Abraham's Curse

Abraham's Curse

Child Sacrifice in the Legacies of the West

Book - 2008
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When they arrived at the place which God had indicated to him, Abraham built
an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on
the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the
knife to kill his son . . ." --The Book of Genesis

Publisher: New York, NY : Doubleday, [2008]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2008
ISBN: 9780385520270
0385520271
Branch Call Number: 222.11064 CHI
Characteristics: 259 pages ; 25 cm

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j
jmikesmith
Jan 17, 2013

Religious scholar Bruce Chilton aims to describe and explain the history of sacrifice and martyrdom that run through the three Abrahamic faiths. The title refers to the story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son (Isaac in most traditions, Ishmael in others). Chilton argues that humans have always sacrificed animals and each other to appease the gods. The Abrahamic faiths took this further and developed theologies based on the story of Abraham where self-sacrifice was the greatest demonstration of faith. He suggests that this idea has led directly to the willingness of Western societies to send their young men to war and to Islamic suicide-bombers. He finishes by suggesting that the glorification of martyrdom is a mis-reading of the original Abraham story. Chilton believes the story tells us that God no longer wants human sacrifice, whether in religious ritual or in war. Some sections of the book were interesting. I particularly enjoyed his history of the theology of martyrdom from the Maccabees to early Christianity, and how that theology was a direct result of the persecution that Jews and Christians faced at the times those ideas were being developed. His concluding argument, that centuries of theologians have been reading their sacred texts incorrectly, seems weak. Although aimed at a general audience rather than academics, the style is still a bit stilted and not exactly easy to read. I understand that Chilton is trying to show believers that God is not asking them to die for their faiths, but Scripture alone is not going to be convincing because it's possible to find the opposite argument within its pages, as many have done before.

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