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.

Sacrifice of Issac, relief sculpture from the Ribe Cathedral in Denmark (1597)
Sacrifice of Issac, relief sculpture from the Ribe Cathedral in Denmark - 1597. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

To recap:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’ And He said: ‘Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, 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.’
Genesis 22:1-2

God calls Abraham to the “land of Moriah” to make his burnt offering. It’s not a place that had been mentioned earlier in Genesis, but it clearly had significance. Why else would God ask Abraham to travel someplace more than three days away by donkey?  Is Moriah itself a region or a mountain? Hard to say, but we can see that God had a specific mountain in mind.

And that’s it for “Moriah” in the Torah. It’s not mentioned again until the Second Book of Chronicles, in the Solomon story:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David. He began building on the second day of the second month in the fourth year of his reign.
2 Chronicles 3

Building of Solomon's Temple (Unknown Medieval Artist)
Building of Solomon's Temple (Unknown Medieval Artist) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, we have a connection! Isaac was offered up to God at the very site where the Temple will stand, hundreds of years later. At the time of Solomon and later Temple Judaism, this must have been the most tangible connection from the patriarchs to the average citizen’s experiences. What’s more, as the location of the Temple, it is undoubtedly the most important mountain in the Torah– and yet it is only mentioned once.

There is one small challenge to this identification, in the  story of Abraham and Melchizedek from Genesis 14: there should have been a city there already.

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High. And he blessed him, and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.’ And he gave him a tenth of all. And the king of Sodom said unto Abram: ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.’ And Abram said to the king of Sodom: ‘I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich; save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion.’
Genesis 14:18-24

As you might remember from my post on Genesis 14, it’s not the most consistent chapter in the text. It uses names for places before they are founded, it marks the first use of the term “Hebrew” but in a way that is different from its later meaning, etc. But the key question is whether “Salem” is the same as Jerusalem. The evidence suggests yes– would Abraham have tithed to a false God? And yet, if they are the same, then the Binding story took place a stone’s throw away from a city that isn’t mentioned. It’s something to think about, even if there isn’t an easy answer.

I don’t know about you, but I love a good question.

Up next: The infantilization of Ishmael and Isaac


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