Chap. VIII.

Of the Picture of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.

IN the Picture of the Immolation of Isaac, or Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac is described as a little boy;[1] which notwithstanding is not consentaneous unto the authority of Expositors, or the circumstance of the Text. For therein it is delivered that Isaac carried on his back the wood for the sacrifice; which being an holocaust or burnt offering to be consumed unto ashes, we cannot well conceive a burthen for a boy; but such a one unto Isaac, as that which it typified was unto Christ, that is, the wood or cross whereon he suffered; which was too heavy a load for his shoulders, and was fain to be relieved therein by Simon of Cyrene.[2]

Again, He was so far from a boy, that he was a man grown, and at his full stature, if we believe Josephus[3] who placed him in the last of Adolescency, and makes him twenty five years old. And whereas in the Vulgar Translation he is termed puer,[4] it must not be strictly apprehended, (for that age properly endeth in puberty, and extendeth but unto fourteen) but respectively unto Abraham, who was at that time above sixscore. And therefore also herein he was not unlike unto him, who was after led dumb unto the slaughter, and commanded by others, who had legions at command; that is in meekness and humble submission. For had he resisted, it had not been in the power of his aged parent to have enforced; and many at his years have performed such acts, as few besides at any. David was too strong for a Lion and a Bear; Pompey had deserved the name of Great; Alexander of the same cognomination was Generalissimo of Greece; and Anibal but one year after, succeeded Asdruball in that memorable War against the Romans.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross, Arcana Microcosmi II:11, says that some rabbins make Isaac 12 years old, and, "being men were stronger at that time then now", he might well have carried the wood up the hill at that age; and besides, to Abraham, he begot Isaac at the age of 125, even a 25-year-old is a "boy".

1 [Frequently, but not always. For some examples, see this painting by La Hire, where Isaac would seem to be somewhere in the range of 13 to 15 years old; this by Caravaggio, where (predictably) Isaac is probably post-pubescent, say 17 or so; and this statue by Donatello, where it is not clear how old exactly he is. The problem seems to be one of aesthetics as much as of sentiment: especially in sculpture, it is difficult to make a full-sized man look right when knelt over about to be sacrificed by another adult. Wilkin adds: "More absurd representations have been made of this event. Bourgoanne notices a painting in Spain where Abraham is preparing to shoot Isaac with a pistol! Phil. Rohr (Pictor Errans) mentions one in which Abraham's weapon was a sword." The latter is not uncommon in sculptural representation. Interestingly, the error propagates itself through texts as well as images; I recently read an article (in a refereed journal) which went on at some length about the putative "child-sacrifice" of Isaac and its relation to child abuse and child murder in modern America, which are alleged to occur at levels that are historically unusual. Such claims are unconvincing to those who have recently read much ancient history.]

2 [Also see Hydriotaphia, Chapter III: And if the burthen of Isaac were sufficient for an holocaust, a man may carry his owne pyre.]

3 [Antiquities 1.13, 2, where he writes: "Now Isaac was twenty-five years old."]

4 [The Latin, unlike the English "boy" or the Greek, is unambiguous, meaning "a male child". Wren adds: In the Greeke the word [παις] is ambiguous and, as wee say, polysemon, signifying diverslye according to the subject to which it relates: as when it relates to a lord and master it signifies a servant, and is to bee soe translated: where itt relates to a father itt signifyes a sonne. The old translation is therefore herein faulty, which takes the word in the prime grammatical sense for a child, which is not always true. In the 4th cap. of the Acts, vers. 25, itt renders Δαβιδ του παιδος σου, David pueri tui, and in the 27th παιδα σου Ἰησουν, puerum tuum Iesum, in both places absurdly: which Beza observed and corrected; rendering the first by the word servant, and the later by the word sonne rightlye and learnedlye.]

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