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March 16-17, 1995 - Symposium on The Sacrifice of Isaac in the Three Monotheistic Religions

Dr. Miguel Pérez Fernández from Granada University, Spain, discusses the Christian tradition of Paul.

PRESENTATION by Frédéric Manns

Welcome to our Symposium on the interpretation of Scripture, with a special reference to the sacrifice of Isaac. This is Symposium number 2.

Two years ago in our first symposium our topic was the Promises made to the Fathers. We discussed the figure of Abraham in the Bible, in the New Testament and the Qur'an. This year we are going to study the sacrifice of Isaac in the framework of the interpretation of Scriptures.

Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that their faith goes back to a revelation of God made to Abraham, But they differ about the meaning of Revelation itself The framework of our discussions is the Interpretation of Scriptures. You probably remember that last year the Biblical Commission of Rome issued a document on this subject. The document was limited to the Christian interpretation of the Bible and the New Testament. In Jerusalem, however, the problem of interpretation of Scriptures receives a special coloration, because all Abraham's sons are reading and interpreting their Scriptures. Are there some common features in the different interpretations proposed by the Samaritan, the Jews, the Christian and the Muslims?

Since this question is too large, we tried to limit it to the sacrifice of Isaac. Here we have a good example of the different interpretations, since Samaritans localize this sacrifice on Mount Gerizim, while Jewish tradition has it on Mount Moriah. Christian tradition looks at the sacrifice of Isaac as a type, a prefiguration of the sacrifice of Jesus and Islamic tradition speaks of the sacrifice of Ishmael.

The problem is a serious one. What is interpreting a text? What is revelation about? There must be some subjective elements in the interpretation of Scriptures, since the same text is commented in different ways.

Interpretation is not only limited to philological observations. It can -have an existential dimension too. Text and personal experience are not two autonomous domains. They are reciprocally enlightening: even as the immediate event helps make an old text intelligible, so in turn the text reveals the fundamental significance of the recent event. Each generation has its own experiences and its own concerns. A theme so central to the nervous system of Judaism and Christianity as the Binding of Isaac has proved irresistible to all kinds of teachers from Josephus to Kierkegaard. Some philosophers saw a comparison between Abraham's son and Agamemnon' daughter. In many philosophical circles there is a discussion on the meaning of the sacrifice. Psychoanalysts like Lacan, Dolto and Balmary, made important contributions to the subject, even for a psychological purpose.

Rachi does not accept that Gen 22 presents a sacrifice or a holocaust. In his commentary he writes: "And offer him (lit. bring him up). He did no say, 'Slay him,' because the Holy One, did not desire that he should slay him, but he told him to bring him up to the mountain to prepare him as a burnt offering. So when he had him taken up, God said to him, "Bring him down'. Generally the Bible translations see in the term 'olah a holocaust, since in the Book of Leviticus 'olah is employed for the holocaust. But Abraham who came from the pagan world could not know this Jewish tradition. God's pedagogy would consist in making him understand what he wants. The ram Abraham discovers is the symbol of what every man must sacrifice in order that his son can be freed. The one who sacrifices has to sacrifice the egoistic part of his relationship to his son. In Judaism the Redemption of the Son and the Circumcision are moments in which the son is offered to God, and where he receives his freedom. It is not the Sacrifice of Isaac, but the sacrifice of Abraham's egoism that the text celebrates.

Existential interpretation is permitted. The question of the sacrifice has to find his place between the divine commandment and the human reflection on man's destiny. In this space the grace of God can intervene. But different spaces must be distinguished. After this sacrifice Abraham becomes Father of many peoples. Spiritual generation starts.

Dr. Mark Bregman from the Hebrew Union College will speak about the Rabbinic tradition.


F. Manns, Presentation - A. Niccacci, Opening Remarks.

Lectures: E. Cortese, Gen 22,1-9. History and Theology of the Narrative - T. Thordson, - The sacrifice of Isaac in Samaritan tradition - S. D. Junin, The Death of Isaac: Structuralist Analysis of Genesis 22 - F. Manns, The binding of Isaac in Jewish Liturgy - F. Manns, The Targum of Gen 22 - M. Pérez Fernández, The Akedah in Paul -

Responses: J. Taylor, Response to M. Pérez Fernández - M. Pérez Fernández, Response to J. Taylor.

Lectures: F. Manns, Note on the Sacrifice of Isaac in the Fourth Gosepl - M. C. Paczkowski, The Sacrifice of Isaac in Early Patristic Exegesis - L. Cignelli, The Sacrifice of Isaac in Patristic Exegesis - M. Bregman, The Riddle of the ram in Genesis Chapter 22. Jewish Christians Contacts in late Antiquity - ‘A. Yunis, The Sacrifice of Abraham in Islam.

Responses: H. Noujaim, Response to Dr ‘A. Yunis.

Lectures: J. Doukhan, The Akedah at the “Crossroad” - A. Niccacci, On Hermeneutics of the Holy Scriptures.
G. Nazzaro, Conclusion.
Appendices: (I) Text of the Targums; (2) Text of Gen R; (3) Text of PRE; (4) Pictures on the Binding of Isaac.

Publication: F. Manns, ed., The Sacrifice of Isaac in the Three Monotheistic Religions. Proceedings of a Symposium on the Interpretation of the Scriptures held in Jerusalem. March 16-17, 1995. Franciscan Printing Press. Franciscan Printing Press. Jerusalem 1995. 203 pp

Dr. 'Amer Yunis from Hebron University illustrates the Muslim tradition.

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