Aqedas Yishmael.

It is remarkable that so many of the foundation myths, motifs, symbolism, observances and holy places of both X-tianity and Islam are ripped off from Judaisms seminal event, Aqedas Yitzchak.

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