1902 Encyclopedia > Isaac

Hebrew patriarch
(fl. c. 2000 BC)

ISAAC ___ (Heb.), "he laughs"; Isaak, Isakos [Gk.], the only child of Abraham and Sarah, was born when his parents were respectively a hundred and ninety years of age (Gen. xvii. 17). Explanations of the name seem to be intended by the sacred writer in more than one reference to the incredulous or joyous laughter of his parents when a son was promised to them (Gen. xxi. 6, xviii. 12, xvii. 17) Like his father, Isaac lived a nomadic pastoral life, but within much narrower local limits, and with an occasional experiment in agriculture (Gen. xxvi. 12). After the death of his j mother, he married Rebekah the daughter of his cousin Bethuel, by whom after twenty years of married life he became the father of Esau and Jacob. He died at the age of one hundred and eighty. The most striking episode of his life as related in the Biblical record is that which took place while he was still young, "in the land of Moriah," when at the last moment he was by angelic interposition release from the altar on which he was sacrificed by his father in obedience to a divine command. Other occurrences which have been recorded have striking resemblances to incidents in the life of Abraham. Of a less energetic individuality than his father and sons, Isaac is by general consent of the Christian church taken as a representative of the unobtrusive, restful, piously contemplative type of human character. By later Judaism, which fixed its attention chiefly on the altar scene, he was regarded as the pattern and prototype of all martyrs. The Mahometan legends regarding him are curious, but trifling. Among the far-fetched attempts of those who prefer a mythological interpretation of the early incidents of the Bible narrative may be mentioned those of Goldziher, who sees in Isaac a personification of the smiling light of the ruddy evening sky, and of Popper, who identifies the name with that of the dragon Azhi dahâka of Eranian [Iranian] folklore. See Ewald, Gesch. d. V. Isr., vol. i. ; and Herzog-Plitt, Realencyk. Vol. vii., art. "Isaak."

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