The Trial Of Abraham's Faith

The story of the trial of Abraham's faith--when he is ordered by the

Lord to sacrifice his only son Isaac--is to be found in Genesis xxii.

1-19, and is as follows:

"And it came to pass . . . that God did tempt Abraham, and

said unto him: 'Abraham,' and he said: 'Behold, here I am.'

And he (God) said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac,

whom thou lovest, 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.'

"And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his

ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his

son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up

and went into the place which God had told him. . . . (When

Abraham was near the appointed place) he said unto his young

men: 'Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go

yonder and worship, and come again to thee. And Abraham took

the wood for the burnt offering, and laid it upon (the

shoulders of) Isaac his son, and he took the fire in his hand,

and a knife, and they went both of them together. And Isaac

spake unto Abraham his father, and said: 'Behold the fire and

the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' And

Abraham said: 'My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a

burnt offering.' So they went both of them together, and they

came to the place which God had told him of. And Abraham built

an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac

his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham

stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and

said: 'Abraham! Abraham! lay not thine hand upon the lad,

neither do thou anything unto him, for now I know that thou

fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine

only son from me.'

"And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind

him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and Abraham went

and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in

the stead of his son. . . . And the angel of the Lord called unto

Abraham, out of heaven, the second time, and said: 'By myself

have I sworn saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this

thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, . . . I

will bless thee, and . . . I will multiply thy seed as the

stars in the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea

shore, and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And

in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest,

because thou hast obeyed my voice.' So Abraham returned unto

his young men, and they rose up and went together to

Beer-sheba, and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba."

There is a Hindoo story related to the Sankhayana-sutras, which, in

substance, is as follows: King Hariscandra had no son; he then prayed to

Varuna, promising, that if a son were born to him, he would sacrifice

the child to the god. Then a son was born to him, called Rohita. When

Rohita was grown up his father one day told him of the vow he had made

to Varuna, and bade him prepare to be sacrificed. The son objected to

being killed and ran away from his father's house. For six years he

wandered in the forest, and at last met a starving Brahman. Him he

persuaded to sell one of his sons named Sunahsepha, for a hundred cows.

This boy was bought by Rohita and taken to Hariscandra and about to be

sacrificed to Varuna as a substitute for Rohita, when, on praying to the

gods with verses from the Veda, he was released by them.[39:1]

There was an ancient Phenician story, written by Sanchoniathon, who

wrote about 1300 years before our era, which is as follows:

"Saturn, whom the Phoenicians call Israel, had by a nymph of

the country a male child whom he named Jeoud, that is, one

and only. On the breaking out of a war, which brought the

country into imminent danger, Saturn erected an altar, brought

to it his son, clothed in royal garments, and sacrificed


There is also a Grecian fable to the effect that one Agamemnon had a

daughter whom he dearly loved, and she was deserving of his affection.

He was commanded by God, through the Delphic Oracle, to offer her up as

a sacrifice. Her father long resisted the demand, but finally

succumbed. Before the fatal blow had been struck, however, the goddess

Artemis or Ashtoreth interfered, and carried the maiden away, whilst in

her place was substituted a stag.[39:3]

Another similar Grecian fable relates that:

"When the Greek army was detained at Aulis, by contrary winds,

the augurs being consulted, declared that one of the kings had

offended Diana, and she demanded the sacrifice of his daughter

Iphigenia. It was like taking the father's life-blood, but he

was persuaded that it was his duty to submit for the good of

his country. The maiden was brought forth for sacrifice, in

spite of her tears and supplications; but just as the priest

was about to strike the fatal blow, Iphigenia suddenly

disappeared, and a goat of uncommon beauty stood in her


There is yet still another, which belongs to the same country, and is

related thus:

"In Sparta, it being declared upon one occasion that the

gods demanded a human victim, the choice was made by lot, and

fell on a damsel named Helena. But when all was in readiness,

an eagle descended, carried away the priest's knife, and laid

it on the head of a heifer, which was sacrificed in her


The story of Abraham and Isaac was written at a time when the Mosaic

party in Israel was endeavoring to abolish idolatry among their people.

They were offering up human sacrifices to their gods Moloch, Baal, and

Chemosh, and the priestly author of this story was trying to make the

people think that the Lord had abolished such offerings, as far back as

the time of Abraham. The Grecian legends, which he had evidently heard,

may have given him the idea.[40:2]

Human offerings to the gods were at one time almost universal. In the

earliest ages the offerings were simple, and such as shepherds and

rustics could present. They loaded the altars of the gods with the first

fruits of their crops, and the choicest products of the earth.

Afterwards they sacrificed animals. When they had once laid it down as a

principle that the effusion of the blood of these animals appeased the

anger of the gods, and that their justice turned aside upon the victims

those strokes which were destined for men, their great care was for

nothing more than to conciliate their favor by so easy a method. It is

the nature of violent desires and excessive fear to know no bounds, and

therefore, when they would ask for any favor which they ardently wished

for, or would deprecate some public calamity which they feared, the

blood of animals was not deemed a price sufficient, but they began to

shed that of men. It is probable, as we have said, that this barbarous

practice was formerly almost universal, and that it is of very remote

antiquity. In time of war the captives were chosen for this purpose, but

in time of peace they took the slaves. The choice was partly regulated

by the opinion of the bystanders, and partly by lot. But they did not

always sacrifice such mean persons. In great calamities, in a pressing

famine, for example, if the people thought they had some pretext to

impute the cause of it to their king, they even sacrificed him without

hesitation, as the highest price with which they could purchase the

Divine favor. In this manner, the first King of Vermaland (a province of

Sweden) was burnt in honor of Odin, the Supreme God, to put an end to a

great dearth; as we read in the history of Norway. The kings, in their

turn, did not spare the blood of their subjects; and many of them even

shed that of their children. Earl Hakon, of Norway, offered his son in

sacrifice, to obtain of Odin the victory over the Jomsburg pirates. Aun,

King of Sweden, devoted to Odin the blood of his nine sons, to prevail

on that god to prolong his life. Some of the kings of Israel offered up

their first-born sons as a sacrifice to the god Baal or Moloch.

The altar of Moloch reeked with blood. Children were sacrificed and

burned in the fire to him, while trumpets and flutes drowned their

screams, and the mothers looked on, and were bound to restrain their


The Phenicians offered to the gods, in times of war and drought, the

fairest of their children. The books of Sanchoniathon and Byblian Philo

are full of accounts of such sacrifices. In Byblos boys were immolated

to Adonis; and, on the founding of a city or colony, a sacrifice of a

vast number of children was solemnized, in the hopes of thereby averting

misfortune from the new settlement. The Phenicians, according to

Eusebius, yearly sacrificed their dearest, and even their only children,

to Saturn. The bones of the victims were preserved in the temple of

Moloch, in a golden ark, which was carried by the Phenicians with them

to war.[41:1] Like the Fijians of the present day, those people

considered their gods as beings like themselves. They loved and they

hated; they were proud and revengeful; they were, in fact, savages like


If the eldest born of the family of Athamas entered the temple of the

Laphystian Jupiter, at Alos, in Achaia, he was sacrificed, crowned with

garlands, like an animal victim.[41:2]

The offering of human sacrifices to the Sun was extensively practiced in

Mexico and Peru, before the establishment of Christianity.[41:3]


[39:1] See Mueller's Hist. Sanscrit Literature; and Williams' Indian

Wisdom, p. 29.

[39:2] Quoted by Count de Volney; New Researches in Anc't Hist., p. 144.

[39:3] See Inman's Ancient Faiths, vol. ii. p. 104.

[39:4] Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 302.

[40:1] Ibid.

[40:2] See chapter xi.

[41:1] Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 368.

[41:2] Kenrick's Egypt, vol. i. p. 448.

[41:3] See Acosta: Hist. Indies, vol. ii.