Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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


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

This article is a continuation of our discussion with a Christian from the IslamiCity Discussion Forum on the inconsistencies and contradictions of the Biblical story of Ishmael and Isaac.  In his most recent reply, the Christian began by trying to support his initial contention concerning the Bible’s reference to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son”.  He wrote (emphasis in the original):           
                                                  
“Supported Chapter and verse identified and explain but you also need to do your reading and gather the whole text not part of a text. In Genesis 18:10 it explains. Look! Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the tent entrance, and it was behind the man.

#1 Sarah, not Hagar was Abraham’s wife.”

Here, it seems the Christian is claiming that since Sarah was Abraham’s actual wife, that is why Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s “only son”.  This is of course a completely false argument, as Genesis 16:3 states clearly that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to be his “wife”:

“So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”[1]

In his commentary on this verse, Rashi made it even clearer, putting special emphasis on the fact that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham in the 10th year of their residence in Canaan.  He wrote:

“This is the allotted time for a woman who has lived ten years with her husband and has not borne children to him, when he is obligated to marry another.”[2]

Further proof can be seen in the original Hebrew.  The word used to describe Hagar is “le-is-sah”[3], which is derived from the word “ishshah”[4].  The latter word means “wife”:

“Ishshah is a very common noun occurring nearly eight hundred times with usage fairly evenly divided between the meanings of ‘woman’ and ‘wife’.  In a number of contexts, references to ‘wife’ and ‘woman’ are synonymous.”[5]

Therefore, it is clear that Hagar was also Abraham’s wife.  The Christian’s claim is wholly inaccurate.  He then stated:

“#2 The promise was made to them as a married couple.”

This “promise” was made after Ishmael was already born.  In fact, it was at least 13 years after Ishmael’s birth that this “promise” was made.  In any case, we have already seen that Hagar was Abraham’s wife.

            Next, the Christian stated:

“#3 Isaac was the “only” son of Abraham with Sarah.”

This is irrelevant for the reasons given above.  Furthermore, God did not say to Abraham to take his “only son with Sarah”.  Instead, He said to Abraham to take his “only son whom you love…”  The implication was that Isaac was Abraham’s only son, which is ludicrous since Ishmael was also his son.  It was probably for this reason that the author of the Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4Q225 omitted the story of Ishmael’s birth entirely.[6]    

            The Christian next stated:

“#4 The covenant which islamispeace does not deny was “only” with Isaac, not Ishmael.”[7]
 
The issue of the covenant is also irrelevant.  The question is why the Bible refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” when Ishmael was the eldest and the first-born.  The Christian has so far failed to offer a reasonable explanation for this contradiction.  Pontificating on the “covenant” has no bearing on the discussion.

            The Christian then stated:

“#5 It was after Hagar and Ishmael was dismissed from Abraham’s household the promise and or covenant was made, who at that time the “only” son of Abraham and Sarah was Isaac.”

This is also not true.  According to Genesis 21:12, the “promise” regarding Isaac was made the day before Hagar and Ishmael were expelled, not after.  Let us read the verses:

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”


Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.”[8]

If we go even further back, we see in Genesis 17, that the “promise” was originally made shortly after the “Covenant of Circumcision”, when Ishmael was still part of Abraham’s household.[9]

Next, the Christian stated:

“The scriptures never said Ishmael was Abraham’s only son either, it’s when and who the promise was made to and when he said it. I gave you five logical scenarios in understanding the explanation of “only” son, why not accept it?”

This is a strange statement since we never claimed that Ishmael was Abraham’s only son!  In our original article, we stated that the phrase “only son” would only make sense if the episode in question had occurred before Isaac’s birth, when Ishmael indeed was Abraham’s only son.  The Christian has resorted to a straw-man argument.  As for his “five logical scenarios”, the refutations above speak for themselves.

            The Christian then wrote:

“Unless, you’re trying to manipulate and change the meaning of the scriptures to support your Quran. Which is what Muslims like Deedat and others have been doing for centuries as I’ve said.”

We have to wonder at the obvious defensive nature and hostility been thrown at us.  Why is the Christian so defensive?  And what does the late Ahmed Deedat have to with our discussion?  These are nothing but ad hominem attacks and red herrings.

            Next, the Christian made another bizarre argument about Ishmael:

“Look at the scripture and when the statement was made, Genesis 22:2  “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac” Ishmael and Hagar was no longer part of the family and had left never to return. That is a major reason why it would not have been Ishmael that was to be sacrificed as Muslims suggests, Ishmael was no longer around. In fact, when Ishmael perished, he was not even buried along with Abraham and his family. Here, from this point on he is rightly called “only son.””

The shocking level of hostility to Ishmael and Hagar can be plainly seen in this statement.  Where is it stated that Ishmael and Hagar were “no longer part of the family”?  According to Genesis 25, Ishmael was present when Abraham was buried, and he was referred to as his son!  Let us read:

“Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years.  Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.  His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.”[10]

How can the Christian insist that Ishmael was no longer part of Abraham’s family?  Isn’t the Bible often touted for its emphasis on family?  And what difference does it make that Ishmael was not buried with his father?  Does a separate burial imply no familial relationship?  If so, then are we to assume that since Joseph is not buried with his father Jacob, he was not his son?  This is a bizarre argument indeed!

            Next, the Christian wrote:

“This should direct the reader’s attention to point #5. Another failed castration attempt on God’s Holy Word, the Bible. But it does shows [sic] the contradictions of the Quran when compared with the Bible. Muslims cannot even prove to themselves that Ishmael was the child of sacrifice, why? Because it is not even written in the Quran!!! Why isn't it in your Koran? Clearly, Muhammad was aware. The Quran however, does point to Isaac. I would be happy to show you if you’re truly interested.”

This is yet another bizarre argument, for to prove all of his unsupported and inaccurate claims, the Christian attempts to misquote the Quran on the subject of the sacrifice, after he misquoted the Bible on several occasions!  We certainly do not need the Christian to quote the Quran!  

            In any case, while it is true that the Quran does not specifically name Ishmael as the son who was to be sacrificed, the fact is that it does not actually name the child at all.  So, the argument that since Ishmael was not specifically named as the child of sacrifice does not automatically prove that it was Isaac!  Furthermore, we can figure out from the context of the Quranic verses in question that it was indeed Ishmael:

“He [Ibrahim] said: "I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me!  "O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!"  So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.  Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!"”[11]

As we can see, these verses refer to the first-born son, which both the Bible and the Quran agree was Ishmael (peace be upon him).  It becomes even clearer when a few verses later, Isaac (peace be upon him) is mentioned, so the child of sacrifice could not have been him.  He was not born yet!

“And We gave him [Ibrahim] the good news of Isaac, a prophet, one of the Righteous.  We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.”[12]

            Finally, the Christian concluded his reply by stating the following:

“So, I gave you not one, not two points but FIVE points why “only son” was appropriately used in regards to Isaac. And that Muhammad himself had no problem with it. Will islamispeace false and inaccurate post be removed from his site? Time will tell but truth will prevail.”

We will leave it to the readers to decide whether the Christian’s descriptions of his own reply are credible.  The truth will certainly prevail, but as the American journalist Herbert Agar noted:

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”

Therefore, we once again urge the Christian to use his reason and to let the truth which he prefers not to hear to make him free.
And Allah knows best!


[1] New International Version.

[5] “Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts”, p. 1043.

[7] The name “islamispeace” is my username on the IslamiCity forum.

[8] Genesis 21:11-14.

[9] Genesis 17:19-22.

[10] Genesis 25:7-10.

[11] Surah As-Saffat, 37:99-102 (Yusuf Ali Translation).

[12] Surah As-Safaat, 37:112-113.

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