Published: 31 January 2022

Did The Binding Of Isaac Happen On The Temple Mount?

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is a very special place to both Jews and Christians. It was the location of Solomon’s Temple and the site where the temple was rebuilt after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. According to Jewish tradition, this is also the place where Abraham bound Isaac. 

Isaac, the son Abraham and Sarah had waited on for twenty-five years, had finally been born (Gen 21:1-7). Isaac was Abraham’s son of promise. Ishmael had been sent away (Gen 21:12-14) and Isaac was the only son Abraham had left, so to speak. In the narrative, no sooner was Isaac born than God told Abraham to do the unthinkable:

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen. 22:2 ESV)

The testing of Abraham would take place on a mountain in the land of Moriah 

Where was the land of Moriah?

2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us that Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah.

Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (2 Chr. 3:1 ESV)

Is this the same mountain where Abraham bound Isaac? With due respect to tradition, this is most likely not the same location. Note carefully that Genesis 22 never tells us the name of the mountain, only that it was a mountain in the land of Moriah.

“A close reading reveals that the term “Mount Moriah” does not appear at all in the story of the binding of Isaac (the “Aqeda” [Gen 22:1-14, 19]). The story opens with the divine command to Abraham to go to “the land of Moriah,” there to sacrifice his son, Isaac, “on one of the heights” which would be pointed out to him (vs 2). Later, the story tells how Abraham went to “the place of which God had told him” and how, on the third day, he saw “the place from afar” (vss 3-4). However, at no point does the story give details concerning the name of “the place” or of the mountain on which Isaac was bound.”[1]Kalimi, Isaac. “The Land of Moriah, Mount Moriah, and the Site of Solomon’s Temple in Biblical Historiography.” Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 4 (October 1990): 345.

Solomon built his temple on a mountain called Moriah. Was this just a coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not. We simply don’t know. Maybe the inhabitants named the temple’s location “Mount Moriah” to connect it to the land of Moriah. After all, Abraham’s test of faith in the land of Moriah was a significant event. Perhaps calling the site of the temple “Moriah” was meant to honor and commemorate the binding of Isaac.

It is interesting to note that the account in Chronicles mentions events in David’s life related to Mount Moriah, but not Abraham’s. If the Chronicler thought Solomon built the temple at the same place Abraham bound Isaac, wouldn’t that have been a very important event to connect to this place?

The truth of the matter is that Genesis does not tell us where the land of Moriah was. The location remains shrouded in mystery.[2]Alter, Robert, ed. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. First edition. New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018: 72. How well does the vicinity of Jerusalem fit the few clues Genesis 22 gives us?

A little privacy please

Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Gen. 22:5 ESV)

The city of Jerusalem had been a permanent settlement since 3000 B.C. and Jerusalem would have occupied Mount Moriah’s southern slope during Abraham’s time. Granted, the top of Mount Moriah was not within the city proper at this time. Still there would have been people nearby if this was the place where the offering happened.

Abraham made his two servants wait afar off while he and Isaac went on to worship. It seems they desired privacy and going to a location where there was a city within a few hundred feet causes me to question whether this is the same mountain where the temple was later built.

Along with this, if God wanted Abraham to go to the mountain on the north of Jerusalem, why not just tell him to go to the mountain near Salem? Salem is the ancient name of Jerusalem and the name Abraham knew it by (Gen 14:18).[3]Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009: 97.

No wood in the land of Moriah

Another reason to doubt that the land of Moriah was near Jerusalem is the need to carry their firewood with them.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Gen. 22:3 ESV)

Clearly, Abraham did not expect to have any wood for the sacrifice in the place he was headed to. If he were heading into the Judean hills in the vicinity of Jerusalem, firewood would have been abundant.

“It would not have been necessary for Abraham… to drag a supply of kindling with him for the altar fire had his mission been to the wooded hills of Judah.”[4]Kalimi, Isaac. “The Land of Moriah, Mount Moriah, and the Site of Solomon’s Temple in Biblical Historiography.” Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 4 (October 1990): 349.

“Abraham appears to be familiar with the place, and since he takes firewood with him, presumably he knows that wood is not available in the region. In contrast, the wooded hills around Jerusalem would have provided ample firewood for the sacrifice.”[5]Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009: 96-97.

This suggests the land of Moriah was not near Jerusalem.

Three day journey

One other clue in the text reveals the land of Moriah was a three day journey from Beersheba (Gen 21:33, 22:4, 19). As the crow flies, it is 43 miles from Beersheba to Jerusalem. Of course, Abraham and Isaac did not walk in a straight line so the mileage they traveled would have been greater. Given that a day’s journey in ancient times could cover up to twenty-five miles, one would expect the trip between Beersheba and Jerusalem to be a two day journey at most. 

This would appear to rule out Jerusalem as the site of the binding of Isaac. The land of Moriah would seem to have been another twenty to twenty-five miles further than Jerusalem.

A theological statement as opposed to geographical statement

All things considered, there is no biblical reason to conclude that the future location of Solomon’s Temple was the spot where Abraham bound Isaac. Whether they are the exact same hill or not, the more important fact may be that a type/anti-type relationship is present. 

There are a number of parallels between Isaac and Jesus. Perhaps the Chronicler is making a theological statement, not necessarily a geographical one. We’ll explore some of the theological implications in the next post.

References

References
1 Kalimi, Isaac. “The Land of Moriah, Mount Moriah, and the Site of Solomon’s Temple in Biblical Historiography.” Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 4 (October 1990): 345.
2 Alter, Robert, ed. The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. First edition. New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018: 72.
3 Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009: 97.
4 Kalimi, Isaac. “The Land of Moriah, Mount Moriah, and the Site of Solomon’s Temple in Biblical Historiography.” Harvard Theological Review 83, no. 4 (October 1990): 349.
5 Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2009: 96-97.