Monday, February 17, 2014

Response to a Christian About the Biblical Story of Ishmael and Isaac - Part Two

Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible: A Response to a Christian’s Objections, Part Two

In the article “Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible: A Response to a Christian’s Objections”, we replied to some critiques of a Christian with regard to the article “The Biblical Story of Ishmael and Isaac: An Analysis and Comparison to the Islamic Narrative”.  In this present article, we will respond to this Christian’s very brief counter-reply.

           In response to our critique of his unsupported claim that Ishmael was a teenager but “not as strong as one”, the Christian retorted:

“What tactics? What is there to figure out, they were in the wilderness of Be′er-she′ba, lost their way, ran out of water and fell out from exhaustion. Hellooo! Let us be reasonable, okay.”

The tactic is to make an unsupported allegation to explain why Ishmael had to be carried by his mother through the desert in the same way Jewish commentators like Rashi did.  They knew something was not right about the story, so to explain it, they simply concocted a legend about a curse placed on Ishmael by Sarah.  The Christian made a different excuse, and failed to back it up with any evidence.  

            He also did not answer any of our questions.  Here they are again:
  • Can he tell us how far Hagar went while carrying her son before she finally “gave out”? 
  • Can he show us any example prior to the exile into the desert where Ishmael was “not strong and needed to be carried”? 
Furthermore, we refuted the idea that Ishmael was not a “strong” teenager since he supposedly was able to live in the desert indefinitely and become an archer!  How does a previously weak teenager become a hardy desert dweller? 

Next, the Christian stated in response to our observation that the Hebrew word “hay-ye-led” always refers to a child:

Is that so? It is clear you must not understand/read Hebrew.

  • #3206.
  • יֶלֶד
  • yeled (409b); from 3205; child, son, boy, youth:—
  • NASB - boy(7), boys(3), child(32), child's(2), children(27), lad(2), lads(1), young(3), young men(6), youths(5).

So, indeed the Hebrew word ye′ledh can be used for child, young man or even youth as I said">  solid proof right here.

And therein lies the problem.  The Christian does not seem to understand the difference between “yeled” and “hay-ye-led”.  They are not the same word!  The link provided by this individual even provides examples of the different variants of “yeled”, which of course have different meanings.  For example, the link provides an example of when “yeled” refers to a “man”, namely Genesis 4:23, which we mentioned in the previous article.  The variant of “yeled” used in this verse is “we-ye-led”, which is clearly a different word than “hay-ye-led”.    
            The definition of “yeled”, according to one authoritative dictionary is summarized as the following:

“…yeled refers to children of both genders in a number of cases.  This term is found approximately eighty times with the various meanings ‘child (male and female),’ ‘son,’ ‘boy,’ ‘youth.’

Yeled occurs approximately sixty times meaning ‘child.’  For example, it refers to Ishmael (cf. Gen. 21:8ff.); the Israelite children rescued by the courageous Hebrew midwives in Egypt (cf. Exod. 1:17f.); Moses (Exod. 2:3ff.); the child (boy) of the Zarephath widow miraculously brought back to life by Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs. 17:21ff.).  See also 2 Kgs. 4:18, 26, 34.”[1]

It should be noted that the above source references Genesis 21:8.  What variant of “yeled” is used in this verse?  Why “hay-ye-led” of course![2]  We also referred to Exodus 2:3 in the original article since “hay-ye-led” is used there as well to refer to the infant Moses.  So, it is clear that “hay-ye-led” means “child”, not “young man”.

            To continue, in a 2001 article in the journal “Vetus Testamentum”, S. Nikaido of Berkeley University made a very interesting observation about the depiction of Ishmael in Genesis 21, which supports our contention that the story has been altered by Jewish scribes.  Nikaido states:

“According to Gen. xvii 25 (P), Ishmael was at least thirteen. Therefore, Gen. Rabbah 53.13 (also Rashi) suggests that he was carried because of illness; Abravanel interprets we"et-hayyeled as meaning Ishmael helped carry the provisions.  Modern commentators, however, fault the discrepancy on P’s superimposed chronology (Gen. xvi 16 and xxi 5; xvii 25), a phenomenon occurring elsewhere (e.g., Gen. xii 11 compared with xvii 17 and xii 4). The text clearly does not portray Ishmael as a grown child (P) but most likely as an infant (E), since Hagar not only carries him (xxi 14) but also “casts” him under a bush (v. 15; cf. Exod i 22) and “lifts him up” (v. 18).  Other clues include: God hears the child’s voice (v. 17), presumably crying, rather than his mother’s (E. Fripp, “Note on Gen. xxi 6. 8-12”, ZAW 12 [1892], pp. 164-65), the reference to his “growing” (v. 20), and the fact that Hagar is not portrayed as being in any mortal danger but only the child.”[3]

It should be amply clear that Genesis 21 is not an honest and factual depiction of Ishmael.  He was clearly a very young child.  Having proven this conclusively, we must note that if anyone does not “understand/read Hebrew”, it is the Christian critic.             

Finally, the Christian made the following claim (emphasis in the original):

Again, verses that were interpreted wrongly by Muslims and then blame the Bible as being corrupt/tampered. The child indeed is Isaac, the one of choice!

It should be noted that the Christian did not even respond to any of the points we raised regarding the inconsistency of referring to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” when Ishmael was also his son and the first born.  The Christian simply repeated his initial argument without providing any supporting evidence.  

            In any case, scholars point to the fact that even some Jews saw the difficulty with claiming that Isaac was Abraham’s only son.  In a 2006 article in the journal “Dead Sea Discoveries”, Betsy Halpern-Amaru made the following interesting observation about a variant of the story in question in the fragment of the Dead Scrolls known as 4Q225:

“…the author of 4Q225 develops a structure that creates a new backdrop for the narrative of the Aqedah. Prefacing the account of the Aqedah is a summary presentation of the promises of a son and multiple progeny in Gen 15:2–6 (2 i 3–7). Isaac’s birth is announced immediately thereafter (2 1 8–9a) and thereby is explicitly portrayed as the fulfillment of the preceding divine promise of a son. The Ishmael narratives that intervene between the promises of the covenant making in Genesis 15 and the birth of Isaac are omitted.  Indeed, in 4Q225 Ishmael is never born. Consequently, when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son (2 i 11), Isaac is quite literally…the only son the patriarch has.”[4]

So, we can see that the author of this extra-biblical variant of the Genesis story of Ishmael and Isaac was so adamant in removing the inconsistency that he completely omitted Ishmael’s birth from the narrative, thereby literally making Isaac the “only son”!  

How can our Christian detractor insist on his a priori assumptions?  As Gandhi said:

“Faith must be enforced by reason. When faith becomes blind it dies.”

So, we would like to invite our Christian friend to use his reason and not resort to blind faith.  Your salvation depends upon it.   
And Allah knows best!

[1] “Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts”, p. 176.

[3] Nikaido, S. 2001. "HAGAR AND ISHMAEL AS LITERARY FIGURES: AN INTERTEXTUAL STUDY." Vetus Testamentum 51, no. 2: 219-242. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 17, 2014).

[4] Halpern-Amaru, Betsy. 2006. "A Note on Isaac as First-born in Jubilees and Only Son in 4Q225." Dead Sea Discoveries 13, no. 2: 127-133. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 17, 2014).

In a footnote, Halpern-Amaru also notes:

“Cana Werman has argued that the exclusion of Ishmael has a polemical basis that is also evident in the reworking of the Aqedah narrative.”

For the text of the 4Q225 fragment, see Geza Vermes, “The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls”, pp. 509-510.

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