2008-05-25

Beloved and Only Begotten Sons Sacrificed by Loving Fathers (Offering of Isaac, 5)

by Neil Godfrey

First of a couple of backtracks here before completing the Offering of Isaac’s / Sacrifice of Jesus series. Based on Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son.

According to what Eusebius tells us in his Praeparatio Evangelica, one passage Philo of Byblos wrote of sacrifice among the gods:

It was a custom of the ancients in great crises of danger for the rulers of a city or nation, in order to avert the common ruin, to give up the most beloved of their children for sacrifice as a ransom to the avenging daemons; and those who were thus given up were sacrificed with mystic rites. Kronos then, whom the Phoenicians call Elus, who was king of the country and subsequently, after his decease, was deified as the star Saturn, had by a nymph of the country named Anobret an only begotten son, whom they on this account called ledud, the only begotten being still so called among the Phoenicians; and when very great dangers from war had beset the country, he arrayed his son in royal apparel, and prepared an altar, and sacrificed him.’

Kronos or El sacrificed his son to put an end to the “very great dangers from war that had beset the country.” The same motif is found in the Bible where King Mesha also offered “his first-born son, who was to succeed him as king” to end the siege of his city. See 2 Kings 3:27. In both cases a king sacrifices his royal heir.

Elus is otherwise known as El, and is also known by the same name and in the same supreme role in the Hebrew Bible, and sometimes equated there with YHWH.

Iedud is, following Levenson, better spelled Iedoud to reflect Eusebius’s Greek.

Another manuscript tradition names this only begotten son of El Ieoud rather than Iedoud (Levenson, p.27).

The only begotten son

Ieoud is most likely the same as the Hebrew word yachiyd, the only, the solitary one, the only begotten.

This word is prominent in stories of child sacrifice:

He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2)

He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:12)

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, (Genesis 22:16)

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. (Judges 11:34)

It is associated with bitter mourning for the loss of the only one:

And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son (Amos 8:10)

Mourn as for an only son, a lamentation most bitter. (Jeremiah 6:26)

And they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (Zech. 12:10)

The beloved son

The other word given to the son El sacrifices is Iedoud, the equivalent of the rare Hebrew word, y@diyd, meaning “beloved”, “precious”.

The only person in the Hebrew Bible described with this word is Benjamin, the beloved of the Lord, in Deuteronomy 33:12.

Benjamin, too, was a son who was given up for dead by his father, Jacob. In order to save his family from death from famine, had to be willing to give up the only son of is preferred wife, Benjamin.

Levenson sees another allusion to this epithet in the second name of Solomon, Jedidiah (=Yah loved), who replaced the unnamed son who had to die for God’s wrath to be appeased after David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:13-25).

The Only Begotten merges with The Beloved

The word yachiyd (only begotten) was occasionally rendered into Greek along with words that meant the same as y@diyd (beloved).

He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2)

One recension of the Septuagint renders the passage about Jepththah’s daughter as:

Now she was his only begotten and beloved child; besides her he had no son or daughter. (Judges 11:34)

Also compare the following LXX with the same passages above:

And I will make it like a time of mourning for the beloved one (Amos 8:10)

Mourn as for a beloved one, a lamentation most bitter. (Jeremiah 6:26)

Jesus as the Beloved Son

So when audiences familiar with the Jewish scriptures heard or read of God designating Jesus as his beloved son just after his baptism,

You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11 and parallels)

“a reference to that other beloved son, Isaac, is surely to be understood.” (Levenson, p.30, citing Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, p.147)

A Jewish audience, versed in the Torah and perhaps in the Septuagint as well, would have recognized the dark side of the heavenly announcement: that the destiny of the son so loved and so favored included a symbolic death at the hands of his loving father.” (p30) Compare John 3:16.

Back to El, and the Beloved Son

Ugaritic texts tell us that El was the Creator god of all creatures, the Eternal King, the Ancient of Days, the Kindly One, the Compassionate, and full of Wisdom.

He is also in one place called the father of Baal.

In one text, the sea god Yamm demands El surrender Baal to be his slave. El does so, but Baal defeats Yamm by swallowing him, and so Baal is restored.

In another text, Baal dies at the hands of the god Mot (Death), but Baal’s sister, Anat, overcomes Mot and rescues him. (One recalls fundamentalist arguments that no-one would invent a story of a return from the dead with women being the first witnesses. How much less would anyone invent a similar story where a woman is the power who resurrects him!)

El was thus able to rejoice in the renewed life of his son Baal.

Biblical analogs

The story of El handing over one of his divine sons to enslavement and death, only to have that fate reversed, has its analog in the biblical story of Joseph. Joseph, too, was delivered to slavery after his father sent him to his brothers, despite the father knowing the hatred they felt for him. Jacob also mourns Joseph as dead.

The pattern of the most beloved son, often the only son, being delivered up to slavery or death, only to be restored again, is found throughout many of the Bible’s stories, not only those about Joseph and Isaac.

The significance of these narratives being the cultural backdrop where these texts were produced, and permeating the scriptures out of which the Christian myth was born, ought to be obvious.

Will look at a few more of these next post . . . .

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  • John Goudy
    2013-06-26 16:26:30 UTC - 16:26 | Permalink

    Isn’t Yamm male?

    • 2013-06-26 17:37:05 UTC - 17:37 | Permalink

      Yes, he is. Maybe I was thinking of Tiamat at the time. Will correct.

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