The relation of Umm al-Qura [Makkah] with Abraham (Ibraheem) is a significant theme of the Qur’anic Da‘wah. The Prophet of Islam (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was raised from among Bani Ishma‘el, a branch of the descendants of Abraham (Ibraheem alayhissalaam). They were settled in Makkah. Abraham (Ibraheem alayhissalaam) had himself settled this branch of his descendants at this place. This is the site where he had offered his only son for sacrifice in the vicinity of al-Marwah. This son was Ishma‘el (Isma’eel alayhissalaam) who was the ancestor of Allah’s Last Prophet, Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). The corruption made by the Jews in their scriptures had been mostly pertaining to these themes. They incorporated the name of Isaac (Is’haaq alayhissalaam) in their scriptures as the only son offered for sacrifice in lieu of Ishma‘el. They have created great confusion regarding the place of Ishma‘el’s offering. They have also endeavoured to make the relation of Abraham with the sanctuary of Makkah doubtful in every respect. It was essential to bring all these corruptions to light to establish the reality upon the Jews and Christians beyond any shadow of doubt.
According to the Jews and the Christians the ‘Only Son’ whom God had asked Abraham to offer for sacrifice, was ‘Isaac’ and not ‘Ishma‘el’. The Bible has recorded the story in a fairly detailed narrative. It is only once in the actual words of the Lord in the whole of the narrative that the name of the ‘Only Son’ has been mentioned as ‘Isaac’ which is quite misfit in, rather contrary to, the context.
It may be noted here that the name of the son, required to be offered for sacrifice, has been recorded five times in the narrative. But it is only once in the whole of the narrative that it has been made to be uttered by the ‘Lord’ Himself. At the remaining four places (verses 3,6,7,9) it has been uttered by the redactor of the book. The son has been mentioned three times by Abraham (verses 5,7,9); but at all these three places he has not mentioned the name of the son as ‘Isaac’. In verse 5 he used the words ‘I and the lad’ for him and in verse 7 and 8 he has used for him the words of ‘my son’. Even the angel of the Lord did not mention him by the name ‘Isaac’ at any place.
There are contradictions in the narrative that render the stance of the Jews and the Christians quite incredible. On the other hand a majority of the Muslim scholars claims that it was Ishma‘el, and not Isaac, whom God had asked Abraham to offer for sacrifice. But it does not mean that the Muslims claim any superiority for Ishma‘el over Isaac. According to the Muslims all the prophets are equal in status being the apostles of Allah. It is also to be made clear that at some places the writer of this book had to reproduce some Biblical authorities, which imply comparison between the prophets. The Biblical scholars have taken much liberties with the interpretations of Biblical themes while depicting the characters of Abraham, Ishma‘el, and Isaac. Similarly, noble Sarah has been depicted as a very cruel, jealous, and revengeful woman while dealing with noble Hagar and her son, Ishma‘el. It is only the viewpoint of the Biblical scholars. The writer of the present book holds all of these great personalities equally respectable, honourable and innocent.
An objective study has been undertaken to thrash out the theme of the book. It may be noted at the very outset that this event of the offering for sacrifice was committed to writing in the Bible more than a thousand years after its happening. It is quite unknown who its writer had been and what his credentials might be, but, of certain, he was not the eyewitness of the event. The writer being himself obscure, how can it be ascertained from whom he had taken it and what the status of the credibility of that reporter had been. It can also be appreciated what ‘corrections’ and ‘adjustments’ might have been exercised within this narrative by the chain of reporters of the oral tradition who had been admittedly jealous rivals to the progeny of Ishma‘el and who were the claimants of the ‘privilege’ of the ‘chosen people’. It means that the narrative is to be analyzed rationally and critically and any of its statements can only be accepted on its own merit.
THE STORY OF THE OFFERING IN THE BIBLE
It is recorded in the Bible that the Lord asked Abraham to offer his ‘only son’ as a burnt offering. It is quite clear that it was only Ishma‘el who could have been called the ‘only son’, because it was only he who remained the ‘only son’ of Abraham for fourteen years, until Isaac was born. The Jewish scholars thought it an honour to be offered before the Lord; and they did not like it to be attributed to the actual ‘only son’, Ishma‘el, who was not their ‘real ancestor’, but was their ‘uncle ancestor’. So they managed to manipulate it in favour of their ‘real ancestor’, Isaac. According to the narrative of the Bible the objective of the sacrifice was to ‘tempt’ (test/try) Abraham which has been explained in the very first sentence. In the Holy Qur’an, as well, there is the mention of ‘tempting’ Abraham:
And recall to mind when his Lord put Abraham to test with certain commands, all of which he fulfilled. He said: ‘I am going to make you the leader of the humankind.’ He asked: ‘Does this promise apply to my offspring!’ He answered: ‘My Promise does not apply to the transgressors.’ [Al-Quran, al-Baqarah 2:124].
It is to be noted that it was merely a test and was not meant to be carried out verbatim, which is evident from the story.
THE BIBLE STORY
The story of the ‘Offering of Abraham his “only son” for Sacrifice’ goes in the Bible as follows:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. (2) And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (3) And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. (4) Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (5) And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. (6) And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. (7) And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? (8) And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (9) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. (10) And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. (11) And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. (12) And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing upon him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (13) And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (14) And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. (15) And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, (16) And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. [Genesis 22:1-18]
…the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you: Abraham was taking his son to offer him as a burnt offering; and it is not the whole truth that they were going there for worship. However, if the worship be taken here to mean sacrifice, it is clearly false to say that he and the lad will ‘come again’ to them. He was taking his ‘only son’ to offer as a sacrifice; and as such he and the lad, both of them together, could not have ‘come again’ to them. Having Isaac sacrificed, it could have been only Abraham to ‘come again’. Anyhow, if it be claimed that Abraham was not telling a lie, and he before hand knew that a lamb was to be provided for offering in lieu of the lad, then the whole drama of the so called offering becomes quite insignificant and the plea of ‘tempting’ becomes quite vague and meaningless. It shows that this part of the story is a concocted one, because it depicts Abraham as a false and deceiving person. It is quite contrary to the status of a Prophet. A person who is not sincere and dependably veracious and honest cannot be taken as a Prophet.
…he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; It again looks unbecoming of the patriarch and Prophet Abraham to put the heavy load of the wood on the shoulders of his son who is supposed to be just going to be offered for a sacrifice and keep the lighter one for himself. It is simply an indifferent ruthlessness, hence unbelievable regarding the patriarch and Prophet Abraham. As such this episode of the story loses its credibility.
And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: Here again it is not true on Abraham’s part to say ‘God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ He was asked by the Lord to sacrifice his son and he was going to do so. He did not know before hand that a lamb would be provided to be sacrificed in his son’s stead; otherwise the ‘temptation’ would have been a mere drama and should have lost all significance. The clause ‘God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ was obviously a false statement if claimed to be uttered by the patriarch Abraham and as such it can be taken as if appended by some redactor. It is inconceivable of the patriarch and Prophet Abraham that he would try to appease his son through such mis-statements. It means that this part of the story is not true.
The phrase ‘thine only son’ indicates the stress and significance of the event of the ‘offering’ the only son by an old man of about a hundred years, who direly needed the assistance of his young son at this advanced stage of his life; and who had no other son so far. It reveals the gravity of the situation and makes the ‘temptation’ perfect.
‘as it is said to this day’ is obviously a later interpolation inserted, may be, centuries after the occurrence of the incident by some simple redactor. Some commentators attribute it to Moses, e.g.
This name, Moses adds, gave birth to the proverb, ‘In the Mount of Jehovah it shall be seen.’ [7th Day Adventist BC, ed. Francis D. Nichol et al. (Hagerstown: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1978), 1:353].
But now no credible scholar assigns the Pentateuch to Moses, as it was not written until the lapse of almost half a millennium after him.
I will multiply thy seed…: The context dictates that this promise be considered to relate to the son who is being discussed here and who had just been offered to be sacrificed by Abraham. However, when ‘thy seed’ be spoken in such an indefinite, unqualified, and absolute manner, it can also be applied to the others of ‘his seed’ as well. But it would by all means include Ishma‘el and his descendants in the first place. So the progeny of Ishma‘el is definitely included in the promise of ‘Blessing’ and ‘multiplying’.
‘thy seed’ can genuinely be applied only to the progeny of Ishma‘el among whom ‘a Prophet’ was to be raised for all the peoples of earth, whereas the Jews do not extend the blessings of revelation and faith to the whole of humanity. They rather keep it restricted unto the children of Israel exclusively.
and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies… It obviously relates to the progeny of Ishma‘el, which captured almost all of the Arabia and perpetually dominated there. They never went under the captivity of any of their enemies, whereas the Jews had to suffer the captivity at the hands of Egyptian Pharaohs. The progeny of Ishma‘el never suffered any exile, whereas the Jews had to suffer ethnic cleansing and exile at the hands of the Assyrians (in 722 BC) and Babylonians (in 586 BC). As such the clause of the verse cannot be applied to the seed of Isaac. Not to speak of possessing ‘the gate of their enemies’, they could not retain and protect their own gates–and even the gates of their Temple–from their enemies throughout their history excepting an ignorably short period during the united kingdom.
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed: As far as the Jews are concerned, they consider ‘only’ themselves as the ‘Chosen People’, as can be appreciated from the following excerpts:
[i] ‘You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth’ (Amos 3:2);
[ii] ‘Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.’ (Deut. 14:2)
The Jewish Enc. 4:45, as well, has recorded the following lines: Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath choseen thee to be a particular people unto himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. (Deu. 14:2 RV)
It has further quoted from ‘Mek. Yitro, Pes. R. K. 103b, 186a, 200a’: The Lord offered the Law to all nations; but all refused to accept it except Israel. (The Jewish Enc. 4:45)
The Jewish people virtually take it to be their special privilege. The perpetually prevailing practice among them also endorses it. As such ‘And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;’ in no way befits the Jewish people; and has nothing to do with the entire history of this people. It can thus be appreciated that ‘all the nations of the earth’ can by no means ‘be blessed’ through the seed of Isaac. The Jews are rather like a curse for ‘all the nations of the earth’. It is only Ishma‘el who was offered for sacrifice, and it is only he, in whose seed all the nations of the earth have genuinely been blessed.
THE STATUS OF THE STORY OF THE BIBLE
The above story regarding Abraham’s offering of his ‘only son’ for sacrifice had been subjected ‘considerably’ to a number of ‘alterations’ for so many times, as is evident from the following quotation from the Encyclopaedia Biblica, which is admittedly one of the most reliable authorities on the subject:
It has become certain that the story has been considerably altered since E wrote it. The editor or compiler of JE not only appended vv. 14b-18 (an unoriginal passage, full of reminiscences), but also introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a. (2175…). So far, however, as an opinion is possible, the form of the Elohist’s story is, apart from the detail about the ram, all his own. It was suggested, indeed, by circumstances already related in the traditional narratives; but it was moulded by himself, and it is bathed throughout in an ideal light. Evidently this pious writer felt that for the higher religious conceptions no traditional story would be an adequate vehicle. The course which he adopted shows the writer to have been a great teacher. He admits the religious feeling which prompted the sacrifice of a firstborn son.
[Encyclopaedia Biblica, ed. Rev. T. K. Cheyne, (London: Watts and Co., n.d.), 2:2175,77.]
The quotation calls for a conscientious perusal. Putting it forward under separate and specific clauses, it can be categorized as below:
(a) ‘Alterations’ and ‘additions’ have been freely exercised in the story.
(b) The act of ‘alterations’ is not merely a supposition; ‘It has,’ rather, ‘become certain’.
(c) The ‘alteration’ is in a ‘considerable’ amount.
(d) The main theme of the story relates to the ‘Elohist’ narrative.
(e) The editor (or, properly saying, ‘the redactor’), who compiled the story from the ‘Elohist’ and ‘Yahwist’ narratives etc, (a) ‘not only appended [added] 14b18,’ (b) ‘but also introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a.’ It shows that (a) vv. 14b-18 are the addition from some redactor and they did not exist in the original story. (b) The redactor ‘introduced several alterations into vv. 1-14a’ as well. It can thus be concluded that although the story relates the famous event of Abraham’s offering his only son for sacrifice, the credibility of none of its details is beyond doubt. Therefore one is to consider any of the events of the story on its own merit after a careful and critical analysis.
(f) The editor, being a ‘pious writer’ and ‘a great teacher’, seeing that ‘no traditional story would be an adequate vehicle’ exercised full liberty and ‘moulded [it] by himself” as he deemed fit ‘for the higher religious conceptions’ of his own.
(g) ‘Sacrifice of a firstborn son’ was considered ‘religious’.
ABRAHAM WAS REQUIRED TO OFFER HIS ‘ONLY SON’ FOR SACRIFICE
The Bible categorically states that the son, who was required to be offered for sacrifice, was Abraham’s ‘only son’. It is a very conspicuous, pivotal, and decisive point and is not to be ignored, overlooked or taken lightly. The firstborn and the ‘Eldest son of Abraham’ was Ishma‘el
‘And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishma‘el to him.’ The Bible says:
(1) Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, (…).
(3) And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. (…).
(15) So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishma‘el. (16) And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishma‘el to him. [Genesis 16:1,3,15,16]
Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband… It is not true that Hagar was a maid, or a slave-girl, or a bond-woman of Sarah. She was a princess, being the daughter of the Egyptian king, who offered her to Abraham to serve him and his wife Sarah, and to be brought and reared up in a pious atmosphere. She had been purposely described by the redactors of the Bible as a slave girl, as can be appreciated from the following excerpts:
That Hagar appears as a slave-woman is a necessary consequence of the theory on which the Hebrew myth is based, the notion being that Ishma‘el was of inferior origin. (Enc. Biblica, p. 1933).
It purports that slavery was attributed to Hagar to prove Ishma‘el inferior to Isaac. Whereas the fact is that she was an Egyptian princess; as is clear from the following quotation of the Jewish Encyclopedia:
According to the Midrash (Gen. R. xiv.), Hagar was the daughter of Pharaoh, who, seeing what great miracles God had done for Sarah’s sake (Gen. xii, 17), said: ‘It is better for Hagar to be a slave in Sarah’s house than mistress in her own.’ In this sense Hagar’s name is interpreted as ‘reward’ (‘Ha-Agar’ = ‘this is reward’). (…). Hagar is held up as an example of the high degree of godliness prevalent in Abraham’s time, (…). Her fidelity is praised, for even after Abraham sent her away she kept her marriage vow, (…). Another explanation of the same name is ‘to adorn,’ because she was adorned with piety and good deeds (l.c.). (Jewish Enc., 6:138).
But when Isaac was born to Abraham, he was one hundred years old, which means that Ishma‘el was already fourteen years old when Isaac was born. The Bible states:
(15) Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. (16) And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ (17) Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ (18) And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishma‘el might live before thee!’ [Genesis 17:15-18].
It reveals the great degree of Abraham’s love for Ishma‘el
Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. [Genesis 21:5]
And as such Ishma‘el retained the status of the ‘only son of Abraham’ until the age of fourteen years.
If the relevant passage of the Bible, given in the beginning of this book, be studied again, it will be noted that God has used in it the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ three times, qualifying the ‘lad’ to be offered for sacrifice; but He has used this son’s name as ‘Isaac’ only once in all His speech. Setting aside the words that have been added by the storywriter and the redactor to complete this narrative, the words ascribed to God in the said passage are as follows:
Abraham: …Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac [stress added], whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. … Abraham, Abraham: Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing upon him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son [stress added] from me. … By myself have I sworn, …, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son [stress added]: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
The son to be offered for sacrifice has been mentioned here:
(a) For three times with the pronouns: ‘whom, him’ (if the interpolation of the word Isaac be ignored, it cannot be determined by means of these pronouns which of the sons is here meant);
(b) Once with the word ‘lad’ (which also does not indicate which of the two sons the ‘lad’ was); and
(c) Three times with the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ (Obviously, it can be none other than Ishma‘el, because Isaac could not have been called ‘thine only son’ at any stage of his life).
It is only once that the word Isaac has been used in it; and this is when the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ have been used for the first time. Any reader, having a little bit of literary taste together with objective, unprejudiced and independent thinking, can appreciate that the word ‘Isaac’ is quite superfluous, irrelevant, and out of place here. Had it been Isaac, who was required to be sacrificed, it had been sufficient to say: ‘Take now your son Isaac’. God would not have used the phrase ‘thine only son’, because it was, by all means, a false statement in favor of Isaac and it is unbecoming that God may have made a false statement. ‘Thine only son’ and ‘Isaac’ cannot stand together for a single entity, and could in no case have been used simultaneously, because, circumstantially, they are quite contradictory to each other. The structure and use of the words make it quite clear that originally it was the ‘only son’ who was required for offering; and it was the distinctive trait of ‘singularity’, which was conspicuously a pre-requisite for the son to be offered. That’s why ‘Thine only son’, which has been used for three times in the passage, has been used twice without ‘Isaac’ independently and only once with ‘Isaac.’ The structure of the phrase ‘thy son, thine only son’ indubiously declares that the stress is: (i) on the ‘singularity of the son’, which shows the intention of the speaker that the son required is the ‘only’ one; and (ii) on the qualifying pronouns ‘thy, thine’, which shows that the son required to be offered is ‘your son, O Abraham, and your own one only (and not your wife’s only)’. Had God meant ‘Isaac’ to be offered for sacrifice, He would have categorically asserted: ‘Sarah’s only son’ or ‘your only son from Sarah’; and would, in no case, have said ‘thy son, thine only son’, to confuse him, and subsequently the whole of the religious world for all times to come. The use of the name ‘Isaac’ in such an ugly and self-contradictory way shows that an interpolation has been exercised by some unwitty redactor quite unbecomingly.
It would be very useful if, at this juncture, the reader once again goes through the relevant passage (Genesis 22:1-18) attentively, and without any reservations. The flow of the passage reveals the intent and purpose of the speaker quite clearly. The speaker (the Lord) uses the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ for the boy, required to be sacrificed, in the passage. The Lord does not use anywhere in the passage the words of merely ‘thy son’ without attaching ‘thine only son’ to them, so that any possibility of misunderstanding be completely ruled out. Obviously the words ‘thine only son’ and ‘Isaac’ are mutually opposed and contrary words and cannot be used together, as Isaac had never been an ‘only son’ at any stage of his life. That’s why Abraham did never use the words ‘only son’ for Isaac. It has been pointed out that the Jews added deleted, altered, and interpolated freely in the text of the Bible for ‘theological’ or ‘religious’ purposes. They saw no harm in it. It may also be borne in mind that it was the ‘religious’ necessity of the Israelites to present the offspring of Isaac as a chosen and superior people. It is, therefore, easy to understand that when some ‘pious’ rabbi would have seen the words ‘thy son, thine only son’ for the first time, he must have inserted the word ‘Isaac’ as an explanation under his ‘wishful preconception’. Finding it useful for their purpose, the later scribes would have included it in the text.
It is strange that the Bible claims ‘Isaac’ to be the ‘only’ son of Abraham. Obviously, it is one of the interpolations, or, as the Encyclopaedia Biblica puts it, ‘alterations’, as quoted above. The scholars and commentators of the Bible might have discerned that it was a discrepancy (which, they, of course, discerned) and they ought to have been bold enough to rectify it (but, alas, they have not been bold enough to rectify it). In spite of understanding that it was clearly an addition and adulteration of the redactor of the Bible, they willfully clung to it. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary suggested a revised and improved rendering of the Hebrew Bible by adding ‘one’ to the ‘only’:
That son whom thou lovest. It was a trial of Abraham’s love to God, and therefore it must be in a beloved son, and that string must be touched most upon: in the Hebrew it is expressed more emphatically, and, I think, might very well be read thus, Take now that son of thine, that only one of thine, whom thou lovest, that Isaac. [Matthew Henry’s Bible Com.,1:80]
It suggests that the correct translation required the qualifying words ‘only one’ and not mere ‘only’. Even if the translation suggested by Matthew Henry be adopted, the sense remains the same. Even the suggested translation, ‘that only one of thine’, implies that Abraham had got only one son at that time and no other son had yet been born. Naturally, it could have been none other than Ishma‘el, who was really the only one son of Abraham until the second son, Isaac, was born; and by that time Ishma‘el was already fourteen years of age.
The Biblical scholars have fruitlessly and futilely tried to evade the real sense of the word. It is, therefore, imperative that a study of the word ‘only’ be undertaken. In the Hebrew Bible the word ‘yaheed’ has been used for ‘only’. The meanings of the word ‘yaheed’ are: ‘sole; lonely; only (child, son), solitary’ (Strong’s Dic. p.49:3173, Heb. & Aramaic Dic. of OT, Brill, 2001, 406). In the whole of the OT of the Bible it has been used at the following four places else:
When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one (Pr 4:3).
Make mourning as for an only son (Jer 6:26).
I will make it like mourning for an only son (Amos 8:10).
(…) as one mourns for his only son (Zec 12:10).
At all these places it can only be translated with the word ‘only’ and no other meanings go well with the context. It can thus be appreciated that the Bible uses ‘yaheed’ only in the sense of ‘only’; and no other meanings can be given to this word according to the usage and context of the Bible.
Some of the commentators of the Bible have afforded ridiculous expositions to justify this adulteration. One of the renowned Jewish Rabbis, the French-born Shelomoh Yitschaki, Solomon ben Isaac, commonly known as Rashi (1040-1105 AD), has recorded some interesting observations on this passage of the Bible in his commentary on the Pentateuch. He has given it the shape of an imaginative conversation and has thus exhibited a wonderful skill of subjectively interpreting or twisting a simple statement according to his presumptions in his following exposition. No comments on this quotation have been recorded in the body text of the book.
Rashi’s comments (with their rejoinders in footnotes):
thy son. ‘But I have two sons,’ Abraham said. Thine only son,’ was the reply. ‘But each is the only one of his mother! ‘Whom thou lovest,’ he was told. ‘But I love both!’ and the answer came ‘Even Isaac.’ Why did not God name Isaac at once? Lest Abraham’s mind reeled under the sudden shock. Further, to make His command more precious to him. And finally, that he might receive a reward for every word spoken. [As quoted by Dr. A. Cohen in The Soncino Chumash, (Hindhead, Surrey: The Soncino Press, 1947), 108.]
The sentence, ‘But I have two sons,’ implies that God was mistaken. He did not know that Sarah had already given birth to a second son for Abraham. It means as if Abraham brings to the notice of the mistaken and ignorant God [May God forgive the writer who used these words to show the implications of the wording of the sentence.] and declares: ‘But I have two sons,’. It does not matter to the worthy commentator if God be depicted as being ignorant; but he is satisfied that he has succeeded in depriving Ishma‘el of his genuinely deserved credit of being offered for sacrifice as the ‘only son’ and has tried to establish the honour of being offered for sacrifice in favour of Isaac.
Thine only son,’ The original Hebrew word for this ‘only’ is ‘’, i.e. ‘Yawkheed’. Strong’s Dic. of Heb. Bible, entry 3173, p. 49 has recorded its meanings as:
from 3161; sole; also lonely; only (child, son), solitary.
Entry 3161 is ‘’(yachad), which is a ‘primary root’ of ‘’ (yacheed); and exclusively means: ‘to be (or become) one’. It is the same word which, in Arabic, is ‘wahada’ with the same meanings. Heb. and Aramaic Dic. of the OT (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 406 has also recorded its meanings as:
only, single, alone, the only son, the only one.
It is quite inconceivable that a scholar of Rashi’s calibre may not have discerned the significance of the word. Simply, if a man has, at a time, two sons, none of them can be called his ‘only son’. Each of them can be called ‘one of his two sons’. Calling one of them ‘his only son’ is as confusing and irrational as to ascribe the word ‘one’ for ‘three’. Even some commentators of the Bible have noted the absurdity of the statement. Richard J. Clifford and R. E. Murphy, in their Commentary to the Book of Gen. in the New Jerome Bible Com. (p.25) assert:
Only son is inaccurate, since Abraham will have other sons.
From the above discussion it can be safely concluded that by the time Abraham offered the sacrifice, he had only one son; and it could naturally have been ‘Ishma‘el’ and by no means ‘Isaac’.
It is also to be noted that a few of the Jewish translations (e.g. The Torah According to the Masoretic Text, Philadelphia: Jewish Publn. Society of America, 1967, pp. 35f; and The Torah A Modern Com., NY: Union of American Hebrew Congregations,1981, pp. 146f. The latter contains the Hebrew text as well and it has used the same word yacheed ‘’ in it.) have rendered this word ‘only’ as ‘favored one’, ignoring the primary root. It is obviously a mala fide act.
There is another word in the story that makes the point more clear and definite; and it is ‘lad’. It has been used twice in the relevant narrative of the Bible (Gen. 21:5,12: the former by Abraham himself and the latter by the angel of the Lord). The original Hebrew word for ‘lad’ is (na’ar) which means: ‘a boy, from the age of infancy to adolescence; by imply a servant; also (by interch. of sex), a girl (of similar latitude in age): babe, boy, child, damsel, lad’ (Heb. Dic. in Strong’s Exh. Concordance, entry 5288, p. 79.).
It dictates that the son to be offered for sacrifice should both be a boy of early teens and the only son of his father. Both these pre-requisites are promptly met in the person of Ishma‘el, whereas Isaac meets none of these pre-requisites, to being offered for sacrifice, as spelled out by the Lord while commanding for the offering. As to the age of Isaac when he was allegedly made to be offered for sacrifice, it has amazingly been attributed either earlier than the status of boyhood or after his teens.
The Jewish commentators of the Bible have different opinions as to the age of Isaac when he was allegedly offered by Abraham for sacrifice. W. Gunther Plaut, in his ‘The Torah: A Modern Commentary’ (NY: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), p. 146 asserts:
According to the Rabbis, Isaac was thirty-seven years old. However, the story should be read not in chronological order but rather as an unrelated unit; here Isaac is a mere boy. The Rabbis took the death of Sarah to be immediately related to the Akedah [sacrifice]; therefore, with Sarah dying at 127 years of age, Isaac would be 37, having been born when his mother was 90.
He further records on page 159:
Abraham returned alone from Moriah, and Sarah, believing Isaac to have been sacrificed, died of grief. Midrash.
Josephus asserts in his Antiquities, Book I, Chap. XIII, para. 2, p. 42:
Now Isaac was twenty-five years old. And as he was building the altar, he asked his father what he was about to offer, since there was no animal there for the oblation:
The Jewish Enc. (6:617) records:
In Jose ben Zimra’s opinion, the akedah took place immediately after Isaac’s weaning [at the age of 2 or 3 years].
The Bible asserts:
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.
How is it possible that a child who had just been weaned, be made to carry such a load of wood? Ellen G. White, in Seventh Day Adventist Bible Com., 1:349, asserts:
‘Isaac was now a young man of 20.’
Whether Isaac be made to be allegedly offered for sacrifice when he had been ‘just weaned’ or of the age of thirty seven, or twenty five, or twenty years or whatsoever, in any case, he cannot be called a ‘lad’. Then whatever the age of Isaac be, he cannot be called ‘Thine only son’ at any stage of his life, whereas Ishma‘el retains the status of ‘Thine only son’ and a ‘lad’ until the age of fourteen years. And as such, the statement ‘Thine only son’ becomes quite absurd, if Isaac be considered as required to be offered for sacrifice.
‘But each is the only one of his mother!: Where has the phrase ‘his mother’ stepped in from? It is simply unbelievable that such an erudite scholar can pass so absurd a comment, on such a simple statement: ‘thine only son’. It is to be noted that the dialogue is only between God and Abraham. No third person is involved in this dialogue. In this phrase, God is the first person, because He is addressing Abraham, and Abraham is naturally the addressee, for whom a second person pronoun is required. That’s why God has used the II person pronoun ‘thine’ for Abraham, which by no stretch of sense can be attributed to Sarah, who is a III Person here. God had not left the ‘only son’ unqualified, so as to leave room for some speculations or selfassessments. The ‘only son’ is categorically preceded by a specific qualifying word ‘thine’: which unequivocally means ‘O Abraham, it is “your” only son, who is required; and not any mother’s only son.’ As regards Abraham, it is quite unconceivable about a discreet person of his calibre that he would retort so indiscreetly as this ‘But each is the only one of his mother!’, to such a self-explanatory phrase as this ‘thine only son.’ What has this ‘of his mother’ got to do with this ‘thine only son!’.
‘But I love both!’ The learned speculative and imaginative commentator has made Abraham speak these words. He put the words ‘But I love both’ into Abraham’s mouth. The word ‘both’ here obviously means both Ishma‘el and Isaac. If a man has two sons, none of them can be called ‘only’. It is queer that on the one hand Abraham is asked by his Lord to offer his ‘only son’ for sacrifice; and on the other hand the worthy commentator puts the words ‘But I love both’ into Abraham’s mouth. These statements are self-contradictory. As such the words ‘But I love both’ are absurd, arbitrary, and quite baseless.
As far as the words ‘even Isaac’ are concerned, they are obviously superfluous to and inconsistent with the flow of the sentence. Had it been Isaac, who was required to be offered for sacrifice, God should have been discreet enough to say ‘your son, Isaac’. But when He says ‘thy son, thine only son’, only ‘Ishma‘el’ can be meant. ‘Isaac’ is an unjustifiable interpolation by some crafty but indiscreet redactor.
It should be noted here that all these imaginative questions and their sequence are the contrivance of the commentator. There is no hint or mention of them in the Bible. Had some clumsy redactor not interpolated ‘Isaac’ here, how could the learned commentator exercise his imaginative creativity to give his desired meaning to an absurd statement.
‘Lest Abraham’s mind reeled under the sudden shock.’ What a rare skill of psycho-analysis!
‘Further to make His command more precious to him.’ The readers should note the technique of making their command more precious to someone! ‘And finally that he might receive a reward for every word spoken.’ What a justification of distorting the statement and disturbing the proper order and structure of the sentence!
It may also be noted in this connection that the words ‘thine only son’ signify that no other son (even Isaac) had been born by that time. It means that Abraham might have offered Ishma‘el for sacrifice when he was about thirteen; because when Ishma‘el was fourteen, Isaac had already been born; and the status of Ishma‘el being the ‘only son’ of Abraham had come to an end.
To recapitulate the theme of the second point, here are some salient features of it:
1) God had asked Abraham to offer ‘thy son, thine only son’ for sacrifice categorically and not one/any of his sons.
2) Abraham’s first-born son was ‘Ishma‘el’ and was born when Abraham was 86.
3) Isaac was Abraham’s second-born son and was born when Abraham was 100.
4) As such, ‘Ishma‘el’ remained Abraham’s only son unto the age of about 14 years, during which period Abraham had no other son: as Isaac was born when Ishma‘el was already of about 14 years. It also signifies that when Abraham offered his ‘only son’ for sacrifice, Isaac should not have been born by that time.
5) God had asked Abraham to offer his own ‘only’ son for sacrifice. In the whole of the Bible, God had no where asked Abraham to offer Sarah’s ‘only’ son for sacrifice, as the learned commentators of the Bible have tried to make God purport. So the son required to be offered for sacrifice could have been none other than ‘Ishma‘el’.
6) As recorded above, the Encyclopaedia Biblica has asserted that the story of the offering of Abraham’s only son for sacrifice had been subjected ‘considerably’ to a number of ‘alterations’ for so many times. The addition of ‘even Isaac’ to ‘thy son, thine only son’ looks obviously an ‘addition’ by the redactor of the Book.
7) The ‘only son’ required to be offered for sacrifice, was, and should naturally have been, the beloved son of Abraham, to make the ‘test’ perfect; or, as the commentator Rashi, puts it, ‘to make His command more precious to him’. And it has been discussed in detail elsewhere in this book that Abraham’s beloved son was ‘Ishma‘el’ and not ‘Isaac’ .
8) The son required to be offered was a ‘lad’, i.e., in his early teens; whereas according to the commentators of the Bible Isaac was either a child of approximately 3 years (just weaned) or a young man of 20-37 when he was allegedly to be offered for sacrifice. It means that Isaac was not a ‘lad’ when he was allegedly required to be sacrificed, whereas the Bible uses the word ‘lad’ or ‘boy’ for the son required to be offered. Besides it being a discrepancy, at no stage of his life Isaac could have been an ‘only lad’ of his father.
THE TRADITION OF OFFERING THE FIRST-FRUIT OR THE FIRST-BORN SON
When a human sacrifice was required to be offered, it was desired to be the ‘first-born’ one. Even if the sacrifice required to be offered was not a human one, but was of an animal or a fruit, it had to be first-born animal or the first-fruit. Some of the authorities are being quoted here to elaborate the point. A New Commentary on Holy Scripture asserts:
At the time of Abraham human sacrifice was customary and frequent among his Canaanite neighbors, and the early legislation of Ex 22:29, which states without modification that first-born sons are to be given to God, seems clearly to imply a stage in Israel’s thought which regarded such sacrifices as a religious duty. [Charles Gore, Goudge, Alfred Guillaume, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, (London: 1928), 53]
The Rev. T.K. Cheyne, while discussing the sacrifice of Isaac in the entry ‘Isaac’, states:
The course that he adopted shows the writer to have been a great teacher. He admits the religious feeling which prompted the sacrifice of a firstborn son. [Enc. Biblica, 3:2177.]
Marcus Dods records the prevailing tradition of the time that the most exalted form of religious worship was the sacrifice of the first-born, because it was unbecoming to offer to God something which was not truly valuable. (Which of the two sons was truly valuable to Abraham, has been discussed elsewhere in this book in detail):
Abraham was familiar with the idea that the most exalted form of religious worship was the sacrifice of the first-born. He felt, in common with godly men in every age, that to offer to God cheap sacrifices while we retain for ourselves what is truly precious, is a kind of worship that betrays our low estimate of God rather than expresses true devotion. [Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Bible, (NY: 1903), 1:199,200.]
Stanley A. Cook observes that the offering of the firstborn to Yahweh was at one time considered strictly to be as binding as the offering of firstlings and first-fruits:
The firstborn male enjoyed the privileges of which he was not to be deprived (…). Not only were the first-fruits as acceptable an offering as the firstlings, but when (in exceptional cases) a human victim was required it was a firstborn that was preferred (2K. 3:27). (…). No doubt, strictly, the offering of the firstborn to Yahweh was at one time considered to be as binding as the offering of firstlings and first-fruits, and, indeed, the evidence goes to show that in exceptional cases the offering was actually made. However, just as the first-fruits were offered as a part of the whole, it is conceivable that originally the rite of circumcision was instituted upon the same principle to typify the offering of the firstborn. [Enc. Biblica, 2:1525,26.]
The very first sentence of the above passage asserts that ‘The firstborn male enjoyed the privileges of which he was not to be deprived’. The Bible itself has also laid it down categorically in the following terms:
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born children, both the beloved and hated; and if the firstborn son be her’s that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his. [Deu. 21:15-17 KJV]
It shows that, according to the Bible itself, the privilege of the firstborn son is irrevocable. Even if some father, on account of his inclination towards one of his wives, wishes to deprive the son of the other wife of his due and legitimate right of the firstborn son, he is not allowed to do so. And the exalted form of sacrifice was to offer the firstborn son. Therefore the privilege of being offered to God was Ishma‘el’s irrevocable and irreversible right, which, in no case, could have been transferred to Isaac.
The Book of Jubilees, of course, is not a canonical book; but it is not an outright rejected book either. Scholars of the Bible liberally quote from it to establish their point of view without much reservation. S. Tedesche has dilated upon it in his article on Jubilees, Book of in the Interpreter’s Dic. of Bible Some of the excerpts are afforded below to acquaint the reader with its real significance:
One of the most important books of the Pseudepigrapha. It gives a graphic picture of Judaism in the two pre-Christian centuries. Its purpose was to show that Judaism, as it then was, had been the same from the very beginning of known history. (…). Emphasis is also placed on Jewish tenets and customs, and the importance of preserving the difference between Jews and Gentiles is stressed. (…). The purpose of the author was to do for Genesis what the Chronicler did for Samuel and Kings to rewrite the facts in such a way that it would appear that the law was rigorously observed by the patriarchs. (…). His desire was to save Judaism from the demoralizing effects of Hellenism by [i] glorifying the law and [ii] picturing the patriarchs as irreproachable; by [iii] glorifying Israel and [iv] urging her to preserve the separateness from the Gentiles; and by [v] denouncing the Gentiles and also Israel’s national enemies. The ‘Angel of the Presence’ reveals to Moses on Sinai the history and religious laws of Gen. 1-Exod. 3 in the form of sermonized translations, or Midrashic Targums, which show only favorable practices and omit anything derogatory. (…). The contrast between Jews and Gentiles is sharply drawn, and Israel is warned to keep separate. (…), and anything is omitted that would put the patriarchs in an unfavorable light. [The Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible (1962), s.v. ‘Jubilees, Book of’, 2:1002-3]
It shows about the Book of Jubilees that:
1) It is One of the most important books of the Pseudepigrapha.
2) Emphasis is placed on the difference between Jews and Gentiles and
3) Every effort has been made to depict the superiority of the Jews and the inferiority of the Gentiles. (…), and
4) ‘The purpose of the author was to do for Genesis what the Chronicler did for Samuel and Kings’ which means that, as far as the themes of Genesis are concerned, the Book of Jubilees is not less reliable than the ‘Chronicles’ is with regards to the ‘Samuel’ and the ‘Kings’.
5) The desire of its author ‘was to save Judaism from the demoralizing effects of Hellenism by glorifying the law and picturing the patriarchs as irreproachable; by glorifying Israel and urging her to preserve the separateness from the Gentiles; and by denouncing the Gentiles and also Israel’s national enemies.’ It means that he could not have afforded therein anything, which might have been damaging to the pride and interest of the Jews.
6) As to the patriarchs, he has tried his best to extend every favour and respect to them,
7) ‘and anything is omitted that would put the patriarchs in an unfavourable light’.
It can thus be appreciated that the Book of Jubilees is not an unimportant book and it could not include anything in it which be against the interest of the Jews and the patriarchs; and that’s why the scholars of the Bible liberally quote from it to strengthen their themes. This Book of Jubilees asserts:
And he drew near to the place of the mount of God. (…). And I called to him from heaven, and said unto him: ‘Abraham, Abraham;’ and he was terrified and said: ‘Behold, (here) am I.’ And I said unto him: ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do you anything to him; for now I have shown that thou fearest the Lord, and hast not withheld thy son, thy first-born son, from me.’ [ The Book of the Jubilees, 18:11, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT in Eng., ed. R. H. Charles, (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968), 2:40. ]
Then again, in 18:15 of the same book, it is stated:
And the Lord called Abraham by his name a second time from heaven, (…). And he said: ‘By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, Because thou hast done this thing, And hast not withheld thy son, thy beloved son, from Me, That in blessing I will Bless thee, [The Book of the Jubilees, 18:15; 2:40.]
The editor has afforded a footnote to ‘thy beloved son’. He asserts in it:
But here c d have ‘thy first-born son’.
The ‘c’ and ‘d’ have been explained in the introduction of this version of the Book of Jubilees. According to it the ‘c’ signifies the Ethiopic MS (Manuscript) of this book which belongs to the University Library at Tubingen, and the ‘d’ signifies the Ethiopic MS of this book which belongs to the National Library in Paris. It makes quite clear that according to verses 11 and 15 of chapter 18 of the Book of the Jubilees, Abraham was asked to offer ‘thy [Abraham is the addressee of this phrase] first-born son’ for sacrifice.
The authorities have thus explained that if, at all, a physical offering was required under some special circumstances, it should have been only the first-born son of his father or the first-born animal. Otherwise, as a general rule, it was required that the first-born son of a father or a first-born animal should be ransomed and redeemed. A number of other scholars also maintain the same theme. Some of them are: Peake’s BC. [Peake’s Com. On Bible, ed. H. H. Rowley, (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1967), NJB. [ The New Jerusalem Bible, Christian Community B. [ Christian Community Bible, ed. Patricia Grogan, (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1995).
As to the fact that Ishma‘el is Abraham’s universally acknowledged firstborn son, it has so explicitly been stated in unequivocal terms in the Bible and other relevant record that one feels embarrassed in putting forward some argumentation with regard to it. But it is a matter of grave concern that some scholars of the Bible have felt no hesitation in defying and defiling this plain fact. So the theme is being undertaken below quite briefly:
Isaac as Abraham’s Son
Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: [Gen. 17:19 KJV.]
And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. [Gen. 21:5 KJV]
Ishma‘el as Abraham’s Son
And Hagar bare Abram [stress added] a son: and Abram called his son’s [stress added] name, which Hagar bare, Ishma‘el. And Abraham was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishma‘el to Abram [stress added]. [Genesis 16:15-16 KJV]
And Abram took Ishma‘el his son [stress added], and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. [Genesis 17:23 KJV]
But the son of the slave woman is also your son [stress added], and I will make his descendants into a great nation. [Genesis 21:13 CEV]
I will also give many children to the son of the slave-girl, so that they will become a nation. He too is your son [stress added]. [Gen. 21:13 GNB]
Stress has been added to some words and phrases of the above sub-heading ‘Ishma‘el as Abraham’s Son’, which shows that Ishma‘el is as genuinely and legitimately Abraham’s own real son as Isaac. It thus abundantly makes clear that according to the Bible, Ishma‘el and Isaac, both of them, were Abraham’s equally real, legitimate, and genuine sons. If somebody arbitrarily claims that Ishma‘el was not Abraham’s son, or had ceased to be his son after being cast away, it is quite against the facts and without any justification. God told Abraham that Ishma‘el would remain his son even after being settled elsewhere. Ishma‘el was born when Abraham was eighty-six years old; and Isaac was born when Abraham was a hundred years old. As such, it was Ishma‘el who was the ‘First Born Son of Abraham’. The privilege of being his father (Abraham)’s first-born son was Ishma‘el’s irrevocable and irreversible right and nobody could have deprived him of it. Isaac was Abraham’s second-born son and could not have been called the first-born son of his father at any stage of his life by any stretch of meanings. Then it was Ishma‘el who retained the status of the only son of Abraham for nearly fourteen years; whereas Isaac could not enjoy the status of an only son of Abraham for even a single day of his life. The son, asked to be offered for sacrifice had to be Abraham’s ‘only son’ (as categorically and repeatedly directed in the Bible) as well as his ‘first-born son’ (as required by the prevalent tradition of offering to make the offering precious). Had God meant to require some ‘only heir’ or ‘Sarah’s only son’, as some scholars have tried to put these words in God’s mouth, He could plainly have used these words. He should not have puzzled Abraham by asking him to offer ‘thy son, thine only son’. How can a man on earth say that it could, in any way, or by any stretch of meaning, be Isaac who was required to be offered for sacrifice! Isaac was neither Abraham’s ‘only son’ nor his ‘first-born’ one at the time of his birth, or at any stage of his life. He was not the ‘only son of Abraham’ as long as Abraham was alive, because Ishma‘el had throughout been very much alive together with him until Abraham breathed his last. Now it is unto the reader to appreciate the truth.
It can thus safely be concluded from the fairly detailed above data regarding the privilege of the first-born son that:
1. Human sacrifice was customary and frequent among Abraham’s Canaanite neighbours, and the early legislation of Exodus 22:29 also states that first-born sons are to be given to God.
2. Not only were the first-fruits as acceptable an offering as the firstlings, but when (in exceptional cases) a human victim was required it was a first-born that was preferred (2K. 3:27).
3. The first-born male enjoyed the privileges of which he was not to be deprived.
4. One of the most important books of the Pseudepigrapha, the ‘Book of Jubilees’, reports God as saying: ‘for now I have shown that thou fearest the Lord, and hast not withheld thy son, thy first-born son, from me.’ It means that the son who was offered for sacrifice was the ‘Firstborn son of Abraham’; not only according to the Bible, but also according to all the available record.
5. It is a universally acknowledged fact that, inter alia, both Ishma‘el and Isaac are Abraham’s real and legitimate sons.
6. Only one son of a person can be called his ‘first-born son’; and it was Ishma‘el who was Abraham’s ‘first-born son’; and was born nearly fourteen years prior to Isaac’s birth.
7. In addition to being Abraham’s ‘first-born son’, Ishma‘el retained the status of being Abraham’s ‘only son’ for nearly fourteen years, whereas Isaac had not enjoyed this privilege at any time of his life. It means that Isaac could neither have been called ‘the only son of Abraham’ nor his ‘firstborn son’ at any stage of his life.
8. God had asked Abraham to offer his ‘only son’ for sacrifice. Moreover, it should have been the ‘first-born son’ who was customary to be offered. These prerequisites naturally nominate Ishma‘el to be offered for sacrifice. Isaac does not fulfil any of these conditions. So it could have been only Ishma‘el who was required to be offered for sacrifice; and it could, by no means, have been Isaac.
9. The above discussion further suggests that to make the sacrifice more significant, precious, and for attesting the fidelity of Abraham in true sense of the word, it could have been his ‘first-born and the only son’ whom God might have asked Abraham to offer for sacrifice. He was very old. His wife Sarah was also very old, past menopause, and barren. He did not expect any further offspring. He had only one son who had now become of a reasonable age to extend him a helping hand that he extremely needed at such a stage of his life. He had no ray of future hope if he be deprived of his youthful son Ishma‘el. Had it been one of his two sons who was required to be offered for sacrifice, and that too his younger son Isaac, who was less useful, less vigorous, less versatile, and less helpful to him; the test could not have been so grave, meaningful, and perfect; as it could have been in case of the ‘only and the first-born son’ to be required for sacrifice.
10. In a situation like this: where God is going to ‘tempt’ Abraham through asking him to offer his firstborn and the only son for sacrifice; and that too, at such a stage of his life: it would be redundant if God adds the name of Abraham’s son to ‘your son, [your firstborn son, who is] your only son’. Making the expression grim-grimmer-grimmest with the words ‘your son, [your firstborn son, who is] your only son’ the command has been taken to its climax. It would rather mar the effectiveness and significance of the command if ‘even Isaac’ be inserted into it. The mention of the name of the only son is a useless addition, and cannot be expected by some eloquent, impressive and intelligent communicator. This is an ugly instance of interpolation incorporated by some committed but naive redactor that exposes his guilty conscience and ulterior ‘holy and pious’ motives.
ABRAHAM WAS REQUIRED TO OFFER HIS BELOVED SON FOR SACRIFICE
The theme of the chapter is that Abraham was required to offer his ‘Beloved Son’ for sacrifice and his ‘Beloved Son’ was Ishma‘el and not Isaac. It by no means implies that Ishma‘el was superior to Isaac and Isaac was inferior to Ishma‘el. Both of the Prophets are equally honorable and innocent and the Muslims do not claim any superiority for one upon the other.
The Bible states that the son, who was to be offered for sacrifice, was the only son whom Abraham loved. It is a conspicuous point and is to be taken properly.
‘Whom did Abraham love?’ is to be keenly explored before passing some judgement on it. The first thing to be noted is that ‘Whom thou lovest,’ is not a simple remark about the relevant son; it is rather a distinguishing attribute. It should not be loosely applied to any of the sons of Abraham. It should be applied very conscientiously to the pertinent son of Abraham after thrashing out his relevance carefully.
As far as Isaac is concerned, the phrase ‘Whom thou lovest,’ cannot positively be applied to him. No doubt Abraham might have been showing due paternal affection towards Isaac—which he ought to have shown—but he did not have any extra-ordinary love and attachment for him. When Abraham was told about the birth of Isaac:
As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her; [Genesis 17:15-16]
he was not pleased with it. He rather showed indifference towards the forthcoming son—his sole desire and topmost priority being Ishma‘el —as has been reported in the Bible:
And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you! [Abraham’s deep concern for Ishma‘el and his indifference towards Isaac is particularly to be noticed]’ (…). And as for Ishma‘el, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. [Genesis:17:18,20]
Commentators of the Bible have genuinely taken it as a love token by Abraham in favor of Ishma‘el. The Nelson Study Bible has observed:
What is more, he still loved his son Ishma‘el (16:15; 17:18). [The Nelson Study Bible, footnote p. 43].
The Wycliffe Bible Com. has noted it as:
Sarah may have feared that Abraham, out of love for Ishmael, would give the older lad the prominent place in the inheritance. (…). To drive them out must have been exceedingly grievous to Abraham, for he loved the boy.
It shows that Abraham’s love for Ishma‘el was so obvious that even Sarah was fully aware of it. J. Fawsett puts it as:
He [Abraham] bears Ishma‘el upon his heart, and expresses a laudable concern for him.
Marcus Dods has recorded beautiful comments to show that Ishma‘el was the son whom Abraham loved very much. He has also recorded the justifications for this immense love. He comments:
Abram’s state of mind is disclosed in the exclamation: ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before Thee!’ He had learned to love the bold, brilliant, domineering boy. (…). But there he was, in actual flesh and blood, full of life and interest in everything, daily getting deeper into the affections of Abram, who allowed and could not but allow his own life to revolve very much around the dashing, attractive lad [It may be noted that when Ishma‘el was still a ‘lad’, Isaac had either not been born, or would have been still a suckling baby]. (…). ‘Oh, that Ishmael might serve Thy turn!’ Why call me again off from this actual attainment to the vague, shadowy, non-existent heir of promise, who surely can never have the brightness of eye and force of limb and lordly ways of this Ishmael? Would that what already exists in actual substance before the eye might satisfy Thee and fulfil Thine intention and supersede the necessity of further waiting! Must I again loosen my hold, and part with my chief attainment? [The Expositor’s Bible, 1:160 ]
It may be appreciated that Abraham shows profound love for Ishma‘el on account of his being full of promise, potentate and talent, as has been recorded above. Seventh Day Adventist BD asserts:
When 13 years later, God announced the imminent birth of Isaac (ch 17:1-8, 15-17), Abraham interceded on behalf of Ishma‘el, whom he dearly loved. [Seventh Day Adventist Bible Dictionary].
Dr. Cohn asserts:
I (…) would be satisfied if only Ishma‘el lived before Thee. [The Soncino Chumash, 81].
As for Isaac, Abraham, according to Hasting, showed an indifference towards him due to lack of these traits in him. Scholars have plainly acknowledged the weaknesses of Isaac. J. Hastings states in his DB:
Isaac is a less striking personality than his father is. Deficient in the heroic qualities, he suffered indisposition from an excess of mildness, and the love of quiet (…). He was rather shifty and timid in his relations with Abimelech (26:1-22), too easily imposed upon, and not a good ruler of his household–a gracious and kindly but not a strong man. [Dictionary of Bible]
Similar views have been expressed by William Neil about Isaac:
Isaac is generally referred to in the commentaries as a colourless personality. Certainly when we compare him with Abraham and Jacob it is impossible to form a clear picture of him. Few stories are recorded about him, presumably because there was little known of him that was worth recording, and in those stories in which he does feature he is generally a minor participant in the narratives dealing with his more notable father or son. [Pocket Bible Com]
It shows that according to the scholars of the Bible Isaac had a less attractive and impressive personality than Ishma‘el, although, according to the Islamic tradition one cannot endorse it. According to Islam both of them were the prophets of equal status and it is not proper to prefer one on the other. It may only be due to physical strength and practical support that Abraham felt more love and attachment towards him.
There is another evidence that confirms the love of Abraham for Ishma‘el. When Sarah asked Abraham to expel Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar, Abraham was very much disturbed at it, which showed his grave concern for his son Ishma‘el. The event has been recorded in the Bible as follows:
Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.’ And the matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. [(Genesis 21:10-11) The editor has recorded here a note: ‘lit., was very grievous in Abraham’s sight.’].
The love of Abraham for his son Ishma‘el is so evident here that even the Jewish commentators of the Bible did not fail to appreciate it. Dr. Cohen makes the following comment on it:
Scripture points out that this grief was caused not by the prospect of loosing the woman but on account of Ishmael. [Soncino Chumash, 102]
It will be appreciated from the entire above discussion that ‘Whom thou lovest,’ could have only been spoken of Ishma‘el and not of Isaac; and it was only Ishma‘el who was really offered for sacrifice by Abraham because it was Ishma‘el who was Abraham’s ‘beloved son’.
As far as the theme of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice is concerned, fairly sufficient discussions have been undertaken in the above four chapters. Some relevant points will be studied in detail in the coming chapters.
ABRAHAM RETURNED ALONE WITHOUT THE ‘ONLY SON’
The story concludes with the following last sentence:
So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba. [Genesis 22:19]
The reflective and conscientious consideration of the verse guides the heedful reader to these points:
(1) ‘So Abraham returned unto his young men’ shows that during his return home, the ‘only son’, whosever the ‘only son’ had been, was not with him. W. Gunther Plaut observes:
The text says that Abraham returned from Moriah but omits a mention of Isaac. (…) Isaac did not come back with his father.
[The Torah A Modern Commentary, 152]
Ignoring the word Isaac, as discussed in detail in this article at various places, the verse asserts that the ‘only son’ did not return with Abraham, because his abode was here near Moriah. Had it been Isaac who was to be offered for sacrifice, he must have returned with his father. It shows that the ‘only son’ was Ishma‘el, who dwelt near Moriah, and as such he had not to return with Abraham.
(2) It may be noted here that Abraham’s family lived at Hebron; but he spent most of his time at Beer-sheba with his herds and flocks. He went back there leaving his only son, Ishma‘el, at his residence at Moriah.
(3) Had it been Isaac who was to be offered for sacrifice, it was not like him to show any displeasure or disregard towards his father by parting company with him.
THE SITES CLAIMED TO BE MORIAH AS THE PLACE OF OFFERING
The Bible states that Abraham was asked to offer his only son for sacrifice ‘upon one of the mountains’ which was situated ‘into the land of Moriah;’. It has been recorded in the Bible as follows:
and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. [Genesis 22:2]
It shows that the place of offering of the lad for sacrifice was some ‘mountain into the land of Moriah’. The word ‘Moriah’ has been mentioned in the whole of the Bible at only two places:
(i) Genesis 22:2, i.e. and get thee into the land of Moriah;
(ii) II Chronicles 3:1, i.e. Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebosite.
Scholars have different opinions as to whether the mention of Moriah at both the places of the Bible indicates one and the same place, or they denote different locations. Harper’s BD has assigned two different places for ‘Moriah’ (p. 654). The Jewish Encyclopedia asserts:
Modern scholars who distinguish between these two places advance different theories as to the meaning of the word ‘Moriah.’ [The Jewish Encyclopedia 9:17]
‘Moriah’ has been located at the following places by different scholars of the Bible and religious devotees:
1) A mountain near Hebron, as Hastings Revised Dic. of Bible asserts: ‘some scholars have proposed a location for Moriah on a mountain near Hebron.’. [Hastings Dictionary of Bible 674-5]
2) Mount Gerizim near ‘modern town of Nablus, 4 km NW of ancient Shechem,’ [New Bible Dictionary, 415] (Shechem is ‘about 50 km N of Jerusalem and 9 km SE of Samaria’ (New Bible Dic., II ed., 1099) where ‘Samaritan Temple’ was built.
3) Mount Calvary, where Christ was afterwards claimed to have been crucified as the Devotional Family BC Asserts: ‘There is no improbability in the general opinion, that the very spot was mount Calvary i.e. When they reached the place called Golgotha (or Calvary) which means the Skull, they offered him wine mixed with gall. Jesus tasted it but would not take it. where Christ the great anti-type was afterwards crucified.’ [The Devotional Family Bible Commentary]
4) The threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebosite near Jerusalem, which was bought from him by king David, and where subsequently the ‘Temple’ was built by Solomon.
The first three ‘Moriahs’ are being discussed in this chapter. The 4th ‘Moriah’ will be discussed in the next chapter.
a) ON A MOUNTAIN NEAR HEBRON
As regards the 1st ‘Moriah’ located on a mountain near Hebron, no discussion is required on it, because:
(i) No notable scholar of the Bible considers it discussible, noteworthy, or mentionable either.
(ii) It is contradictory to the Bible. Abraham had settled either at Hebron itself, or at Mamre, which is 4 km N of Hebron. The Bible says that Abraham had started his journey from his residence for ‘Moriah’ early in the morning and after three days’ earnest journey he was ‘afar off’ from his destination. Is it conceivable that even after three days’ earnest journey he could not cover so meager a distance!
The place ‘Mamre’ should not be confused with ‘Moriah’. Both the places have quite different significance and are located at different sites. F. F. Bruce writes in The Illustrated Bible Dic. on page 940:
A place in the Hebron district, W from Machpelah (Gn. 23:17, 19; 49:30; 50:13), associated with Abraham (Gn. 13:18; 14:13; 18:1) and Isaac (Gn. 35:27). Abraham resided for considerable periods under the terebinth of Mamre; there he built an altar, there he learnt of the capture of Lot, there he received Yahweh’s promise of a son and pleaded for Sodom, and from there he saw the smoke of Sodom and its neighbor cities ascend. The site has been identified at Rametel-Khalil, 4 km N of Hebron.
The same scholar, F. F. Bruce, explains in his book ‘Places Abraham Knew’ on pp. 41, 43, 46:
In so far as Abraham had a place in Canaan which could be called his home, it was at Mamre. His family and household could stay here while he was leading caravans or taking part in pastoral activity elsewhere. (…). To Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, its fame is based on the fact that it was here that Abraham stayed and had those dealings with God which have won for him the name ‘The Friend of God’.
It is also to be noted here that this Mamre is associated with some terebinth tree or ‘oaks of Mamre’. It means that it was not an inarable or barren land, fuel wood was abundantly available there, and Abraham would not have needed to carry wood there for the burnt offering. It can, therefore, be safely concluded that this Mamre has nothing to do with Moriah, the place of Abraham’s offering his only son for sacrifice, as some scholars have asserted.
b) AT MOUNT CALVARY WHERE CHRIST IS CLAIMED TO HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED.
As regards the 2nd Moriah, which is allegedly located at Mount Calvary where Christ is claimed to have been crucified, no discussion is required on it too, because:
(i) No notable scholar of the Bible considers it discussible, noteworthy, or mentionable either.
(ii) It is also not agreeable with the contents of the Bible. It was either situated somewhere in the modern city of Jerusalem, but outside the walls of the ancient city; or quite close to it. It is not more than twenty miles either from Jerusalem, Beersheba, Hebron or Mamre. It too could not have taken Abraham more than a few hours to reach here. How can it be conceived that even after three days’ earnest journey he could not cover so meagre a distance!
Harper’s Bible Dic. has explained the word ‘Calvary’ (p. 150) as: the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Three gospels recorded both the Semitic name of this site, ‘Golgotha,’ and a translation, ‘Place of the Skull’ (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17). Luke 23:33 records only a shorter and more accurate translation, ‘Skull.’ The name ‘Calvary’ derives from the Vulgate’s Latin translation of this word (calvaria). It is likely that the site was so named because of its habitual use for executions. Less likely is an explanation rooted in the physical appearance of the place. Apart from the name very little is confidently known about Calvary. John 19:20 and Jewish and Roman execution customs indicate that it was located outside Jerusalem’s city walls. Roman crucifixion customs and the reference to passers-by (Matt. 27:39) also suggest it was near a thoroughfare, while the fact that the cross was visible from afar (Matt. 27:55) could indicate an elevated location. Nevertheless its precise location remains in dispute.
c) AT MOUNT GERIZIM.
As regards the 3rd ‘Moriah’, claimed to be situated at Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem, the Samaritans attached it to the site of the Temple to establish the sanctity and importance of their sanctuary. The Illustrated Bible Dic. records:
‘The Samaritan tradition identifies the site with Mt. Gerizim (as though Moriah = Moreh; cf. Gn. 12:6)’.
Dummelow’s Commentary On Bible has also noted the similar remarks about it:
The Samaritans assert that Mt. Gerizim was the scene of the event, regarding Moriah as Moreh in Shechem.
7th Day Adventist Bible Dic. has afforded a fairly detailed account of the theme:
The Samaritans, who consider Mount Gerizim the holy mountain of God, place the sacrifice of Isaac on that mountain, and believe that Moriah was Moreh near Shechem; and that it was the site of the first encampment of Abraham in the land of Canaan, where he built an altar to the true God (Genesis 12:6,7). Such an identification, they believe, justifies their separation from Jerusalem, and their right to worship God on Mount Gerizim (see Jn 4:20,21). It is, of course, entirely without support. [7th Day Adventist Bible Dictionary, Revised edn., ed. Siegfried H. Horn (Hagerstown: Review & Herald Publishing. Association, 1979), 760].
Hastings Revised Single Volume Dic. of the Bible has also afforded a similar observation:
There is some similarity between the names of Moriah and ‘Moreh,’ the latter located near Shechem (Gn 12:6, Dt 11:30) and Mount Gerizim. And it may have been owing to this that the Samaritans have claimed Gerizim as Abraham’s mountain (cf Jn 4:20). Gn 22:4 has been often cited to suggest that Gerizim, a mountain visible for some distance, must be the Moriah of Abraham, because he ‘lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off.’ [Hastings Dictionary of Bible Rvd., 674-5].
The Samaritans were bitterly against the Southern kingdom of Judah. When the Chronicler attached the name of ‘Moriah’ to Solomon’s Temple to establish the sanctity and importance of the Judean sanctuary, the Samaritans, in response to it, attached the name ‘Moriah’ to their sanctuary at Mount Gerizim or vice versa. S. R. Driver’s observations in J. Hastings’ Dictionary of Bible conform to this opinion:
In view of the rivalry which prevailed in later times between the Samaritans and the Jews, the preference of the former for Gerizim does not count for much; and with regard to the other arguments it may be doubted whether, in a narrative which cannot be by an eye-witness or contemporary of the facts recorded, the expressions used are not interpreted with undue strictness. [Hastings Dictionary of Bible, s.v. ‘Moriah’ by S. R. Driver, 3:437].
The fertile brains of the Samaritans tried to explore the probabilities for their claim. It is a common phenomenon that every idea, howsoever absurd it be, attracts some curious ‘scholars’ and gains their support. By the passage of time even some unprejudiced scholars, unmindful of the ulterior motives of the innovators, consider the queer idea quite objectively and discover some logic in it. In the same way a few scholars do not outright reject the possibility of its carrying some logic; but most of the scholars do not find any difficulty in appreciating its absurdity. The name ‘Moriah’ has never been used for Mount Gerizim in the whole of the Bible. The annals of history and the realm of knowledge are totally void of any ground for this purposeful fabrication of the Samaritans.
From all the above discussion it would be appreciated that the Samaritans’ claim about the location of Abraham’s offering his only son for sacrifice at Mount Gerizim was forged due to some regional, sectarian, cultic and ethnic rivalries; and is without any real ground. It is to be noted that this Moreh was not a barren wilderness. It is a beautiful and fertile hilly area with thick forests and abundant greenery all around it (the Bible has also associated it with ‘oaks’). Not very far in its West is the great sea (Mediterranean); at some distance in the East is the river Jordan; within the parameters of twenty to twenty five miles to its NNE and SSE are the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Abraham having lived here for a fairly considerable time, should have definitely been aware of it. It is sheer absurdity if he carries a load of fuel wood to Moreh for some so-called burnt offering. It is rather carrying coal to New Castle. Putting aside all the above discussion, only this single plea rules out every possibility of Abraham’s taking his only son to this place to offer him for sacrifice.
After migrating from his homeland in Mesopotamia, Abraham traveled North West and reached Haran through Paddanaram (i.e., the plain of Syria). After staying there for some time he again started his journey to SSW. Through Halab, Hamath, Damascus, etc he entered the land of Canaan. Moreh was his first camping station in Canaan where he encamped his family for some time. He then proceeded further to Egypt (It may either be the North Eastern Egypt or the peninsula of Sinai) to explore some suitable base for his missionary activities. Seeing that Egypt was not a fertile field for his mission, he came back to Moreh and stayed there for some time to explore new horizons for his missionary activities. His nephew, Lot, remained with him throughout this missionary exploration. It was here at Moreh that they decided to extend their missionary activities in different lands. Lot chose to work in Edom and Abraham made his base camp for his mission about twenty miles south of (Jeru-) Salem [the name of Jerusalem, in those days, was mere ‘Salem’] and settled his family in the area of Mamre, Hebron, and Machpelah. Beersheba, about twenty-five miles SSW of Hebron, was the pasture of his herds and flocks. The family of Abraham had now permanently settled here and had left Moreh for good.
The above information about Moreh has been carefully collected from authentic sources such as atlases, commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the proper text of the Bible. Only two brief excerpts are being provided hereunder. W. Smith ’s DB states:
The oak of Moreh was the first recorded halting-place of Abram after his entrance into the land of Canaan. Gen. 12:6. It was at the ‘place of Shechem,’ ch. 12:6, close to the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. Deut. 11:30.86
Rev. A. H. Gunner and F. F. Bruce explain in The Illustrated BD:
Dt. 11:30 makes reference to the ‘oak of Moreh’ in the district of Gilgal (i.e. the Shechemite Gilgal). It is recorded that Abraham pitched his camp there on arriving in Canaan from Harran, and it was there that God revealed himself to Abraham, promising to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. [The Illustrated Bible Dic., 2:1025]
JERUSALEM AS THE SITE CLAIMED TO BE MORIAH (THE PLACE OF OFFERING)
The claim of the Biblical Scholars regarding the site of Moriah, at Jerusalem, requires a fairly detailed discussion. It was given the name of ‘Moriah’ to attach importance and reverence to the house of the Lord, commonly known as the ‘Temple’. McKenzie’s Dic. of Bible explains:
The hill on which Solomon’s temple was built is called Moriah (2 Ch 3:1), the only other incidence of the name; but this is in all probability due to the theological invention, which identified the Temple, the place of Yahweh’s dwelling and of Israel’s worship, with the site of the sacrifice of Isaac. [John L. McKenzie’s Dic. of Bible, 586]
In fact the site of the Temple had previously been without any proper name. It was simply called ‘the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebosite.’ The name ‘Moriah’ was ascribed to it usurpingly to attach reverence and importance to it. G. A. Barrois has expounded the point in the Interpreter’s DB as below:
Since the name Moriah appears nowhere else in the texts relative to the topography of Jerusalem, there is good reason to suspect that the author of Chronicles intended to ascribe an early origin to the royal sanctuary, by identifying the unnamed hilltop formerly used as a threshing floor with the mountain in the land of Moriah, where Abraham had made ready to sacrifice his son. [The Interpreter’s Dic. of Bible, 3:438-9]
The Chronicler himself, who has attributed the name of ‘Moriah’ to the place, does not use this name for the place anywhere else in his narratives, whereas he has referred to this place at a number of times. Had the place had its identification with the proper name ‘Moriah’, it must have been used by the Chronicler at other places as well. Moreover, it was claimed to be situated in the city of Jerusalem, which was the most important city for the Jewish people. Then it was claimed to be the site of Solomon’s Temple, which had always remained the most important building to the Jewish community ever since its construction. How could it be that it had nowhere been mentioned with the nomenclature of ‘Moriah’ in the whole of the Bible except this forgery. Here is the fairly lengthy text of the narrative from the Bible to acquaint the reader with the background of the event:
(15) And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, it is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. (…). (18) Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite. (…). (21) And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshingfloor, and bowed himself to David with his face on the ground. (22) Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshing-floor, that I may build an altar therein unto the Lord: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people. (23) And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all. (24) And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost. (25) So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. (26) And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering. (27) And the Lord commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof. (28) At that time when David saw that the Lord had answered him in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there. [I Chronicles 21:15-28]
(Originally the story had been recorded in II Samuel 24:16-25, which is the source of the Chronicler. Some of its excerpts have been afforded in this chapter below to enable the reader to make a comparative study. It will be appreciated that II Samuel has referred to this place for a number of times, but he has never used the word ‘Moriah’ for it).
It may be observed in the above narrative that the alleged place of ‘Moriah’ has been mentioned in these few lines for eleven times with the names of:
(1) the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, or merely
(2) the threshingfloor, or
(3) the place of this threshingfloor, or simply
(4) the place, or the pronouns
(6) there, and
But the proper name ‘Moriah’ has not been attributed to it even for a single time in the whole of the narrative. It may further be observed that these different words for the place have been used by different persons as detailed below:
a) The phrase ‘the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite’:
(1) once by the redactor of the book,
(2) once by David, and
(3) once by the angel of the Lord [which shows that even the angel of the Lord (and as he was speaking on behalf of God, that even the Lord Himself) did not know that the name of the site of the Temple was ‘Moriah’]. (Total: 3 times).
b) The phrase ‘the threshingfloor’: only once, and that by the redactor of the book.
c) The phrase ‘the place of this threshingfloor’: only once, and that by David.
d) The word ‘therein’: only once, and that also by David.
e) The word ‘it’:
(1) twice by David, and
(2) once by Ornan the Jebusite. (Total – 3 times).
f) The word ‘there’: only once, and that by the redactor of the book.
g) The Words ‘the place’: only once, and that also by the redactor of the book.
It means that neither the angel of the Lord (and as he was speaking on behalf of God, so it would mean that even the Lord Himself) knew that the name of the place, where the Solomon’s Temple was to be built later on, was ‘Moriah’, nor the redactor of the book, or King David, or Ornan the Jebusite knew it. It is simply unbelievable!
Had ‘Moriah’ been the name of the place, and that too, from the times of the Patriarch Abraham or even before that; and that too, in connection with such a conspicuous event as that of the offering of his only son for sacrifice at this place; how could it be possible that the angel of the Lord, and king David, and the redactor of the book, and the owner of the place, Ornan the Jebusite, might so indifferently, rather disdainfully, have disregarded even the mention of the proper name of this place throughout the narrative! Flavius Josephus has also afforded a narrative of the event in his ‘Antiquities’, which will further elaborate the point:
When God heard his [David’s] supplication, he caused the pestilence to cease; and sent Gad the prophet to him, and commanded him to go up immediately to the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebosite, and build an altar there to God, and offer sacrifices. When David heard that, he did not neglect his duty, but made haste to the place appointed him. Now Araunah was threshing wheat; and when he saw the king and all his servants coming to him, he ran before, and came to him (…). Now Araunah inquired, Wherefore is my lord come to his servant? He answered, To buy of him the threshing-floor, that he might therein build an altar to God, and offer a sacrifice. He replied, That he freely gave him both the threshing-floor, and the ploughs and the oxen for a burnt offering; and he besought God graciously to accept his sacrifice; (…); and when Araunah said he would do as he pleased, he bought the threshing-floor of him for fifty shekels; and when he had built an altar, he performed divine service, and brought a burnt offering, and offered peaceofferings also. (…). Now when king David saw that God had heard his prayer, and had graciously accepted of his sacrifices, he resolved to call that entire place The Altar of all the People, and to build a temple to God there; [The Works of Flavius Josephus, Tr. William Whiston (Boston: D Lothrop & Co., n.d.): Antiquities XIII: 4, pp. 203-4].
In the above passage, as in the previous one, the place allegedly named ‘Moriah’ by the Chronicler has been mentioned seven times; but has nowhere been mentioned with the name of ‘Moriah’. Amazingly, when King David himself prescribes a name for the place, he gives it the name of ‘The Altar of all the People’. Had it been the sacred place whose name had been ‘Moriah’ even before Abraham, having such a significant tradition attached to it as the sacrifice of Abraham’s ‘firstborn, and the only, and beloved son’, king David would definitely have known it and would certainly have used it for the place. He could never have dared to ignore the mention of this important name and could never have dared to change it with a second rate name as ‘The Altar of all the People’.
Another aspect of the proposition is also to be looked into. Abraham lived either at Hebron (Al-Khaleel of today), or at Mamre which is about three kilometre North of Hebron. The pasture of his herds and flocks was at Beersheba, which is about twenty-five miles South of Hebron. The distance between Jerusalem and Hebron is not more than twenty miles. Abraham had set out for journey early in the morning, which shows his steadiness, eagerness, promptness, and sense of duty towards God. If he started his journey from Hebron, he had to travel twenty miles. If he started from Mamre, he had to travel only eighteen miles. If he started from Beersheba, he had to travel for about forty miles. Whatever the starting point of his journey be; as he was travelling on his donkey, and started the journey early in the morning, and undertook the journey earnestly (W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah, A Modern Com. (NY: Union of Am. Heb. Congregations, 1981), 154 explains: Abraham and his followers rose ‘early in the morning’ and ‘went unto’ the place of which God had told him; (…); it is as if, while he traveled on, Abraham had looked neither to the right nor to the left, had suppressed any sign of life in his followers and himself save only their footfalls); it may have taken him merely a day or so to reach his destination, had it been in Jerusalem (which was between eighteen to about forty miles from his every possible place of residence). But the Bible asserts that even after three days’ journey he was still ‘afar off’ from the appointed place. It means, as ‘The New Jerome Bible Commentary’ has well observed, that the total journey might have taken him well-nigh seven days to reach his destination (Raymond E. Brown, The New Jerome Bible Com., (Bangalore, India: TPI, 1994), 25 explains: This may be the halfway point of a seven-day journey ending in the arrival at the mountain), which could in no case have been Jerusalem, because the actual destination was at such a long distance as to require such a long time. One may not agree with the ‘New Jerome BC’, but nobody can deny the fact that after three consecutive days’ (John Fawcett, The D. Family Bible, 1811, Vol. I, no paging, notes: and after that long journey (…) the place was far distant: Mount Moriah; (…). He travels three successive days) earnest journey they had not reached their destination and were still ‘afar off’ their destination. It rules out the idea of the ‘Moriah’ being situated at the hilltop at Jerusalem, which was almost one, or, at the most, two day’s journey. This ambiguity has also been noted by the scholars of the Bible. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains:
The only other mention of the name occurs in 2 Ch. 3:1, where the site of Solomon’s Temple is said to be on mount Moriah, on the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite where God appeared to David (…). It should be noted that no reference is made here to Abraham in connection with this site. It has been objected that Jerusalem is not sufficiently distant from Southern Philistia to have required a 3 day’s journey to get there; whereas, in view of the earnestness of Abraham and the distance to be covered being small, it could not have taken him more than about one day, had the destination been Jerusalem), and that one of the characteristics of Jerusalem is that the Temple hill is not visible until the traveler is quite close, so that the correctness of the Biblical identification is called in question. [The Illustrated Bible Dic., 2:1025. ]
Peake’s Com. on the Bible has also discussed the theme in a reasonable way. It asserts:
In verse 2 the scene of the episode is said to be a mountain ‘in the land of Moriah’, and it is possible that these words and the obscure phrase in verse 14, ‘in the Mount (i.e the Temple Mount) where Yahweh is seen.’ (where the Hebrew text has evidently suffered some corruption), may have been inserted by the Priestly editor to carry back the sanctity of the Temple site to the age of Abraham. But it is impossible that the Temple Mount at Jerusalem could have been the scene of the incident for various reasons. [Peake’s Com. on the Bible, 193]
In the light of the above information, it can be asserted that the name of the hilltop on which the Solomon’s Temple was built, had been ‘the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite’, and not ‘Moriah’; and it had wrongly been ascribed to it by the Chronicler to attach sanctity and significance to the site of the ‘Temple’. The concept of some ‘Moriah’ at the site of the Solomon’s Temple is completely void of any ground reality and is merely a fabrication. S. R. Driver observes in Hastings DB that the location of ‘Moriah’ at Jerusalem is the idea of the Chronicler. He asserts that it is obviously a matter of doubtful nature. He rules out the possibility of Jerusalem being the place of Moriah due to the fact that it cannot be seen from a distance, whereas the Bible asserts, ‘Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.’ His observations are being recorded hereunder:
What was originally denoted by this designation is very obscure. It is indeed evident that in 2 Chronicles 3:1 the Temple hill is referred to; but this does not settle the sense of the expression ‘land of Moriah’ in Gn 22:2: the Chronicler may, in common with the later Jews, have supposed that was the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, and borrowed the expression from Gn 22:2—perhaps to suggest that the spot was chosen already by J” in the patriarchal age. (…). It is remarkable that, though it is here implied that it is well known to Abraham, the region is not mentioned elsewhere in the OT. It is difficult, under the circumstances, not to doubt the originality of the text; (…); Gerizim, moreover, is an elevation which a traveler approaching from the S. might ‘lift up his eyes’ (22:4) and see conspicuously at a distance, which is not the case with Jerusalem. [Hastings Dictionary of Bible, 3: 437, s.v. ‘Moriah’ by S.R. Driver]
L. Reed and A. H. McNeile in their article on ‘Moriah’ in the Hastings’ Revised (One Volume) Dic. of Bible assert that the tradition of identifying ‘Moriah’ with the site of the Solomon’s Temple is not traceable:
The Chronicler (2 Ch 3:1) leaves no doubt concerning the Jewish tradition that Mount Moriah was the Temple hill where Solomon built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem and the place of David’s theophany. Efforts to identify the source of this tradition have been unsuccessful. [Hastings Dictionary of Bible, Revised Single volume edn., 674-5]
Michael Avi-Yonah observes in the Encyclopedia Judaica that the identification of Moriah with the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite at Jerusalem is farfetched and is aimed to attach importance to the Solomon’s Temple:
The assumption that Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac on the threshing floor of Jebus (Jerusalem), in full view of the Canaanite city, is farfetched; nor is the Temple Mount visible from afar, as it is hidden by the higher mountains around it. It seems more probable that the biblical story left the location of Moriah deliberately vague; the importance of the sacrifice of Isaac in the series of covenants between God and Israel made it natural [to the later redactors of the Bible] that at an early time this supreme act of faith was located on the site destined to become the most holy sanctuary of Israel, the Temple of Solomon, just as the Samaritans transferred the act to their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim.! [Encyclopedia Judaica 1997 ed. CD-ROM. Version 1.0, Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Ltd., S.v. ‘Moriah’. ]
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia observes:
This land is mentioned only here [Genesis 22:2], and there is little to guide us in trying to identify it. A late writer (2 Chronicles 3:1) applies the name of Moriah to the mount on which Solomon’s Temple was built, possibly associating it with the sacrifice of Isaac. A similar association with this mountain may have been in the mind of the writer of Genesis 22 (see 22:14), who, of course, wrote long after the events described (Driver). (…). The description could hardly apply to Jerusalem in any case, as it could not be seen ‘afar off’ by one approaching either from the South or the West. (…). With our present knowledge we must be content to leave the question open (W. Ewing). [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]
It is only the book of Chronicles in the whole of the Bible, which designates ‘Moriah’ as the site for the Solomon’s Temple (II Chronicles 3:1). Curiously, as already stated, the Chronicler, while narrating earlier the purchase of the site by David from Ornan the Jebusite in his I Chronicles 21:15-28, does not mention the name of ‘Moriah’ for the place where the Solomon’s Temple was to be built later. He simply uses the ‘thresingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite’ as the name of the place throughout the narrative for a number of times. Had ‘Moriah’ been the name of the place, he must have used this name categorically. Actually the source of the Chronicler for this narrative is II Samuel and he retells the incident from II Sam. 24:16-25. There too the name ‘Moriah’ has nowhere been mentioned for the place, as can be appreciated from the following quotation:
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite. (17) And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house. (18) And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite. (19) And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded. (20) And Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming on towards him: and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king on his face upon the ground. (21) And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague may be stayed from the people. (22) And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer of what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood. (23) All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The Lord thy God accept thee. (24) And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. (25) And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel. [II Samuels 24:16-25]
Prior to the Chronicler, the details of the plan of the Temple, the stages and style of the construction with meticulous drawings, measurements and other details of the building, had been recorded in I Kings vi-viii and Ezekiel xl-xlvii. The word ‘Moriah’ has nowhere been used in both of these accounts. The Chronicler was not an eye-witness of the event. He wrote the details after the lapse of seven centuries of the event as elaborated later. He gave the name ‘Moriah’ to the place to sanctify the site of the Temple. Nobody else had ever used the word ‘Moriah’ for the site of the Temple before him. Afterwards, any one else who used the name ‘Moriah’ for the site of the Temple, copied it from the ‘Chronicles’. It was the sole source of all the later credulous writers of so called ‘histories’, who eagerly picked it up without undertaking any objective and analytical appraisal of the statement and its sources. This is not ‘history’. ‘Wishful thinking and imaginative creativity’ may be good qualities for the writer of a piece of literature, but they are plainly a demerit for a sober and genuine historian and are bound to damage his credibility.
Instead of Moriah, the Bible locates the Temple at mount Zion at some places, but it is not a unanimous opinion.
Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (4:983) writes:
Throughout the OT there are passages which have no meaning, if Zion and the temple hill were two separate topographical features. Zion is the holy hill or mountain (Ps26), the chosen habitation of Jahweh (Ps 911 742 762 847 13213, Is 818 6014, Jer 810, Zec 83). There He manifests Himself (Ps 147202 536 1285 1343, Am 12); and there He must be worshipped and praised (Ps 651,2, Jer 316). (….). In 1 Maccabees, written c. BC 100 by some one who was well acquaited with the localities, Zion is identified with the temple hill (437,38 534 733 etc), and so it is in 1Es 881 2Es525 Sir2410, and Jth 913 [See also Ps 78 68,69 and Jer 50 28].
The sole place in the whole of the Bible where the site of the Solomon’s Temple has been attached to ‘Moriah’ is the book of Chronicles (II Ch. 3:1). It has been explained above that it was not based on any objective reality or historical facts. It was a ‘theological invention’ and was fabricated to attach reverence and importance to the ‘House of the Lord’.
(a) The statement of the Solomon’s Temple having been built at ‘Moriah’ is a blatant forgery of the Chronicler; and (b) The status, canonicity, historicity, and credibility of the Chronicler is not above board.
The claim that ‘Moriah’ was the site of Solomon’s Temple is quite baseless, absurd and arbitrary; and the mention of Moriah in II Chronicles (3:1) should be considered as null and void, being a baseless invention of the Chronicler.
As the last four locations (according to the above categorization) claimed by the Bible scholars to be the spot of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice stand ruled out through ample argumentation, there remains only one site in the whole of the Bible (Gen. 22:2); which can be claimed as the genuine ‘Moriah’ where Abraham had offered his ‘only son’ for sacrifice. A detailed study on the subject is being undertaken in the next chapter.
THE ACTUAL SITE OF MORIAH Or AL-MARWAH
As regards this Moriah, which is pronounced by the ’Arabs as ‘al-Marwah’, it is the only one genuine ‘Moriah’ (Genesis 22:2); that is the actual place where Abraham was asked to offer his ‘only son’ for sacrifice. The fact is that the site of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice is unknown to the scholars of the Bible. An objective and analytic study has been undertaken in the following lines to thrash out the real position of the theme.
THE ACTUAL SITE OF MORIAH IS UNKNOWN TO THE SCHOLARS OF THE BIBLE
Some of the quotations from the authorities on Biblical literature are being afforded hereunder, which show that the scholars of the Bible are at a loss to locate the actual place where Abraham had offered his only son for sacrifice:
(i) W.Gunther Plaut, observes in ‘The Torah, A Modern Commentary’:
The original name is obscure and the actual location unknown. [The Torah, A Modern Commentary, 146]
(ii) L. Reed and A. H. McNeile in their article on ‘Moriah’ in Hastings’ Revised Dictionary of Bible assert that ‘evidence is not available for locating Moriah of Abraham’s time’:
Because the place of origin of the journey is not stated in Genesis, it is best to conclude that evidence is not available for locating Moriah of Abraham’s time. [Hastings Dic. of Bible, 674-5]
(iii) New Jerusalem Bible states that the site of ‘Moriah’ is unknown:
But the text speaks of a ‘land of Moriah’, of which the name is otherwise unattested: the site of the sacrifice is unknown. [The New Jerusalem Bible, 41]
(iv) A New Commentary on Holy Scripture explains:
The land of Moriah is an unknown locality. [A New Com. on Holy Scripture, 54]
(v) The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. observes:
The name seems to have been rather uncommon. [7th Day Adventist Bible Com., 1:349]
(vi) The New Oxford Annotated Bible asserts that the place is unknown:
The mountain in the land of Moriah is unknown. [The New Oxford Annotated Bible, footnote on p. 27]
(vii) Dummelow’s Commentary on the Holy Bible indicates the uncertainty regarding the identification of both the places:
The land of Moriah only mentioned again 2 Ch 3:1, ‘Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in Mount Moriah.’ It is uncertain whether the two places are to be identified. [Com. On Holy Bible, (1956), 30]
(viii) The New Bible Commentary states that there is no ground reality to certify the exact location of this place:
The land of Moriah (2). There is nothing in ancient topography to certify the exact location of this place, nor yet the mountain itself, [New Bible Com., 94]
(ix) The Wycliffe Bible Com.’s remarks are:
The place of the sacrifice cannot be positively identified. [The Wycliffe Bible Com., 27]
(x) The Interpreter’s Dic. of Bible asserts:
The location is otherwise unspecified. [Interpreter’s Dic. of Bible, 3:438]
(xi) The ‘Harper’s Bible Dic. has recorded the similar views about it:
An unidentified site in rugged terrain three day’s travel from Beersheba where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. [Harper’s Bible Dic., 654]
(xii) T. K. Cheyne observes in the Encyclopedia Biblica:
Great obscurity hangs about this name, [Enc. Biblica, 3:3200]
(xiii) Rev, B. Vawter, Professor of Sacred Scripture, De Paul University, Chicago, has asserted in A New Catholic Commentary:
‘The land of Moriah’ has never been identified. [A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 195]
(xiv) Michael Avi-Yonah has also recorded the same viewpoint in the Encyclopedia Judaica:
MORIAH (Heb. ), an unidentified locality mentioned in the Bible. [Enc. Judaica, 1997]
(xv) The Encyclopedia of Judaism has also made the similar observation:
Moriah; a place, originally unidentified, to which God sent Abraham: [The Judaic CD ROM Reference Library Vol. I]
(xvi) The Jerome Bible Com. has observed:
The ‘district of Moriah’ is unknown. [The Jerome Bible Com., 23]
(xvii) Peter R. Ackroyd, Samuel Davidson Professor of OT Studies, University of London, King’s College, in his article ‘The OT in the Making’ has entered a footnote on his sentence ‘So we have sanctuary legends (…) and a high place at Jebus (Jerusalem, 2 Sam. 24) subsequently rightly or wrongly identified with the site of the Jerusalem temple (I Chrn. 21-22:1)’:
The identification must remain uncertain, and indeed suspect, since the Chronicler also identifies the same site with Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1, cf. Gen. 22). [The Cambridge History of the Bible, (1970), 1:69]
(xviii) The same writer further asserts:
What is clear, however, is that the Chronicler sees this narrative in I Chron. 21 as providing an appropriate introduction to his account of how David prepared for the building of the Temple by Solomon (I Chron. 22:2-19; 2829:9. The intervening section, chs. 23-7, may well be a later insertion, but it too illuminates the ideas concerning David’s organising of the worship of the Temple). Whereas the 2 Sam. narrative makes no link with the building of the Solomonic Temple–and this strongly suggests that the narrative originally had to do with another sacred place–the Chronicler identifies the site precisely (22:1), explains why David could not go to Gibeon (Gibeon is the scene of the victory by David over the Philistines. Before the Temple was built the Tabernacle and brazen altar stood here (Collins Gem DB, 1974, p.195) where the Tabernacle was (21:29-30), and subsequently also identifies this site explicitly with the Mount Moriah of Gen. 22 (2 Chron. 3:1), an even more improbable identification. [The Cambridge History of the Bible, 1:89]
(xix) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has also dilated upon the theme. It explains the site as follows:
This land is mentioned only here Genesis 22:2, and there is little to guide us in trying to identify it. A late writer (2 Chronicles 3:1) applies the name of Moriah to the mount on which Solomon’s Temple was built, possibly associating it with the sacrifice of Isaac. A similar association with this mountain may have been in the mind of the writer of Genesis 22 (see 22:14), who, of course, wrote long after the events described (Driver). (…). The description could hardly apply to Jerusalem in any case, as it could not be seen “afar off” by one approaching either from the South or the West. (…). With our present knowledge we must be content to leave the question open. W. Ewing [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1997, 7:924 ]
No doubt it is an uninteresting practice to quote so many authorities on a theme; but it was essential to show that it is not a rare or minority opinion. That’s why ample evidence has been afforded from almost every school of thought. It may also be noted that those who do not acknowledge the unidentified nature of the location of Moriah, locate it at various places and are dubiously confused. It would thus be appreciated that the objective study of most of the scholars of the Bible reveals that, according to the Bible, the location of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice cannot be identified with exactness and certainty.
Having failed to locate the place in the written annals of history pertaining to the Bible, one should try to trace it through some ground realities or some perpetual traditions, commemorations, celebrations, rituals, sites, buildings, etc. of the relevant nations on the theme.
SOME QUESTIONS TO TRACE THE ACTUAL SITE OF MORIAH Here are some questions, which would help in thrashing out the solution to the problem:
1) Had Abraham any son who could genuinely have been claimed to be his ‘only son’ upto the age of his being circumstantially suitable to be offered for sacrifice?
2) Did that ‘only son’ permanently live with his father Abraham or had he been shifted to somewhere else to be settled there? What was the name and location of that place?
3) Is there any evidence of this ‘only son’s’ progeny having been perpetuated at the place of his new settlement [Paran and Beersheba]?
4) Is there any tradition related to this ‘only son’s’ having been offered there for sacrifice by his father Abraham?
5) Is this tradition of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice related to any mountain in that land of Moriah?
6) Are there any physical remains pertaining to the act of the sacrifice near this mount ‘Moriah’ of the Bible (al-Marwah of the Arabs)?
7) Is there any Concrete, Physical, and Material evidence of the presence of Ishma‘el, his mother Hagar, and his father Abraham at the site of this ‘Moriah’?
8) Are there any festivities having perpetually been celebrated to commemorate this great event of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice there; and are these festivities related to some places around this ‘Moriah’?
9) Is there any other tradition among the Arabs that confirms their relation to Abraham and Ishma‘el?
10) Is there any building or sanctuary in the vicinity of this ‘al-Marwah’ (‘Moriah’ of the Bible), whose construction has been assigned to the patriarchs Abraham and Ishma‘el;?
11) Are there any traces which confirm that the construction of al-Ka’bah had been undertaken by Abraham and Ishma‘el?
12) Is there any evidence of Isaac or his progeny having ever been to some ‘Moriah’ to commemorate Isaac’s having been offered for sacrifice?
13) Does the Bible state where Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar had breathed their last and what is their burial site; in the way as it gives these details about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his son Isaac; and why?
14) Is there any established tradition regarding the burying place of Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar amongst the Arabs, who are the historically established progeny of Ishma‘el?
15) Why has this ambiguity been created by the redactors of the Bible?
THE QUESTIONS ANSWERED
As regards the 1st question (Had Abraham any son who could genuinely have been claimed to be his ‘only son’ upto the age of his being circumstantially suitable to be offered for sacrifice?), Ishma‘el was Abraham’s firstborn son, who remained his ‘only son’ for nearly fourteen years. The age of thirteen years circumstantially suits and is compatible to all considerations for his being offered for sacrifice.
As regards the 2nd question (Did that ‘only son’ permanently live with his father Abraham or had he been shifted to somewhere else to be settled there? What was the name and location of that place?), Ishma‘el, together with his mother Hagar, had been shifted by his father Abraham to the wilderness of Paran in the land of Moriah, near Beersheba (Well of Seven); and they had settled there permanently. Abraham himself, along with his first wife, Sarah, had settled in Hebron and Beersheba (Well of Oath) in Southern Canaan.
As regards the 3rd question (Is there any evidence of this ‘only son’s’ progeny having been perpetuated at the place of his new settlement [Paran and Beersheba]?), it is the factual position that Ishma‘el’s progeny has been living in Makkah and other parts of Arabia since time immemorial, and is still living there. The Bible claims that Hagar and Ishma‘el had been settled by Abraham in the Wilderness of Paran and Beersheba, and both of these places have allegedly been claimed to be located in Sinai. But, even according to the Bible, there are no traces of any Ishma‘elites in Sinai. That they have been living around Makkah in Arabia, has been discussed in detail in the next chapter of this article.
As regards the 4th question (Is there any traditioin related to this ‘only son’ having been offered there for sacrifice by his father Abraham?), it is a ground reality that millions of pilgrims travel to Makkah in the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah to offer sacrifice in commemoration of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’, Ishma‘el, for sacrifice. Hundreds of millions of people offer the same sacrifice in their hometowns at the same time. This tradition has come down for centuries before the advent of Islam. Nowhere on earth is celebrated any such tradition to commemorate any socalled offering of Isaac for sacrifice by his father Abraham.
The horns of the ram offered in place of Ishma‘el remained preserved in al-Ka’bah until 64 AH/683 AD, when the Ka’bah was rebuilt by Abd Allah b. Zubayr. The Encyclopedia of Islām has recorded:
The two horns of Abraham’s ram did not crumble to dust until the rebuilding of the Ka’bah by ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr. [The Encyclopedia of Islam New Edition, 4:320]
It is recorded both in Biblical and Muslim tradition that the son going to be offered for sacrifice was ransomed with a ram. A renowned Muslim scholar and commentator of the Holy Qur’an, Mawlana Amin Ahsan Islahi, while explaining the Qur’anic verse 37:107 in his magnum opus Tadabbur-e-Qur’an asserts:
Allah asserts: ‘We ransomed Ishma‘el with a great sacrifice.’ It indicates that We instructed Abraham to offer a ram as sacrifice in lieu of this son. And this act of offering shall perpetually be commemorated as the memorial to this great event in the form of a great ritual of offering throughout the nations of the world. It is this very offering which, being included in the rituals of pilgrimage, has been perpetuating the memory of the event since the times of Abraham and shall endure for ever till the doomsday — It should be borne in mind here that although the ritual of offering is being performed in all the religions of the world since the times of Adam, but no ritual of offering could achieve such significance, importance, expansion, and universality in the world; as Abraham’s this act of offering. [Tadabbur-e-Qur’an, 5:485]
The event has been recorded in the Bible in the follwing words:
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. (11) And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. (12) And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing upon him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (13) And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (…). (15) And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, (16) And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. [Genesis 22:1-18]
As regards the 5th question (Is this tradition of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice related to any mountain in that land of Moriah?), it is only the mountainous region in the land of ‘Moriah’ at Makkah, to which the tradition of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’, Ishma‘el, for sacrifice is related. The Arabic word for Moriah is Marwah. In Hebrew (It may be noted that the Hebrew language is written from right to left like the script of her other sister Semitic languages (Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, etc.)) ‘Moriah’ is composed of five letters, whereas ‘Marwah’ is composed of four letters. The first and the last letters, i.e., ‘Meem’ (M) and ‘He’ (H) are common in both the words. The middle letters ‘R’ (Res) and ‘W’ (Waw) are resembling letters in Hebrew, as can be appreciated through observing them. They are often interchanged by the scribes. As far as the letter ‘Yodh’ or ‘Y’ is concerned, it is a very small letter in Hebrew alphabet and is likely to be omitted or inserted due to some negligence or misunderstanding of a scribe. It is quite probable that the actual word may have been ‘Marwah’, which would have been mistakenly recorded as ‘Moriah’ in the Bible by some scribe, because Moriah/Marwah was not a commonly used word in the Biblical literature. There can be another possibility: the difference in ‘Moriah’ and ‘Marwah’ may be the variations of pronunciation between the Arabic language and the Hebrew language due to the change of the geographic conditions; as is common in so many cases. A construing reader might be aware of some instances of such cases.
As regards the 6th question (Are there any physical remains pertaining to the act of the sacrifice near this Mount ‘Moriah’ of the Bible — al-Marwah of the Arab tradition?), it is interesting to note that the horns of the ram which was offered in the stead of Ishma‘el had been preserved in the Ka’bah and they remained there until 64 AH/ AD 683. Wensinck and Jomier have reported in the Encyclopedia of Islam in their article on the ‘Ka’bah’ that at the time of the conquest of Makkah in 8/629:
All the pagan trappings which had adhered to the Ka‘ba were now thrust aside. (…). The two horns of Abraham’s ram did not crumble to dust until the rebuilding of the Ka‘ba by ‘Abd Allah bin Zubayr. Enc. of Islam, New (1997) edn., s.v. ‘Ka‘ba’, 4:320]
As regards the 7th question (Is there any Concrete, Physical, and Material evidence of the presence of Ishma’el, his mother Hagar, and his father Abraham at the site of this ‘Moriah’?), there exists a lot of such evidence. There exist the Black Stone, the Mi’jan, Maqam Ibrahim, the well of Zamzam, and the Graves of Hagar and Ishma’el in Hateem in close vicinity of the Ka’bah.
About the ‘Black Stone’, which is claimed to have been fixed at a corner of the Ka’bah by the patriarchs, the Encyclopedia of Religion states:
The Black stone is of unknown pre-Islamic origin, possibly meteoric. [The Encyclopedia of Religion (NY: Macmillan Publg. Co, 1987), 8:225,26]
There is the Mi’jan in very close vicinity of the Ka’bah. A. J. Wensinck has provided the following details about it:
(…); a depression in it [the Ka’bah] just opposite the door has still to be mentioned; it is called al-mi’djan ‘the trough’; according to legend, Ibrahim and Isma’il here mixed the mortar used in building the Ka’bah. [Encyclopedia of Islam, New (1997) edn., s.v. ‘Ka‘ba’, 4:318-20]
There is the Maqam Ibrahim, about which ‘The Encyclopedia of Religion’ explains:
Near the Ka’bah stands a gilded glass case (replacing an earlier simple wooden framework) that contains a stone marking the station of Ibrahim (Abraham). This stone is said to have miraculously preserved the footprint of Ibrahim, Who stood on it in order to complete the construction of an earlier Ka’bah: it is, as it were, the builder’s mark. [The Enc. of Religion (NY: Macmillan Publg. Co, 1987), 8:225,26]
A. J. Wensinck has explained the Maqam Ibrahim as follows:
Between this archway [al-Hatim] and the facade (N.E.) is a little building with a small dome, the makam Ibrahim. In it is kept a stone bearing the prints of two human feet. The patriarch Ibrahim, father of Isma’il, is said to have stood on his feet when building the Ka’bah and the marks of his feet were miraculously preserved. [Encyclopedia of Islam, New (1997) edn., s.v. ‘Ka‘ba’, 4:318-20]
There is The well of Zamzam, which stands quite close to the Ka’bah. ‘The Encyclopedia of Religion’, although arbitrarily names it as a myth, explains:
Opposite the corner of the Black Stone is a small building housing the sacred well of Zamzam, from which pilgrims drink water at the conclusion of their circumambulations and prayers. Its origin is mythically associated with Hajar (Hagar) and Ismail (Ishmael), for whom God provided water in this desert place after commanding Ibrahim to abandon mother and child and promising to care for them in his place. [The Enc. of Religion (NY: Macmillan Publg. Co, 1987), 8:225,26]
Then there are the Graves of Hagar and Ishma‘el in Hatim. A. J. Wensinck explaining the rituals and places of the Islamic Pilgrimage in its article on the ‘Ka’bah’ in ‘The Encyclopedia of Islam’ has given the following details about it:
Opposite the north-west wall, but not connected with it, is a semi-circular wall (al-hatim) (…). The semi-circular space between the hatim and the Ka’bah enjoys an especial consideration, because for a time it belonged to the Ka’bah; (…). The space bears the name al-hijr or hijr Isma’il [lap of Ishma‘el]. Here are said to be the graves of the patriarch [Isma’il] and his mother Hagar. [Encyclopedia of Islam, New (1997) edn., ‘Ka‘ba’ 4:318-20]
As regards the 8th question (Are there any festivities having perpetually been celebrated to commemorate this great event of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice there; and are these festivities related to some places around this ‘Moriah’?), there have been a number of festivities related to this offering having perpetually been celebrated by the Arabs centuries before the advent of Islam. These festivities are related to a number of places around this ‘Moriah’. There are the seven rounds of running between ‘al-Safa’ and ‘al-Marwah’ called sa‘y. This sa‘y is performed by millions of pilgrims undertaking Hajj in the month of Dhu al-Hijjah or performing ‘Umrah the whole year through. It is performed to commemorate the similar running by Hagar in search of water for her son Ishma‘el. The ritual of sa‘y so meticulously depicts and retains the event that in the course of their sa‘y the pilgrims resort to jogging at a certain space, marked with green lights these days, where Hagar had resorted to it. It is in the declivity of the Mas‘ where Hagar had to run fast, because she could not see his son in that slope. Then there is the offering for sacrifice of goats, sheep, rams, camels, etc. on the festival of ‘Eid al-Adh’a by hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world and by millions of Muslim pilgrims at Makkah during the days of Hajj. Again there is the water of ‘Zamzam’ or ‘Beersheba’ (Well of Seven) taken by the pilgrims as a sacred drink. It is the very spring which gushed out for the relief of Ishma‘el in that waterless terrain. It wonderfully supplies the water for a large population the whole year through and is also taken home by the millions of pilgrims throughout the world in large quantities as souvenir. Then again there is a ritual of the Islamic Pilgrimage called ‘Talbiyah’. According to it the pilgrims, when put on the proper uniform of the Pilgrimage called ‘Ihraam’, begin to assert this ‘Talbiyah’ until they enter into the ‘Holy Mosque’:
Here I am, O Allah, here I am; here I am, there is no associate to You, here I am; verily all the praise, and all the grace, and all the kingdom belong to You, there is no partner to You.
It is to commemorate the alacrity (quickness and readiness) of Abraham to offer his only son for sacrifice when God tempted him. When God called him, he said, ‘Behold, here I am’. [Genesis 22:1]
As regards the 9th question (Is there any other tradition among the Arabs that confirms their relation to Abraham and Ishma‘el?), there does exist the tradition of circumcision which had been strictly observed amongst the Arabs to represent the tradition of their ancestors, Abraham and Ishma‘el. Islam extended the continuation of this tradition amongst its followers in the same way as it has been observed amongst the Jews as a sign of Abraham’s covenant. Had the Arabs not been the descendants of Abraham through his son Ishma‘el, there had been no question of their observing this tradition and their attributing it to Abraham and Ishma‘el. It is not without significance that the Encyclopedia Biblica has observed that the rite of circumcision may have been the typification of the tradition of offering the firstborn:
(…), and, indeed, the evidence goes to show that in exceptional cases the offering was actually made. However, just as the first-fruits were offered as a part of the whole, it is conceivable that originally the rite of circumcision was instituted upon the same principle to typify the offering of the firstborn. [Encyclopaedia Biblica, 2:1525-6]
Flavius Josephus has also observed in his ‘Antiquities’ (written more than five hundred years before the advent of Islam) that the rite of circumcision had been exercised amongst the Arabians to commemorate the circumcision of the founder of their nation, Ishma‘el:
And they circumcised him upon the eighth day. And from that time the Jews continue the custom of circumcising their sons within that number of days. But as for the Arabians, they circumcise after the thirteenth year, because Ismael, the founder of their nation, who was born to Abraham of the concubine, was circumcised at that age; [Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, Book I, Ch. xii: 2, 4, p.41]
As regards the 10th question (Is there any building or sanctuary in the vicinity of this ‘al-Marwah’ [‘Moriah’ of the Bible], whose construction has been assigned to the patriarchs, Abraham and Ishma‘el?), there is the sanctuary of ‘al-Ka’bah’ in the vicinity of this ‘al-Marwah’ or ‘Moriah’, whose construction has been assigned to the patriarchs, Abraham and Ishma‘el; and there is reasonable evidence of the perpetuity of this tradition. The renowned translator of the Qur’n into English, George Sale, has recorded in his ‘The Preliminary Discourse’ the existence of this sanctuary of ‘al-Ka’bah’ at Makkah as follows:
The temple of Mecca was a place of worship, and in singular veneration with the Arabs from great antiquity, and many centuries before Mohammed (…) the Mohammedans are generally persuaded that the Caaba (…) was rebuilt by Abraham and Ismael, at God’s command, (…). After this edifice had undergone several reparations, it was a few years after the birth of Mohammed, rebuilt by the Koreish on the old foundation, (…). Before we leave the temple of Mecca, two or three particulars deserve further notice. One is the celebrated black stone, which is set in silver, and fixed in the south-east corner of the Caaba, (…). Another thing observable in this temple is the stone in Abraham’s place, wherein they pretend to show his footsteps, telling us he stood on it when he built the Caaba, and that it served him for scaffold, (…). The last thing I shall take notice of the temple is the well Zem-zem, on the east side of the Caaba, (…). The Mohammedans are persuaded that it is the very spring which gushed out for the relief of Ismael, when Hagar his mother wandered with him in the desert, and some pretend it was so named from her calling to him, when she spied it, in the Egyptian tongue, Zem, zem, that is, ‘Stay, stay,’ [‘The Preliminary Discourse’ to the ‘AL-KORAN OF MOHAMMED’, 90]
Professor Palmer, the well known translator of the Qur’an into the English language, says in his introduction to the Qur’an:
The traditions of Abraham the father of their race and the founder of Muhammad’s own religion, as he always declared him to be, no doubt gave the ancient temple a peculiar sanctity in the Prophet’s eyes, and although he had first settled upon Jerusalem as his Qiblah, he afterwards reverted to the Kaabah itself. Here, then, Muhammad found a shrine, to which, as well as at which, devotion had been paid from time immemorial; it was one thing which the scattered Arabian nation had in common the one thing which gave them even the shadow of a national feeling; and to have dreamed of abolishing it, or even of diminishing the honours paid to it, would have been madness and ruin to his enterprise. He therefore did the next best thing, he cleared it of idols and dedicated it to the service of God. [The QUR’AN, by E. H. Palmer]
Some more evidence is being noted below which testifies the existence of al-Ka’bah at Makkah from times immemorial. C. E. Bosworth attests the antiquity of al-Ka’bah in Encyclopedia Americana in the following words:
The Kaaba was almost certainly an important shrine of a well attested Semitic pattern, in pre-Islamic times. It is not clear when it was first associated with the rites of the Pilgrimage, which itself must be of pre-Islamic origin. Muslim tradition traces it to Abraham and Ishmael. The Prophet Mohammed cleansed the Kaaba of its idols and its pagan features in 630. [The Encyclopedia Americana International, 16:254]
Edward J. Jurji asserts in Colliers Encyclopedia that the Quraysh were the custodians of al-Ka’bah and preservers of the Ishma‘elite tradition:
As custodians of Kaaba and preservers of the Ishmaelite tradition, the Quraysh tribe presided over its pagan worship until Mohammed appropriated it for his new faith, [Colliers Enc. In 24 Vols. (NY: 1995), 13:695]
The Encyclopedia of Religion states that the Ka’bah had undoubtedly existed for several centuries before the birth of Muhammad:
The historical origin of the Ka’bah is uncertain, but it had undoubtedly existed for several centuries before the birth of Muhammad (c. 570 CE). By his time it was the principal religious shrine of central Arabia and, located at the centre of a sacred territory (haram), had the characteristic of a Semitic sanctuary. [The Encyclopedia of Religion, 8:225-6]
The renowned Egyptian geographer of the ancient times, Claudius Ptolemaeus (commonly known as Ptolemy, c. 90-168 AD) has also mentioned the existence of a temple near Makkah, for which he uses the word ‘Macoraba’:
It is to be noted that Ptolemy (Geography, vi.7) in place of Mecca mentions Macoraba, which is probably to be interpreted, as does Glaser, as the South Arabian or Ethiopic mikrāb, ‘temple’. From this one may conclude that the Ka‘ba already existed in the second century A. D. [Concise Enc. Of Islam, s.v. ‘Ka‘ba’, 193]
Shorter Encyclopedia Of Islam has noted some other evidence to it as well:
The information available regarding the distribution of the offices among the sons of Kusaiy shows that the worship of the sanctuary had developed into a carefully regulated cult several generations before Muhammad. [Concise Enc. Of Islam, 193]
The Ka‘ba had offerings dedicated to it in the heathen as well as the Muslim period. Al-Azrak devotes a detailed chapter to this subject (ed. Wustenfeld, p. 155 sqq.). [Concise Enc. Of Islam, 193]
As regards the 11th question (Are there any traces which confirm that the construction of al-Ka’bah had been undertaken by Abraham and Ishma‘el?), there had been a depression in the Mataf just opposite the door of the Ka’bah where Ishma‘el and Abraham mixed the mortar used in building the Ka’bah. The Encyclopedia of Islām has recorded it as follows:
The pavement on which the tawaf is performed is called mataf; a depression in it just opposite the door has still to be mentioned; it is called al-mi‘djan ‘the trough’; according to legend, Ibrahim and Isma‘il [q.v.] here mixed the mortar used in building the Ka‘ba. [The Enc. of Islam, 4:318]
Then there is the Maqam Ibrahim, which is another evidence of the Ka‘bah having been built by Abraham. The Encyclopedia of Islām explains:
Between this archway and the facade (N.E.) is a little building with a small dome, the makam Ibrahim. In it is kept a stone bearing the prints of two human feet. The patriarch Ibrahim, father of Isma‘il, is said to have stood on this stone when building the Ka‘ba and the marks of his feet were miraculously preserved. [The Encyclopedia of Islam, 4:318]
As regards the 12th question (Is there any evidence of Isaac or his progeny having ever been to some ‘Moriah’ to commemorate Isaac’s having been offered for sacrifice?), there is neither in the Bible or in the traditions of the Arabs any evidence of Isaac having ever been to some ‘Moriah’; nor is there any evidence in the Bible or the annals of history in favour of the progeny of Isaac having frequented to ‘Moriah’ for offering sacrifices and performing any pilgrimage. On the other hand this ‘Marwah’ is a celebrated spot of offering sacrifice by the pre-Islamic Arabian tribes from the times immemorial and subsequently by the whole of the Muslim world, in memory of Abraham’s offering his ‘only son’ for sacrifice. Of course, the descendents of Ishma‘el, the Arabs, have been observing the ritual centuries rather millennia before Islam, following their Ancestor’s offerings.
As regards the 13th question (Does the Bible state where Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar had breathed their last and what is their burial site; in the manner as it gives these details about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his son Isaac; and why?), it is interesting to note that the Bible is totally silent about Ishma‘el and Hagar’s burying place; whereas it states categorically that the cave of Macphelah at Hebron in Canaan was the burial ground of Abraham (Gen. 25:9-10), his wife Sarah (Gen. 25:10), and his son Isaac (Gen. 49:29-30). As to the question ‘why’, it can only be assumed that it was due to the disregard, disinterest, unconcern, indifference, and apathy, rather rivalry and jealousy, of the Israelites towards their brethren or cousins, Ishma‘elites.
As regards the 14th question (Is there any established tradition regarding the burying place of Ishma‘el and his mother Hagar amongst the Arabs — who are the historically established progeny of Ishma‘el?), the answer is a positive ‘Yes’. A. J. Wensinck and J. Jomier in their article on ‘Ka‘ba’ in the ‘Enc. of Islām’ write:
The space (al-hatim) bears the name al-hijr or hijr Isma‘il. Here are said to be the graves of the patriarch and his mother Hagar. [The Enc. of Islam, 4:318]
The New Standard Encyclopaedia observes:
Ishmael Son of Abraham and Hagar. He was exiled with his mother to the wilderness on account of Sarah’s jealousy of him. He married an Egyptian, was famed as an archer and was buried in Mecca. Mahomet claimed him as an ancestor. [The New Standard Enc. and World Atlas, 699]
As regards the 15th question (Why has this ambiguity been created by the redactors of the Bible?), the answer is quite clear. It is merely because they wanted to attach reverence and respect to their forefather Isaac. The Chronicler forged for them the basis for this ambition through arbitrarily attributing the name of ‘Moriah’ to the site of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. This ambiguity would never have gained ground, had the Chronicler not fabricated and imposed it in his ‘Chronicles’ to attach sanctity to the Solomon’s Temple. It is interesting to note that the ‘Chronicles’ had long been a non-canonical and rejected book. There is another aspect of this theme. In fact Abraham’s offering cannot be treated as a merit for the son, if the son is not taken into confidence for the task. Isaac did not know that he was going to be offered even to the last momet. That’s why he asks his father Abraham, ‘Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? [Gen. 22:7] Even then, Abraham did not think it advisable to disclose to him that it was him whom he was going to offer for the sacrifice; and rather says, ‘My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering. [Gen. 22:8] Thus the act of offering could only have been to the credit of Abraham who was going to be ‘tempted’ by God; and no credit could have been attributed to Isaac who had been totally ignorant of his going to be offered for sacrifice by his father. But, as regards Ishma‘el, he was not only taken into full confidence by his father Abraham, but he willingly endorsed the idea, surrendered to the will of God, and offered himself for sacrifice at the hands of his father. The Qur’an records the event as follows:
Said they, ‘Build for him [Abraham] a pyre, and throw him into the flaming hell!’ They desired to plot against him, but we made them inferior. Said he, ‘Verily, I am going to my Lord, He will guide me. My Lord! Grant me (a son), one of the righteous;’ and we gave him glad tidings of a clement and patient boy. And when he reached the age to work with him, he said, ‘O my boy! Verily, I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee (The translator, Palmer, has inserted a footnote here as: ‘The Mohammadan theory is that it was Ishma‘el and not Isaac who was taken as a sacrifice), look then what thou seest right.’ Said he, ‘O my sire! Do what thou art bidden; thou wilt find me, if please God, one of the patient!’ And when they were resigned, and Abraham had thrown him down upon his forehead, we called to him, ‘O Abraham! Thou hast verified the vision; verily, thus do we reward those who do well. This is surely an obvious trial.’ And we ransomed him with a mighty victim; and we left for him amongst posterity, ‘Peace upon Abraham; thus do we reward those who do well; verily, he was of our servants who believe!’ And we gave him glad tidings of Isaac, a prophet among the righteous; and we blessed him and Isaac; – of their seed is one who does well, and one who obviously wrongs himself. [Qur’an, 37:95-113]
MAKKAH AND ARABIA AS THE HOUSE OF THE PROGENY OF ISHMA‘EL
Ishma‘el’s progeny has been living in Makkah and other parts of Arabia since time immemorial, and is still living there. The Bible claims that Hagar and Ishma‘el had been settled by Abraham in the Wilderness of Paran and Beersheba, both of which have been claimed to have located in Sinai. But, even according to the Bible, there are no traces of any Ishma‘elites in Sinai. ‘The New English Bible’ has recorded:
Ishma‘el’s sons inhabited the land from Havilah to Shur, which is east of Egypt on the way to Asshur, having settled to the east of his brothers. [Genesis 25:18]
‘King James Version’ has recorded the theme in the following words:
And they [Ishma‘el’s sons] dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria and he died in the presence of all his brethren. [Genesis 25:18]
Almost all the translations and versions of the Bible have recorded the same statement about the settlement of the Ishma‘elites. There is no other statement about their settlement.
It means that, according to the Bible, the progeny of Ishma‘el had settled in the area ‘from Havilah unto Shur’. To determine the dwelling place of the progeny of Ishma‘el, the exact location of ‘Havilah’ and ‘Shur’ is to be explored. The word ‘Havilah’ was used for the land of Yemen and ‘Shur’ was situated somewhere near the Gulf of ’Aqabah, at the north-eastern end of the Red Sea. It can thus be deduced that according the Bible the progeny of Ishma‘el had settled in the area of Al-Hijaz, which is a strip of land in the Western Arabia North of Yemen.
A brief account of the sites of Havilah and Shur has been afforded hereunder:
As far as ‘Havilah’ is concerned, it is the name of South Arabia or ‘Yemen’, which, in the ancient days was named ‘Arabia Felix’, as recorded by the renowned geographer of Alexandria, Ptolemy (d. 140 AD). Easton’s BD asserts:
A district in Arabia-Felix. (…). It is the opinion of Kalisch, however, that Havilah ‘in both instances, designates the same country, extending at least from the Persian to the Arabian Gulf, and on account of its vast extent easily divided into two distinct parts.’ This opinion may be well vindicated. [Easton’s 1897 Bible Dic. in ‘Power Bible’]
Arabia Felix’ is the classical name of SW Arabia or the ‘Yemen’. J. A, Thompson explains in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible, 1:179-80:
Classical geographers, following Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.), divided the country into three parts:  Arabia Patrea, whose main city was Petra and which included Sinai,, Edom, Moab, and East Trans-Jordan;  Arabia Deserta, the Syrian Desert; and  Arabia Felix, ‘Fortunate Arabia,’ the Southern portion.
W. Smith has also expressed almost similar views in his BD:
A district in Arabia Felix, Genesis 10:7, named from the second son of Cush; probably the district of Kualan, in the northwestern part of Yemen. [W. Smith’s Bible Dic., 235]
Encyclopedia Judaica has noted that one of Havilah’s location is in South Arabia:
The latter Havilah, the son of Joktan, apparently stands for a locality in South Arabia as do Hadoram (Genesis 10:27), Sheba (Gen. 10:28), and Ophir (Genesis 10:29). [Enc. Judaica]
The Jewish Encyclopedia has explained as below:
HAVILAH: Name of a district, or districts, in Arabia. (…); the Ishmaelites are also placed in the same locality (Genesis xxv.18), (…). In Genesis x.29 and I Chron. i.23, Havilah is a son of Joktan, associated with Sheba and Ophir in the southern portion of the peninsula. (…). Havilah was identified by Bochart Niebuhr with Khaulan in Tehamah, between Mecca and Sana; [The Jewish Enc., 6:266]
All the above data make it quite clear that Havilah stands for Yemen, which is situated in the south-west of the Arabian Peninsula.
‘Shur’ can be located somewhere near the Gulf of ’Aqabah, i.e. north-eastern end of the Red Sea. W. Smith has explained it as follows:
Shur may have been a fortified town east of the ancient head of the Red Sea; and from its being spoken of as a limit, it was probably the last Arabian town before entering Egypt. [W. Smith’s Bible Dic., 627]
Most of the authorities locate it in Sinai to the South East of the Gulf of Suez. Whatever the case may be, it can safely be said that Shur or the Wilderness of Shur is situated somewhere outside the South West corner of Canaan, which may be in the vicinity of the North Weat corner of Arabia.
It means that, according to the Bible, Ishma‘el’s descendants had settled in Arabia between Shur (north western corner of Arabia) and Havilah (southern coast land of Arabia, i.e., Yemen and Hadramawt), which, according to the Arabs, is the region of al-Hijaz. The cities of Makkah, al-Madnah, and Taif are also situated in this al- Hijaz. Most of the Ishma‘elite tribes (Arabs) had settled in and around this al-Hijaz. It has been noted above that, according to the Bible, Hagar and Ishma‘el had been settled by Abraham in the Wilderness of Paran and Beersheba. It requires that the ‘Wilderness of Paran and Beersheba concerning Hagar and Ishma‘el, and the land of Moriah as well’, must be located in Arabia and not in Sinai.
That most of the Arabs are the descendants of Ishma‘el, is a universally acknowledged historical fact and needs not to be discussed in detail. A few lines are reproduced below from the ‘Antiquities’ of Josephus:
And they circumcised him upon the eighth day. And from that time the Jews continue the custom of circumcising their sons within that number of days. But as for the Arabians, they circumcise after the thirteenth year*, because Ismael the founder of their nation, who was born to Abraham of the concubine, was circumcised at that age; (….). Of this wife were born to Ismael twelve sons; Nabaioth (Nabaioth was the firstborn of Ishma‘el and may be the ancestor of the Nabatians of Petrea, after whom the northern Arabia was named ‘Arabia Petrea’ by the ancient geographers like Ptolemy), Kedar (Kedar was the ancestor of the great Arabian tribe of Quraysh, to whom belonged the Prophet of Islam. (See The Jewish Enc. n.d., 7:462, s.v. ‘Kedar’)), Abdeel (‘Abdeel’ means ‘the slave of God’; which, in Arabic, is ‘Abd Allah’; but the Bible has named it as ‘Ad-beel’ (Gen. 25:13 KJV), which might have been a scribal mistake), Mabsam [or Mibsam], Idumas (Which, according to the Bible, is ‘Dumah’ (Gen. 25:14 KJV); after whom was named the famous Arabian town of ‘Dumat al-Jandal’, which was besieged by the Prophet of Islam himself during the adventure of ‘Tabuk’.), Masmaos (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Mish-ma’ (Gen. 25:14 KJV)), Massaos (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Mas-sa’ (Gen. 25:14 KJV)), Chadad (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Ha-dar’ (Gen. 25:15 KJV)), Theman (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Te-ma’ (Gen. 25:15 KJV)), Jetur, Naphesus (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Na’-phish’ (Gen. 25:15 KJV)), Cadmas (Which, in the Bible, is ‘Ke-de-mah’ (Gen. 25:15 KJV). ). These inhabited all the country from Euphrates to the Red Sea, and called it Nabatene. They are an Arabian nation and name their tribes from these, both because of their own virtue, and because of the dignity of Abraham their father. [Flavius, Antiquities, Book I, Ch. xii: 2, 4, p. 41]
* It may be noted here that the writer of this ‘Antiquities’, Flavius Josephus (c.37-c.100), had died more than five centuries before the advent of Islam. F. L. Cross writes in his Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 759:
He brought out c. 94 his second great work, the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, the 20 books of which trace the history of the Jews from the creation of the world to the beginning of the Jewish war.
It shows that his observation ‘But as for the Arabians, they circumcise after the thirteenth year’, if it be so, might have been true regarding the pre-Islamic Arabs, whereas the Muslims generally get their children circumcised in their early days, preferably on the seventh day, as the Prophet of Islam had got his grand children, al-Hasan and al-Husayn circumcised on the 7th day of their birth (Hakim and al-Bayhiqi reported by ‘A’ishah) .
The Book of Jubilees has also recorded that the progeny of Ishma‘el is of Arabian origin. Here is an excerpt to this effect:
And Ishma‘el and his sons, and the sons of Keturah, and their sons, went together and dwelt from Paran to the entering of Babylon in all the land which is towards the East facing the desert. And these mingled with each other, and their name was called Arabs, and Ishma‘elites. [The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, Volume II, 43]
Lawrance Boadt, while explaining Gen 25:1-18, writes:
These names also represent a variety of Arabian Tribes. [International BC, Ed. William R. Farmer (Bangalore: TPI, 2004), 431]
New Jerusalem Bible asserts:
Ishmael’s descendents are the North Arabian tribes. [Footnote ‘b’ on Genesis 25:18 New Jerusalem Bible, p.47]
McKenzie writes in his DB:
He is the ancestor of a number of Arabian tribes. [McKenzie, Dictionary of Bible, 1984, s.v. ‘Ishmael’, p.403]
It has also been abundantly recorded in the legends and poetry of the Arabs. The ‘Quraysh’ was one of the most important tribes of Ishma‘el’s progeny from the line of his second son Kedar; and it had been living in Makkah for centuries, rather millennia, before the advent of Islam.
THE MENTION OF THE OFFERING OF SACRIFICES AT MAKKAH IN THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
This prophecy recorded in chapter LX of the Book of Isaiah of the Bible is reproduced below.
Dr. W. Fitch, Minister, Church of Scotland, Glasgow, remarks in his Commentary to the book of Isaiah in the New Bible Commentary (p.604):
This is a prophecy of great beauty, thrilling [make someone feel excited and happy] with the joy of a great assurance that the purpose of God is so triumphantly to be fulfilled in the earth.
A renowned Muslim scholar, Qadi Sulayman Mansurpuri, has quoted this prophecy in his magnum opus Rahmatulli’l-‘Alamiin and has explained it in a few lines there.
It is pertinent to undertake a thorough study of it. Exhaustive footnotes having sufficient references and relevant excerpts have been afforded on the spot, so that it may not be said that the evidence is scanty. They are to be carefully studied along with the text to appreciate the significance of the observations recorded at the end of the passage. In some cases they may not be directly relevant to the theme, but they are important to make the concept clear. It would be advisable that after initially going through the whole of this theme, the verses alongwith their footnotes be studied once again. It would thus be appreciated that the conclusions drawn from the verses are absolutely pertinent:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. (2) For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. (3) And the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (4) Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. (5) Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged [NKJV translates these italicized words as: ‘swell with joy’]; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. (6) The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries [young camels] of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. (7) All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee; they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory. (8) Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows? (9) Surely the islands shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, (…). (11) Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. (12) For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. (…). (14) The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. (15) Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations. (…). (18) Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. (…). (20) Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. (21) Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. [Isaiah 60:1-21]
Carroll Stuhlmueller asserts in The Jerome Bible Commentary (p.382):
These chapters (60-62), especially ch. 60 according to Dhorme (op. cit., xlvii), are a lyrical description of the new Jerusalem. He assigns the explanation of Chapter 60 the title of ‘GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM’. It means that this Chapter 60 is considered to be related to the ‘Second Temple’.
It may be noted here that Jerusalem is a meaningful word comprising of two segments: Jeru = city or place; and Salem = peace. As such Jerusalem means: ‘city or abode of peace’. The Bible mentions two Jerusalems without any explanation. In fact the first and the ancient ‘City of Peace’ is the Jerusalem of Canaan which existed there even before Abraham. The second and the new ‘City of Peace’ is Makkah which was founded by Abraham and has been mentioned in the Qur’an as ‘al-Balad al-Amin’. It is only Makkah which is Jerusalem (City of Peace) in the true sense of word.
The Jewish Commentary Soncino Chumash’s footnote (p.1134) is:
This is addressed to Jerusalem. Light being the symbol of joy and salvation, Jerusalem is told that the light had been rekindled (K).
NIV translates it as: ‘Nations’. Generally this word ‘gentile’ means all the nations and people other than the Jews.
The Rev. Dr. I. W. Slotki, Eng. Translation & Commentary on Isaiah (London: The Soncino Press, 1949), p. 292 has recorded a footnote on it:
The nations will learn the ways of God, religion and morality, from [you].
Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the OT & NT (5:351), explains:
‘kings’ means: ‘men of figure, power, and influence’.
Dr. W. Fitch asserts in New Bible Commentary (p. 604):
Then will the city be the centre of the world’s light, for the glory of the everlasting God will rest upon her and will radiate around the world.
It may be noted here that after Isaiah the 2nd Temple never gained such glory as has been indicated here. It is only the Temple of Makkah which can claim this glory through the advent of the Prophet of Islam.
Matthew Henry asserts in his An Exposition of the O & NT (NY: Robert Carter & Bros., 530, Broadway, 1712), 5:350:
When the Jews were settled again in their own land’ after their captivity, many of the people of the land joined themselves to them; but it does not appear that there ever was any such numerous accession to them as would answer the fulness of this prophecy; and therefore we must conclude that this looks further, to the bringing of the Gentiles into the [naturally, the forthcoming words should have been ‘fold of that altar or sanctuary’; but it is the dexterity and adroitness of the worthy commentator that he manipulates to interpret it in the following terms] gospel church, not their flocking to one particular place, though under that type it is here described. There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity; but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and the holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre.
This is an example how the Christian scholars mould any simple statement of the OT to be applied to Jesus Christ or the ‘Church’.
NEB: ‘your daughters walking beside them leading the way.’ Matth. Henry’s An Exposition of the O & NT, 5:351: ‘Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner’.
Both of these translations make a reasonable sense in this context. It depicts the true picture of the caravans and groups of men and women coming together for the pilgrimage of this sanctuary of Makkah.
New Jerusalem Bible (p.1282) translates it as:
since the riches of the sea will flow to you, the wealth of the nations will come.
NIV (p. 779) has translated it as:
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
The Soncino Chumash (p.1134) has recorded a footnote here:
Whereas in the past the Land of Israel was desolate and forsaken, it will now be crowded with multitudes like a roaring sea (K).
But it could never come true as far as the Second Temple is concerned.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains (p.651):
It is quite remarkable that, in origin, all these offered treasures are preponderantly [being superior in power, numbers, etc] Arabian.
But, in his wishful thinking, he interprets it as:
Perhaps there is a suggestion here that Islam will some day turn to the Cross.
This remains a mere dream and wishful thinking of the worthy scholar.
7th Day Adventist BC (4:314) explains the word ‘Midian’ as ‘A region in the desert of Arabia (Ex. 2:15).’ In fact Midian was one of the six sons of Abraham from his wife Keturah (whom he had taken as wife after the death of Sarah). Abraham had settled these Keturah’s sons (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah) in Arabia.
7th Day Adventist Bible Commentary (4:314) explains the word ‘Ephah’ as: A Midianite tribe (Gen. 25:4; 1 Chron. 1:33), and here the region they inhabited. In fact Ephah was one of the five sons of Midian (Ehpah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah). Midian was one of his sons from Keturah.
The New Jerusalem Bible (p.1283) explains:
Midian, Ephah and Sheba are peoples of Arabia.
The 7th Day Adventist Bible Dictionary (p.1015) explains:
(…) it is now generally held that it was a queen of this Arabian Sheba, in the area now called Yemen, who made a visit to Solomon (1Ki 10:1-13). The Sabeans were one of the most important peoples of all Arabia. (…). They built large dams and an extensive irrigation system, which made their country the most fertile in ancient Arabia. This is why it was known in classical times as Arabia Felix, ‘Happy Arabia.’
Derek Kidner, Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, in his Commentary on the Book of Isaiah in the NBC Revised (p. 621) asserts:
v. 7 is crucial to the understanding of the chapter .
Dummelow (p.450) has explained the word ‘Nebaioth’ in his commentary as:
‘a tribe allied to Kedar, descended from Ishmael (Gn 2513).’
The New Jerusalem Bible (p.1283) explains Nebaioth as ‘an Arabian people, see Gn. 25:13; 28:9; 36:3.’
A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (p.597) explains:
The tribes of ‘Kedar’ and of ‘Nebaioth’ were of Ishmaelite origin, and were mainly shepherds.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p.651), after remarking that:
It is quite remarkable that, in origin, all these offered treasures are preponderantly Arabian. makes a wishfully predictive assertion: Perhaps there is a suggestion here that Islam will some day turn to the Cross.
The actual Hebrew word for this ‘minister’ or ‘serve’ is תרש ‘sharath’ or ‘shareth’, which, according to Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, p. 122, entry 8334, 35, means:
to attend as a menial or worshipper; to contribute to, minister, wait on; or service (in the temple).
J. H. Hertz’ The (Jewish Commentary) Pentateuch and Haftorahs (p. 875), translates the Hebrew Word as ‘minister’; and explains it in his footnote as ‘By providing animals for sacrifices ’.
NIV (p. 779) translates it as: They will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple.
Dummelow (p. 450) has recorded a footnote here in his Com. on B:
The nations are pictured as coming in a long train, to bring their riches for the service of the sanctuary.
Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O & NT, 5:351 notes:
Great numbers of sacrifices shall be brought to God’s altar, acceptable sacrifices, and, though brought by Gentiles, they shall find acceptance.
If related to the Second Temple, these are mere wishful imaginations.
NIV (p. 779) translates it as: ‘and I will adorn my glorious temple.’ The Soncino Chumash (p. 1134) has recorded a footnote here: ‘By causing the nations to bring their gifts and offerings to it (K).’
Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?: It depicts a true picture of thousands of aeroplanes coming and landing at the airport of Jeddah daily like clouds, with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims on board who come here to perform ‘Umrah (short Hajj), and during the Hajj season in even greater multitude.
and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far: Carroll Stuhlmueller explains the word ‘Tarshish’ in The Jerome Bible Com. (p. 383) as: ‘A Phoenician colony in southern Spain (Jon 1:3).’
It is to be noted here that it had been ruled by Muslim Arabs for about eight centuries. These Muslims travelled in ships to the sanctuary of Makkah to perform pilgrimage.
Dr. W. Fitch, Minister, Church of Scotland, Glasgow, remarks in his Commentary to the book of Isaiah in the NBC (p. 604):
The gates will not be shut by day nor night, a symbol of absolute security under the blessing of her God.
But, under any stretch of sense, they cannot be applied to the Second Temple. On the other hand it is exactly true of the sanctuary at Makkah, whose gates remain open day and night and the pilgrims, most of which are gentile, and their kings as well, keep circumambulating around Ka‘bah without any break of even a single minute during day and night with absolute security and under the blessings of their God.
The New Jerusalem Bible (p. 1283) has inserted a footnote on V. 12:
Interrupting the continuity, [v. 12] is very probably additional.
A New Catholic Com. on Holy Scripture (p. 597) has also recorded similar observation on this verse:
In a context of this kind, the threat mentioned in 12 is astonishing, and is probably a gloss inserted later.
A brief account of the word ‘Zion’ has been afforded at the end of ch. XI of this book.
In the words of The New Jerusalem Bible (p. 1283) it may also be, like v. 12, ‘very probably additional’. But even if vv 12 and 14 be not additional, interpolated, and corrupt in entirety and their theme be intact and unpolluted, it is safely applicable to the sanctuary of Makkah and depict the true picture of the conquest of Makkah at the hands of the Prophet of Islam.
Dummelow (p. 450) has recorded a footnote here in his commentary: ‘The figure is that of a forsaken wife (546),’.
The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. (4:315) notes, ‘Like a forsaken wife.’ It clearly relates to Hagar, the mother of Isma‘el.
The Nelson Study Bible asserts in the footnote to v.15 (p.1209):
The new sanctuary will be greater than the old one because it is eternal, rich, and spiritual (verses 17, 18); which is exactly true of the sanctuary of Makkah.
The Soncino Chumash (p.1137) has recorded a footnote here:
Israel’s sovereignty and glory will never again depart (K).
It is nothing more than a wishful expectation, which could never be materialized . On the other hand it is exactly true of the sanctuary of Makkah.
The Soncino Chumash (p. 1137) has recorded a footnote here:
Israel’s national glory will endure for ever, because the restoration will be the work of God (K). It also remained a mere dream, because even after the construction of the Second Temple, the restoration of the glory of Israel, which is mentioned here as ‘the work of God’, was not materialized. They could only enjoy a limited ‘Internal Autonomy’ under the Persian, Greek, Syrian, or Roman empires and, subsequently, the Temple was completely destroyed in AD 70 for good; and the dream of ‘Israel’s national glory will endure for ever’ remained a mere dream, as it was.
Here are some observations which would help the reader to appreciate the real status of the above verses and their implications:
1. Changes have been made in the above passage by the redactors of the Bible, as is evident from the New Jerusalem Bible’s observation on verse 12 and 14 reproduced in the relevant footnotes above. Each and every verse, therefore, should be considered on its own merit.
2. Most of the commentators of the Bible attach these verses to the rebuilding of the Solomon’s Temple that is generally called the ‘Second Temple’ or the ‘Temple of Zerubbabel’.
Dr. W. Fitch in his Com. on Isaiah in the NBC (p. 604) asserts:
Jerusalem is to be rebuilt (…). Then will the city be the centre of the world’s light [unfortunately the city could never become ‘the centre of the world’s light’], for the glory of everlasting God will rest upon her and will radiate around the world [the world never saw this dream come true]. (…) iii. Jerusalem to be built again. (lx. 10-14). (…). When rebuilt the gates will not be shut by day nor night (11), a symbol of absolute security under the blessing of her God [of course, it is quite true that ‘the gates will not be shut by day nor night’ because they do not even physically exist on earth. As such, the question of their being ever shut does not arise, because it is ‘a symbol of absolute security under the blessing of her God.’ How can someone dare to comment on it!], and also implying the warmth of the welcome that will be given to those that seek an entrance therein.
3. Most of the scholars of the Bible hold that according to the above passage this ‘Second Temple’ had to be more magnificent than the ‘First One’. The New Oxford Annotated Bible remarks:
‘The new Jerusalem will surpass Solomon’s city in beauty and tranquillity.’ [Footnote on Isa. 60:17-18 NOAB, p. 950]
The actual position is quite contrary to it. McKenzie’s Dic. of Bible explains:
It [The Second Temple] was no doubt of the same dimensions and structure as the temple of Solomon but much inferior in the richness of its decorations (Ezr 3:12; Hg 2:3). [J.L. McKenzie’s Dic. of Bible, 875]
W. Smith’s Dic. of Bible asserts:
From these dimensions we gather that if the priests and Levites and elders of families were disconsolate [i.e. unhappy, downcast] at seeing how much more sumptuous [i.e. lavish, magnificent, costly] the old temple was than the one which on account of their poverty they had hardly been able to erect, Ezra 3:12, it certainly was not because it was smaller; but it may have been that the carving and the gold and the other ornaments of Solomon’s temple far surpassed this, and the pillars of the portico [i.e. covered walk; row of columns] and the veils may all have been far more splendid; so also probably were the vessels; and all this is what a Jew would mourn over far more than mere architectural splendor. [W. Smith’s Dictionary of Bible, 680]
R. J. McKelvey explains, ‘but even the foundations showed that it [the Second Temple] would be inferior to Solomon’s Temple.’ [New Bible Dictionary 1170]
The 7th Day Adventist Bible Dic. explains that it was of poorer construction as compared to the Solomon’s Temple. [See 7th Day Adventist Bible Dic., 1100]
Prof. Dr George A. Barton asserts:
The dimensions of the building were probably the same as those of Solomon’s Temple, though the edifice was apparently at first lacking in ornament. It was probably because the building was less ornate that the old men who had seen the former Temple wept at the sight of its successor. [The Jewish Encyclopedia 12: 97]
4. If someone undertakes a sincere and objective analytic study to ascertain the implications and purport of the verses, he will reach only one conclusion: these verses plainly and obviously relate only to the sacrifices offered since time immemorial by the pilgrims of the Ka’bah at Makkah. These verses can in no way be attached to the Second (or Zerubbabel’s) Temple because:
(i) It was not more glorious or magnificent than the Solomon’s Temple, even if the glory be considered to be the spiritual glory as some of the scholars take it to be.
(ii) The Gentiles and kings never came to the ‘light’ and ‘the brightness of the rising’ of the Second Temple (v.3). It were only a small number of Jews who visited it after they were allowed to return from their exile, for only the period of 515 BC to AD 70, whereafter the Jewish Second Temple had been destroyed and it does not exist there for almost the last twenty centuries. Even during this period of 515 BC to 70 AD the Temple and the Jews had to suffer great distress for a number of times.
(iii) Neither the abundance of the sea was ever converted unto the Jewish clan; nor the forces of Gentiles ever came or entered to the fold of the Jews or their Second Temple (v. 5). The wealth of the nations was never brought to this Second Temple on the seas.
(iv) There is no tradition that any herds of camels of the Arabian pilgrims (the people of Midian, Ephah, and Sheba, the progenies of Abraham through his wife Keturah) ever visited this Second Temple for pilgrimage ‘proclaiming the praise of the Lord’ (v. 6).
Isa. 60:6f GNB: Great caravans of camels will come, from Midian and Ephah. They will come from Sheba (…)! All the sheep of Kedar and Nebaioth Will be brought to you as sacrifices And offered on the altar to please the Lord.
Isa. 60:6f CEV: Your country will be covered with caravans of young camels from Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and spices in praise of me, the Lord. Every sheep of Kedar will come to you; rams of Nebaioth will be yours as well. I will accept them as offerings and bring honor to my temple.
The contents of the above statement are merely a wishful imagination as far as the Second Temple is concerned. The phenomena of the above verse are only a dream of some credulous redactor of the Bible, which could never turn into a ground reality to console the poor person!
(v) There is no tradition that Abraham’s progenies from Ishma‘el’s sons Kedar and Nebaioth (the people of Arabia) ever gathered around the Second Temple or offered any sacrifices of flocks and rams on the Second Temple, which would be accepted as offerings on God’s altar (v.7).
(vi) It is in no way applicable to the Second Temple that ‘thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.’ (v.11). Not to say of the gates, there is not even a building of the Temple on earth for the last two thousand years.
(vii) It never happened at any time in the history of nations that ‘The sons also of them [the Babylonians] that afflicted thee [the Jews] shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet.’, as the verse 14 claims; whereas the Yemeni forces that were utterly wasted due to their ill-will towards Ka‘bah but their descendants regularly visit the sanctuary with respect and fervour.
(viii) It can in no way be said of the Second Temple or the Jews ‘I will make you an object of eternal pride, (New Jerusalem Bible, 1283 ) and the joy of all generations. (NIV (p. 780))’ (v.15).
(ix) It is also not true about the ‘Second Temple’ that ‘Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.’ (v.18).
(x) It can also not be claimed about the ‘Second Temple’ or the Israelites that ‘Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended’ (v.20); for the ‘Second Temple’ and the Israelites have undergone so many vicissitudes and misfortunes that plainly belie the assertion ‘the Lord shall be thine everlasting light,’
(xi) The conduct and status of the Israelites is quite contrary to the claim made in v. 21 ‘Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever,’. Whereas the actual fact is that instead of being ‘righteous’ they became evildoers, usurers, and wealth-worshippers; and instead of ‘inheriting the land forever’ they had been thrown out of it disgracefully. Now, that they have again been given the control of their land, they have resorted to cruelty, plunder, corruption, and sin, instead of sympathy, God-cautiousness, and virtuousness. It can by no means be attributed as righteousness.
From the analytical study undertaken above it can be concluded that the words of Ch. LX of the book of Isaiah, with all shades of their meanings and implications have nothing to do with the ‘Second Temple’ or the Israelites.
5. The application of chapter LX of the book of Isaiah to the Jews or the ‘Second Temple’ being categorically ruled out, a probe into its exact significance is to be made. If someone undertakes a sincere and objective study to ascertain the implications and purport of the verses, he will reach only one conclusion: these verses plainly and obviously relate only to the sacrifices offered since time immemorial by the pilgrims of the Ka’bah at Makkah to commemorate the offering of Abraham his only son Ishma‘el. Here are some observations based on the analytic study of the verses that will be useful in appreciating their real status, purport, and significance. (a) Verse 3 asserts, ‘And the Gentiles [according to NIV and many other translations: ‘Nations’] shall come to thy light, and kings (It may be noted here that According to Matth. Henry’s An Exposition of the O & NT, 5:351, ‘kings’ means: ‘men of figure, power, and influence’). to the brightness of thy rising.’ It is to be noted that as long as the Temple belonged to the Jews, the Gentiles were not permitted to enter the main Temple, and if some Gentile dared to enter the sanctuary, he was to be sentenced to death. No doubt there existed a ‘Court of the Gentiles’ with the Temple, but it lay outside the sanctuary. ‘The court of the Gentiles was accessible to anyone. It was separated from the temple and the other courts by a balustrade (row of short pillars surmounted by rail) with inscriptions prohibiting Gentiles from entering the interior courts under pain of death.’ (Mckenzie’s Dictionary of Bible, 875)
When the Jews got ejected from the temple for good, its building was also destroyed and there does not exist any temple on this planet for the last twenty centuries. If the Government of Israel gets the temple reconstructed, for which it is trying hard, and there are reasons to believe that it may succeed in it, its main sanctuary would again become prohibited for the Gentiles. It is only the sanctuary of Makkah, where Muslims of all nations from all over the world have been coming regularly since time immemorial.
(b) The contents of v.4, ‘Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. [GNB has well translated it as, ‘Your daughters will be carried like children’]’ had never been applicable to the ‘Second Temple’. But as far as the Ka’bah is concerned, they are fully applicable to it in every sense of the words. It would be interesting to note that the Qur’an has described the phenomenon of the Pilgrimage and the sacrifices to be offered there as:
And when We settled for Abraham the place of the House [the Ka’bah]: ‘Thou shall not associate with Me anything. And do thou purify My House for those that shall go about it and those that stand, for those that bow and prostrate themselves; and proclaim among men the Pilgrimage, and they shall come unto thee on foot and upon every lean beast, they shall come from every deep ravine that they may witness things profitable to them and mention God’s Name on days well-known over such beasts of the flocks as He has provided them: So eat thereof, and feed the wretched poor. Let them then finish with their self-neglect and let them fulfil their vows, and go about [circumambulate] the Ancient House.’ [A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, p. 336, (22:26-29)].
(…). ‘Such (is the Pilgrimage): Whoever honours the sacred Rites of God, for him it is good in the sight of his Lord’ [A Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, p. 858, (22:32)]
(c) It can by no means be said of the ‘Second Temple’ as the v. 5 claims, ‘the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.’ It is true only of the Ka’bah at Makkah, that although it is situated in a barren land, yet it is abundantly provided with every sort of the provisions of the world. Again it is Makkah that the faithful Muslim Gentiles (men and women) from all over the world assemble there together with all their utilities through sea routes, land routes, and by air. It has been recorded in verse 8: ‘Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?’ The landings of the aeroplanes carrying the millions of pilgrims for the sanctuary of Makkah depict the exact picture of the verse. No planes coming to any sanctuary on earth present this phenomenon.
(d) Who can claim about the Second Temple as has been asserted in v.6, ‘The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries [young camels] of Midian and Ephah; All they from Sheba shall come: They shall bring gold and incense; and they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord. [The Nelson’s Study Bible, 1208]’ It never happened at any stage of the history of the world that such great multitudes of the Arabian people might have visited the sanctuary of Jerusalem in the form of the camel caravans. As regards the sanctuary of Makkah and the sacrifices being offered there, it is true to the letter. It will also be appreciated that the pilgrims utter the ‘Talbiyah’ (a part of which is ‘All praise belongs to you, O God.’) loudly as the Bible has noted ‘they shall proclaim or shew forth [i.e. declare loudly or openly] the praises of the Lord.’
(e) No man on earth can endorse to the claim of v.7 regarding the ‘Second Temple’ that: ‘All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory.’ Kedar and Nebaioth are the sons of Ishma‘el and their descendants have been living in Arabia for thousands of years. There had been no tradition amongst them to visit Jerusalem and to offer sacrifices there. On the other hand every informed citizen of the modern world knows that they have been coming to the sanctuary at Makkah for Pilgrimage since time immemorial. Isn’t it a sufficient proof of the fact that the above verses of chapter LX of the book of Isaiah exclusively refer to the offering of sacrifices at the sanctuary of Makkah by the descendants of Abraham’s son Ishma‘el. It is further to be considered how God can glorify the house that does not even exist on earth. It is only the house of God’s glory at Makkah that has been safely existing since time immemorial which can be glorified and is physically glorified in every sense of the word. Page H. Kelley has explained this verse as, ‘The tribes of Arabia also bring sacrificial offerings of flocks and rams.’ [Page H. Kelley in the Broadman Bible Commentary., ed. Clifton J. Allen etc., (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1971), 5:360] And the fact is that the tribes of Arabia never took their sacrifices to Jerusalem. The tradition amongst them has prevailed to bring sacrificial offerings to Makkah, which is an important ritual during their Pilgrimage.
(f) It has been claimed in v. 9 that, ‘Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far.’ Tarshish was situated on the south coast of Spain, as explained above. As long as the Jerusalem Temple existed, there was no question of any Spaniards coming to it for offering any sacrifices. On the other hand, Spain had been conquered by the Arabs in the first century of Hijrah and they had settled there. These sons of Abraham through his son Ishma‘el, as the Arabs are, regularly visited the sanctuary of Makkah to perform Umrah (small Pilgrimage, which is performed the whole year through) and Pilgrimage and offered their sacrifices there to commemorate Abraham’s offering their forefather Ishma‘el for sacrifice.
(g) As regards v.11, ‘thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night’, this writer has himself visited the sanctuary at Makkah. It has been noted that it remains open around the clock. It has been a perpetually celebrated tradition through the ages. As regards the ‘Second Temple’, when there does not exist any building thereof, how the gates can remain open day or night.
(h) Verse 14 asserts, ‘The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.’ It is true of the sanctuary of Makkah verbatim et literatim. It physically happened in January, 630 at the time of the Conquest of Makkah by the Prophet of Islam. As regards the phrase ‘The Zion of the Holy One of Israel’, it does not fit in the context. It is obviously an interpolation by some redactor or a gloss by some commentator. ‘The city of the Lord’ is the exact translation of ‘Baytullah’ which is the Arabic name of ‘Ka’bah’
(i) The opening clause of v. 15, ‘Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated,’ plainly refers to Hagar. In the relevant footnote above, it has been noted with reference to Dummelow and the 7th Day Adventist Bible Commentary that ‘The figure is that of a forsaken wife.’ As regards the last sentence of the verse, ‘I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many [in fact this word should have been ‘all’ as has been translated by NIV, etc.] generations’ the words ‘eternal excellency’ and ‘a joy of all generations’ can in no way be applied to the temple of Jerusalem. It is only the sanctuary of Makkah that the words can be attributed to in true sense.
(j) Verse 18 reads as, ‘Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.’ Not to say of Jerusalem’s Temple being secured from ‘violence, wasting, and destruction’ it does not even exist on earth for the last two thousand years. The contents of this verse can in no way be applied to the Temple of Jerusalem. On the other hand it is applicable to the sanctuary of Makkah in true sense of the words.
(k) V.21 says, ‘Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever.’ Who can claim the Jewish people to have inherited the land of Jerusalem forever? On the other hand every knowledgeable person knows that the Arabs have been holding the land of the sanctuary of Makkah since time immemorial. As to the last clause of the verse, ‘that I may be glorified’, anybody who has happened to perform a Pilgrimage or Umrah at the sanctuary of Ka’bah, would verify the statement.
THE PILGRIMAGE OF BAKKAH IN THE PSALMS OF DAVID
King David has mentioned the Pilgrimage of Bakkah in his 84th Psalm. He wishes that he could also have the opportunity of accompanying the pilgrims. He envies at the birds who make nests and reside there in the house of the Lord, whereas he cannot even pay a visit to it. He longs for the Lord and the courts of His house and exclaims, ‘A day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.’ What an ardent desire! An objective study of the Psalm has been undertaken in this chapter.
As to the authorship of this song, it can safely be considered as a genuine work of King David himself. Some of the authorities are given here.
Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:324) explains in its introduction:
Though David’s name be not in the title of this song, yet we have reasons to think he was the penman of it, because it breathes so much of his excellent spirit and is so much like the sixty-third psalm which was penned by him; (…), witness this psalm, which contains the pious breathing of a gracious soul after God and communion with him.
7th Day Adventist Bible Commentary (3:827) writes in its introduction to this psalm:
Psalm 84 was composed by David, the Lord’s ‘anointed’ (…). It is a passionate lyrical expression of devotion and love for the house of Jehovah and His worship. The psalm seems to describe the blessedness of those who dwell in the sacred precincts (vs. 1-4, 911); the blessedness of those who make pilgrimages to the sanctuary (vs. 5-8).
Peake’s Com. on the Bible (p. 431) observes:
The period of its composition is clearly that of the monarchy. It shows that the commentators take it to be written by David himself.
Most of the points have been explained at the spot in the footnotes. The Psalm is reproduced hereunder:
1. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! 2. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. 3. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and a swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king, and my God. 4. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah. 5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. 6. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. 7. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. 8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah. 9. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. 10. For a day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. 12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
1. How amiable are thy tabernacles(a), O Lord of hosts! (b)
(a) The actual Hebrew word used here is ‘mishkawn’ which is the exact synonym for the Arabic word ‘maskan’, i.e, residence. According to the Strong’s Dictionary (Entry 4908, p. 74), it means: ‘a residence; dwelling (place), habitation.’ So ‘thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts’ would literally mean: ‘Your house O Lord of nations.’ It would be ‘Baytullah’ in Arabic, which is al-Ka’bah of Makkah. Keeping in view the fact that the Solomon’s Temple had not so far been built, it becomes certain that it refers to only Ka’bah of Makkah, as there did not exist any ‘House of Lord’ on earth except it by that time.
(b) ‘Lord of hosts’ may imply here that He is not the Lord of Israel only; but He is the Lord of all the nations.
2. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord(c): my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
(c) Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:611 explains:
David says not, Oh how I long for my palace, my crown, my sceptre, my kingdom; but oh how I long to return to the house of God! [the word ‘return’ shows that King David had previously been to this place.] It may, however, be noted that the construction of Solomon’s Temple had not yet begun. By the time of King David, there existed only one ‘House of God’, which had been built at Bakkah (the name of Makkah at that time), by his forefathers, Abraham and Ishma‘el.
3. Yea(d), the sparrow hath found an house, and a swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young(e), Even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king, and my God(f).
(d) NOAB (p. 747) has afforded a very beautiful footnote on vv. 3-4, ‘Envy of the birds and servitors [a male servant] who live there.’ The comments by the Collegeville Bible Com. (p. 772) on these vv 3-4 are also noteworthy, ‘All living things are safe from threat in the presence of the Lord.’
(e) Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:24, 25) observes at this point:
He would rather live in a bird’s nest nigh God’s altars than in a palace at a distance from them. It is better to be serving God in solitude than serving sin with a multitude. (…). Observe, David envies the happiness not of those birds that flew over the altars, and had only transient view of God’s courts, but of those that had nests for themselves there. David will not think it enough to sojourn in God’s house as a way-faring man that turns aside to tarry for a night; but let this be his rest, his home; here he will dwell.
4. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still(g) praising thee.(h) Selah.(i)
(g) According to Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:611, ‘still’ here means, ‘all the day long’.
(h) NIV, (p.621) translates it as: ‘they are ever praising you’, instead of: ‘they will be still praising thee.’
(i) A New Catholic Com. on Hebrew Scripture (p.473) renders this v. as, ‘Blessed [be] those who dwell in thy house, still they praise thee.’ It further observes, ‘Yet the idea of “They are pilgrims at heart” is consistent with the theme of the psalm.’
5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee;(j) in whose heart are the ways of them. (k)
(j) NIV, (p.621) has well translated it as: ‘who have set their hearts on pilgrimage’, instead of: ‘in whose heart are the ways of them.’
(k) The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. (3:828) explains the verse:
The second blessing is bestowed on those who hold God in their hearts as they make the pilgrimage.
It may be noted at this point that some of the translations have arbitrarily inserted the word ‘Zion’ here; e.g. NOAB (p.849) and Praise Songs of Israel: a Rendering of the Book of Psalms (John DeWitt), as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations, ed. Curtis Vaughan (Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1973), p. 334, write: ‘in whose heart are the highways to Zion.’ NOAB has also recorded a footnote to it saying, ‘Heb. lacks to Zion’ (p. 849). But this word ‘Zion’ does not exist in most of the English translations. The original Hebrew also lacks it as quoted above with refence to NOAB. On the contrary most of the translations use here the word of ‘pilgrimage’ or ‘pilgrim’.
The Holy Bible Containing O & N T: An Improved Edition (American Baptist Publication Society), as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations), p. 334, translates it as, ‘In their heart the pilgrim-way.’ A New Translation of the Bible by James Moffatt (as recorded in OT books of poertry from 26 translations, p. 334) translates it as, ‘Set out on pilgrimage.’
New English Bible translates (p.441) it as, ‘Whose hearts are set on the pilgrim-ways’
NIV translates it as, ‘Who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.’
CEV (p. 707) translates it as:
You bless all who depend on you for their strength and all who deeply desire to visit your temple.
And the Temple of the Lord, by that time, was only the Ka‘bah at Makkah.
6. Who passing through the valley of Baca(l) make it a well(m); the rain also filleth the pools.(n)
It clearly shows that the theme of the Psalm 84 is the ‘Pilgrimage’.
(l) Matthew Henry’s An Exposition of the O&NT, (4:326) here observes:
Our way to heaven lies through a valley of Baca, but even that may be made a well if we make due improvement of the comforts God has provided for the pilgrims of the heavenly city.
(m) Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:612 explains:
To such a one, whose soul is athirst for God, the valley of Baca becomes a well, while the hot rock pours out its streams of blessing.
(n) The Peshitta, (p.628):
They have passed through the valley of weeping [the word ‘weeping’ shows that the actual word here was ‘Baca’, because its meaning, if not taken as a proper noun, is ‘weeping’], and have made it a dwelling place; the Lawgiver shall cover it with blessings.
7. They go from strength(o) to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
9. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
10. For a day in thine courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.(p)
11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield(q): the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee. [Ps. 84: 1-12]
(o) The actual Hebrew word used here in the Bible is ‘khahyil’. According to Strong’s Dictionary, (Entry 2428, p. 39), it means, ‘an army, strength, band of men, company.’
(p) Gray & Adams Bible Com., 2:612 explains:
The poet would rather be the humblest of the guests of Jehovah than dwell at ease among the heathen.
It depicts the honour and esteem which the poet attaches to the ‘House of God’.
(q) The Peshitta (p. 628) presents it as:
For the Lord God is our supply and our helper;
It would be advisable that a verse to verse study be undertaken to ascertain the theme of the Psalm.
Verse 1, as translated by NIV (p. 621) and NOAB (p. 747) asserts, ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! (NOAB: O Lord of hosts!)’ It means that the Psalm relates to some dwelling place of the Lord Almighty, which physically existed at that time. The Arabic version of the ‘dwelling place of the Lord Almighty’ is ‘Bayt Allah’, which means the ‘House of the Lord’. It had been built by his primogenitor Abraham and physically existed there in Makkah with the same name as a ground reality. It was, however, also called ‘The Ka’bah’ by the Arabs. On the other hand, there existed no ‘dwelling place’ of the ‘Lord Almighty’ or ‘Bayt Allah’ anywhere else on earth at that time. The ‘Solomon’s Temple’ did not exist at that time. It was built almost half a century later. Its construction could not even be started during the lifetime of King David. So there obviously remains no option but to consider this ‘dwelling place’ of the ‘Lord Almighty’ as the ‘Bayt Allah’ or ‘The Ka’bah’ situated at Makkah. And there are other reasonable grounds as well in the body of this very Psalm which make the proposition quite certain.
Verse 2 shows the passionate earnestness of the king for the courts of the Lord, the Living God. It reveals that the ‘courts of the Living Lord’ already existed somewhere, but are not situated within his empire, and, as such, he cannot visit them. Therefore he can only long for ‘the courts of the Lord’.
As regards verses 3-4, the comments recorded in the relevant footnotes above sufficiently make the theme clear. NOAB (p. 747) has afforded a very beautiful footnote on vv. 3-4, ‘Envy of the birds and servitors (Servitor means: A man servant) who live there.’ The comments by the Collegeville Bible Com. (p. 772) on these verses 3-4 are also noteworthy, ‘All living things are safe from threat in the presence of the Lord.’ The 7th Day Adventist Bible Commentary (3:828) explains these verses in the following words:
The general meaning of the verse, whose conclusion the poet only implies, is that even the birds have free access to the sacred precincts of the sanctuary, they make their homes there undisturbed, while the psalmist is exiled from the source of his joy, is denied the privilege of worshipping within the sacred enclosure [stress added]. The nostalgic appeal of this verse is one of the most delicately beautiful expressions of homesickness in the whole realm of literature.
Verses 1-4 can be summed up as follows:
1. King David is paying homage to such a sanctuary which pertained to God and which physically existed there as a ground reality.
2. King David had an earnest desire to visit this sanctuary, but he could not accomplish it. Obviously, it could have been due to the fact that this sanctuary might have been outside the territorial boundaries of his state.
3. Solomon’s Temple had not so far been built. There existed only one sanctuary on earth devoted to the worship of the only one God whose construction was attributed to Abraham, i.e. the Ka’bah at Makkah, and there did not exist any such other sanctuary on eart by that time.
4. King David expresses his yearnings that even the birds can set their dwellings in the courts of the Lord, but he is deprived of the privilege of the pilgrimage of this house of the Lord.
The translation of the second clause of verse 5 in the KJV (‘in whose heart are the ways of them’) is not clear. Most of the other translations have rendered the theme as who have set their hearts on pilgrimage or the like. Here is a list of some translations, versions, and commentaries of the Bible which relate the theme of the verse and the Psalm with pilgrimage:
(i) Bible Knowledge Commentary p. 855.
(ii) Christian Community Bible, p. 1000.
(iii) Collegeville Bible Commentary, p.772.
(iv) Contemporary English Version, p. 707.
(v) Good News Bible, p. 900.
(vi) Jerome Bible Com., p. 591.
(vii) New American Bible, p. 615.
(viii) New Bible Commentary p. 472.
(ix) New Bible Commentary (Rvd), p. 504.
(x) New Catholic Commentary, p. 473.
(xi) New Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 264.
(xii) New English Version, p. 441.
(xiii) New International Version., p. 621.
(xiv) New Jerome Commentary, p.540.
(xv) New Jerusalem Bible, p.900.
(xvi) New KJV (Nelson Study Bible), p. 966.
(xvii) Peake’s Bible Commentary p. 431.
(xviii) Today’s English Version, p. 607.
(xix) Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 526.
(xx) 7th Day Adventist Bible Commentary, p. 828.
(xxi) The Holy Bible (Old and New. Testament): An Improved edn. (American Baptist Publication Society), as quoted by ‘The Old Testament Books of Poetry from 26 Translations’, p. 334.
(xxii) A New Translation of the Bible (James Moffatt), as quoted by ‘The OT Books of Poetry from 26 Trans.’, p. 334.
It can be appreciated from the above data that the Psalm refers to some pilgrimage which has traditionally been performed at some sanctuary for a long time. First of all King David is bestowing the blessings in this psalm upon those ‘that dwell permanently in the house of the Lord and are ever praising Him.’ Secondly he is bestowing the blessings upon those ‘who have set their hearts on pilgrimage [but are not the permanent residents of it].’ It shows that the sanctuary physically exists there. It is practically dedicated to the Lord and not to any thing else whatsoever. People travel to it to perform ‘Pilgrimage’.
It is to be noted that the sanctuary of Jerusalem, the Solomon’s Temple, did not exist there by that time. It was built about half a century later. The sanctuary of Ka’bah, called the ‘Bayt Allah’ or the ‘House of the Lord’ by the Arabs, existed there at Makkah in Arabia as a ground reality for the last about one thousand years (before King David). The descendants of his primogenitor Abraham through his son Ishma‘el and the tribes of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula travelled to perform pilgrimage there in large multitudes. They pronounced (which they still pronounce) the praise of the Lord during their pilgrimage saying,
I am present, O my Lord, I am present; (…); of course, all praise is for you, and all grace, and all sovereignty; there is no partner to you.
David should have had deep love, longing, and reverence for it, because it had been built by his primogenitor, Abraham. But it was outside his empire and, being a king of another land and engaged in constant battles, he could not visit it then. So he wishes he could have attended the sanctuary and performed pilgrimage there with offering sacrifice on it. There was another genuine reason for David’s longing for the Pilgrimage of Bakkah, which is being stated under the next heading.
From the perusal of the material of the chapter provided so far, it would easily be appreciated that:
i) Some ‘House of the Lord of nations’ already existed during the days of King David.
ii) It was a sanctuary and was abundantly visited by pilgrims from far and near.
iii) King David had happened to stay there for a considerable period of time.
iv) It was situated in the valley of Bakkah.
v) After going back to his motherland he could not have an opportunity to visit this sanctuary due to some reasons.
vi) He expressed his earnest desire to visit this sanctuary.
vii) He envies the birds which uninterruptedly make their nests in this sanctuary and reside there.
viii) He is so fond of this ‘house of the Lord’ that he would prefer to be a doorkeeper there than to live in his own homeland, whom he calls the land of wickedness as compared to the sanctuary.
ix) According to him ‘a day in the court of Lord’ is better than a thousand (else-where).
x) The Jewish sanctuary (i.e. the Solomon’s Temple) did not exist at that time. It was built by his son Solomon after his death. By that time there existed only the sanctuary of Ka‘bah at Makkah, which was built by his primogenitor Abraham, and Ishma‘el about ten centuries earlier and hundreds of thousands of people visited it all the year through.
BAKKAH HAD PROVIDED REFUGE TO DAVID DURING HIS DAYS OF TROUBLE
David had rendered great services to King Saul but, accoreding to the Bible, Saul, seeing David’s popularity and power, became jealous of him and wanted to kill him. Smith’s BD explains:
Unfortunately David’s fame proved the foundation of that unhappy jealousy of Saul towards him which, mingling with the king’s constitutional malady [illness], poisoned his whole future relations to David. (…). He [David] also still performed from time to time the office of minstrel [singer or musician of the king’s court]; but the successive attempts of Saul upon his life convinced him that he was in constant danger. (…), he escaped by night, (…). David’s life for the next few years was made up of a succession of startling incidents. (…); he is hunted by Saul from place to place like a partridge. [Smith’s Bible Dic., 138]
In the mean time David’s patron, Prophet Samuel died. David fled to the wilderness of Paran to remain out of Saul’s reach.
Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the Wilderness of Paran. [I Sam, 25:1 NKJV]
This Paran can obviously be the place where Ishma‘el and Hagar settled after Abraham had left them there. Had it been the other Paran (of Sinai), it would have been in approach of Saul; and David would not have been safe there. It can thus only be that Paran which has been described in the Bible in the following words:
And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God Called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. [Genesis 21:17-21]
Had it been the other Paran (of Sinai), it would have been quite in approach of Saul, and David would not have been safe there.
It is a historically admitted fact and ground reality that the Ka’bah was built by Abraham and Ishma‘el. The Ishma‘elite Arabs performed pilgrimage there. David had the opportunity to live there and perform the pilgrimage of al-Ka’bah during his stay at Bakkah in the wilderness of Paran. That’s why he yearns to have the opportunity to visit the place of his refuge and perform its pilgrimage once again.
THE EXACT PROPER NAME BACA/BAKKAH
Verse 6 ‘Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.’ points out the exact proper name of the place from which the pilgrims have to pass through for the accomplishment of their pilgrimage at ‘Arafat. It is to be noted that some of the translations have changed the word ‘Baca’ with some other word. The New Jerusalem Bible (p. 900, 901) has translated it as ‘Balsam’ and has remarked in the footnote, ‘In seven MSS and in versions, ‘the valley of Tears’ (the Hebrew words for these two words are identical when spoken).’ Some other translations have not taken the word ‘Baca’ as a proper noun and have translated it to ‘misery’, ‘Weary-glen’, ‘thirsty valley’, etc. All the 26 translations of Dr. Curtis Vaughan’s ‘The OT Books of Poetry from 26 Translations’ have basically considered the original Hebrew word as ‘Baca’. The 7th Day Adventist Bible Com. reports:
The LXX and the Vulgate translate the phrase ‘valley of Baca’ as ‘valley of Tears.’
It means that according to these Greek and Latin translations of the Bible as well, the original Hebrew word here is ‘Baca’. Here is a list of some more translations, versions, and commentaries of the Bible that have used the word ‘Baca’ at this place:
1. Bible Knowledge Commentary, p.855.
2. Dummelow’s Bible Commentary, p.363. 3. GNB, p. 585.
4. Gray & Adams Bible Commentary, 1:612.
5. Matthew Henry’s Exposition, 4:324.
6. NAB, p. 615.
7. NASB, p. 747.
8. NBC, p. 472.
9. NBC (Rvd), p. 504.
10. New Catholic Com., p.473, (Baka).
11. New Com. on Holy Scripture, p.364.
12. NIV, p. 621.
13. NKJV (Nelson Study Bible), p. 966.
14. New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 747.
15. Paragraph Bible, p. 621.
16. Peake’s Bible Com., p. 431.
17. Readers Digest Bible, p.306. 18. RSV, p. 539.
19. TEV, p. 607.
20. Thompson’s Bible, p. 666.
21. 7th Day Adventist Bible Com., 3:827.
THE SITE OF BAKKAH IS UNKNOWN TO THE SCHOLARS OF THE BIBLE
The fact is that most of the scholars of the Bible do not know the location of Bakkah/Baca and they clearly admit this fact. Some observations of some of these authorities are reproduced hereunder:
1. Contemporary English Version (p. 707) has recorded a footnote to it:
Dry Valley: Or ‘Balsam Tree Valley.’ The exact location is not known.
2. The New American Bible (p. 615) says in its footnote to the verse: Baca valley:
Hebrew obscure; probably a valley on the way to Jerusalem.
3. The Jerome Biblical Com. (p.591), taking versus 7-8 collectively, has afforded the footnote:
A description of the pilgrim’s journey. The MT is uncertain.
4. 7th Day Adventist Bible Dictionary has afforded a fairly detailed explanation of the word. Concluding his remarks he could not help asserting its uncertainty:
Baca (baka). [Heb. Baka, possibly ‘balsam tree.’] The name of a valley in Palestine (Psalm 84:6), possibly so named because balsam trees grew there. Some have thought that it is another name for the Valley of Rephaim, where trees of that species were found, but this is pure conjecture. There were doubtless many valleys in which balsam trees grew. Another interpretation names it the valley of ‘weeping’ from the Hebrew bakah, ‘to weep,’ a word that differs only slightly from baka. However, neither interpretation helps to identify this place. [7th Day Adventist Bible Dic. Revised 1979 edn., 114]
5. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (p. 747) in the footnote to verses 5-7 indicates:
Baca, some unknown, desolate place through which the pilgrims must go.
6. The Harper’s Bible Dictionary also holds the similar opinion:
Baca [bay’kuh], unidentified valley associated with weeping or balsam [Ps. 84:6]. The term is derived from the verb ‘to drip,’ hence its association with weeping. [Harper’s Bible Dictionary: 89]
7. W. Smith’s A Dictionary of Bible although calls it ‘a valley in Palestine’, yet the air of uncertainty can be smelt from its following remarks:
That it was a real locality is most probable from the use of the definite article before the name. [William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, 73]
8. Collins Gem Dictionary of Bible has also expressed the similar views about it:
It may simply be a valley in Palestine (Ps. 84,6). It may simply be the Valley of the balsam trees, or it may be the Valley of Weeping (Heb. Bakah) or the Valley of little water. [Rev. James L. Dow, Collins Gem Dic. of the Bible, 54]
9. J. Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible Revised One Vol. edn. throws a shadow of doubt on it:
An allegorical place-name, found only in Ps. 846 (AV, RSV), where RV renders ‘Valley of Weeping.’ Most probably it is no more an actual locality than is the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ in Ps 234. [J. Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible Revised One Vol. edn., 84]
10. A.S. Aglen, in his article on ‘Baca’ in Hasting’s Dictionary of Bible, discovers nothing but uncertainties about the valley:
If an actual valley (the article is not quite conclusive), it may be identified either with ‘the valley of Achor, i.e. trouble’; ‘the valley of Rephaim’; a Sinaitic valley with a similar name (Burckhardt); or the last station of the caravan route from the north to Jerusalem.
Perseverance and trust not only overcome difficulties, but turn them into blessings; this is the lesson, whether the valley be real or only (as the Vulg. Vallis lacrymarum has become) an emblem of life. [J. Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible, 1:230]
11. W. H. Morton is also of almost the similar views. In his article on ‘Baca’ in Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible he observes:
No valley of such a name has yet been identified, (….). In the same vein, it is quite possible that the valley was entirely symbolic. [Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible, 1:338]
12. Dr. Frants Buhl (Copenhagen Univ.) and Dr. Morris Jastrow (Univ. of Pennsylvania), have noted:
(…); but it signifies rather any valley lacking water. [Jewish Encyclopaedia, 2:415]
13. A New Commentary on Holy Scripture is also not certain as to where this valley of Baca is to be found:
Baca was the name of some valley [Note the air of uncertainty regarding the location of the valley!] on the way to the city. [A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, 364]
14. Peake’s Com. On Bible observes:
The valley of Baca; this rendering is better than ‘valley of weeping’ (LXX, RV). The location of the valley is unknown. Baca may mean ‘balsam tree’, which grows in dry soil. The point at all events seems to be that the valley is arid. [Peake’s Com. on Bible, 431]
The above information makes it quite clear that the scholars of the Bible cannot confidently claim to locate the exact site of the ‘Valley of Baca’. It is because they relate it to the pilgrimage of the sanctuary at Jerusalem and don’t try to trace it somewhere else. It is to be regretted that they either forget or knowingly ignore that:
(a) This Psalm was written by King David.
(b) There did not exist any sanctuary during the lifetime of King David.
(c) The language and the composition of the Psalm reveal that King David is mentioning some sanctuary which physically existed there.
(d) King David passionately desired to visit the sanctuary but it being outside his empire, he was unable to attend it.
Had they not ignored the plain words and the purport of the Psalm, and had they sincerely tried to locate the place, they would have easily located it.
THE ACTUAL SITE OF BACA/BAKKAH
It is unanimously accepted that the original word in the Hebrew Bible is ‘Baca’. The context clearly indicates that it has been used as a proper noun and most of the versions and translations of the Bible have retained this status. Some of the translations and versions have misconceived its status and have taken it to be a common word. Then they tried to translate it whimsically as: weeping, tears, balsam tree, mulberry, some of the other trees, dry valley, etc. It does not seem to be a proper approach and is based on some misunderstanding.
The Hebrew word ‘Baca’ is composed of three alphabetical letters = (bka). According to the Strong’s Dictionary of the Heb. Bible it means:
‘weeping’ (Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, p. 21, entry 1056) or ‘the weeping tree (some gum-distilling tree, perhaps the balsam,):— mulberry tree.’ [Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, p. 21, entry 1057].
‘Bakah’ is also composed of three alphabetical letters = (bkh), meaning ‘to weep; gen. to bemoan, to bewail, complain, mourn, with tears, weep’. [Strong’s Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, p. 21, entry 1058]
The vowel symbols had not been introduced in the Hebrew writing system until the seventh/eighth century AD. It was only after their introduction in the Qur’an in the 7th century AD that some proper vocalization system for the Bible was developed somewhere in the beginning of the seventh century. Before the introduction of the vocalization system in Hebrew writing, the words ‘Baca’ and ‘Bacca’; or the words ‘Bakah’ and ‘Bakkah’ were to be written in the same way. King David had actually and naturally used the word ‘Bakkah’ in his Psalm. Because the words ‘Bakah’ and ‘Bakkah’ were written in the Hebrew script in the same way, it got the pronunciation of ‘Baca’ or ‘Bakah’ instead of the correct pronunciation of ‘Bakkah’ in the later Jewish ages. This ‘Bakkah’ was the ancient name of ‘Makkah’ and was given to it by Abraham. Originally the city was called by this name. Here are some of the Arab authorities to elaborate it:
‘Lisan al-‘Arab’ (the language of the ‘Arabs), a renowned Arabic Dictionary in 18 volumes, explains:
Ya’qub says, ‘Bakkah is what is situated in between the two mountains of Makkah, because the people crushed one another during the circumambulation or overcrowded there. (…). It is said that Bakkah is the name of the interior of Makkah and it was given this name due to the crowding and swarming of the people. The tradition of Mujahid states, ‘Bakkah is among the names of Makkah.’ And it is said, ‘Bakkah is the site of the House of the Lord, and Makkah is the whole of the city.’ It is also said, ‘Both [Makkah and Bakkah] are the names of the city; and [the alphabetical letters] “B” and “M” succeed (can replace) one another.’ [Ibn al-Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1300 AH), 10: 402]
Tahdhib al-Lughah (in 16 volumes) is one of the most reliable dictionaries of the ‘Arabic language. It explains the word as follows:
Al-Layth says: al-bakk means breaking the neck. It is said that Makkah was named Bakkah because it broke the necks of oppressors when they deviated from the right course. And it is said that Bakkah was named Bakkah because the people crushed or pushed away one another in the paths. ‘Amr reports from his father: Bakka something, i.e. tore or disjointed it; and from it was derived Bakkah, because it broke the necks of the oppressors and tyrants when they transgressed in it. It is also said that it was named Bakkah because people crushed one another in its routes. (…).
Zajjaj says: It is said that Bakkah is the site of the sanctuary, and what is all around it, is Makkah. He [Zajjaj] said: and there is consensus on it that Makkah and Bakkah are the place where the people resort for pilgrimage; and it is the city. And he [Zajjaj] said: And as far as its derivation in the lexicon is concerned it would be appropriate to say that ‘the people crushed one another in the circumambulation, i.e. pushed away one another.’ And it is said: Bakkah was given this name, because it crushed the necks of the tyrants. [Abu Mansur Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Azhari, Tahdhib al-Lughah (al-Qahirah: Al-Dar al-Misriyah littalif wattarjamah, n.d.), 9:463,64]
‘Mu‘jam al-Wasit’ says, ‘Bakkah = Makkah’. [Mu‘jam al-Wasit (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1972), 1:67 ]
Al-Sihah explains: ‘Bakkah’ is the name of the inner portion of ‘Makkah’. It was thus named because of the overcrowding of the people [in it]. It is also said that it was thus named because it crushed and broke the necks of the oppressors. [ Ismail bin Hammad al-Jawhari, Taj al-Lughat wa Sihah al‘Arabiyyah (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm lil Malayin, 1984), 4:1576]
Tartib al-Qamus al-Muhit has also explained ‘Bakkah’ in a fair detail: ‘Bakkah’ stands either for ‘Makkah’; or for what lies between its two mountains; or for the field of circumambulation [Mataf], because it crushes and breaks the necks of the arrogant or because of the overcrowding of the people in it. [Al-Ustadh al-Tahir Ahmad al-zavi, Tartib al-Qamus al-Muhit ‘ala Tariqah al-Misbah al-Munir, 1979, 1:308]
Muhit al-Muhit is also one of the authorities of the ‘Arabic lexicons. It is a revised and advanced version of Firuzabadi’s renowned ‘Qamus’. It has also recorded similar explanation of the word:
It is the name of what lies between the two mountains of Makkah or of the circumambulation field [Mataf]. It is said that it was so named because it crushes and breaks the necks of the arrogant or because of the overcrowding of the people in it. [Al-Mu‘allim Butrus al-Bustani, Muhit al-Muhit (Beirut: Maktabah Lubnan Nashirun, 1993), 50]
Mu‘jam Maqayis al-Lughah is an authority as regards the basic roots of the Arabic words. It explains the word as follows:
‘Al-Khalil’ says ‘Al-Bakku: crushing the neck’, and it is said that ‘Bakkah’ was named so because it used to crush the necks of the oppressors. When they inclined towards oppression, they were erased from the scene. It is also said that it was named ‘Bakkah’ because the people crush one another during the circiumambulation or pushed them away. [Ahmad bin Faris, Mu‘jam Maqayis al-Lughah (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-turath al-‘Arab, 2001), 92]
Al-Khall bin Ahmad (100-175 A.H.) is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, authorities on Arabic lexicon. The first Arabic lexicon, Kitāb al-‘Ayn, was compiled by him. He explains:
Al-Bakku: to crush the neck. Makkah was named Bakkah because people crush one another in the Tawaf (circumambulation of Ka‘bah), or push one another due to overcrowding. It is also said that it was so named because it crushed the necks of tyrants when they deviated (from the right path) in it by way of oppression. [Al-Khall bin Ahmad, Kitāb al-‘Ayn, (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-turath al‘Arabi, 2001), 84]
‘Akhbar Makkah’ is a detailed history of ‘Makkah’ in six volumes in the Arabic language. Here are some excerpts from its section on ‘Names of Makkah’:
One of the residents of Makkah (…) gave me a book written by some of his forefathers. In it were stated the names of Makkah which the residents of Makkah claimed to be, i.e. Makkah, Bakkah, Barrah, Bassasah, Umm al-Qura, al-Haram, al-Masjid al-Haram, and al-Balad al-Amin. Some people say that ‘Salahi’ is also among its names. Some of the Makkans claim that ‘Kutha’ is also one of its names. [Al-Imam Abi ‘Abd Allah Muhammad bin Ishaq al-Fakihi, Akhbar Makkah fi Qadim al-Dahr wa Hadithihi (Makkah: Maktabah al-Nahdat al-Hadithah, 1987), 2:282-3]
It is written beneath ‘al-Maqam’, I am Allah, Lord of ‘Bakkah’. I sanctified it on the day when the heavens and the earth were brought into existence. [Akhbar Makkah, 2:293]
The Qur’an has used both ‘Makkah’ and ‘Bakkah’ for the name of the place. When it is mentioned as a place of the ancient times it has been named as ‘Bakkah’, as it has been used in surah Al ‘Imran (3) of the Qur’an:
The first House ever to be built (as sanctuary) for men was that at Bakkah (Makkah), a blessed place, a beacon for the nations. In it, there are clear signs and the spot where Ibrahim stood. Whoever enters it is safe. Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to Allah for all who can make the journey. [The Quran, An Eng. Trans., tr. N. J. Dawood, revd. Dr. Zayid, (Beirut: Dar Al-Choura, 1980), 3:96,7; p. 43]
There is another occasion in the Qur’an where it has been mentioned in the perspective of the period contemporary with the Prophet of Islam:
It was He who restrained their hands from you and your hands from them in the valley of Makkah after He had given you victory over them. Allah was watching over all your actions. [The Quran, An Eng. Trans., tr. N. J. Dawood, al-Fath 48:24; p.43]
Here it has been mentioned with the name of ‘Makkah’, which shows that in the times of the Prophet of Islam the city was named as ‘Makkah’.
The source of the sounds (vocal organ) of the alphabetical letters ‘b’ and ‘m’ is one and the same: the lips. So by the passage of time ‘Makkah’ replaced ‘Bakkah’. It can thus be appreciated that the original and ancient name of the place was ‘Bakkah’. King David used this ancient name as it was in vogue during his days. It was only in the later centuries that it was replaced by Makkah.
The verse says, ‘passing through the valley of Baca [they] make it a well;’ Hagar passed through the valley of Baca in search of water for her son Ishma‘el. Consequently she was given a well [Beersheba or Zamzam]. Those who have happened to visit this valley of Bakkah know it well that ‘Ka‘bah’ is situated in a low lying area. Previously, when there was a heavy rain it turned into a pond. Now, a very sophisticated drainage system has been constructed there and the rain-water is quickly swept away. So every clause of the verse is perfectly pertinent to the ground realities of Makkah.
Verse 7 asserts, ‘They go from strength to strength.’ It depicts the zeal of the pilgrims. As they draw nearer and nearer to the sanctuary, their fervour is increased, which gives them new strength and impetus instead of fatigue.
The second clause of the verse is, ‘every one of them in Zion appeareth before God’ or, as NIV states, ‘till each appears before God in Zion.’ The word ‘Zion’ needs to be studied in a fair detail.
As regards its meanings, Encyclopaedia Biblica observes:
Various explanations of the name have been given. Gesenius (Thes. 1164) and Lagarde (Ubers. 84. n) derive from [a Hebrew word meaning] ‘to be dry’ (…) Wetzstein derives from ‘to protect’ so that the name would mean ‘arx, citadel’; cp Zin.
Interpreter’s Dictionary of Bible explains:
The etymology of the name is uncertain. It may be related to the Hebrew (sayon), ‘dry place’ ‘parched ground’ (Isa. 25:5; 32:2).’ [Encyclopedia Biblica, 4:5421]
It would be appreciated that ‘dry place’ or ‘parched ground’ can be only applied to arid, barren, and sterile land of ‘Makkah’. It can by no means be applied to the verdant and fertile land of ‘Jerusalem’.
Like other Bible names ‘Zion’ may also have more than one significations. There may have been a ‘Zion’ of Makkah and the other of Jerusalem. But in the sense of ‘dry place,’ or ‘parched ground’ it can only be applied to ‘Makkah’ in the present context. It is not possible for the writer of this book to dilate upon this theme here. It may, however, be noted that the implication of the Zion of Jerusalem is to be ruled out due to the fact that there did not exist any sanctuary at Jerusalem at that time. The rest of the Psalm depicts the strong yearnings of King David to have some opportunity to visit the sanctuary of the Lord like other pilgrims.
It can thus be appreciated that as far back as the annals of history and tradition can be traced, there has been perpetually commemorated the act of Abraham’s offering his genuinely ‘only son’, Ishma‘el, for sacrifice at the mountainous area in the land of Moriah (a mountain situated in Makkah). But there is not even a single place, or a ritual, or a festivity, or a trace, or a building amongst the Jewish people or the Christians to commemorate the event of the offering of Abraham his ‘only son’ for sacrifice.
It is now unto the reader to derive an objective conclusion.