Masada in the Bible

The situation was desperate: a small group of Jewish soldiers were surrounded. The year was 72 AD, only two years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and eight years into a rebellion that pitted Jewish soldiers against the Romans. The Romans were winning, Jerusalem had been captured, and this may have been the last stand. The place was Masada, a fortress on a plateau on the edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

This is the first in a short series I’m calling “Biblical Tourist”, pictures and commentary on a recent trip to Israel. This was my third trip so I didn’t see all of the typical things, but I took a lot of pictures. Each entry in this series will connect to bible passages in some way.

So, what happened? And where are the pictures? And how does a fort built more then thirty years after Jesus figure into the bible? Read on for more!

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Isaac at Moriah and the Temple Mount

It’s no mystery that I love all the “begats” in the bible and I’ve built complex charts and relationship maps to tease out interesting details. (My family tree of every named individual in the Torah is completed, but I have to make it presentable and write up explanations for some of my choices.) I am now trying to pay more attention to the places in the bible and their connections.

Using my previous post on the Binding of Isaac as an example, the fact that Isaac lived at Beer-lahai-roi after his near-sacrifice deepens the text. Now, we as readers can connect that as where Hagar first met God and ponder its significance. While the book does not provide easy answers, we can ask new questions. Did he go there because it was hallowed ground? Was there a connection between him and Hagar or Ishmael at that spot? Could Isaac have gone there in search of God himself, as Hagar did when she ran away? There are no answers to these questions, but asking them brings us closer to Isaac and closer to the text.

As important as Beer-lahai-roi is, undoubtedly the most important place mentioned in the Binding of Isaac is Moriah, the region where he was to be offered to God. It may be the most important place in the while bible.

Read on for more.

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Errata: Isaac in the East

Oh, the troubles a little comma can make! Yesterday’s post on the separation of Abraham’s family after the Binding of Isaac had an error: I mistakenly said that Isaac had gone eastward between the time his mother died and when his father did. It’s a simple mistake and it’s because I was reading Genesis 25 using an archaic translation:

But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

Genesis 25:6 (JPS, 1917 Edition)

Somehow in my reading and my note-taking, I got confused by the clauses. It was the sons of the concubines that were “unto the east country” and not Isaac. While the bible doesn’t say, Isaac was probably at Beer-lahai-roi, where he was both before and after this passage.

This doesn’t change my explanation much, except to say that Isaac didn’t choose this as his special place to go when his father passed away. It does drive home me a lesson for me that I should know already: translations matter. I use the 1917 JPS for this blog because it’s so cut-and-paste-able, but it is also not the most modern of translations. The meaning of words drift over even a hundred years and I like to be sure that words mean what I think they mean. Still, this is more a case of misreading than a text gone bad.

The New International Version (1984) gives a clearer translation:

But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

Genesis 25:6 (New International Version, 1984)

Much more understandable!

Up next: Back on Moriah!

Abraham’s True Sacrifice – His Family

We’re up to one of those famous stories in the bible. The “Binding of Isaac”, as it is generally called, is almost as well known as Noah’s Ark or the Parting of the Red Sea and it does so without cute animals or Charlton Heston. In this story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him, only to relent at the last moment and provide a ram to use instead. Because of his commitment to God, Abraham proves himself worthy again to be the patriarch of the future Israel.

This test and validation narrative is a good one, but a careful reading shows that God wasn’t demanding an empty sacrifice of Abraham. Although Isaac was spared the knife, God dealt Abraham a tremendous hidden sacrifice: a family, a father and son, walked up the mountain together but two strangers walked down. In one stroke, Abraham’s family was shattered. He, his son, and his wife would never be together again.

Read on for more.

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