- ISAAC (Heb. יִשְׂחָק ,יִצְחָק), son of abraham and sarah , second of the patriarchs of the people of Israel. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old (Gen. 21:5) and Sarah 90 (17:17), exactly a quarter of a century after the family had migrated from Haran, its ancestral homeland, in response to divine prompting and promise of offspring (12:4). By his birth, which took place long after his mother had passed the normal childbearing age (18:11), and in his very person, Isaac represented the fulfillment of the oft-repeated divine assurances of posterity. He alone was the true heir of the Abrahamic tradition and covenant (17:19, 21; 21:12). His name had been preordained by God (17:19), and at the age of eight days he became the first to be circumcised (21:4) in accordance with the divine command (17:12). Further emphasis is given to Isaac's role as Abraham's sole heir by the expulsion of his half-brother ishmael in resolution of the domestic crisis which Isaac's birth precipitated (21:9–14). Nothing is related of Isaac's childhood except the celebration held on the day of his weaning (21:8). Not mentioned as having participated in the burial of Sarah (chapter 23), the only other recorded incident of Isaac's life prior to his marriage is the episode known as "the binding of Isaac" (akedah , Aqedah; chapter 22), where he is the potential victim of child sacrifice. His age at this time is not given, but since he was able to recognize a sacrifice and to ask an intelligent question, he must have been a lad (cf. 22:5). God ordered Abraham, in a test of his constancy, to sacrifice Isaac, his favored son, the object of his love (22:2; cf. 22:12, 16), as a burnt offering on one of the heights in the land of Moriah. Observing the firestone and the knife in his father's hand, while he himself carried the wood, Isaac asked, "Where is the sheep for the burnt offering?" (22:7–8). From Abraham's evasive reply, "God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son," Isaac must surely have sensed the truth. Although the Aqedah was the climactic event in the tales of Abraham, who demonstrated his willingness to obey God even when God contradicted himself (see Rashi to Gen. 22:12), the fact that "the two of them walked on together" (22:8; cf. 22:6), and that Isaac fell completely silent, must be taken as an implication of the lad's surrender to God's purposes. As it is, the narrative closes with a reaffirmation of the divine blessings. Isaac is thus inextricably bound up with God's promises and their fulfillment. At the age of 40 (25:20), Isaac married rebekah , daughter of Bethuel, nephew of Abraham. The story of the marriage, arranged by Abraham who had sent his servant to Haran to bring back a suitable wife, is told in extraordinary detail (chapter 24) and in a manner calculated to show the intervention of Divine Providence in the sequence of events. Unique among the patriarchs, Isaac remained monogamous, and he was also exceptional in that he did not have concubines (see patriarchs ) even though Rebekah was barren during the first 20 years of their marriage (25:20, 21, 26). After "Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife" (25:21), Rebekah gave birth to twins, esau and jacob , who early became rivals (verses 25–34). During her pregnancy, which was very difficult, Rebekah received an oracle from God concerning the destiny of her progeny (verses 21–23). Isaac's wanderings were restricted to the area around Gerar (26:1, 17), Beer-Sheba (21:32; 22:19; 26:23, 33; 28:10), and Beer-Lahai-Roi (24:62; 25:11). He had wanted to go down to Egypt in time of famine, but was forbidden to do so by God (26:1–2) and, in fact, he never left the land of Canaan (cf. 24:5, 8). At both Gerar and Beer-Sheba he received divine affirmation of the Lord's promise of protection, numerous progeny, and the land (26:3–5, 23–24), and in Beer-Sheba he built an altar and invoked the Lord by name (verse 25) just as his father had done before him (cf. 21:25–33). Unlike the other patriarchs Isaac engaged in agriculture with great success (26:12), becoming a wealthy man, possessed of flocks and herds and a large retinue. On the whole, his relationships with his neighbors were peaceful, but he did arouse their envy (26:13–16). On one occasion he felt compelled to pass off his beautiful wife as his sister, fearing the men of Gerar would murder him in order to possess Rebekah (verses 6–11). On another occasion he clashed with them over watering rights (verses 15, 18–22; cf. verses 25, 32–33). His status and power were such that Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar, came to Beer-Sheba to conclude a pact of mutual nonaggression (verses 28–31). The final episode in Isaac's life was the oral testament (chapter 27). Old and blind and not knowing how soon he would die, he decided to communicate his blessing to Esau for whom he had quite early shown partiality (25:28), even though Esau had married Canaanite women, of which Isaac and Rebekah, like Abraham before them (24:3–4), had disapproved (26:34–35; cf. 27:46; 28:8). At Rebekah's direction, however, Jacob deceived his father by assuming the guise of Esau and succeeded in gaining the birthright for himself (27:1–29), a situation in which Isaac finally acquiesced (verse 33; cf. 28:3–4). To insure that Jacob would not marry a Canaanite woman Isaac sent him to the home of his wife's family in Paddan-Aram to find a wife (28:1–2). Isaac lived on for another 20 years. Like the other patriarchs, Isaac lived a fantastically long time, dying in Hebron at 180, "a ripe old age" (35:27–29). His two sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah beside his wife (49:31). The biblical data concerning Isaac are relatively sparse, and followers of the documentary theory regard them as an amalgam of J and E with an admixture of P (see pentateuch ). In any event, it appears likely that numerous traditions have been lost. Thus, in treaty negotiations with Laban, the fact that Jacob employed a divine name, Paḥad Yiẓḥak ("Fear (or "Kinsman"?) of Isaac"; 31:42), not otherwise attested, implies that there once existed some historic framework in which this epithet had special meaning. Although the narratives of Isaac are set in a time that would in our chronology correspond to the early or mid-second millennium, individual markers such as the encounters with the Philistines, marriage ties with Arameans, and the founding of the city of Beersheba indicate that the oldest Isaac traditions cannot be earlier than the late second millennium, and are probably later. No independent traditions about Isaac have been preserved outside of the Pentateuch. In some respects, Isaac, like Abraham and Jacob, is an allegorical figure whose actions reflect historical personalities and situations of the monarchic period (Sperling). The triad of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appears with great frequency throughout the Pentateuch, and became enshrined in the cultic traditions of Israel. Amos actually employs "Isaac" as a synonym for Israel (7:9, 16), though it is uncertain whether this is the sole biblical remnant of a once more extensive usage, or an oratorical device invented by the prophet for purposes of wordplay. Although no explanation for Isaac's name is given in Genesis (cf. Gen. 17:19; 21:3), the recurrent association of the laughter of the aged Abraham and Sarah when foretold of the birth of a son (17:17; 18:12–15; 21:6) has suggested the popular etymology that the name comes from saḥak (saḥaq, "laugh"). In actuality, the name is a verbal form, probably originally accompanied by a divine subject and meaning, "may (God) laugh," i.e., look benevolently upon. (Nahum M. Sarna / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.) -In the Aggadah Isaac was born on the first day of Passover (RH 11a). At his birth, many other barren women were also blessed with children. The sun shone with unparalleled splendor, the like of which will only be seen again in the messianic age (Tanḥ. B, Gen. 107; PR 42:177a–177b). To silence the accusations of slanderers who questioned Abraham's paternity, which they ascribed to Abimelech, Isaac was given the exact appearance of his father (BM 87a). As his name was given by God before his birth (Gen. 17:19), he was the only one of the patriarchs whose name was not later changed (TJ, Ber. 1:9, 4a). The Akedah of Isaac was the result of Satan's complaint after Abraham's celebration of the weaning of Isaac. Satan said to the Almighty: "Sovereign of the Universe\! To this old man Thou didst graciously vouchsafe the fruit of the womb at the age of a hundred, yet of all that banquet which he prepared, he did not sacrifice one dove or pigeon to thee\!" God therefore decided to show Satan that Abraham would offer up even Isaac to Him. According to another tradition, it was Isaac, then 37 years old, who himself suggested the Akedah in response to Ishmael's claim that he was more virtuous since Isaac was circumcised at eight days, whereas he was 13 years of age at the time and could have refused (Sanh. 89b; Gen. R. 55:4). On the way to the Akedah, Satan unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade Isaac from obeying his father and, when he failed, tried to impede their journey (Sefer ha-Yashar, Va-Yera, 77–78; Gen. R. 56:4). Isaac cooperated fully with his father in the proposed sacrifice, even begging him to bind him tightly lest he might involuntarily struggle and render the sacrifice invalid (Gen. R. 56:8). When Abraham lifted up his knife, the angels cried for Isaac. Their tears fell into Isaac's eyes and they caused his subsequent blindness, which was also attributed to his having looked directly at the Shekhinah while on the altar (Gen. R. 65:10). Others attribute it to his constantly looking at his wicked son, Esau. His lack of vision later kept him at home and spared him from hearing people say, "there goes the father of the wicked Esau" (Gen. R. 65:10. According to one tradition, during the Akedah Abraham drew one fourth of a log of blood from Isaac which symbolized the essence of life (Mekh. SbY, p. 4). According to another version, Isaac actually lost his life as a result of the terror he experienced when Abraham lifted his knife. He was revived by the heavenly voice admonishing Abraham not to slaughter his son, and he then pronounced the benediction, "Blessed are Thou, O Lord, who quickenest the dead" (PdRE 31). God therefore accounted Isaac's deed as an actual sacrifice, and his harsh judgments against Israel are constantly mitigated when he recalls "Isaac's ashes heaped up upon the altar" (Lev. R. 36:5; Ta'an. 16a). Abraham also prayed that God should mercifully recall his binding Isaac whenever the children of Isaac give way to transgressions and evil deeds (Lev. R. 29:9). The Akedah therefore became a central theme in all penitential and seliḥot prayers. Isaac is also depicted as the patriarch possessing the deepest feelings and compassion for his descendants. He pleads for them even when they are sinful, and the verse "For thou art our father, for Abraham knoweth us not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us" (Isa. 63:16) is applied to him (Shab. 89b). The institution of the Minḥah prayer is attributed to Isaac (Ber. 26b). Like Abraham, he observed the Commandments (PR 25, p. 127b) and made God known in the world (Men. 53a). He was one of three who had a foretaste of the future world while in this world; one of six over whom the angel of death had no power; one of seven whose bodies were not devoured by worms; and one of three upon whom the "evil inclination" had no influence (BB 17a). (Aaron Rothkoff) -In Christian Tradition Isaac appears in the New Testament as a type and prefiguration of Christ: "Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). In the same epistle, Paul also explains that Isaac and Ishmael symbolize the old and the new covenants and thus represent Christians and Jews respectively. Isaac is the heir of the spiritual inheritance and messianic blessing implied in God's promise while Ishmael, the son of the slave, is turned out of his father's house. In the same way, the Christians are delivered from the fetters of the Old Testament commandments and enjoy the freedom granted to God's children (ibid. 4:22–31). Isaac's sacrifice, which is interpreted typologically in the Epistle to the Hebrews, prefigures both the Passion by offering, and the resurrection of Jesus. The Church Fathers developed this typology further: Isaac's miraculous birth by a sterile woman is a prefiguration of the virginal maternity. They also drew more detailed parallels between the sacrifice of Isaac and Jesus on the Cross: in the same way as Isaac was offered by his father Abraham and carried the sacrificial wood, so Jesus was offered by his Father and bore the Cross. Both obey the divine order of death and, because of that, triumph over death. The vicarious death of Jesus is compared to the substitution of the ram for Isaac. The ram represents the visible sacrifice of the flesh and Isaac pre-figures the Eternal Word (Christ). Like Philo before them, the Church Fathers also interpreted the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah symbolically, though they did so in a specifically Christian manner. Rebekah symbolizes the Church waiting for a long time; she sees Isaac (i.e., the Messiah) coming toward her as announced by the prophets, and their union is consecrated. -In Islam Isḥāq (Isaac) and Yaʿqūb (Jacob) were the descendants of Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and both were prophets and righteous men (Koran, Sura 19:50–51; 21:72–73; and in other places such as 6:84). The tale of the binding (37:99–110) does not mention the name of the one destined to be the sacrifice. According to the Ḥadīth which is quoted by al-Ṭabarī (Taʾrīkh, 1 (1357 A.H.), 184–5), Muhammad himself declared that the intended one was Isaac. This is also the opinion of Muhammad's colleagues: the caliphs Omar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb and Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib and the members of the second generation (tābiʿūn), e.g., Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (Thaʿlabī, 76). In his Taʾrīkh (history) and his Tafsīr (commentary) Ṭabarī quotes the Ḥadiths of all the Arab masoretes and exegetes, who were divided as to whether the object of the binding was Isaac or Ishmael. Umayya ibn Abī al-Ṣalt, a contemporary of Muhammad, gives a description of the binding (29:9–21) as it is told in the Bible and in the Midrashim (Hirschberg, in bibl., pp. 58–61, 124–9). In spite of its similarity to the Koran, it is definitely an original poem. In a fragment of the genizah of al-Samawʾal al-Kuraẓī there is the mention of the dhabīḥ ("the bound one") as he is also referred to in Arab legend; he was redeemed for a lamb, specially created for this purpose. (Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg) -In the Arts In most literary treatments of the patriarch Isaac the theme of the binding of Isaac predominates (see akedah ). This is the case with the medieval English miracle plays (Chester, York, Towneley, Dublin, Brome cycles; the many religious autos of the Spanish Renaissance; Metastasio's Isacco figura del Redentore (1740); and Laurence Housman's Abraham and Isaac, one of the English writer's fiercely anti-biblical Old Testament Plays (1950). The Akedah theme inspired a drama in the Aztec language of Mexico (1678), which was later translated into Spanish; and two Italian plays of the 18th century, Pietro van Ghelen's Isacco, figura del Redentore (Vienna, 1740. and Isacco al monte (Padoya, 1766), a sacra rappresentazione in verse by Ferdinando degli Obizzi. In other works dating from the Middle Ages onward the Sacrifice of Isaac is incidental or omitted. The 12th-century Ordo de Ysaac et Rebecca et Filiis Eorum makes Esau the representative of "pharisaical Judaism" and Jacob the spokesman of Christianity. Dramatic works of the 16th–18th centuries include a Farsa de Isaac by Diego Sanchez (c. 1530); Francesco Contarini's tragedy Isaccio (Venice, 1615); Izsák házassága ("The Marriage of Isaac," 1703), a Hungarian play by Ferenc Pápai Páriz; a drama by the Spanish Marrano writer Felipe Godínez; and Isaac (1779?; Eng. 1807), a comedy for young people by the French author Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, countess de Genlis. The subject declined in importance during the 19th century, an exception being julius zeyer 's Czech drama Z dob ružového jitra ("From the Times of the Rosy Dawn," 1888), based on Gen. 26, the first of several fresh treatments by Jewish writers. Thus, edmond fleg 's poem "La Vision d'Isaac" (in Ecoute Israël, 1913–21) dealt with Isaac's traditional plea to God for Israel's preservation. A 20th-century treatment is in Soviet writer Yosif brodski 's " Isaak i Avraam," which only appeared in the West in the verse collection Stikhotvoreniya i poemy (1965). In art, the chief episodes represented are the Akedah, the meeting of Eliezer and Rebekah, the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, and the blessing of Jacob and Esau. The meeting of Eliezer and Rebekah (Gen. 24:15–28) has generally been more popular with artists than the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. In medieval Christian iconography Isaac was equated with Jesus, and Rebekah with the Virgin Mary, who symbolized the Church. There is a charming early representation of the meeting of Eliezer and Rebekah in the sixth-century Vienna Genesis. It is later found in 12th-century mosaics in the Capella Palatina at Palermo and the cathedral of Monreale, in Sicily; in the St. Louis Psalter (c. 1256); and in the 14th-century English Queen Mary Psalter. There are Renaissance and later paintings of the subject by Paolo Veronese at Versailles, by Nicolas Poussin in the Louvre, and by Bartolomé Murillo in the Prado, Madrid. The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 24:63ff.) occurs in an illumination in the St. Louis Psalter. A noteworthy representation is the spacious landscape ("The Mill") by Claude Lorrain (1648 National Gallery, London). In the Raphael Loggia in the Vatican there is a representation of Isaac and Rebekah intercepted in their lovemaking by Abimelech (Gen. 26:8–11). The lyrical subject of Isaac's marriage with Rebekah, preceded by Eliezer's mission, has been treated in several musical works, mainly oratorios. Some examples are G.C. Arresti's Lo sposalizio di Rebecca (1675); A. Sacchini's Lo sposalizio d'Isaaco con Rebecca (1739); Michael Haydn's Rebecca als Braut (also called Eliezer), a "Singspiel," i.e., a kind of operetta (1766); ferdinand hiller 's Rebekka, an "idyll" for solo choir, opus 182 (date unknown); César Franck's Rebecca, produced as an oratorio in 1881 and as a one-act "sacred opera" in 1918; and Maurice Jacobson's Rebecca's Hymn for choir and orchestra (1930). The meeting of Eliezer and Rebekah at the well was set as a simple children's dialogue song by the Israel composer yedidya admon-gorochov in the early 1930s (Na'arah tovah, yefat einayim), and has remained popular with Israel children. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: For Isaac in the Bible see bibliography to abraham and patriarchs , and N.M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 154–165, 170–180. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (19422), 261–6, 271–86, 291–9, 321–36; A.A. Halevy, Sha'arei ha-Aggadah (1963), 20–23, 35, 37, 103–5; G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (1961), 193–227. IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION: J. Daniélou, Sacramentum Futuri (1950), 97–128; idem, in: Biblica, 28 (1947), 363–93 (Fr.); Schoeps, in: JBL, 65 (1946), 385–92. IN ISLAM: Tabarī, Ta'rīkh, 1 (1357 A.H.), 184–9; idem, Tafsīr, 23 (1329 A.H.), 51–54; Thaʿlabi, Qiṣaṣ (1356 A.H. 76–81; Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ, ed. by I. Eisenberg (1922), 150–3; H.Z. (J.W.) Hirschberg, Der Dīwān des As-Samu ʾ al ibn ʿAdijāʾ … (1931), 33, 631.; idem, Juedische und christliche Lehren (1939), 58–61, 124–9. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Martin-Achard, in: ABD, 3:462–70 (incl. bibl.); J. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son (1993); S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998). IN ISLAM: W.M. Watt, "Isḥaḳ," in: EIS2, 4 (1978), 109–110 (incl. bibl.).
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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