The Holy Mountain and the Sacrifice of Isaac – a transitional images in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrim accounts of Jerusalem.
Lidia Chakovskaya (senior researcher in the State Institute of Art Studies, senior lecturer in Moscow State University, Associate Professor at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute).
The Sacred Mountain as a place of communication with the Holy is central for the imagery of Mediterranean region. In three monotheistic religions this idea was transformed during the first centuries of the Common Era. The centre of this transition was Jerusalem.
Jerusalem occupied a special place among the cities of Mediterranean. A place of strategic interests for different powers, a centre where East meets West, it also became a place of great spiritual importance. In antiquity it was a focus of attention for Jews living all over Mediterranean, and even Romans and Greeks knew Jerusalem for its magnificent Temple.
During the formative period of Jerusalem history as reflected in the Second Chronicles 3:1 its geographical relief was named “mountains”, although in reality it is more accurate to speak about hills. The City occupied two hills – the City of David with the spring Gihon in it and the Temple Mount. It was noted by A.Eliav that originally there was no particular name for the site of the future Temple and no tradition of the sacred mountain either: “All that can be inferred from these accounts is that the Temple site lay above the City of David (e.g., 1 Kings 8:1). Mount Zion, which later would become one of the celebrated names for the Temple Mount, is not mentioned even once in the books of Samuel”1, and it refers simple to the City of David (2 Sam.5:7).
When Jerusalem was founded it was conceived as a powerful symbol of Jewish people and the only place where the sacrifice could be offered to God. “According to the views promoted by these books, sacrifice is not legitimate in any other location, even if intended for the God of Israel”. Only after the Temple was destroyed the poetic image of the Holy Mountain had emerged in the writings of the prophets. It was noted by Eliav that “the famous prophecy of peace at the end of days, in the books of Isaiah and Micah, describes the ‘‘mountain of the Lord’s house’’ as ‘‘established in the top of the mountains and exalted above the hills.’’ The gentiles that stream to the place proclaim, ‘‘Let us go up to the mountain of God . . . and he will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths’’ (Isaiah 2:2–3; Micah 4:1–2)2.
The word “mountain” does not appear in the account of the Sacrifice of Isaac in the book of Genesis. There the land is called Moriah. The author of the Second Chronicles should be credited for identifying the particular place with the mountain. He wrote: “Solomon began to build the Temple of Yhwh in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where Yhwh had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had designated” (2 Chr 3:1). It is here that the site of the Temple was linked to the only other mentioning of the Moriah in the Book of Genesis and the account of the Sacrifice of Isaac (we should note again that there the land Moriah is mentioned and not the mount!) (Gen.22.2). The place of the sacrifice is the same as the threshing floor which David had bought from Orna. The Temple and the Mountain of the sacrifice are united by the “concept of sacrifice as the ultimate manifestation of the encounter between God and his people. According to the author of Chronicles’ interpretation, the binding of Isaac presents the primordial prefiguration of this ritual model”3.
Daniel Pioske mentioned that due to the author of the 2 Chronicles Jerusalem Temple started to be seen not only as a creation of the Solomon’s city, but it was also a creation of David’s”4. So from the very start the Temple is created by the same person as the city of Jerusalem itself and became inseparable from its status of a royal city. It became the city of one mount – the Temple Mount or mount Moria: “The ‘‘copyright’’ for this name is reserved to the prophet Micah, who incorporated it into his famous admonitory prophecy: ‘‘Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest’’ (Micah 3:12)”. So Jerusalem is seen as the royal city of one mountain and one sacrifice.
Sacrifice of Isaac and therefore the birth of the chosen people, were placed here. The sacred hill and the sacrifice became central for Jerusalem Jewish identity.
It is during the Second Temple period, that the Sacrifice of Isaac became an extremely important matter to reflect upon. In it was seen the origin of the sacrificial Temple cult. I would like to refer to three sources, which reveal how the ideology of the Temple mingled with the ideology of the city and its Temple in the III-II cc.BC. In the III – II cc.the Jewish epic poet Philo, writing in Greek, composed the poem, which had been only partially preserved, called Concerning Jerusalem:
“I have heard formerly a thousand times over in the ancestral laws,
Of the God-beloved charms stronger than the bonds’ knot. For, as you
Left the splendid enclosure of dread plants, the praiseworthy thunderer,
Holding back the wood, made his oracle immortal, from that time
Offspring to that awesomely born one have won much-hymned renown” (…)
It is not easy to understand his language, but it is clear that he sees Abraham as amazing figure, who took wood in order to make sacrifice.
"For them the mighty lord of all the land
/ A happy home prepared----he, now most high, /
Who from the ancient stock of Abraham/ And Isaac sprang ….. (24).
He is the father of the chosen people, therefore another fragment shows Abraham as the one who had introduced the circumcision. The fragment ends with the descriptions of the baths of Jerusalem, so most probably its main emphasis was on the subject of the Mount Moria as the place of the Sacrifice and the place of the Temple5.
In it Eusebius quotes at length the Jewish historian Eupolemus, who wrote a book «On Jewish kings» in 157-158 BC and who probably lived in Jerusalem (or Alexandria, or both). Eupolemus says that the very name of Jerusalem comes from the name of the Solomons Temple: «And the Lord's house was at first called the Temple of Solomon ( Ieron Solomonoj); afterwards by a corruption the city was named Hierusalem from the Temple, but by the Greeks was called Hierosolyma after the king's name». So the city of the Sacrifice of Isaac is the city of the King. Eupolemus wrote in the years preceding the Maccabean revolt (Hasmoneans started to rule in 152), so we see how exactly at the point when there is no political independence and the relationship with the Seleucids are about to explode into a revolt there appears the image of the city not only of the Sacrifice but also of a king.
Both sources were preserved by in the book of the famous Church historian Eusebius of Caesaria, who had spend considerable amount of time in Jerusalem6 and left a detailed account of the transformation of the city into the new Christian Jerusalem. His Ninth Book of the Praeparatio Evangelica is a source of information concerning the understanding of the role of Jerusalem in Second Temple Period. It was important for Eusebius to bring in this tradition for he was the one responsible for creating the new Christian tradition Jerusalem, the centre of the New Testament.
The Book of Ben Sirah, written around 170 BC contains the chapter, where there is a hymn to God: “[Give thanks to the redeemer of Israel,] [for his mercy endures forever;] [Give thanks to him who gathers the dispersed of Israel,] [for his mercy endures forever;] [Give thanks to him who rebuilt his city and his sanctuary,] [for his mercy endures forever; ] [Give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout for the house of David,] [for his mercy endures forever;] [Give thanks to him who has chosen the sons of Zadok to be priests,] [for his mercy endures forever;] [Give thanks to the shield of Abraham,] [for his mercy endures forever;] [Give thanks to the rock of Isaac,] [for his mercy endures forever;]»7. King David and Abraham are the two heroes, appearing in this book. It was mentioned, that this fragment, which was not included into the Greek version of Ben Sira, is strikingly close to the Amidah prayer – one of the main prayers in the Temple and later – in the Synagogue. The connection between the prayer and the Sacrifice becomes explicit during the Byzantine period when in the Galilean synagogues there appears the iconography of the ritual Temple implements together with the Sacrifice of Isaac.
What is also important is that during the whole of the Second Temple period the Temple was the centre of political power. There was no ruler from Davidic line, but there was a High priest. He was official representative of the Jews in the court of both Ptolomeys and Seleucids. So the Temple continued to function not only as a place connecting Heaven and Earth, but also as a political centre and the royal connotations were still there. It was in the future when the Messiah would come and as a new ruler. The Temple itself is a guarantee that this would happen. In the words of Ben-Sirah “The Temple is built, the chosen ones – the sons of the High Priest Zadoc – serve in it, but the gathering of the exiles of Israel had not been finished, and the horn ((the horn of salvation-L.Ch.), the symbol of might) of the house of David is still in the distant future; all these hopes are quite realistic and sober, they are free from the expectation of the eschatological catastrophes”8.
The Temple was destroyed at the pinnacle of its glory. Enlarged by Herod the Great, surrounded by the colonnaded courts, it was not only the symbol of the city and the source of its economic prosperity, but also the largest temenos of the ancient world.
Since 135 and until 325 the city was under direct Roman rule. The Emperor Hadrian had erected Aelia Capitolina (“to be presided by the Capitolene cult of Jupiter and the divine Hadrian himself”9) here, but obviously his buildingd could not occupy the whole of the Temple Mount. After the destruction of the Temple the site of the Temple became meaningful as an empty place. Christians saw the Temple ruin as a fulfilment of Christ’s prophecy. For early Christians the New Testament was fulfilled on another mountain – the Golgotha – the site of Crucifixion. Its exact place was probably kept as a tradition in the early Christian community.
From the account of Eusebius we learn how on the Council of Nicea in 325 Constantine launched the program of discovery of the holy places and the most important for Christians place – the site of the Resurrection and the Crucifixion. They demolished the Temple of Venus and under it there appeared the cave of the Resurrection. In September 335 Eusebius delivered an oration in praise of the Golgotha basilica.
The mosaics of Santa Pudenziana, executed in the 4 – early 5 century depict the complex of buildings in Jerusalem, which immediately became the focus of pilgrimages for all the Christians. It consisted of the martyrium, the courtyard with Golgotha and the basilica.
Numerous pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem to see the places of the Gospel account and among them the Golgotha mountain. The pilgrims accounts, starting with the IV century famous account of Egeria, are a unique source, showing us the way the images were appropriated by the new masters of Jerusalem.
It is assumed that among the first travellers to the Holy Land was bishop Melito of Sardis (late third of II century). His poem on Easter is devoted to the relation between the old sacrifice and the new sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Temple and of Abraham and the new. It is obvious that he the description of the ram refers both to the Temple ram and to Isaac: 44.
«44. For at one time the sacrifice to the sheep was valuable, but now it is without value because of the life of the Lord. The death of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the salvation of the Lord. The blood of the sheep once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Spirit of the Lord. The silent lamb once was valuable, but now it has no value because of the blameless Son. The temple here below once was valuable, but now it is without value because of the Christ from above».
The ending claims that
45. The Jerusalem here below once had value, but now it is without value because of the Jerusalem from above. The meager inheritance once had value; now it is without value because of the abundant grace».
It is interesting that the earliest pilgrim account – the pilgrim from Bordo not only visited the Holy Sepulchre, but also described the Temple Mount. This desire to see the biblical sites would be explained by Egeria – the IV c.pilgrim, in her description of the Passion week: “So from the sixth to the ninth hour lections are always being read, or hymns sung, that it may be shown to all the people that whatever the prophets foretold about the Lord's Passion is proved by the Gospels or by the writings of the Apostles to have taken place. So for those three hours all the people are taught that nothing took place which was not first foretold, and that nothing was predicted which was not fully accomplished».
It seems that it took four centuries for this notion to find the visual embodiment, which was sought after by Egeria. This included the topographical shift – the Sacrifice of Isaac was now considered to be on the Golgotha.
There emerged the idea that the place of the Sacrifice of Isaac is exactly next to the place of the Crucifixion. This became particularly important in the VI century.
It was described both in the The Breviarius de Hierosolyma (530) and in Theodosius The Topography of the Holy Land.
"There Adam was molded; here Abraham offered Isaac, his own son, in the very place of the sacrifice where our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified10."
7 (a) 41 In the city of Jerusalem by the Sepulchre of the Lord is the Place of a Scull. There Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice, and because it is a hill of rock, it was on the hill itself – at its foot, to be exact – that Abraham made the altar. Above the altar rises the hill; one climbs to the top of it by steps. There the Lord was crucified11.
He is followed by the Piacenza Pilgrim:
«From the Tomb it is eighty paces to Golgotha; you go up on one side of it by the very steps up which our Lord went to be crucified, and on the actual rock there is a bloodstrain. Beside it is the altar of Abraham, which is where he intended to offer Isaac, and where Melchizedech offered sacrifice. Next to the altar is a crack; and if you put your ear to it you hear streams of water»12.
In the VII century Arculf describes the Holy Sepulchre. «Adjoining the church of Golgotha, to the east, is the basilica, or church, erected with so much magnificence by the emperor Constantine, and called the Martyrdom, built, it is said, in the place where the cross of our Lord with the other two crosses were found by the divine revelation, two hundred and thirty-three years after they had been buried. Between these two last-mentioned churches, is the place where Abraham raised the altar for the sacrifice of his son Isaac, where there is now a small wooden table, on which the alms for the poor are offered. P.8.
We should note that Egeria, who from 381 to 384 traveled the biblical sites throughout Palestine, described Golgotha at length but did not mention the Abraham altar. More that that. She speaks about the city, called Salem, where Melchisedek, the legendary king, who blessed Abraham, brought his sacrifice: "This is the city of king Melchizedek, which was called Salem, but now, through the corruption of the language, the village is called Sedima. On the top of the little hill, which is situated in the midst of the village, the building that you see is a church, which is now called in the Greek language opu Melchisedech. For this is the place where Melchizedek offered pure sacrifices--that is bread and wine--to God, as it is written of him." In the other place she mentions the hill with the palace of Melchizedek . Near it he met Abraham». So we see that Egeria refers to tradition according to which the city of Melchozedek - the first priest of God - is different from Jerusalem13.
Jerusalem was invaded by Arabs in 634 (?). In 692 c.e., during the rule of Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705 c.e.) the Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple mount. Its ideological program contained the idea of continuing and fulfilling the Jewish tradition through superseding Christianity (O.Grabar). The Sacrifice of Isaac becomes the subject of reflection for early Muslim thinkers. The Dome of the rock contained the Rock. It was seen both as the Foundation Stone of the world, which used to be in the Jewish Temple, and the altar of Abraham. An interesting tradition relates that at the time of Abd al-Malik a precious stone was suspended from the chain together with two horns of the ram sacrificed by Abraham and the crown of Kisra, king of Persia. They developed the imagery further making the Temple Mount the birth place of spirituality for the whole of Mediterranean.
These horns of the ram were mentioned by the Christian pilgrims among the relicts of the Holy Sepulchre. They are at the same time the “horn to sprout for the house of David» mentioned by Ben Sira. They were mentioned by both Egeria in the IV century and the Breviarius in the VI as the relics kept in the Holy Sepulchre: "the horn with which David was anointed, and Solomon. And there too is the Ring with which Solomon sealed the demons". So the link between the Temple, the sacrifice and the legitimate rule is explicit here.
The VI century was the golden age of Byzantium state. It is at that time that the idea that the Sacrifice of Isaac physically took place on Golgotha originated, for the Holy Sepulchre was the ultimate manifestation of the power of the Christian state.
It would not surprise us that the revival of the tradition that the Sacrifice of Isaac took place on Golgotha rather then on mount Moriah dated to the time of the Latin Kingdom. (1099-1291)
The next block of pilgrim accounts, which refer to the altar of Abraham placed next to the Golgotha is the 12 century. Saewulf's pilgrimage account is the first to survive after the Crusaders' conquest of Jerusalem. Little is known of the author beyond his name and the dates of his pilgrimage; he commonly has been associated with the merchant and monk Saewulf described by William of Malmesbury: AD 1102-1103: «The first place to be visited is the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is called the Martyrdom, not only because the streets lead most directly to it, but because it is more celebrated than all other churches; and that rightly and justly, for all the things which were foretold and forewritten by the holy prophets of our Savior Jesus Christ were there actually fulfilled. (…)
«Next we ascend Mount Calvary, where the patriarch Abraham raised an altar, and prepared, by Gods command to sacrifice his own son; there afterwards the Son of God , whom he prefigured, was offered up as a sacrifice to God the Father for the redemption of the world»14.
Daniel the Abbot travelled from Kiev at about the same time. He writes: “And next to it there is the altar of Abraham, where Abraham brought the sacrifice to God and killed the ram instead of Isaac. Because Isaac was brought up to that very place, where Christ ascended to be sacrificed for us, sinners” (перевод мой)”15.
All the writers of the 12 century not only describe, but also give the theological interpretation: both Saewulf and Daniel write about prefiguration, which had to be fulfilled. What is amazing is that both travellers at length describe the Temple Mount and its magnificence.
Saewulf: “The place where Solomon built the Temple was called anciently Bethel; whither Jacob repaired by God’s command and where he dwelt, and saw the ladder whose summit touched heaven, and the angels ascending and descending, and said “Truly this place is Holy” as we read in Genesis. There he raised a stone as a memorial, and constructed the altar, and poured oil upon it, and in the same place afterwards, by Gods will, Solomon built a temple of the Lord of magnifiscent and incomparable work, and decorated it wonderfully as we we read in the Book of Kings. (…) In the middle of which temple is seen a high and large rock, hollowed beneath, in which was the Holy of Holies. In this place Solomon placed an Ark of the covenant having the manna and the rod of Aaron, which flourished and buddle there and produced almonds and the two tablets of the testament”.
And is there outside of that cave under the dome there is the stone, on which Jacob had the dream, the stairway to the heavens and Gods angels ascend and descend on it. It is also here that Jacob was struggling with the Angel. Jacob arose from his sleep and said: this place is Gods house and this is the Gates to the Heaven. On the same place David the prophet saw the Angel, standing with his weapon on guard and striking the children of Israel, and he entered the cave in tears, praying to God and said: “My Lord, it is not the sheep who sinned but I who had sinned”. This church is 30 cubits length and 30 cubits wide and has 4 entrances. The old church, where there was the Holy of Holies was destroyed, and nothing is left of the first Temple of Solomon. (…) And this cave is in the Church now, and this stone; they are now under the roof, and it is al that is left of the old church. And this new church is built by the saracene elder Amor” (my transl).16
So both pilgrims refer to the story of Genesis, describe the stone and totally omit the story of Abraham. They describe this very stone of the Dome of the Rock, but deliberately omit the tradition that it is that very rock of Mount Moriah, where Abraham brought his son to the sacrifice.
The Anonymous pilgrim IX of the XIII century (c.1229–39) wrote: Pp.173
In the city is the Holy Sepulchre. In the choir is the centre of the world, where
the choir on the left side is Mount Calvary, where the Lord was crucified;
and there Abraham made his sacrifice to God. Underneath is Golgotha, where
Christ’s blood perforated the rock and fell on the head of Adam.
Writing at the same time Anonymous Pilgrim X wrote: It is two bowshots from the
Sepulchre to the Temple of the Lord, in which there are twelve doors, but
four are large. Inside, on the rock is the sacred rock, on which Christ, the
King of kings, born of the Virgin, was offered. And there appear the footprints of Jacob, and there Jacob saw the ladder touching heaven; and there also on it Abraham made the sacrifice of his son. Underneath is the place that is called the Holy of Holies. There the Lord wrote with His finger in the earth”. Again – he sees the Rock, but does not mention that it is the rock of the Sacrifice of Isaac.
7. On the right-hand side of the choir of the Holy Sepulchre one ascends fifteen
steps and thus enters Golgotha, in which the Lord was nailed to the Cross. There the sun was obscured and the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom. There the thief said, ‘Remember me, Lord, in your kingdom.’9 In that place there is also the rock that was split and on which the precious blood of Christ flowed out; and the Crucifixion of Christ is also depicted. It has fifteen lamps. And the dome of the chapel of Golgotha is shaped like a cross and the images of the prophets are delineated there in mosaic, with Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice. And there is the place in which he made the sacrifice. The pavement of Golgotha is chequered with mosaic and imparts the greatest delight to onlookers.
What is quite amazing is the fact that later the pilgrim try to reconcile the obvious discrepancies between the two traditions. The acute feeling of the inseparable bond which existed between the Old and New Testament brought about the new topography, according to which mount Golgotha is the new Mount Moria. The pilgrims of the later period do their best to describe the geography of Jerusalem. Sir John Maunoeville, Oxford professor and a priest, visited Jerusalem in 1697 and wrote first about the Temple Mount: “Turning down as soon as we had entered on the right hand and going about two furlongs close by the city wall, we were taken into a garden lying at the foot of Mount Moriah, on the south side, here we were shown several large vaults fifty yards under ground”. He then quotes Josephus to say that this “seems to describe some such work as this, erected over the valley on this side of the temple”. Having described the Mount of the Temple he continues: “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is founded upon Mount Calvary, which is a small eminence or hill upon the greater Mount Moriah. It was anciently appropriated to the execution of malefactors, and therefore shut out of the walls of the city as an execrable and polluted place”17.
The pilgrim accounts reveal the dynamic of transition of the image of Sacrifice of Isaac from one monotheistic religion to another. The dialogue between them is one of the most interesting phenomenon of the spiritual life of Mediterranean. The Sacrifice of Isaac becomes the event in need of new explanation. The pilgrims start to place this event in the Holy Sepulchre, describing it and bringing in the theological explanation. The new Islamic worship takes the tradition and developed it further.
In all three cases we see principle trend, which characterised the Early Christian period, which demands, according to Jas Elsner that “typological motifs explored in scriptural exegesis” should be translated “from the world of texts (created and circulated by the literate elite, and related by them to congregations through homilies and church sermons) to the world of pictures, accessible to everyone»18.
1 Eliav Jerusalem Idea and Reality p.47.
2 Ibid, 49.
3 Ibid, p.50.
4 Pioske, Daniel D. David’s Jerusalem: between memory and history. Routledge 2015. P.165.
5 Cambridge History of Judaism Vol.2. P.404-405.
6 Leo G. Perdue The Sword and the Stylus: An Introduction to Wisdom in the Age of Empires. P.238. Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica (9,20; 24; 37)
7 Иисус Сын Сирахов. Ивритское добавление, не вошедшее в греческую версию и потому не существующая в русском варианте.
8 ИЗБАВЛЕНИЕ (Введение в Талмуд) С. 456.
9 Hunt Constantine and Jerusalem P.407.
10 Empty Mount p.120 с оригиналом.
11 Wilkinson, p.65.
12 Wilkinson, p. 84. Vl72, 19.
13 «place where holy Melchizedek--when Abraham was coming to meet him--was the first to offer pure sacrifices to God. When we had come down from the church, as I said above, the holy priest said to us: "Behold, these foundations which you see around the little hill are those of the palace of king Melchizedek. For from his time to the present day if any one wishes to build himself a house here, and so strikes on these foundations, he sometimes finds little fragments of silver and bronze. And this way which you see passing between the riverJordan and this village is the way by which holy Abraham returned to Sodom, after the slaughter of Chedorlaomer1 king of nations, and where holy Melchizedek, the king of Salem, met him".
14 P.38. Английская книжка 19 века,
15 «И там поблизости находится жертвенник Авраамов, где Авраам положил жертву Богу и заклал барана вместо Исаака. Ведь Исаак был возведен на то самое место, куда возведен был Христос закланным быть нас ради, грешных»
16 И есть там вне той пещеры под куполом же камень, на котором Иаков видел сон: лестница, достигающая неба, а ангелы Божий восходят по ней и нисходят. Здесь же боролся Иаков с ангелом; встал от сна Иаков и сказал: «Это место — дом Божий, и это — врата небесные». На том же месте и пророк Давид видел ангела, стоящего с обнаженным оружием и поражающего людей Израилевых, и он вошел в ту пещеру с плачем, молясь Богу, и сказал: «Господи, не овцы согрешили, но я согрешил». Церковь же та тридцать саженей равно вдоль и поперек; входов же у нее четыре. Старая же церковь Святая Святых разрушена, и ничего не осталось от первого здания Соломонова, что можно видеть, и только видна насыпь под церковь, что начал делать пророк Давид. И пещера та теперь в церкви, и камень тот; это теперь под крышей, и это все, что осталось от старого здания. А эта нынешняя церковь построена старейшиной сарацинским по имени Амор
17 Early Travels in Palestine. Ed.by T.Wright. London, MDCCCXLVIII, 1948. P. 440.