Daily Archives: 2008-06-26 00:17:09 UTC

Jesus supplants Isaac — the contribution of Paul

What was the origin of the idea that God sacrificed his beloved or only son to cover for the sins of his favoured people? Was it novel to the Christians? Was it the outcome of years of theological reflection searching for meaning in some historical event? Or was the idea already central to certain Jewish interpretations about their own identity in relation to the binding (and near sacrifice) of Isaac? And if so, was the Jesus christology little more than a direct hijacking of a set of Jewish beliefs about Isaac? I am not sure of the answer but as part of an attempt to find it I have been working through a series of posts outlining Levenson’s study of how some of the earliest Christian writers drew on longstanding Jewish traditions about “the beloved son” (epitomized in Isaac) to interpret the role and meaning of Jesus.

In terms of social (i.e. racial) impact, the most significant writings that drew on Jewish interpretative frameworks about the beloved son, in particular Isaac, are those attributed to Paul. (I place ‘replaced’ in quotation marks because Isaac was never replaced within Judaism, of course. Displaced would have been the more arms-length term to have used, and is in fact the word Levenson uses. But ‘replaced’ certainly would apply to those Jews and proselytes who originally transferred all the meanings bestowed upon Isaac to their Jesus and/or Christ figure.)

A corollary of this involves a rejection of the commonly assumed notion of Paul’s “universalism”. He is not by any means a “universalist”. He wants, rather, for a reversal of the Judaistic premise: his system places the gentiles in the favoured position of the Jews, and relegates the Jews to castaway status until their punishment is complete. read more »