ANCIENT FICTIONALITY: ABRAHAM AND ISAAC: Child sacrifice and YHWH’s Morals.
This paper has been separated into two, the first part deals with child sacrifice and its apparent presence within the early YHWH cult, with implications for the moral credibility and origins of the cult, and the second part deals with YHWH’s morals.
‘Human sacrifice is a form of ritual killing in which the slayer attempts to engender change at the suprahuman level inhabited by supernatural beings, non-human forces, and deceased humans though the act of slaughter. The practice permeated ancient Near Eastern religiosity throughout the Fertile Crescent, influencing cultures across north Africa and southern Europe. It is demonstrable in the archaeological record from as early as the prehistoric periods and is evident in the textual traditions from the early historical eras through the first millennium BCE and beyond.’ Human Sacrifice, Ancient Near East JASON R. TATLOCK. Encyclopaedia of Ancient History. 2013.
In the previous portion of this paper the idea was thrown out that the violence of the Pentateuch was due to the Hebrew practice of child sacrifice that ended with the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Later Persian dominance was a civilising process.
Looking at the text:
Mois Navon in The Binding of Isaac or Akeida takes a more religious or spiritual view of the matter, proving perhaps how any narrative appropriately devised can lend itself to religious interpretation. He sees the text as central to the Judaic religion -this apparent violation of natural morality by YHWH in demanding Abraham kill his much loved son. The Natural Morality Navon references stems from the Jewish religion, but here will be occasionally supplemented by the ideas of a medieval Jewish philosopher, Joseph Albo, who provided a considered view of morality breaking it up into Natural, Conventional and Religious. While employing Mois Navon’s paper to examine Judaic morality (and that of the Abrahamic religions as a whole) Reason, Religion and Natural Law from Plato to Spinoza will also be employed. The arguments advanced in this paper will in addition consider episodes within the Bible on the basis that the religious arguments tend to be extrapolations onto actual text, in an attempt to understand and normalise text (murder, chaos, political will), or turn a blind eye to others that fail an internal test. This review will also consider Lippman Bodoff’s ‘The Binding of Isaac, Religious Murders and Kabbalah, Seeds of Jewish Extremism and Alienation’ (Devora Publishing: 2005) and the possibility that the Abrahamic religions condone murder.
Mois takes his understanding of human beings from Rabbi Soloveitchik in “Majesty and Humility,” Tradition, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 25. 3 who believes in the dialectical nature of human kind, torn by conflict and in a state of ontological tenseness and thereby believes that the story of Abraham and Isaac cuts us all to the core by situating the conflicts in the story on our ongoing internal conflict, particularly moral and ethical. That the story produces conflict indeed, but not perhaps always of Navon’s description, there can be no doubt that this paper will consider that the conflict is within the parameters of the concept of the Moral God, within whom all morality originates and who provides its Force and the sense of right and wrong behaviour we have to some extent developed.
Natural Morality for Moise Navon (p 234) references laws that everyone recognises as moral, and which Navon sees as within the Talmud’s seven Noahide Laws.
‘The children of Noah were commanded seven precepts: to maintain social laws, not to blaspheme, not to worship idols, not to practice sexual immorality, not to murder, not to steal, not to eat the flesh of a live animal. … And from where do we know this? R. Yohanan said, “From the verse: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat’” (Gen. 2:16). “Commanded” refers to social laws …, “Lord” refers to the prohibition of blasphemy …, “God” refers to the prohibition of idolatry …, “the man” refers to the prohibition of bloodshed, “saying” refers to the prohibition of sexual immorality, “from all the trees” refers to the prohibition of theft, “you may eat freely” but not of the flesh of a living animal. (Sanhedrin 56b).’ 
The Natural Morality Navon is concerned about is thereby revealed in the Noah story, including, see above, not to murder (unless someone is about to murder you perhaps), not to steal, which can be accepted by all except professional thieves who see themselves as simply engaging in a lifestyle choice, not to eat the flesh of live animals (a situation that must rarely happen but which big cats do happily), not to practise sexual immorality (why not, and what does the Bible mean by that anyway)-my point here is that perhaps they are not so natural after all, just natural to Navon and his fellow believers. Few people in the West now view blasphemy as an integral part of natural morality, but one functioning within religion. In other places, the prohibition against homosexuality is considered a natural law. According to Navon, the Talmud wants us to believe that these are morals held to by all the world’s societies. Of course they are not, but mainly where Abrahamic religions prevail. Already claims of ontological conflict are suspect as agreeing on Natural Morals may be difficult.
Tamar Rudavsky posits that Natural Morality in the Judaic religion is a combination of ‘pagan’ and Jewish religious ideas-‘Therefore I say that the Law, although it is not natural, enters into the natural’-affected demonstrably, insomuch that it is affected at all, by Thomas Aquinas who speculated that Natural Law references eternal law. In Abrahamic religions Natural Morality is considered within a Law framework and not subject in its pristine form to individual judgement: Christianity’s development of Protestantism, while freeing Christianity from central control, imposed law as the true morality, but as Protestantism evolved within a climate of increased education and as the Abrahamic religions are based on often contradictory ideas, this could not last.
According to Aquinas, divine law includes the two covenants and circumscribes human action in general (Rudavsky: 85) while human law is essential for human survival on a day to day basis. Correspondingly, divine law might be considered the ideal in the Platonic sense. It is possible that concepts of divine ideals, also visible in Ancient Egyptian thinking, came from Ancient Greek thinkers. For most of its early history, Hebrew religion tended to be practical, political and parochial, not clearly given to ideals. Rudavsky avers that natural law is scientific in that its precepts are self-evident: based on the empirical evidence or common sense, that is obvious to all. This paper will attempt to rebut such a notion, see above. Rudavsky concentrates on the medieval Jewish Philosopher Joseph Albo’s definition of law or morality in his Book of Principles (Sefer ha-‘ikkarim), in particular his definition of the three kinds of law, natural, conventional and divine. These can be understood as laws everyone understands (see above), positive or conventional law is that provided by a wise man to suit time and place, and the last is that revealed by a messenger of god. It is through these and through Navon’s concepts surrounding Isaac’s sacrifice that YHWH’s morality will be explored. It perhaps can be noted that not all aspects of law are considered by Albo, scientific law for example, an extension of natural law often dependent on the wise man system of law, is missing, as is common law, a further extension of natural law. These will be included where and when deemed necessary.
YHWH: the force and origin of morality.
Navon, even though his examples are fundamentally flawed, makes a point on the moral nature of YHWH, that he is morality, its force, source and personification. God and moral evil are incompatible, although knowledge of evil tends to be assumed as different to what is believed to be moral, or different to what YHWH or his agent’s declare to be moral. Now, Navon’s logic here is profoundly strange and positioned on the Abraham/Isaac narrative alone. This is a god, as the Bible triumphantly declares, who destroyed two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, for just being in the way of his mighty plans (the end justifies the means) who then, as always, blames the victims (the Flood), and has the Egyptian first born wiped out to intimidate the Egyptian king. Murder surely is second nature to YHWH. Although he insists that humans do not murder, he has little compunction against murdering at will himself.
According to Navon, Jewish belief unequivocally shows that YHWH is rational and moral, and thereby certain things, such as evil, cannot be willed by him. We have here firstly the concept that evil by its nature is not rational, and only good can rise to that formidable position. We have an additional problem in what Navon, through the microscope of his religion, views as good; propositions that others might not agree with, as for Navon good and god are entwined not separate. What god does is good.
The rationality of evil:
When a thief robs a store he/she does so in order to obtain money to purchase material things, feed children, pay rent or perhaps buy drugs. If successful it is an easy way to obtain large sums of money. Its immediate rationality surely is not in doubt.
To work for a year on wages that bring in a similar amount that the thief acquired seems far less rational. If the waged person is doing dangerous work and his/her wages are barely enough for normal needs, than it appears even less rational. Marxist thinking, which mirrors Abrahamic thinking, declares that in such an unjust situation it is rational for the waged worker to resort to violence in order to achieve a just economic parity.
Both life-decisions nevertheless entail risk; both of the above would rationally factor in the risk. Both to all sense and purpose are rational. They are simply different ways of obtaining the same object. While the first creates hardship for others, the second only for the worker and his/her family. Therefore ‘evil’ must be whatever is disruptive, potentially damaging to others (and society). If it employs successful methodologies that affect larger numbers, it is even more evil. If, through Marxist thinking, in order to balance one evil (as perceived) the worker resorts to violence he may engage in another equally destructive form of behaviour. The resort to violence is contained within YHWH’s resort to violence to obtain territorial goals.
This is merely one presentation of evil, not a conclusive argument. The Zarathustra argument that evil is negative and destructive behaviour is an excellent one: good exampled by positive and productive behaviour provides a tolerable template. Behaviour, not representations, is the key here. The separation between the two comes at creation and Ahura Mazda is perhaps responsible for both. The dynamics of existence require war/conflict between the two opposing forces, and while this has been taken up by the Abrahamic religions, the separation and distinct properties of good and evil was not.
Is there a divine construct of evil?
Of course in Job, YHWH points out that as he is all-powerful he can do whatever he wants, even subvert, one imagines, his own laws. Job suffers because YHWH and Satan are contesting how much suffering Job can take without blaming YHWH, his god. Job and his erstwhile friends search for complex meaning when evil, the contest between YHWH and Satan, is banal. In ancient times the exercise of power by powerful people or groups would not necessarily be seen as ‘evil’, but accepted as a natural part of existence. For an absurd contest, Job’s family is wiped out. According to those equipped to judge, the story concerns YHWH’s incomprehensible thinking and human confusion when dealing with YHWH’s world, when in fact YHWH’s actions are merely the whim of a powerful potentate. Islam makes the same or similar claims for Allah’s combination of power and mystery, equally illogical and preposterous.
Apparently, as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not innocent (as unscrupulously described by YHWH) they deserved to die and therefore their murders were not immoral. Neither Navon nor the Bible say what their crimes are, just that YHWH decided. We have here perhaps a wilful not a moral god? James K. Bruckner asserts that the debate between Abraham and YHWH represents a trial-indeed replicates an ancient court room. The cry that YHWH hears against Sodom and Gomorrah is a technical term for legal complaint. Conducted in public it involves the testimony of more than one witness. Accordingly the evidence must be scrupulously heard before judgement is given. The main indictment appears to be the attack on the angels in Lot’s house, which may be simply because the angels are strangers and have no right to be in the city, or that the Sodomites are breaking the Hebrew code of hospitality. It was unlikely to have been sodomy, which is a later judgement and in its time provided greater justification to an audience for YHWH’s genocide. The event appears to have been provided to make the readers’ or audiences’ witnesses as well. Apart from the reasons previously provided, YHWH’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah may simply have been in order to stage a trial for Abraham’s benefit. There are no other accusations, only rhetoric. By resorting to a trial, and perhaps that is one of the points of this story although destroying foreign cities was one of the things YHWH was apparently good at, it may be that YHWH is demonstrating his belief in justice but there appears no real crime, let alone a sin. Such an idea really will not wash.
Viewing also the genocides in Joshua’s military adventures we cannot possibly decide that YHWH is moral, as he seems in fact ‘evil‘. Worse, on these two examples YHWH appears to personify the banality of evil. But, YHWH evil, the Ahriman to Ahura Mazda? There can be little doubt that many of Israel´s and Judah´s victims considered YHWH so during their short window of aggression in the 9th century. Were they wrong? Blaming his victims, as YHWH does through rhetorically insisting on unspecified sins, does not alter his crimes. In the Zarathustra religion Ahura Mazda creates good and evil, therefore are they combined within YHWH and is that the origin of his destructive tendencies at least before the apparently morally very good sacrificial victim, Jesus, replicating the willingness to die of Isaac, Seila and Socrates for the spiritual health of everyone else?
The Lament for Nibru
62-67Because the sealings of the abundant materials stored in the temple have been broken open, they have placed the loads on the ground. Because the property in its well-tended storehouses has been sent back, it says “What will they weigh out for me now?”; because the enemies who do not know good from evil have cut off all good things, it sings a bitter dirge; because they have finished off its populace there like animals, it cries “Oh my Land!”. Because they have piled up the young women, young men and their little children like heaps of grain, it cries “Woe!” for them. Because they have splashed their blood on the ground like a rain-storm, there is no restraint to its crying.
Evil here is subjective, what others do to a victim or victims. It is not necessarily conceived of as a property. It is what happens to you, not what you do to others. Also, the sense that their gods have abandoned or betrayed them seen also in the Hebrews, and that they are responsible for their fate for somehow disappointing their city god. Good has basic properties aligned to pleasure, inherent positive qualities while evil is aligned to destructiveness and destruction.
68-75 The temple, like a cow whose calf is cut off, groans bitterly to itself; it is grief-stricken, and the sweet-voiced lamenters, like nursemaids singing a lullaby, respond tearfully with its name. In anguish they bewail the fact that the city’s lord has smashed heads there, that he has looked away from it and toward a foreign land instead. The true temple of all the countries, which had come before him — what have the black-headed people, who had taken a true path, done regarding what have they forsaken, that their lord has become enraged with them and walks in anger?
- G Lambert identified a change in Mesopotamian society from misfortune being the result of demons and that, imperfectly formed, of sin, but nothing remotely like the masochism of Jewish society. Above, it remains closer to superstition and concerns appropriate reverence to a god or gods.Defeats remain a terrible calamity, a wrong subjectively conceived. In the Instructions of Shuruppak , early 3rd millennium BCE Sumeria, the consequences of bad or disruptive behaviour is provided, giving Sumerian literature a utilitarian accent, far from the epigrammatic commands of the 10 commandments for example that require obedience not understanding. In Sumeria it is advice that is offered.
‘28-31You should not steal anything; you should not …… yourself. You should not break into a house; you should not wish for the money chest (?). A thief is a lion, but after he has been caught, he will be a slave. My son, you should not commit robbery; you should not cut yourself with an axe.
32-34You should not make a young man best man. You should not …… yourself. You should not play around with a married young woman: the slander could be serious. My son, you should not sit alone in a chamber with a married woman.’
Such common misdemeanours are presented as ill-judged, not the terrible sins of Judaic and Islamic religious thought.
As elsewhere this project has instanced the Philistine incursions into Palestine as a possible template for the Joshua story, although the Assyrian invasions were an equal inspiration, did either believe their invasions were evil? As they were part of power politics in their day, clearly they did not. It is possible as in medieval Europe an ethic of violence existed that concerned who was killed and who not, and the nature of their deaths. In fact, the Mesopotamians largely lacked such a concept and only resorted to extreme explanations when attacked themselves.
The nature of ‘evil’ is a contradictory state, subject to continuous negotiation. The theocratic rulers of Iran judged the USA to be ‘The Great Satan’ because they represented another religion, sexual and gender freedoms, while hanging as many homosexuals as they could find, judged ‘evil behaviour’ by Western commentators. Here, as elsewhere, natural law and morality reaches a barrier of acceptance and understanding, and constructs of evil are often dependent on power, who holds it and why. Sexual behaviour judged as representative of ‘evil’ is merely public or community involvement in human relations that again is evidence of power not intention. Evil here is judged as what is unpleasant to someone else, an observer. Nevertheless, it is negotiable.
The ontological conflict is in YHWH not human beings, who generally do have some sense of right and wrong-in limited fashions. The instructions above demonstrate that very ancient peoples shared the community morality of the present, indicating a Natural Morality based on pragmatic and utilitarian virtues. Religion has added merely doom, gloom and punishment, or equally control and power tropes. The construct of homosexuality as ‘evil’, evident in the Abrahamic religions but not clearly seen in Pagan societies, is part of the Abrahamic fertility/fecundity contract that envisages procreation as good, rather than a straightforward consequence of mixed gender sex. In the Pentateuch recreational sex is seen as an appalling sin fixated as it is on procreation. Sin here then is what elements of the community believe to be against the general needs of the community. It is the Abrahamic religions that need to involve all human behaviour within its political and religious parameters: pagan religions were far more sensible and responsive to human nature. They separated power and religion, while the Abrahamic religions connect them. Mesopotamian scribes identified ‘evil’ as the destruction of people and items of wealth, or food-material things of worth and substance-but the Abrahamic religions see evil as substantive, within ideas as well as actions. The differences are connected to power, not morality. Abrahamic religions see life as eternal law courts, with accusers, witnesses for the prosecution and draconian punishment tropes.
Navon declares that it’s clear that god is liable to the same morality as human beings (he is its force and creator) therefore he never really intended Isaac’s immolation, but was just tricking Abraham in order to test his Faith. Neither the Bible writers nor Navon see that trickery is wrong-in that it involves lying which causes pain to others. The policy of means to an end, YHWH’s usual imperative, is employed and accepted. Abraham nevertheless is shocked into silence by YHWH’s immoral request, but obeys. He walks towards the mountain, passing by Canaanites sacrificing their children to Moloch, and concerns himself with the sheer inappropriateness of his own act. This cannot be found in the original texts but supplementary ones, but gives a profound hint at the likely mixture of religions in pre-exilic Israel and Judea. Before Abraham kills Isaac YHWH steps in through his angel saying that he now knows he is faithful because he truly was about to kill his son. In the Qur’an Abraham receives a vision with Allah’s communication, replicating Muhammad’s prophetic visions. So YHWH remains it seems moral, although of course his morality, when it appears, is localised to his follower.
One essential extremely contestable point Navon makes concerns natural law, in this case do not kill, page 235:
In linking man’s morality to that of God’s, the verse attests to the fact that the morality commanded by God is incumbent upon God no less than it is incumbent upon man.7 The Midrash Aggada (Gen. 9:6) explains that “one who commits murder diminishes the divine image.” Would not the divine image be diminished all the more if God Himself committed murder?! If there were some doubt in our mind regarding God’s fealty to this most basic prohibition, Abraham took up the issue with God Himself regarding His decision to destroy Sodom: “Will the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” (Gen. 18:25). God answers Abraham not as He did Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (38:4). Rather, God acknowledges the veracity of Abraham’s appeal and affirms that He will not sweep away the righteous with the wicked—He will not commit murder.
Navon and the writers of the Bible apparently hold that anyone who sins does not merit the same treatment as those who do not sin. Nevertheless sin clearly is mutable. An action such as YHWH’s destruction of thousands of people, amongst them women and children, sacrificed to YHWH’s plans, are acceptable it appears upon denunciation. Killing the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (largely on hearsay evidence) is not murder but just punishment, but it is murder if done by anyone without the power of denunciation. YHWH’s morality is of course dependent on a law court mentality, where the powerful decide what is wrong or right. If someone in Sodom or Gomorrah had received the appellation of righteous, that is someone who obeys religious laws, they would not have been murdered, that is killed, but anyone not so designated if killed is not actually murdered. With this handy lawyer’s grasp of ethics YHWH remains untarnished. Added to this miscarriage of justice, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are judged wanting by a god they do not worship and likely as not had never heard of, offending laws no one had informed them of, rubbing salt as it were in their long vanished wounds. Here, the explanation could be that Natural Morality applies as god represents Natural Morality as well as conventional and divine, therefore he has a right to react. In a human law court he would get away with his appalling actions only because he would be or was the most powerful being in the room.
The contradictory nature of this kind of logic is evident in Christianity but even more so in Islam. The conditional nature of murder allows for murder to be employed within the religion. If god can kill after denouncing a population, then humankind can as in the dichotomies employed by the Abrahamic religions, human kind has god’s power of denunciation, and of course god’s capacity to kill once a denunciation has been made. Although Navon shortly after insists that YHWH cannot act as morally evil, that YHWH is constitutionally incapable of doing so, this hinges on his capacity to judge. Once he has judged someone worthy of murder, this absolves him from guilt. Again, this provides a licence for both god and humankind to kill. Such double expressions of illogical twisting of logic would probably have been labelled part of the lie by Zarathustra.
Navon restates Kant’s argument that it cannot have been YHWH ordering Abraham to kill Isaac, as YHWH cannot act immorally-forgetting it seems the Book of Job where he does, destroying all Job’s family as part of YHWH’s test of Job and others around him. Although the moral is that ordinary mortals cannot comprehend god’s ways, theorising on YHWH and his reasoning as much a crime as challenging YHWH, the god’s ways are revealed to be banal. In fact he functions dangerously. YHWH’s rationale is power.
‘40:6 Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 40:7 Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. 40:8 Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? 40:9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? 40:10 Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. 40:11 Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. 40:12 Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. 40:13 Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. 40:14 Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.’
The Book of Job is a literary work, coming from out of left-field, and providing a debate format, YHWH –Satan, YHWH-Job, in which YHWH must be right. All intellectualisation is pointless and arrogant. It is part of the Mesopotamian genre of wisdom literature, where ideas were considered by (probably) an independent thinking scribe. Its origins are probably not Hebrew. YHWH’s dictums above are those of a self-righteous bully.
Like YHWH, Kant blames the victim (237) and declares that Abraham was responsible for violating a ‘categorical imperative’ by believing that god would order such a thing as sacrificing a child, and that the voice ordering him to do so was not god’s, but a trickster. As a totally moral being YHWH could not order such an act. Navon points out that Kant must be wrong as YHWH does not himself blame Abraham, so clearly Abraham can have done no wrong. In fact, god promises again to multiply Abraham’s seed, reconstituting their contract, even though he had previously urged its destruction. If Abraham had proceeded YHWH would not only have been responsible for instigating murder, one based within pagan society (his foes), but of severing and ending his contract with Abraham and his promises to him. In Mesopotamian society this was considered a dreadful act as it upset the financial equilibrium of Mesopotamian society, causing chaos. YHWH would himself have been judged (his authenticity relies on this capacity), but as a liar, unreliable and evil. A false deity-at least as any kind of moral force. He would have been compared to Chemosh, the Moab god who allowed Mesha the Moab king to sacrifice his own son to rid Israelite, Judean and Edomite armies from his gates. Much of the Bible points to other people’s gods, including Chemosh as ‘evil’, so would not then YHWH be evil too (Deuteronomy 12: 29-31).
The argument indeed is that he would have brought evil (chaos) into the world as a consequence of breaking his promise, as he had already demonstrated many times before his murderous inclinations. These would have been well known. Also, Navon has another reason for rejecting Kant’s logic. By Abraham rejecting the voice as god’s Abraham makes himself the decider of what is and is not moral. Navon’s position contradicts his previous connection of Natural Morality and YHWH, they are the same, as if YHWH’s proposed act is not Natural Morality, as all his acts must include this form of morality as well as other forms, then the voice cannot be his. YHWH remains responsible for setting up the act and therefore for any consequent human sacrifice. If as Navon suggests the law of Natural Morality-considered by Kant to be rational-are not respected by YHWH then he is ‘evil’ or capable of ‘evil’. In fact, if compared with Ahura Mazda who exists within good morality entirely, evil identified within another personification, YHWH is.
Navon declares that if this view is accepted humans need only to accept those commands of YHWH they believe to be rationale, ones which suit our notion of reason or of the reasonable. The same view can be disinterred from the Book of Job, which is that in fact natural law or morality and conventional law or morality cannot supersede divine law/morality that may, in the view of the first two, be evil. Good and evil are not contained within the divine, and therefore god is not moral. This indeed is the ontological tenseness, the conflict within the human soul (sic)-the fear that god is immoral or amoral. God, the autocrat, is always right.
In pagan religions decisions are usually debated amongst equals or near equals. Divine actions usually occur within a forum. In monotheistic religions the god decides everything, rarely referencing anyone else. When YHWH is questioned, it is only so he, like the judge in a court, can explain the law.
Navon examines Divine Morality through Kierkegaard’s viewpoint, one he categorises as religious, and determines that the philosopher believes that Abraham acts in Faith, believing that his son will not be killed but will be saved by YHWH. Here, Navon employs Kierkegaard’s arguments on the threefold nature of human morality, the aesthetic, the ethical and religious. Kierkegaard believes that humankind attempts to hold onto aesthetic morality, living for ourselves, rather than the higher morality of ethics, living for others. The yet higher calling of divine morality beckons but is difficult to reach. To act according to religious morality, the highest morality, requires a leap of Faith, and this is what is dramatized within the Abraham/Isaac story. The requirement, to fulfil god’s demands and ignore ethical morality. On the surface, except to the religious fanatic, and after the appalling behaviour of Isis, the terrorist group, this must appear worrying.
Kierkegaard, according to Navon, holds that Abraham obeyed on the strength of the absurd; that no matter what he would not have to kill Isaac. According to Navon, Abraham accepts YHWH is a moral absolute and will not demand Isaac´s death, even though that is what god is doing. Kierkegaard holds that although being asked to do an unethical act, Abraham’s Faith was so strong, he would have done so. Such an argument is structured on Abraham’s ethical nature, which is nowhere clear-except in its constant assertion. Abraham’s attitudes to his wife and her concubinage to two kings is hardly ethical and does not suggest someone willing and able to place ethical behaviour first. Abraham acts pragmatically at all times and his willingness to obey YHWH in a particularly wicked deed, is perhaps testimony to that. In addition, Abraham continuously employs trickery himself, lying to the King of Egypt, the Philistine king, displaying the same loose connection to the truth as YHWH. Yet, granted, the Bible to some extent is about what not to do.
As a template of Faith, regarded as such in all three Abrahamic religions, it provides evidence of the moral duplicity interred within each. It is also based upon the condition of Faith in its position to events, that the reality of faith dominates all other realities. Even though it appears absurd, it is essential to believe beyond the evidence in god’s divine morality, which here may not include natural and conventional morality, as the reality of Faith subordinates all others. Taken to its extreme this involves a world without clear or true ethical standards as unless human beings routinely communicate with god, they cannot know his morality. They can only guess. The Holy Books (sic) claim to know and justify god’s reality, and these claims will be considered later.
Navon quotes R. Wurzburger as noting that as a Supreme Being, YHWH must be a morally perfect being, the Abrahamic view not often shared in the ancient world regarding supreme beings who drank, lusted and laughed. YHWH and Allah are significant for not possessing an internality. Wilful gods, which YHWH usually was or is, are more frequent. Marduk was a god of power not of morality. As with YHWH he is presented as a single powerful deity. The Mesopotamian gods gave little thought to the suffering or wellbeing of human beings, and as a whole neither did the Egyptian gods. Egyptian deities were concerned with the cosmos not organic creatures. YHWH, as the only god, ignores the cosmos and appears concerned only with his human doppelgangers. Specifically, he is concerned with power over his doppelgangers, although later in the Bible he also begins to care.
In the end, Navon enquires whether it is right that in having faith in god we should suspend the ethical. Isis did, as interpreted in the natural morality, conventional morality axis.
The notion of YHWH as moral seems tied up with his position as a judge, not his behaviour. The Hebrews soon learnt that god knew everything they did, not apparently the priests, the elite, in that reviewing the above judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah he functions like an ordinary human judge-as our capacity to judge comes from YHWH that is to be expected, but in this instance no member of the city pleads their case nor is a separate case made for children. What other evidence there is other than the attack on the angels, which only much later was laid at the door of sodomy, is from complainers-none of whom is named. The judgement therefore seems based on prejudice and unreliable evidence. Anecdotal evidence appears to be specifically relied upon. While YHWH’s greater divine knowledge must be included, this is done so from the ‘absurd position’, as we cannot know it or experience it. By judging, a rare facility in other gods, YHWH establishes his moral credentials and by no other.
Wurzburger states that since YHWH is a moral being, his acts and demands must always be moral. Abraham acts morally in setting aside his own judgement and acquiescing to the greatest moral authority-YHWH. As his duty to YHWH is deemed the highest ethic, killing Isaac was profoundly ethical. The weakness of this position is clear: humankind become incapable of genuine moral judgement and absolved from using it. They have no responsibility. It is also a construction that leads towards destructive and immoral deeds, therefore is by itself immoral as it lacks ethical judgement on the side of the believer. Belief becomes the overarching religious experience and ethics are suppressed-again a position accepted by a number of Islamist terrorist groups. As these profess religious motives for their destructive behaviour here they will be considered religious. Nevertheless, this approach to ethics can be found within YHWH’s own ‘means to an end’ strategies. The immediate thought is the core attitudes also of modern fascism whereby complexity is simplified with faith, especially in leaders, and belief.
Navon examines R. Liechenstein’s arguments, which state that since YHWH is good (a very presumptive argument not clearly demonstrated) everything he does is good and human beings merely lack understanding. Again this is an argument found constantly in Abrahamic fundamentalism, that god is so superior that his thoughts can never be fully understood, embracing thereby the stereotype of H. G. Well’s Martians. This argument states that as YHWH partakes of ‘goodness‘ nothing he does can cause harm. Such arguments rarely involve understanding of goodness certainly not as Zarathustra attempted, separating benevolence and malevolence, as everything is in god, determining benevolence from malevolence becomes confusing.
Although the Talmud emphasises discussion or debate with god, something that appears forbidden within Islam for example and subsumed in Christianity within the Christ figure, the final argument remains ‘faith’ and ‘obedience’. Human autonomy is always subject to the claims of a specific god, as revealed through words. The property and nature of words is assumed as magical and fixed, not transient as most modern uses of the written word believe. In Islam for example words are permanent in their properties.
A true religious believer, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, overcomes problems of rationality and doubt with teiku, suspension of judgement. The dependence on the magical nature of words and teiku are taken together inventions of the Abrahamic religions and thereby account for legends (Christ’s resurrection and Muhammad’s flying to Jerusalem (Salih Muslim Book 001: Hadith number 0309) and the continuance of a belief in myth. Suspension of disbelief is fundamental to all three religions. Nevertheless what this implies is that if a god or religion requests that a follower acts outside of ‘natural morality’, such as murder even genocide, such monstrous deeds are possible. These religions thereby encourage Natural and Conventional immorality, while still claiming divine morality, which appears equated with power.
This element is crucial to the Abrahamic religions in ways not viable in Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Iranian religions. On the surface it appears merely a priestly idea that may also have been suitable for social control and the creation of the Hebrew ethnic identity. It would seem to have emerged during the religious normalisation of Jeremiah. Fixed as it is upon a specific god, involving as it does a single focus and narrow set of emotions (reverence, awe, obedience and at times ecstasy), it seems revolutionary in its construction and yet the idea that it was a response to the sheer power of Assyria seems appropriate. It is religion based on kingship or emperors with power identified through judgement of others and moralising tropes. Although Faith developed among the Sumerian elite at the end of the 3rd millennium, it was connected to the feelings associated with worship, particularly concentrated private worship, fixed on an object, perhaps an idol, or concept of the supernatural but involving prayer and contemplation.
The Abrahamic religions constructed Faith upon an idea, arising from the Deuteronomists, often expressed within an environment such as a meeting place, church, and a book. It was in the end the product of new technology, writing and its by-product reading. The internalisation of religion, which is what the Abrahamic religions are, required writing and was initiated by writing. Ideas usually involve writing, the creation, expansion, transmission, and through writing remain longer and clearer in the mind and therefore do not need idols to perpetuate those ideas.
According to Navod Abraham’s Faith stemmed from the teleological argument that existence must have a Designer (Midrash: Ber. R. 39:1). Such a concept can be gleaned from Mesopotamian religions, although not clearly, and more from Egyptian religion that had several, similar, creator myths. The Genesis creator myth seems Egyptian, while the Adam and Eve stories resemble Mesopotamian myths. While Egyptian religion was not greatly concerned with the creation of humankind, Mesopotamian myths were. In the Zarathustra religion there is only one creator. Although all the Abrahamic religions claim to worship only one god the plethora of supernatural figures surrounding the one god (especially in Christianity) suggests otherwise.
According to Navon, the teleological argument came to Abraham before god did but this is not evident in translations. There god speaks to Abraham as someone known to him, established within his family group. Navon’s understanding of the Abraham/YHWH nexus is informed by supplementary later material that the Bible lends itself to as a result of its mainly epigrammatic style, which gains power through leaving much out. If taken out of context, that is the Genesis texts prior to Abraham, god just simply pops up into Abraham’s life. In the translations, at no point does Abraham show independent judgement except at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah where he acts before YHWH like a court official for the defence, while at the same time suggesting the horrendous punishment. Was Abraham tricking YHWH to exonerate Lot and his family? These are claimed to be the only righteous people in Sodom, but upon release the daughters commit incest with their father in order to procreate. The main and perhaps only duty of Hebrew women it seems. This incident again illuminates Yahwist morality, as procreation is placed above nearly all other activities, Natural and Conventional morality become submerged. Although in the Bible it provides the etymology for Moab and the Ammonites (elsewhere in the text already existent), exampling their future bad characters through a connection to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Although YHWH is posited in time, in the same way that Islam does with Allah, he precedes and creates time, in reality he has no actual followers until he goes into partnership with Abraham. He does not even claim to have originated the human race only the part that will prove obedient to him. In this, as in other things, the Yahwist religion is ‘political’, not ethical.
Although Navon, et al, demonstrate that Abraham’s development throughout the narrative demonstrates his growth of character aligned to his growth in faith this progress can equally be seen as literary tropes describing the origins of the Hebrew people. Many of the episodes, leaving Palestine for Egypt, fleeing Egypt, destroying Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, cleansing his new people of Canaanite corruption, and a trial of Faith preciously similar to the trials of Job where YHWH too tricks and lies. In the Book of Job, YHWH is immoral, basing his reasons for destroying Job’s family on the fact that he can because he is more powerful than others, but Navon in the Akeida finds reasons why YHWH is not. All is subordinated to Faith, which like Love, a particularly Christian focus, and Obedience, a particularly Islamic one, appear as separate forces or even the resurrection of old gods through other means. YHWH, here as elsewhere, concerns power. He functions, as in The Book of Job, as a trickster. Abraham does as well.
Abraham personifies Faith and insists that to reach YHWH others emulate him. But firstly what is this Faith? Taking from the text and Navon’s analysis it is obedience of YHWH that somehow confirms his existence, belief in him and power over believers. It would appear on another level to be the hallmark of an insecure god who requires overt demonstrations of belief. The Akeida is symbolic of humankind’s sacrifice of itself to god, as is the pain of circumcision. Throughout the story of Abraham, others have been sacrificed, Egyptians, Philistines, and Sodom and Gomorrah, now it was the turn of his agent or agents. The whole world was thereby to be symbolically sacrificed to this insatiable god who desired emotion, time, blood (circumcision) and new born. A god who killed wantonly to ensure his/its appetites were fed. The sacrifice of the Hebrews was met by ownership of land and an unassailable sense of self, self-satisfaction, drive, a reason for existence but not happiness, laughter, fun and excitement.
In current terminology Abraham would be described as streetwise as a consequence of his continuous manipulation of others, especially those more powerful than he is. But as described in Ancient Fictionality: Joseph: spoiled son and manipulative women tricking those more powerful was seen as a virtue. Joseph cruelly tricks his brothers, his brothers cruelly trick their father, Jacob/Israel tricks Joseph, Tamar tricks Jacob. YHWH tricks Abraham and Isaac, Abraham tricks both the Philistine and Egyptian king. Their god, or their supposed god, is a trickster too, seen in The Book of Job and the Abraham and Isaac narrative.
While exhibiting the moral largesse of Loki is not necessarily a terrible characteristic in a dominant god, the violence at the core of the religion perhaps is. The alteration towards benevolence came after the exile’s return, and in some ways proved a reversal in ideology-the earlier ideology exampled perhaps by Moses, one of a number of violent prophets in the YHWH cult, and even by ideas on the intractability of Faith and obedience.
 The Binding of Isaac: Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought. Collected in ‘Threads of Reason’,Ptil Tekhelet (30 Dec. 2013).
 Ed. Jonathan A. Jacobs. Oxford University Press.
 Ḥakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought
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 Natural Law in Judaism, A Reconsideration.
 Moses Maimonides. The Guide of the Perplexed. Trans. Shlomo Pines. University of Chicago Press. !963: 382 (11.40)
 Ludwig von Mises ‘Theory and History: an interpretation of social and economic evolution’. Yale University Press. 1957. Page 51.
 James K. Bruckner, Implied Law in the Abraham Narrative: A Literary and Theological Analysis, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 335, Sheffield Academic Press, London, 2001.
 Hannah Arendt.
 Morals in Ancient Mesopotamia. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. First published 1958. Eisenbrauns, 1996.
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 Bottero, Jean. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Trans. Teresa L. Fagin. University of Chicago Press. 2001.