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The story of Abraham binding Isaac is told in Gen 22: 1-18. Excerpting from v. 2:

[God] said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love....and offer him ... as a burnt offering..." (ESV)
... וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֙ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֨בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק …. וְהַעֲלֵ֤הוּ ... לְעֹלָ֔ה (BHS)

The midrash Genesis Rabbah states that Isaac was 37 (or 26?) years old at the time.* I had always assumed he was what we might call a "child," but I don't know why. Abraham refers to him as both בְּנִ֑י ("my son") and הַנַּ֔עַר (v. 5; ESV, "the boy"; LXX, τὸ παιδάριον). I would imagine that בֵּן ("son") can be used to refer to a person of any age, but I'm not sure if נַ֫עַר denotes any particular age range.

The beginning of the story also doesn't give me a lot of insight into its timing in the life of Isaac:
וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה ("After these things..."). It's unclear how long "after" or exactly what "these things" refers to.

Is there anything in the text to help us figure out how old Isaac was at the time?


*The reasoning is explained in footnote 5 (p. 497) in that link, but it relies on a tradition not evident in the text to my knowledge.

  • 1
    @Susan I read the same sources, and came to the same conclusion that Isaac was not a 'young lad' who could be 'overpowered' by Abraham, but a 'young man'(37 is young, if your father is 137). Either way, Isaac was 'willingly bound', in that he trusted his father who said, "G-d will provide a sacrifice", whether or not the sacrifice was himself, or some other. Interestingly, in Mandarin character, part of 'sacrifice' includes 'lamb'. – Tau Jan 12 '15 at 9:37
  • @Susan Just a comment re: the first thirteen words of Footnote #5 on the p. 497. Sarah was indeed to be 90 years old when she gave birth to Isaac (Gen 17:17), but while that states Sarah was 127 years old at her death, chances are she was only 126. The 127 is her "span of life" (Gen 23:1) that began at her conception. – John Martin Jan 12 '15 at 12:45
  • Thanks @JohnMartin. The part of that I wasn't sure about was the association of her death with the binding of Isaac.... – Susan Jan 12 '15 at 13:06
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Gen 22: 5 calls Isaac, "na'ar" in Hebrew, (English transl. for 'lad')

"From na'ar; (concretely) a boy (as active), from the age of infancy to adolescence; by implication, a servant; also (by interch. Of sex), a girl (of similar latitude in age) -- babe, boy, child, damsel (from the margin), lad, servant, young (man)."

http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5289.htm

In the writings of Josephus, the age of Issac, at the time of the sacrifice that Abraham prepared to make of him, is said to be twenty-five years old. (Antiquities of the Jews: English (1.13.2), Greek (2.227))

Google Josephus on the Bible, p. 275, Issac as sacrifice. (Josephus would have been writing in retrospect, but may have had access to more information than we have today.)

These two ideas, (together with the Hebrew writings concerning the age of the 'youths' described in the story of Elisha sending bears after 'youths' who were harassing him about Holy things, these men were called youths but understood by scholars commentaries to be 20 to 40 year olds,)...the sum of which leads us to assume that Isaac was in his mid twenties early 30's, approximately.

  • Note that your biblehub link there has got the BDB entries (IMO the most valuable part of that page) mixed up for two different meanings for nʿr. You can see the correct BDB entry for the meaning we're discussing here on this page (but the concordance info is correct on the page you originally referenced). – Susan Feb 13 '15 at 4:02
  • 5287-89(maybe more, didn't look) have same Hebrew wrd.., 1.shake/off/shook 2. men/man 3.young man /woman, etc.- it's an unusual word – Hello Feb 13 '15 at 4:26
  • For fun with that, check out the varying translations of Zechariah 11:16 (the pertinent word is the object of seek / look for). – Susan Feb 13 '15 at 4:40
  • @Susan- my quote marks and quotation were accurate i think, I took them right out of the place you edited. – Hello Feb 19 '15 at 2:31
  • Sorry if I changed it in a way you didn’t intend. I was just adding links and noted that "at the time of the Aquedah” is not found in the English linked there. I do appreciate the Josephus reference, though, and have +1’ed this for that reason. – Susan Feb 19 '15 at 3:09
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Jewish oral tradition suggests that Isaac was thirty-seven when Abraham offered him on Mount Moriah.

The following summary by Ryle (1921) provides the findings and general conclusions of rabbinic tradition in regard to this very question -

Jewish Tradition found a fertile subject in the ‘aḳêdah, or binding, of Isaac. The following passage from the Targum of Palestine is a good example of Haggadah (i.e. legend, or explanatory tradition): “And they came to the place of which the Lord had told him. And Abraham builded there the altar which Adam had built, which had been destroyed by the waters of the deluge, which Noah had again builded, and which had been destroyed in the age of divisions [i.e. the dispersion of the peoples]. And he set the wood in order upon it, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And Isaac answered and said to his father, Bind me properly, lest I tremble from the affliction of my soul, and be cast into the pit of destruction, and there be found profaneness in thy offering. Now the eyes of Abraham looked on the eyes of Isaac; but the eyes of Isaac looked towards the angels on high, and Isaac beheld them, but Abraham saw them not. And the angels answered on high, Come, behold how these solitary ones who are in the world kill the one the other; he who slays delays not; he who is to be slain reacheth forth his neck. And the Angel of the Lord called to him, &c.”
“According to Jose ben Zimra, the idea of tempting Abraham was suggested by Satan who said, ‘Lord of the Universe! Here is a man whom thou hast blessed with a son at the age of one hundred years, and yet, amidst all his feasts, he did not offer thee a single dove or young pigeon for a sacrifice’ (Sanh. 87b; Gen. R. LV.). In Jose ben Zimra’s opinion, the ‘aḳedah took place immediately after Isaac’s weaning. This however is not the general opinion. According to the Rabbis, the ‘aḳedah not only coincided with, but was the cause of the death of Sarah, who was informed of Abraham’s intention while he and Isaac were on the way to Mount Moriah. Therefore Isaac must then have been thirty-seven years old (Seder ‘Olam Rabbah, ed. Ratner, p. 6; Pirke R. El. XXXI.; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. XXVII.).” Jewish Encycl. s.v. Isaac.
“The Jews implore the mercy of God by the sacrifice of Isaac, as Christians by the sacrifice of Christ” (Mayor, Ep. James, p. 97). The merits of Isaac’s submission were regarded as abounding to the credit of the whole race; e.g. “For the merit of Isaac who offered himself upon the altar, the Holy One, blessed be He, will hereafter raise the dead” (Pesikta Rab. Kahana, p. 200, ed. Buber).

Ryle, Herbert E. (1921). The Book of Genesis in the Revised Version with Introduction and Notes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 243-244.

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Shalom, blessings.

In Genesis 22:4 it says:

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (Mount Moriah)

and Jesus said In John 8 56-58:

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Jesus says that Abraham saw him and in fact he was in existence before Abraham. it's possible that Jesus was referring to Genesis 22:4 that God gave Abraham a vision that Jesus was going to be crucified on Mount Moriah? Christian beliefs teach that Genesis 22 was a Theophany.

Genesis 22:8 says:

And Abraham said: my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Himself meaning God himself personified that God was the substitution lamb. For Israels sin. The prophet said in Isaiah 53:5-8:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

Upon these verses if Abraham saw the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus was crucified at age 33 at the place where Isaac was offered as sacrifice and if Isaac was a theophany of Jesus he would have to be at least 33 years of age. I personally believe this to be so being that Genesis 22 says that they went together, and the prophet said in Amos 3:3:

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Meaning that Isaac was in agreement with his father to be sacrificed per Genesis 4-8 because they believed even if Abraham sacrificed Isaac that God would resurrect him even as he saw Jesus crucified and resurrected on the third day per what Jesus said in John 8:56.

Shalom be blessed.

  • Actually, when I look at these readings chronologically, I could believe 33 is correct. Three paragraphs after Abraham is stopped from killing Isaac, it notes the span of Sarah's life was 127 years; thus, she lived to the age of 126 and was 90 years older than Isaac. Note: I can accept that Isaac could have been 33 years old when offered up, and it was merely 3 years later (3 paragraphs later) that Sarah, his mother, died. – John Martin Mar 14 at 0:55
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Since Genesis doesn't show how old Abraham's son/boy Isaac was at that time, all we could do to determine that is calculate his age then. However, we would need to have some other information, such as someone else’s age at the time, along with how much older or younger than Isaac that individual was.

Isaac was born to Abraham at 100 years old, Sarah was to be 90, and the step brother, Ishmael, would probably have been 14. We don't know how old they were at the time Isaac was offered up.

We know Isaac got married when he was 40 years old, Isaac’s twin sons Esau and Jacob were born when he was 60, and he died at 180. However, we don't know the differences in time between those events and Isaac being offered up. We know Isaac’s wife Rebekah never has an age given, nor does any other female beyond Sarah.

Other information that won't help includes the “spans of life” of Abraham (175 years), Sarah (127), and Ishmael (137).

With the information in text, we really can't determine how old Isaac was at that time.

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If we make the assumption that Sarah died in the year that Isaac was bound to the altar, we can see why the midrash states that Isaac was 37 years old.

Gen 23:1 states that Sarah was 127 as the time of her death. We know that Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born -Gen 17:17. That leaves 127-90 = 37 years up to the year Sarah died. But as I said in the beginning, it depends on one big assumption, that Sarah died in the same year Isaac was bound.

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    This is already explained in the footnote referenced in the (footnote of) the question. – Susan Jul 14 '17 at 7:05
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Using the term Akedah (binding) to refer to the event, Isaac's age at Akedah can be constrained from two related passages:

  1. Paul's statement in Gal 3:17 - reflecting the view in the proto-rabbinic circle of Gamaliel, under whom Paul had studied the Torah - that the Law had come 430 years after God's promise to Abraham and to his offspring. (This statement obviously implies the adoption of the "short soujourn" view of the Israelites' stay in Egypt, i.e. that the 430-year interval of Ex 12:40 began at Gen ch. 15.) Now, Abraham's act of faith mentioned in Gal 3:6 and God's promise to Abraham and to his offspring mentioned in Gal 3:16 are in Gen 15:6 and 15:18 respectively, within the event known as "Covenant of the pieces". Therefore we must estimate the time elapsed between Abraham's departure from Haran (Gen 12:4-5) and the promise in Gen 15:18.

  2. Within the "Covenant of the pieces", the prophecy in Gen 15:13 that Abraham's offspring ("seed") would serve and be afflicted for 400 years. The servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring can be understood to have begun in any of two moments:

    • at the feast on the day that Isaac was weaned, when Ishmael mocked Isaac (Gen 21:9), or

    • at Akedah, when Abraham laid the wood of the burnt offering on Isaac (Gen 22:6) and then bound him and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood, and reached out his hand and took the knife to slay him (Gen 22:9-10).

Thus, adopting a convention of denoting a specific moment as LLL.n, where:

  • LLL are the first 3 letters of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or the Promise of Gen 15:18,

  • n is LLL's age at that specific moment if it is a figure, or the number of years that have elapsed from LLL if it is the Promise,

we have the following sequence of events and intervals:

Abr.75. Abraham leaves Haran (Gen 12:4-5).

  • a (Time elapsed between Abraham's departure from Haran in Gen 12:4-5 and the promise of Gen 15:18 within the Covenant of the Pieces)

Pro.0 = Abr.(75 + a). Covenant of the pieces (Gen ch. 15): Abraham believes the LORD and receives the 400-year prophecy and the promise.

  • (25 - a)

Pro.(25 - a) = Abr.100 = Isa.0. Isaac is born (Gen 21:2-5).

  • b (Isaac's age at the event beginning the 400 years of servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13)

Pro.(25 + b - a) = Abr.(100 + b) = Isa.b. Beginning of the 400 years of servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring: either Ishmael mocks Isaac (Gen 21:9) or Abraham offers Isaac in sacrifice (Gen ch. 22).

  • (60 - b)

Pro.(85 - a) = Abr.(160) = Isa.60 = Jac.0. Jacob is born (Gen 25:26).

  • 130

Pro.(215 - a) = Jac.130. The Sons of Israel enter Egypt (Gen 47:9).

  • (215 + a) (Duration of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt)

Pro.(430). Exodus.

Since the Covenant of the pieces must have been before Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a wife, which happened "after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan" (Gen 16:3):

0 <= a <= 10

Since the 400 years of servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13 ended at Exodus, we have:

400 = 430 - (25 + b - a)

0 = 30 - 25 - b + a

b = 5 + a

Thus we have:

0 <= a <= 10

5 <= b <= 15

where the values of both variable time intervals move in tandem from left to right within their respective 10-year ranges. Accordingly, the range of the duration of the Israelites' soujourn in Egypt, 215 + a, is from 215 to 225 years.

Since 5 years is way too advanced an age for weaning, the event beginning the 400 years of servitude and affliction of Abraham's offspring prophecied in Gen 15:13 was Akedah (which was always my preferred option, since carrying the wood for the burnt offering and then being bound and laid on the altar and about to be sacrificed was real servitude and affliction, as opposed to just being mocked). We can further constrain Isaac's age at the event by noting that he had to be able to carry the wood of the burnt offering on top of himself, which IMO imposes a realistic minimum age of 8 years. Thus we arrive at the ranges:

3 <= a <= 10

8 <= b <= 15 (Isaac's age at Akedah)

218 <= duration of the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt (215 + a) <= 225.

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