The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son

The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity

Jon D. Levenson

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August 30, 1995
276 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
ISBN: 9780300065114
Paper

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The near-sacrifice and miraculous restoration of a beloved son is a central but largely overlooked theme in both Judaism and Christianity, celebrated in biblical texts on Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, and Jesus. In this highly original book, Jon D. Levenson explores how this notion of child sacrifice constitutes an overlooked bond between the two religions.
Levenson argues that although the practice of child sacrifice was eradicated during the late seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E, the idea of sacrificing the first-born son (or the late-born son whose preferential treatment promotes him to that exalted rank) remained potent in religious literature. Analyzing texts from the ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and rabbinic literature, Levenson shows how tales of the son handed over to death by his loving father in the Hebrew Bible influenced the Church's identification of Jesus as sacrificial victim. According to Levenson, the transformation of the idea of child sacrifice was central to the accounts given by the people Israel and the early Church of their respective origins, and it also underlay the theologies of chosenness embraced, in their differing ways, by the two religions. Furthermore, the longstanding claim of the Church that it supersedes the Jews, says Levenson, both continues and transforms elements of the old narrative pattern in which a late-born son dislodges his first-born brothers. Levenson's book, which offers novel interpretations of several areas crucial to biblical studies, will be essential reading for scholars in the field.

Jon D. Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at the Divinity School and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University, is the author of numerous other books.

"This interesting and important book is a 'must' for anyone interested in biblical theology."—John J. Collins, Divinity School, University of Chicago

"This is an important book by an important author. In showing how the Midrashic systems of both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity move from the story of the sacrifice of Isaac toward their respective claims of primacy, Levenson discloses in a new way the common legacy and the radical divergence of our two religions. Furthermore, his essay is as lucid as it is learned; serious as the subject is, the book itself is an enjoyable read."—W. Sibley Towner, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia

"Levenson has written a provocative book that challenges the assumptions of biblical scholars about the history of child sacrifice in Ancient Israel. His conclusions are significant for historians of religion, theologians, and serious participants in Jewish-Christian dialogue."—Michael A. Signer, Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture, University of Notre Dame

"A valuable contribution to serious Jewish-Christian dialogue."—First Things 

"A valuable book not only for the clarity of its discussion of these difficult issues, but also for its willingness to deal with them honestly. . . . An enjoyable book to read: few academics write so well."—Graham Harvey, Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Levenson intrigues, astounds, and undermines many dearly held theological beliefs. This tour de force offers fascinating discussions of such matters as child sacrifice and the deity's right to the firstborn. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"In this beautifully written, thoughtfully annotated and elegantly produced book, Jon D. Levenson gives us a theological thriller that will interest theologians, ecumenists and preachers as well as biblical scholars."—W. Taylor Stevenson, Christian Century

"This is a book brimming with interest for anyone interested in the biblical and Jewish roots of Christian ideas of atonement. . . . Readable and important."—George Pattison, Theological Book Review

"[Levenson] offers the rare experience of a fresh, insightful, and thought-provoking thesis that combines the probing of fundamental religious issues with detailed exegesis of the biblical texts."—Walter Moberly, Journal of Religion

"The Jewish-Christian relationship will never be the same if this book receives the wide and careful reading it deserves. . . . [It] is essential reading. . . . We owe Levenson an immense debt for pushing us so far beyond the superficial level of the so-called 'dialogue.'"—Paul M. van Buren, Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Tracing from Canaanite to Christian thought the humiliations, deaths, and exaltations of sons and heirs, Levenson intrigues, astounds, and undermines many dearly held theological beliefs. This tour de force offers fascinating discussions of such matters as child sacrifice and the deity's right to the first-born; the paschal sacrifice and other Israelite rituals as symbolic substitutes for the son and heir."—A. J. Levine, Choice

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The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

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