Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Historicity of the Sacrifice of Abraham

Of course Nibley's book is to show Joseph Smith did not imagine the Book of Abraham, but in this quote he why it the account of the near sacrifice of Abraham does not appear in the Bible. To be fair to the skeptic it may seem odd that such a remarkable story is left out of the most basic book of the Christian faith. It is related to the principle discussed briefly in the previous post (Principles in the Sacrifice of Isaac) in that it was important for Abraham to pass his mantle to his son.

Abraham gets as much credit out of the sacrifice of Isaac as he does from his own adventure on the altar--he had already risked his own life countless times; how much dearer to him in his old age was the life of his only son and heir! And since the two sacrifices typify the same thing, nothing is lost to Abraham and much is gained for Isaac by omitting the earlier episode from the Bible. But that episode left an indelible mark in the record. The learned Egyptologist who in 1912 charged Joseph Smith with reading the sacrifice of Isaac into Facsimile 1 and the story of Abraham was apparently quite unaware that ancient Jewish writers of whom Joseph Smith knew nothing told the same story that he did about Abraham on the altar. The important thing for the student of the Book of Abraham is that the sacrifice of Abraham was remembered--and vividly recalled in non-biblical sources--as a historical event. This makes it almost certain that it was a real event, for nothing to the supreme glory of Abraham would do definite damage to Isaac's one claim to fame. If the binding on the altar...was to be the "unique glory of Isaac," it was entirely in order to quietly drop the earlier episode of Abraham that anticipates and overshadows it, just as it is right and proper to forget that the hero was once called Abram.

Principles in the Sacrifice of Isaac

In this section, Nibley discusses an interesting principle in the sacrifice of Isaac. It relates to Abraham passing down the mantel of prophet and patriarch to his son; a principle which continued to the time of Christ.

When Israel finally returns to God and goes to Abraham for instruction, we are told that instead of teaching them himself, he will refer them to Isaac, who will in turn pass them on to Jacob and so on down to Moses--it is from the latest prophet of the latest dispensation that the people receive instruction. On this principle the only words of the Father in the New Testament are those which introduce his Son and turn all the offices of the dispensation over to him.