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1. Where is Moriah?
According to 2Chr 3:1, Moriah is Jerusalem, where King Solomon built the temple for the Lord.
Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had designated, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (NRSV)
But the books of Chronicles, writings of the fourth century BCE during the Persian empire, were written to idealize the house of David and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Thus we should suspect the historical factuality of the Chronicler’s equating the location of Moriah with Jerusalem in 2 Chr 3:1, as the statement might have been intended to promote the Chronicler’s perspective.
The book of Deuteronomy commands the people of Israel to worship their God in one designated place. The Kingdom of Israel possessed several holy spots, including Bethel and Shechem, where Israel’s early patriarchs met their God, heard God’s instructions, and built altars. It was a matter of course that these locations were regarded as authoritative cultic places. On the contrary, the Kingdom of Judah did not have any special holy place. Nevertheless, King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, which lacks legitimacy as the sole cultic place for all people of God. For the Chronicler, whose purpose of writing was to support the legitimacy of the house of David and Kingdom of Judah, the only place of worship should not be anywhere else than Jerusalem. So the Chronicler created a story that tells that Jerusalem was, as a matter of fact, Moriah, the place where Abraham passed a test, met God, sacrificed a ram, and received God’s promise of incredible blessings. Jerusalem, which did not have any religious importance before, became the most important cultic place, the origin of worshiping the God of Abraham.
2. Jerusalem is known as Jebus, not Moriah
The book of Judges indicates that Jerusalem was called “Jebus,” as there lived Jebusites before the location was occupied by Israel. Israelites could not take Jebus until the time of David(2Sam), and even in the time of Solomon, Jebusites lived there(1Kg 9:20). From the time of Joshua to the time of Solomon, who centralized the power in Jerusalem, “Jebus” was its name. There is no mention of Moriah whatsoever, including Gen 22:1, except for 2 Chr 3:1. Even 2 Chr 3:1 mentions a Jebusite Ornan implying the location is called Jebusite rather than Moriah.
Moreover, the verse indicates that only is the name of the mountain Moriah instead of the land of Moriah.
Though we cannot deny the possibility of the historical factuality of 2 Chr 3:1 entirely, considering that there is no mention of Moriah in the Hebrew Bible other than 2 Chr 3:1 and Gen 22:2, as well as the Chronicler’s perspective mentioned above, it is much more reasonable to suspect that 2 Chr 3:1 is a purposeful statement rather than an objective historical fact. To idealize Jerusalem as the most legitimate place for worship, the Chronicler’s choice was Abraham. He was standing at the starting point of the great journey of Israel initiated by God’s promise.
3. Moriah is a name that implies “YHWH Yireh” (Jehovah Jireh)
Moreover, the name “Moriah” itself also increases our doubts about Jerusalem being originally Moriah. “Moriah” shares its root word with “Yireh,” and this implies that the story of Gen 22 is more of a folk tale or fiction(detailed analysis is provided in the next section). For example, Captain Hook has a hook in the place of his hand; Tinkerbell tinkers with things; the name Peter Pan, as I understand, is from the Greek God Pan, who plays panpipes just like Peter Pan. In the Hebrew Bible, Mahlon and Chilion mean “sickly person” and “frailty” respectively. These names are not the names that any parent would give their children. These names are a fictional literary device to imply their premature death. When we find this kind of names, literarily purposeful names rather than plain names in a story, we sense that the story is fictional. When God appeared to Abraham to command him to go to the land of Moriah, the place name was not just a plain word but a carefully chosen word to imply “Yireh” for the audience/reader who knew very well how closely Moriah and Yireh are related. In this respect, Moriah is probably a literary device rather than an actual name of a place(for the words YHWH and Jehovah, search this blog)
4. Moriah, Yireh/Jireh, the Origin of These Two
(1) Moriah: What is interesting about the word Moriah is that it shares its root word with Yireh(note: in Hebrew, Yireh is pronounced as Yir-eh with the rolling sound of r in Yir). Moriah itself is a difficult word, but fortunately, we have a footnote at this word in Gen 22:2 in BHS(a published version of the Hebrew Bible, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), which seems to reveal important pieces of information about the word Moriah. The image below shows how the word(upper one) and its footnote(lower one) look. The symbol “a” in the image indicates the footnote. According to it, some ancient translators recognized Moriah as Mareh and translated it accordingly (Mareh is pronounced as Mar-eh with the rolling sound of r in Mar). Note that Moriah and Mareh look very similar, and Mareh and Yireh also look similar. That is because they all share the same root. The root of Moriah can be understood from Mareh. And then we realize Mareh shares its root with Yireh. Look at the image, the word analysis below. Words in yellow are hardly visible, but it is the definite article “the” in Hebrew, which appears in both words.
To understand the root of Moriah, we need to parse Mareh first. Mareh is a hiphil (causative) participle form of “raah” (ראה), a verb meaning “to see.” Since it is a participle, Mareh should be something like “someone/something that shows” or “showing.” Then, Gen 22:2 would be “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of “showing,” and offer him there.”
Now, what then the word Moriah would mean? Unfortunately, the precise meaning is uncertain. Nonetheless, the root of Moriah is certainly “raah” and the prefix “M” in Moriah indicates that Moriah is also related to hiphil of the root. Moriah seems to be a derivative noun of a hiphil of “raah.” Even though we do not know the precise meaning of the word Moriah, it is highly probable that its meaning should be related to “showing.” So we might say “the land of Moriah/Mareh” is probably “the land of showing.”
(2) YHWH Yireh: The word “Yireh” (Yir-eh) in Gen 22:14 is likewise from the word “raah” (pronounced “ra-ah”; meaning “to see”). If you remove the prefix “Yi” in “Yir-eh,” you can see the similarity betwen “r-eh” and “ra-ah.” Yireh is an imperfect, 3rd person, singular form of the verb “raah,” meaning “he sees” (note: in Hebrew, this word can mean a variety of things as it does in English). Most English Bibles translate this expression YHWH Yireh as “the Lord will provide,” but it is not a translation that renders the original word’s most literal sense. According to the context, it is a possible understanding of the word but should not be the meaning or the only translation of the expression.
At the end of the story in Gen 22, Abraham changes the name Moriah into YHWH Yireh. The meaning of the land’s name might have been “God shows,” and it is correct because God eventually showed him a ram. However, Abraham had been in the dark until the very end of the event suffering from not seeing anything, not knowing God’s plan(the Hebrew word “raah” often means “to know.”) He really put his only son on the altar and even raised his hand holding a knife. When the tension was at its peak, the Lord showed him the ram, and Abraham realized the big picture of God’s plan. He might have thought, “the Lord has been seeing everything while I was completely in the dark!” At that moment, he changed the land’s name from “God is showing” to “God is seeing.”
What does that mean? I think it conveys very complex emotions; thus, its meaning should correspondingly complex too. The event seems like a very short version of the book of Job. The Lord intentionally gave Abraham a hard time without intending to actually kill Isaac. The Lord put him in the dark and tested him while the Lord saw everything, including the end. When Abraham realized all these, he should have felt terror and pain. In a way, God deceived Abraham. Abraham might have felt betrayed. Under such circumstances, Abraham uttered “YHWH Yireh,” “the Lord has been seeing everything.”
5. A Conclusion of the Story
If the story simply ends when Abraham changed the land’s name into YHWH Yireh, it might be very difficult to see any meaningful lesson from the story. But the real climax of the story comes at the scene, in which God’s messenger appears the second time (Gen 22:15-19). In this section, the messenger says as follows:
Gen 22:16 and [the messenger] said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (NRSV)
All these happenings happened out of the presupposition that the whole world will be blessed because of Abraham. Maybe for the ancient writer, such a big blessing should be given to a person who passes an extreme test like this. After all, God even sees the world where everyone is blessed because of Abraham’s radical obedience to God. God only had to execute what had to be done. In this story, as in Job, humans’ sufferings are justified by the very end result of the sufferings. Suffering given by God is fundamentally for the benefit of the sufferers and others. That is one of the concepts of God in the Hebrew Bible.
Then, we need to think:
(1) We romanticize God as we wish; we ignore what the Bible says about God.
(2) God’s deliverance is for free according to the eternal promise that God gave. That is the basic understanding of the so-called “covenant theology,” but it is not that simple.
(3) Where does the authority of the Bible come from? This question stems from the idea or belief that the Bible tells us historical facts, not fiction. Or we have to ask, “what is God’s Word?”