Protest against unworthy images of God is a deeply religious act. — Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President, Starr King School for the Ministry

In the story of the binding of Isaac, God instructs Abraham to offer his beloved son as a burnt offering. The meaning and wisdom of this disturbing text has been debated for many centuries. Is this a test of faith for Abraham, in which Abraham demonstrates obedience even to the point of sacrificing his own son? Is this a story that shows that God disapproves of child sacrifice, a practice by many groups in Abraham's time? Is this a story which depicts God as engaging in a monstrous test, a test which renders such a God unworthy of worship? Is this a story that critiques patriarchal culture, where women and children were possessions of their husbands and fathers? Why was such a story preserved in the scriptural tradition? Unlike some other disturbing stories in the Hebrew scriptures, why does this one remain current and well-known in the popular religious culture of three religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

This story must be explored with sensitivity in a multigenerational group setting. The ground should be carefully laid before telling the story, and an invitation extended to all ages to judge the actions of God and Abraham. Invite participants to engage critically with the text, asking, not so much why this story was told, but why it was preserved. Why do people still tell it today? What wisdom can we draw from the story? What image of God is portrayed? Some of the activity options explore the story as a metaphor, while others are more concrete and encourage "talking back" to Abraham, to God, and to those in positions of power who ask us to do what we know is wrong.

This workshop continues a pattern of activities that frame all of the workshops in this program. Congregations may wish to establish their own patterns for this series of workshops, perhaps arranging for refreshments or a meal to precede or follow each workshop. Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction and make any accommodations necessary for your group.

Goals

This workshop will:

  • Present the story of the binding of Isaac and invite participants to deepen understanding and knowledge of the story
  • Invite participants to engage critically with a disturbing and mysterious text and discover what wisdom it offers today
  • Ask why this story remains current in the popular religious culture and imagination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Understand of the binding of Isaac story by exploring it from the perspectives of characters in the narrative
  • Explore questions and explanations that have been offered for this story
  • Respond to the actions of Abraham and of God as told in this story
  • Consider wisdom it may offer today
  • Connect with people of all ages and be enriched by the different perspectives offered.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.