Abraham, the Cowardly Hero

By Jochnowitz, George | Midstream, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Abraham, the Cowardly Hero


Jochnowitz, George, Midstream


Abraham is called the first Jew. Why not Jacob, renamed Israel, the ancestor of the 12 tribes? Why not Moses, who received the Torah -- the law that defines us? Abraham's very name suggests that he is no more linked to the Jewish people than to several other nations; in Genesis 17 we are told it means av hamon goyim (father of many nations).

The reason is the fact that Abraham was an iconoclast, an idol breaker. In the aggadah (rabbinical narrations, not to be regarded as authoritative, that forms part of the literature of the oral law), Abraham's father, Terach, made and sold idols. (B'reshit Rabbah 38:12) He once left Abraham in charge of his business, and when he returned, all the idols were smashed except for the largest. Abraham explained that the idols had gotten into an argument over a sacrifice, and that the biggest idol had won the fight. This is the same Abraham who refused to sacrifice his son Isaac.

In the story of the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-19), Abraham's willingness to obey God even to the point of sacrificing his son is traditionally taken as evidence of his goodness and moral strength, which implies that obedience to the Lord takes priority over such commandments as "Thou shalt not kill." To be sure, the Ten Commandments had not yet been given to Moses, who was not to be born for several generations. But the story may be read in a different way, as an example of Abraham's originality and courage. We know from other parts of the Bible that child sacrifice was practiced by various nations in Biblical times: "And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of the Sepharvaim." (2 Kings 18:31) We are even presented with one account where child sacrifice actually works:

   And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took
   with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the
   king of Edom: but they could not. Then he took his eldest son that should
   have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the
   wall. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed
   from him, and returned to their own land. (2 Kings 3:26-27)

Abraham was clearly not the only father who ever felt called upon to offer his child as a sacrifice. Indeed, the practice apparently had been adopted in Jeremiah's time even in the land of Judah: "And they [the children of Judah] have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." (Jer. 7:31)

To this day, our custom of pidyon ha-ben shows the discomfort our ancestors felt about not sacrificing their first-born sons. In the book of Numbers we read, "Every thing that openeth the womb, of all flesh which they offer unto the Lord, shall be Thine; howbeit the first-born of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem." (18:15)

Archeological evidence exists to support the Biblical charges that child sacrifice was practiced among neighboring peoples. The Carthaginians, descended from the Phoenicians, did so, according to an article in the September 1, 1987, issue of The New York Times. Under the headline, "Relics of Carthage Show Brutality Amid the Good Life," we read the following: "A trove of relics now arriving in New York contains evidence that the ritual slaying of children in ancient Carthage was so common that it helped control the growth of the population and helped families keep fortunes intact over generations, archeologists say. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Abraham, the Cowardly Hero
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.