cover image Abraham’s Curse: Child Sacrifice in the Legacies of the West

Abraham’s Curse: Child Sacrifice in the Legacies of the West

Bruce Chilton, . . Doubleday, $24.95 (259pp) ISBN 978-0-385-52027-0

In this thought-provoking study, Bard College professor Chilton (Rabbi Jesus ) asks how the Abrahamic faiths have understood Genesis 22, the story of the binding of Isaac. All three religions include a strand of interpretation that reads the binding of Isaac as valorizing the sacrifice of human life. Some rabbinic texts, for example, suggest that Abraham did in fact nick Isaac’s neck, shedding the boy’s blood, and that Isaac offers a model for “the necessary readiness for martyrdom.” Christianity has seen Isaac as prefiguring Jesus’ crucifixion, and Christians, too, find in both these sacrificial stories an approval of martyrdom. In Islam, Chilton finds a range of interpretations, some of which gradually make Ibrahim “more and more aggressive, to the point that Allah could only prevent the slaughter... by miraculous means.” These interpretations appear to underwrite violence, but Chilton also finds within Jewish, Christian and Islamic sacred texts a corrective: a clear insistence that God does not want human beings to sacrifice ourselves or our children. Today’s violent fundamentalists, Chilton claims, overlook those correctives and take their cues from readings of Genesis 22 that seem to favor human sacrifice. Chilton produces yet another creative and very relevant historical account. (Feb. 19)