Thursday, February 27, 2014

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

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

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 new reply, the Christian began by again resorting to red herrings.  He asked:       
“But, if so simple then just answer the question at hand, “Was Isaac the ‘only son’ of Abraham by his wife Sarah yes or no? By your answer or lack thereof we will see who and what is self-contradictory and if you will dance around it some more.”

The Christian keeps asking this question even though we never denied that Isaac was Abraham’s only son through Sarah.  It is obvious that he was.  But how does that explain the Bible’s use of the phrase “only son” to refer to Isaac?  We refuted the Christian’s non-sequitur in Part 3 by pointing out that the verse in question does not say “take your son, your only son [with Sarah]”.  If it had, then the Christian would have a point since the verse would make sense.  The problem is that the verse simply says “take your son, your only son…” without mentioning Sarah.  Common sense would indicate that this verse makes no sense since Ishmael was also Abraham’s son.  Despite many attempts and theories to explain this contradiction, the Christian has failed thus far to offer a reasonable clarification.  

            Next, he stated (emphasis in the original):

“If the issue is so simple which I agree with you %100 [sic], why are ONLY Muslim scholars divided on it. If Abraham, the father of Ishmael accepted the term ‘only son’ and Ishmael losing all his inheritance why cannot ALL Muslims accept it? Why make allegations that cannot even be backed up by the Koran. The Koran does not even say that Ishmael was the child of sacrifice only Muslims. However, the Bible does say Isaac!”

So, the Christian again resorts to a red herring.  We already briefly discussed the issue of the disagreement among Muslim scholars in Part 4, but since the Christian is still adamant on using this issue as a distraction from the contradictions in the Bible, we will discuss this issue in further detail below.

            Meanwhile, it should be noted that the Christian’s argument that Abraham “…accepted the term ‘only son’” is a circular argument.  The Christian is using the Bible to defend the Bible!  The contradiction of referring to Isaac as the “only son” cannot be explained by using the faulty logic that Abraham accepted the term, since we don’t have Abraham’s actual words but the words of a later writer.      

            Next, the Christian stated (emphasis in the original):

“With your allegations this time produce reliable documents as evidence to show these statements were altered. Show us evidence NOT fanciful allegations and unfounded accusations. You can even use your Koran to tried to support your allegations but I doubt you’ll be successful as you haven’t been so far.”

The Christian asks for proof of the alterations of this verse even though we already provided such proof.  Besides the logical evidence, we also referred to the paleographical evidence in Part 2, which it appears the Christian did not read!  To repeat what we stated there:

“…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.””[1]

So, in the case of 4Q225, the editor realized the difficulty of the phrase “only son”, so he completely removed the account of Ishmael’s birth.  

Further evidence of editing can also be seen in the differences between the Masoretic text and other versions of the Tanakh, such as the Septuagint.  In the latter case, the phrase “only son” is not present!  As Halpern-Amaru notes:

“MT Genesis 22 reads “your only one”…in each passage; the LXX, OL, EthGen reading in Gen. 22:2, 12, 16 is consistently “your beloved one” […].  All three passages appear in the Jubilees account, but in none of them is Isaac described as “your only son.” God refers to Isaac as “your beloved one” ( fequraka) in His command to Abraham (Jub. 18:2); the restraining angel calls Isaac bakwraka…(Jub. 18:11); and God repeats the first-born designation, bakwraka, in the renewal of covenant promises (Jub. 18:15) at the close of the narrative.”[2]

Since we now have proven conclusively that the Genesis narrative has been altered, will the Christian admit that he is mistaken?  We shall see.

            Next, the Christian asked the same irrelevant question he asked before:

“So, again “Was Isaac the ‘only son’ of Abraham by his wife Sarah as Genesis stated, its either yes or no?”

The answer is of course “yes”.  We never denied that Isaac was not Abraham’s only son with Sarah.  But will the Christian admit that this argument is irrelevant and does not explain the contradiction, as we showed above?  Will he also admit that the story has been altered, as we showed above in response to his demand for “evidence”?  He asked for proof and he received it.

            Finally, before finishing his reply, the Christian once again resorted to changing the subject by referring to the disagreement among Muslim scholars regarding the identity of the child of sacrifice.[3]  He states (emphasis in the original):   

“Perhaps this may help you decide:

One Muslim scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute, candidly admits that: ... This was the child that Abraham was given, and there is a difference of opinion about who that child was. The majority of the later scholars say it was Ismail, many of the early scholars said it was Ishaq. The word of God says Isaac in several places.

The account naming Isaac comes down to us through Abu Kurayb - Zayd b. al-Hubab - al-Hasan b. Dinar - 'Ali b. Zayd b. Jud'an - al-Hasan - al-Ahnaf b. Qays - al-'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib - THE PROPHET in a conversation in which he said, "Then we ransomed him with a tremendous victim." And he also said, he is Isaac.

According to Abu Kurayb - Ibn Yaman-Mubarak - al-Hasan-al-Ahnaf b. Qays-al - 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib: The quote, "Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim," refers to Isaac.

According to al-Husayn b. Yazid al-Tahhan - Ibn Idris - Dawud b. Abi Hind - 'Ikrimah - Ibn 'Abbas: The one whom Abraham was ordered to sacrifice was Isaac.

According to Ya'qub - Ibn 'Ulayyah - Dawud - 'Ikrimah - Ibn 'Abbas: The victim was Isaac.

According to Ibn al-Muthanna - Muhammad b. Ja'far - Shu'bah - Abu Ishaq - Abu al-Ahwas: A certain man boasted to Ibn Mas'ud, "I am so-and-so son of so-and-so, son of the noble elders." And 'Abdallah said,"This is Joseph b. Jacob, son of Isaac the victim of God, son of Abraham the Friend of God."”

So again, the Christian resorted to shameless plagiarism to promote his view.  Let us now refute these deceptive claims.  First, even if there was disagreement among Muslim scholars (which there definitely was), the logical question is how does this promote the Biblical view?  More importantly, how does it explain the Biblical contradictions?  The answer is it does not!  The Christian is resorting to non-sequiturs and red herrings to promote his a priori assumptions.  

            Second, if the Christian had actually done some honest research on the subject, he would have realized that many of the scholars mentioned above also said that Ishmael was the son of sacrifice.  As Ebrahim Saifuddin explains in his excellent refutation of the pseudo-scholars at “Answering-Islam”[4]:

“Had they been honest and quoted the arguments for Ishmael, the readers would have noticed that one name is quoted in one place to be talking about Isaac being the sacrificial son and in the other place of the same source that same name is quoted advocating that Ishmael was the sacrificial son. This alone would be sufficient to ring a bell in any readers mind. Why are the same people in one tradition quoting one name and in another quoting the other name?”[5]

So, the sources that the Christian’s plagiarized article appealed to often times were quoted as referring to either Ishmael or Isaac (peace be upon them) in different places.  Moreover, Muslim scholars have pointed out that many of the traditions the above scholars relied on were of dubious origin and not from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or his Companions.  As Saifuddin observes:

“[Ibn Kathir] states that all the sayings in which Isaac has been mentioned as the sacrificial son are related through K’ab Al-Ahbar. He became a Muslim during the time of Umar (ra) after listening to Chapter 4 Verse 47 of the Quran. He would relate from the Jewish and Christian traditions. Other Muslims listened to this and got confused regarding the truth with the falsehood from K’ab Al-Ahbar.”[6]

So there we have it!  The opinions of some Muslim scholars that Isaac (peace be upon him) was the child of sacrifice are not based on any authentic statements of the Prophet or the Companions!  Furthermore, the evidence from the Quran plainly shows that it was Ishmael (peace be upon him), as we explained in Part 3.  The Christian could not refute the Quranic evidence and so, in his desperation, tried to use the disagreements as an alternative.  For further evidence, we suggest the Christian read Ebrahim Saifuddin’s article.  

In any case, even if it could be proven from the Quran or authentic ahadith that Isaac (peace be upon him) was the child of sacrifice, it would not be a big deal to Muslims, since both Isaac and Ishmael (peace be upon them) are beloved prophets in Islam.  As Saifuddin succinctly states:

“What is important in the story is not who was sacrificed but the moral of the story. Whether it was Ismail or Ishaq, is not as much relevant as the missionaries would want a layman Muslim to believe and the evidence for this exists in the Christian argument that earlier there remained a difference of opinion among Muslims regarding this issue. Although there was a difference, that changed not the lesson derived from the story nor did it change the Islamic Shariah derived from the Quran and Hadith. Additionally it certainly did not change what Islam truly is or the fact that Islam is the true religion and Quran is the preserved Word of God or that Prophet Muhammad (saw) is indeed a Messenger of Allah (swt).”[7]

How true!  Perhaps if the Christian would let go of his Biblical bias against Ishmael (peace be upon him), he would realize the truth of this statement!  
            Before we close, it should be pointed out again that the Christian continues to ignore certain aspects of this discussion, which we listed in the previous reply.  Here they are again with some additions:

  • The meaning of the Hebrew word “hay-ye-led” is “child”.  
  • The status of Hagar as a legitimate wife of Abraham.  
  • The absence of the story of Ishmael’s birth in the Dead Sea scroll 4Q225 (a clear attempt to eliminate the contradictory nature of the Biblical story).  
  • The promise/covenant with Isaac was made before Ishmael and Hagar were sent out but after the “covenant of circumcision”.  
  • The status of Ishmael as a legitimate son of Abraham and a member of his household even after the exile and at the time of the sacrifice. 
  • The Masoretic text of Genesis 22 is contradicted by the Septuagint and other translations.  
  • The evidence from the Quran and authentic ahadith show that the child of sacrifice was Ishmael (peace be upon him).  
  • Muhammad (peace be upon him) did indeed consider himself a descendant of Ibrahim and Ishmael (peace be upon them). 
  • The disagreements among Muslim scholars are due to weak narrations which often contradict themselves and each other.

We invite the Christian to consider all the evidence with an open mind and to avoid blindly accepting plagiarized material written by deceptive missionaries.  His reliance on like-minded Christian apologetic websites is only deceiving him in the end.  We invite him to throw off the shackles of missionary deception.        

And Allah knows best!

[1] 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 27, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ironically, the Christian plagiarized once again from the same source as before!

[4] The article that has been plagiarized by the Christian can be found here:

[6] Ibid.  It should, however, be noted that Ka’b Al-Ahbar was not deliberately lying.  His intentions were pure but he was relying on Jewish and Christians traditions, which obviously stated that Isaac (peace be upon him) was the child of sacrifice. 

[7] Ibid.

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