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God's angel interrupts the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, while a ram waits to take Isaac's place; painting by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century.

Isaac, also known as Yitzak or Yitzchak, is one of the three Patriarchs in Judaism. He was born between 2000 B.C.E. and 1500 B.C.E. His name is a play on the Hebrew words for "laughed" and "laughter," echoing his mother Sarah's amused reaction to the Archangel Gabriel's announcement to the Jewish Matriarch that even though she was 90 years old, she and her husband Abraham, the founder of the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, would conceive the baby Isaac. The divine prophecy included the promise that Isaac would be the ancestor of many nations. Isaac accompanied his father on a journey to Mount Moriah, where he was to be sacrificed as a test of Abraham's faith in the divinity of Yahweh. In acknowledgement of Abraham's demonstration of piety, Yahweh sent a ram to take Isaac's place as a burnt offering.

Isaac married Rebecca, a cousin chosen for him by his father. After many years of barrenness, and prayers by Isaac, she gave birth to twin boys, Esau and Jacob. As the first-born of the twins, Esau was to inherit Isaac's patriarchal blessing, but he was a man of uncertain temperament, and one day, while hungry, he traded his birthright for a bowl of stew from Jacob. Later, as Isaac, old and blind, lay in bed, he asked Esau to hunt wild game and prepare a soup for him, and he would give him the patriarchal blessing. But Rebecca, who favoured her younger twin, Jacob, told Jacob to slaughter a goat from their flock, and she prepared the soup with that. She then helped Jacob disguise himself by wearing Esau's clothing and the hair of the slain goat, and Jacob stole the blessing from Isaac by means of this deceit.

Isaac is usually depicted as a participant in the sacrifice, as a mature man with his wife Rebecca and their sons Jacob and Esau, or as an elderly man on his deathbed, conveying the stolen blessing to Jacob. In the Book of Genesis 25:21, it is said that "Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren," and so Isaac's petition to God is echoed by many men who hope to bring about the fertility of their childless wives. Jewish and Christian thinkers have drawn significant lessons from the averted sacrifice of Isaac. Maimonides saw in it the heroic extent of humanity’s love for and fear of God, while Talmudic sages state that God never intended that Isaac be slain at all, but rather to halt the sacrifice from the beginning. Christian scholars take the position that Abraham must have been aware that, if killed, Isaac would be resurrected so that the Lord's earlier promise that he would have many descendants could be fulfilled.


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