Born: 19th century B.C.
Died: 18th century B.C.
Best known as: The Hebrew patriarch who was almost sacrificed by his father
Reliable but not brilliant, Isaac plays an important torch-passing role between his father, Abraham, and son, Jacob, in the biblical book Genesis. As told in chapters 21-28, Isaac is born to the elderly Abraham and his wife Sarah and chosen over half-brother Ishmael to bear the Hebrew lineage. God tests Abraham in a strange near-sacrifice of Isaac, halted only at the last second after Abraham proves his willingness to obey God. Later, with a wife chosen for him (Rebekah), Isaac dutifully leads a generation as a nomadic chieftain in what is now southern Israel, Gaza and the West Bank – quarreling at times with the native Philistines over wells dug in a dry land. He is nearly blind and on his deathbed when Jacob, wearing goat skins, swindles him out of a blessing intended for his elder son, Esau. Besides being a patriarch in Judaism, Isaac is also an honored biblical figure in Christianity and a prophet in Islam (see Koran 19:50 and other passages).
Extra credit: There is no known birth date for Isaac, but it is believed he existed between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C.... The name Isaac in Hebrew (Yitzhak or Yitzchak) is a play on the words "laughed" and "laughter," echoing Abraham's and Sarah's reaction to God's announcement that they will have a child when they are very old... The near-sacrifice, or "binding," of Isaac is depicted in famous paintings by Andrea Mantegna (15th century); Peter Paul Rubens, Anton Van Dyck, and Rembrandt (17th century); and Marc Chagall (20th century)... Genesis reports Isaac's death in Chapter 35, long after the rest of his story.
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