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Genesis 22 describes the famous binding of Isaac narrative. During the beginning of the event, Abraham and Isaac’s ascent to the mountain is described:

“Early in the morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants with him, along with his son Isaac. ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭22:3‬ ‭

However, on the return from the mountain, Isaac’s name is not mentioned:

“Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set out together for Beer Sheba where Abraham stayed.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭22:19‬ ‭

Some scholars hypothesise that this lack of the mention of Isaac means that Isaac was actually sacrificed, however I wish to see any alternative explanations for this lack of mention of Isaac’s return. Why omit his name in the return?

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    Yes, the angel of the Lord stayed (vs12) Abraham from completing the sacrifice of his son. If this is "NOT" true then why would God (vs13) provide a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in Isaac's place? And yes, I did read your source for the alternate argument which is baseless.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:49

5 Answers 5

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Yoreh's analysis that you cite is compelling, but does contain contradictions of its own. For example his 'pottery' analogy to the biblical text does emphasise the reverence that the ancients had for the text, and suggests that they gradually supplemented it to soften the tone.

However, this very example of Isaac doesn't feel like it would meaningfully honour the text - un-killing a central figure? A promised child that Abraham had been instructed to wait for? Very shortly after he was born? And do we lose all the subsequent text about him finding a bride and becoming part of Israel's lineage? And knowing how genealogy-focused Israel was, would they add to that?

I'd be interested to learn more about the reconstructed timeline Yoreh is proposing, but at face value it seems peculiar to claim that scribes were reverent enough to avoid changing text, but implant whole sections that change it entirely.

Claiming that Isaac's character diminishes following the sacrifice and is merely recycled feels unfair - consider chapter 27, where in his old age Isaac is deceived by Jacob and then blesses him. Who otherwise was this text about, if not Isaac?

Resolving the inconsistency

The simple reading would be that only Abraham is highlighted as he is the subject of the text, and the travelling of any other people with him would be inferred. Examples of this can be found across the Pentateuch and throughout the Hebrew Bible:

  • In Genesis 31-32 Jacob is usually travelling with his wives and children, yet it only mentions the wives half the time, and almost never mentions the children. A good example would be 32:1-2, where 'Jacob' goes on his way without any other named characters, but when he encounters angels he names the place, and then turns to his messengers in v3. Jacob is named as the key figure, but others are travelling with him. This feels especially relevant as it is another Elohim passage, not YHWH.
  • In Exodus 7-11, there is a frequent switching off between "Moses" doing some things and "Moses and Aaron" doing others. For example in chapter 11 the narrative is focused on Moses, until suddenly in v10 it says Aaron did these things with him.
  • In 2 Kings 4:8 Elisha goes to Shunem, and in v12 suddenly turns to his servant Gehazi, who is not stated to have travelled with him.

So this is a totally normal feature of the text, and doesn't need to be 'explained' by totally rewriting the narrative.

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    great answer - and totally agree. if the binding of Isaac in it’s final form was reconstructed as argued by some, you would think the hebrews would have done a better job at rewriting it! i see too many scholars often select certain verses and theorise them to be later interpolations (based on poor evidence) so it can fit their argument. to me, that goes beyond exegesis & hermeneutics and into the realm of pseudo-scholarship. it’s a shame this method is a very common thing in some biblical studies!
    – ellied
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:27
  • Using the same logic, why would the servant been mentioned in Genesis 22:19? Why didn't just read "Then Abraham returned to Beersheba and stayed there"? Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 13:38
  • Perhaps it's just a way of closing the pericope - he had left the servants, so it mentions him returning to them. Generally through most of the OT texts we see a pattern of 'he' did things rather than 'they' did things - whether Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, etc the texts tend to focus on that singular main character as the actor, even when others are present.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 9:01
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There is enough evidence that Isaak was living after this event (see search result); the whole story of the people of Israel goes through him, as it is mentioned right in the verse above (22:18):

And through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed,f because you have obeyed My voice.”

There are other possible explanations

  • The story mentions the sacrifice of the continues with Abraham. The sentence is only binding the narration above and the following.

  • Isaac may not have accompanied Abraham gointg to Beer Sheba but it was not worth mentioning this detail because it is not important.

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Background
The answer is found in the New Testament:

Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable. (Hebrews 11:19 DRA)
λογισάμενος ὅτι καὶ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγείρειν δυνατὸς ὁ θεός ὅθεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐν παραβολῇ ἐκομίσατο

The basic sense of a parable is a side-by-side comparison of two things:

The word ‘parable’ is simply the English form of a quite common Greek word (parabolē) which in ordinary Greek usage meant the putting of one thing alongside another by way of comparison or illustration. Aristotle, for example, defines the word as meaning ‘comparison’ or ‘analogy’. (Rhet. 11, xx, 2-4). But in the Greek Bible the meaning of the word is affected by the meaning of the Hebrew word māšhāl Aramaic: məethel) which it was used to translate; and as a māšhāl has a number of uses, so in biblical Greek does the word ‘parable’.1

The "parable" of the Akedah (the binding) of Isaac, is the comparison with the offering of Jesus. Here are a few parallels:

Abraham offers Isaac                  The Father offers Jesus
Isaac is bound before he is offered   Jesus is bound before He is offered
Two servants do not go with Isaac     Two thieves go with Jesus 
The angel of the LORD stops Abraham   Jesus does not stop Pilate                
The LORD will provide a lamb          Jesus is the Lamb

Some comparisons are the same; some are antithetic.

Three Days
It took Abraham and Isaac three days to travel from Beersheba (v. 22:19) to Mount Moriah:

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. (Genesis 22 ESV)

On the third day after leaving Beersheba, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place. Afterward, Abraham returned to Beersheba. Not only is Isaac "missing" from the narrative, there is no mention of the length of time the trip took. However, if Abraham was able to see the place of sacrifice on the third day, then it is reasonable to conclude he would see Beersheba on the third day when returning.

Therefore, Isaac and the travel time have been intentionally omitted from the narrative in Genesis in order to form a more perfect comparison with the offering of Jesus:

Isaac "disappears" from the next 3-days   Jesus "disappears" from the next 3-days    

After He was crucified, Jesus "disappears" from the Gospel accounts: just as there is no mention of Isaac on the return trip. But, on the third day He returns to the same place He had been left. Therefore, if Isaac did return, which is most likely, the comparison of that location is antithetic. Regardless, the narrative in Genesis has been intentionally crafted to be compared with the crucifixion of Jesus.

In addition, most scholars believe the offering of Isaac took place at the place where the Temple was built. f that is correct, the location of the two is another component of the parable.


1. D.E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, The Seabury Press, 1963 p. 126

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It was likely Isaac and Abraham were not living together.

Isaac was a grown up man, probably at his thirtieth, at time of his sacrificed event. Soon after this, the next event is Genesis 23, the death of Sarah who died at age of 127, by then Isaac was 37 years old. In Genesis 24, Abraham sent his senior servant to his relatives in Nahor, to find a wife for Isaac. Isaac had not been mentioned involved in the plan. When Rebecca arrived, Genesis 24:62 read

Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. (NIV)

Isaac married Rebecca at 40 years old (Genesis 25:20)

All these events were in close proximity. So after the sacrificed event, Isaac was likely leaving Abraham and stayed in the Negev, and Abraham with his two servants went back to Beersheba (Genesis 22:19), located north of Negev.

Surely someone may say, if this was the case, why didn't the Bible add a sentence to clarify it. I cannot answer it. There are so many things the Bible didn't provide detail, the age of Isaac at time of his sacrifice was one. But if the Bible gave details of everything, would it match the word of John in John 21:25;

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (NIV)

Perhaps, it is intentionally to skip some details to testify our faith. When we are reading Bible, we know it is a book of the Lord, instead of a fiction.

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    Your attribution of Isaac's age at the time of these events seems dubious. In the passage in question, both Abraham and the angel of the Lord refer to Isaac as a "boy", which conveys youth. Even if the next event recorded were Sarah's death, that does not imply that it was soon after. But in fact, the next event recorded, "some time later" according to the NIV, was Abraham receiving word that several sons had been born to his brother Nahor. Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 16:12
  • @JohnBollinger - There is a discussion of Isaac's age in this site. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15405/… Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 20:04
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I don't know if this is true at all.

I wonder if Isaac isn't mentioned on the return from the top of Moriah because to Abraham, the Isaac who returned was not the same Isaac who went up the mountain. That is, the Isaac that went up Moriah was an idol to Abraham. Now that Isaac was gone. The Isaac that returned was a dearly loved son but God was greater than that son.

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