Depicting Abraham’s Sacrifice: Differing Biblical and Islamic Textual Traditions

The story of the intended sacrifice is an integral part of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or the “Abrahamic faiths.”[1] For Jews, the story lays the basis for “an exclusive covenantal relationship with God.”[2]  Abraham’s intended sacrifice was Isaac and he would bear the progeny of the Children of Israel.  God formed an eternal covenant with the community favoring them over all of humanity. In Christianity, Isaac plays an important role in the “prefiguration of Jesus as Christ.”[3]  Just as Isaac atones for the sins of the Children of Israel, the sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sins of all mankind. While Isaac’s sacrifice is part of the covenant between God and the Children of Israel, Jesus’s sacrifice represents the beginning of a new covenant.  In the Islamic tradition, the intended sacrifice plays a lesser role with neither Ishmael nor Isaac playing a dominant role in Muslim scriptures.  Nevertheless, an historical narrative evolved in which Ishmael was considered the intended sacrifice and that through him a unique relationship developed between God and the Arab Muslims.[4] Because of the importance of the story, it is no surprise that artists throughout time have depicted the sacrifice story in variety of ways.  In this short post, I will comment on how two contemporaneous artists – one in Italy and the other in Iran – demonstrate a deep understanding of their respective scriptures and how their portrayals both overlap and differ.

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