Isaac was chosen as the offering not
only because he was Abraham’s most precious possession but because he
was a special gift of God’s, under the covenant, and remained God’s
like all the rest of his gifts to man. This underlines the whole
purpose of sacrifice, a symbolic reminder that everything man possesses
comes from God and is returnable to him.
He is a ‘stranger and sojourner’ and
remains one even after God’s election, even after he has elaborately
purchased the Cave of Machpelah. This uncertainty of ownership is
transferred to all his descendants: as the Bible repeatedly reminds us.
Thus God tells the Israelites: ‘And the land is not to be sold in
perpetuity, for all land is Mine, because you are strangers and
sojourners before me’
To leave was to break out not just of
physical slavery but of airless spiritual prison: the lungs of Israel
in Egypt craved for a fiercer oxygen of truth and a way of life which
was purer, freer and more responsible.
Moreover, unlike the Greeks, the
Israelites, under the inspiration of Isaiah, were moving towards a pure
monotheism. There are many passages in the earlier parts of the Bible
where Yahweh is seen not so much as the sole God but as the most
powerful one, who can act in other gods' territories.
Because of the huge number of animals,
the slaughter, bloodying and carving up of the carcasses had to be done
quickly; and to get rid of the copious quantities of blood, the
platform was not solid but hollow, a gigantic cleansing system. …
Innumerable pipes conveyed water up to the platform surface, and a
multitude of drains carried off the torrents of blood.
Ethical monotheism was an idea whose
time had come. It was a Jewish idea. But the Christians took it with
them to the wider world, and so robbed the Jews of their birthright.
As the radical nationalists took over
Jerusalem they turned to the rich. One of their first acts was to burn
the Temple archives so that all the records of debts would be
They did not lose their identity in the
emergent Dark Age communities …. The Jews survived because the period
of intense retrospection enabled their intellectual leaders to enlarge
the Torah into a system of moral theology and community law of
extraordinary coherence, logical consistency and social strength.
Having lost the Kingdom of Israel the Jews turned the Torah into a
fortress of the mind and spirit, in which they could dwell in safety
and even in content.
Almost but not quite: he spent his
wealth on supporting scholars, the ablest of whom ate at the top table
in his hall; he excempted scholarly men from taxation, at the expense
of the workers; and in times of scarcity he fed scholars, but not the
unlettered, from his food reserves. … Judah was an intellectual elitist
of the most uncompromising kind. He used to say, grimly: ‘It is the
unlearned who bring trouble into the world.’
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1987), 18.
This quote is great if only for the use of the phrase “fiercer oxygen.”
I pulled this one because it sums up the Israelite religion rather
well. Most people view the early parts of the Bible as though the
beliefs it expresses are the same as those at the end of the book. But,
Judaism as we know it today is not the same as the religion of the
Israelites before Isaiah, and interpreting it as such can only lead to
confusion and ignorance.
How many times have you wondered what happens to all the blood from temple sacrifices? I never thought about it.
a shame. While it make sense to destroy the financial records, it is
terrible that whatever else the archives contained is now lost forever.
Of course, the Romans would have destroyed it later anyway, but it is
almost worse because the Jews did it themselves.
This reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle's song I Am a Rock which says, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.”
it be nice if this sort of benefactor system were still in place in the
world? As it is, those who go on to pursue scholarly pursuits either
start out rich, or poor, and stay that way. How fabulous it would be to
be able to pursue knowledge free of the burden of managing your own