Sweeping overview of monotheistic violence and sacrifice, tied to one of the most studied and academically tortured portions of the Bible.
The verses in Genesis depicting Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac contain the seeds of cyclical and ceremonial violence that has plagued Judaism, Christianity and Islam to this day, suggests Chilton (Religion/Bard Coll.). While the subtitle suggests that child sacrifice is his focus, religious violence is in fact much more broadly defined here. Acknowledging that child sacrifice was nothing new in Abraham’s time, the author then discusses early Jewish views on the practice, especially emphasizing the importance of martyrdom to the Jewish community during its years of revolt against Hellenistic and Roman rule. Chilton goes on to consider martyrdom in the Christian context, explaining the parallel made by early Christians between the self-sacrifice of the willing Isaac and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He explains the Qur’anic version of this story and its impact upon Islam, especially in the context of religious violence during the Crusades. The confrontation of all three monotheistic religions from the Crusades onward most clearly exhibits the violent inheritance of the Abrahamic peoples. Chilton discusses instances of child sacrifice and the death of children through religious violence, but just as Isaac’s age is uncertain in the biblical account, this exploration of religious sacrifice also spans childhood and adulthood. In his final analysis, the author calls on the faithful to “come down from Mt. Moriah” and have faith that “Abraham’s curse,” or the need for sacrifice in human blood, is not inevitable.
It seems that Chilton forces more blame on the Abraham story than it can reasonably bear, but his careful look at the contemporary problem of religious violence merits attention.