2008-05-25

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

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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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Neil Godfrey

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13 thoughts on “Beloved and Only Begotten Sons Sacrificed by Loving Fathers (Offering of Isaac, 5)”

    1. I doubt it. I do have these two articles in my files, though

      Gilad, Elon. “Was Passover Originally an Ancient Canaanite Ritual to Stop the Rains?” Haaretz, April 2, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20150722142128/http://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/.premium-1.650005?trailingPath=2.169%2C2.208%2C2.210%2C.

      FailedMessiah.com. “Was Passover Originally An Ancient Canaanite Ritual Festival Meant To Stop The Winter Rain From Ruining Spring Crops?” Accessed April 1, 2021. https://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2015/04/was-passover-originally-an-ancient-canaanite-ritual-festival-meant-to-stop-the-winter-rain-from-ruining-spring-crops-234.html.

      1. Familiarity with those articles is why I asked.

        Also was thinking of the Interpretatio graeca. More should sit down with van der Toorn’s Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) to make a chart of intriguing equivalences.

        Interpretatio graeca (Latin, “Greek translation”) or “interpretation by means of Greek [models]” is a discourse used to interpret or attempt to understand the mythology and religion of other cultures; a comparative methodology using ancient Greek religious concepts and practices, deities, and myths, equivalencies, and shared characteristics.

        The phrase may describe Greek efforts to explain others’ beliefs and myths, as when Herodotus describes Egyptian religion in terms of perceived Greek analogues, or when Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch document Roman cults, temples, and practices under the names of equivalent Greek deities. Interpretatio graeca may also describe non-Greeks’ interpretation of their own belief systems by comparison or assimilation with Greek models, as when Romans adapt Greek myths and iconography under the names of their own gods.

        Jan Assmann considers the polytheistic approach to internationalizing gods as a form of “intercultural translation”:

        “The great achievement of polytheism is the articulation of a common semantic universe. … The meaning of a deity is his or her specific character as it unfolded in myths, hymns, rites, and so on. This character makes a deity comparable to other deities with similar traits. The similarity of gods makes their names mutually translatable. … The practice of translating the names of the gods created a concept of similarity and produced the idea or conviction that the gods are international.” [Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 44–54 (quotation p. 45), as cited by Smith, God in Translation, p. 39.]

        Pliny the Elder expressed the “translatability” of deities as “different names to different peoples” (nomina alia aliis gentibus). This capacity made possible the religious syncretism of the Hellenistic era and the pre-Christian Roman Empire.

        Reading something on Saite period Egypt [Solon spent some time in Sais] I see that in the NE delta right near where the canal is today:

        King Psammetichus (664–610 BC) established a garrison of foreign mercenaries at Daphnae, mostly Carians and Ionian Greeks (Herodotus ii. 154).

        When Naucratis was given the monopoly of Greek traffic by Amasis II (570–526 BC), the Greeks were removed from Daphnae and its prosperity never returned; in Herodotus’ time the deserted remains of the docks and buildings were visible.

        Tahpanhes (also transliterated Tahapanes or Tehaphnehes; Hebrew: תַּחְפַּנְחֵס‎ (Taḥpanḥēs); known by the Ancient Greeks as the (Pelusian) Daphnae (Ancient Greek: Δάφναι αἱ Πηλούσιαι) and Taphnas (Ταφνας) in the Septuagint, now Tell Defenneh) was a city in ancient Egypt. It was located on Lake Manzala on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, about 26 km (16 miles) from Pelusium. The site is now situated on the Suez Canal.

        According to the Hebrew Bible, the Jews from Jerusalem fled to this place after the death of Gedaliah and settled there for a time (Jeremiah 2:16; 43:7,8,9; 44:1; 46:14; Ezekiel 30:18). After Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC, the Jewish refugees, including Jeremiah, came to Tahpanhes (Jeremiah Chapters 43-44).

        All these garrison cities and entrepots at the edge of unstable border regions for diverse groups of mercenaries and traders to mix within for decades and centuries.

        1. Have you looked yet at posts here about Russell Gmirkin’s books, and those of Philippe Wajdenbaum and Jan-Wim Wesselius? There are many posts here addressing overlaps between Greek and Jewish literary and theological histories. Jan Assmann has been cited quite often, too.

          1. RE: Have you looked yet at posts here about Russell Gmirkin’s books, and those of Philippe Wajdenbaum and Jan-Wim Wesselius?

            First came to your blog last summer by way of a link to this post: https://vridar.org/2012/12/30/why-the-books-of-moses-should-be-dated-270-bce-clue-rabbits/ that I had come across elsewhere online.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anat_Athena_bilingual So Anat of Anat-Yahu fame in Elephantine was seen as equivalent to Athena. And all those Greeks like Solon who long frequented Sais in the western delta regarded there own Athena as equivalent of androgynous Neith the mother of the sun whose temple was there.

            As the goddess of creation and weaving, she was said to reweave the world on her loom daily. An interior wall of the temple at Esna records an account of creation in which Neith brings forth the Nun, the first land, from the primeval waters. All that she conceived in her heart comes into being, including all thirty deities. Having no husband she has been described as “Virgin Mother Goddess”: “Unique Goddess, mysterious and great who came to be in the beginning and caused everything to come to be . . . the divine mother of Ra, who shines on the horizon…”

            Proclus (412–485 AD) wrote that the adyton of the temple of Neith in Sais (of which nothing now remains) carried the following inscription: “I am the things that are, that will be, and that have been. No one has ever laid open the garment by which I am concealed. The fruit which I brought forth was the sun.” Plutarch said that the shrine of Athena, which he identifies with Isis [syncretic composite of a variety of earlier more regional deities like Neith], in Sais carried the inscription “I am all that hath been, and is, and shall be; and my veil no mortal has hitherto raised.”

            That McGrath’s buddy Häberl had a post probing a connection between the Mandaeans and the poorly understood Yazidi people in northern Iraq.

      2. Something more for your files:

        A review of Karel van der Toorn’s Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:32315/

        The Costobar Affair: Comparing Idumaism and Early Judaism https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:33687/

        “Despite these discontinuities, the two communities of Judeans also show a strong contiguity. The size and age of the Yeb community support their relative importance. Ernst Axel Knauf estimates that 1.5% of all Judeans then living were resident at Yeb.22 The duration of the Judean community at Yeb is disputed, but TAD A4.7/8 refers to the temple’s existence in Cambyses’s time, over 118 years before the letter’s composition; the Yeb archives as a whole attest the community’s presence throughout the 5th century. For potentially several centuries, then, the Judean community at Yeb deliberately upheld their Judean identity in a foreign environment.23 The extant correspondence between Yehud and Yeb amply demonstrates a mutual recognition of kinship.24” From: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:13923/

        Suffice it to say this fellow is an interesting one to keep an eye on.

        Turning to the Mandaeans:

        https://www.academia.edu/32005295/The_Priority_of_Mandaean_Tropes_Generally_Considered_Derivative_of_Christian_and_Islamic_Influences

        Mandaean Priority: a Draft Essay by Samuel Zinner, 2017

        ABSTRACT: There are good reasons for doubting the standard model that insists Mandaean beliefs and formulae that parallel Christian and Islamic traditions are basically derivative. Mandaeism’s focus on John the Baptizer…reflects the religion’s origins in ancient Palestine as an independent group that developed at about the same time as the Jewish Jesus sect. Similarly, the parallels between some Mandaean texts and the Johannine gospel are not the result of Mandaean “borrowing”; each represents an independent trajectory based on John the Baptizer’s preaching, modified according to each group’s needs. Similarities between Islamic and Mandaean liturgies and prayer formulae are best explained as the result of Mandaean influence upon nascent Islam rather than the latter’s influence upon Mandaeism. Similarities between Mandaean and Jewish liturgies result from preservation of traditions (dynamically modified over time) from the era before Mandaeans parted ways from their Jewish or at least Jewish-related matrix.

        “Mandaeism is one of the few living religions of Gnosticism … similarities between Jewish and Mandaean liturgies are most parsimoniously explained if Mandaeism, which eventually became a theologically anti-Jewish religious group, originated as a Jewish or a somehow Jewish-related sect. A denial of Gnosticism’s origins in Judaism because of the former’s anti-Judaism is not a decisive argument, because as Lester L. Grabbe observes, Christianity grew into an anti-Jewish movement despite its Jewish origins. Grabbe continues: “To get from Judaism to Gnosticism is not easy, but it is certainly not impossible. . . . One does not have to bridge the gap all in one go.”

        “Regarding the era of Gnosticism’s origin/s, the fact that it appears already fully developed in the early second century CE arguably makes a first century origin probable, and as Grabble writes, “the situation in Judaism after 70 was not conducive to this sort of development; it seems likely that any Jewish proto-Gnosticism was already in existence before the 66–70 war.” Grabbe concludes with the following important observations: “Many of the pre-70 strands of Judaism were cut off by the 66–70 war or disappeared soon afterwards because of the changed circumstances. Others developed in their own way, leading away from Judaism itself: the Christians and perhaps the Gnostics.” I [Samuel Zinner] would be more specific here, for present purposes, and say, “the Christians and perhaps the Mandaeans.” …”

        The below has a parable about a soul fisher and another about a good shepherd:

        McGrath, James F. and Häberl, Charles G., “The Mandaean Book of John: Text and Translation” The Mandaean Book of John. Critical Edition, Translation, and Commentary Edited by Charles G. Häberl and James F. McGrath / (2020): vii-222.
        Available at https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/facsch_papers/1065

        https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/tag/mandaeans

        1. Yes, it is good to see a growing number of open access sites now, and internet.archive as you probably now carries many more recent books full text. I only wish McGrath had less of a driven apologetic approach to his studies. I’m sure he has much to offer on the Mandaean literature but one cannot help but be on constant guard against his wish to have his studies have major relevance to the story of Christian origins.

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