Abraham’s Temptation, Forerunner of Jesus’ Temptation

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When tempted, both Jesus and Abraham vanquished their tempter with words of Torah, just as Israel’s teachers exhorted their students to do.

Revised: 03-Jun-2013

Our father Abraham was tested [by God] with ten trials, and he withstood them all, demonstrating how great is God’s love for Abraham our father (Mishnah, Avot 5:3).[1]

Abraham’s temptation while on his way with Isaac to the land of Moriah[2] is amazingly similar to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

The Talmud describes Abraham’s temptation in its commentary on “After these things, God tested Abraham….” (Gen. 22:1). The “test,” “trial,” or “temptation”—all translations of the Hebrew word נִסָּיוֹן (nisayon)—was God’s command that Abraham take his only son Isaac to the land of Moriah and “offer him there as a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2). Here is how the Talmud relates Abraham’s temptation:

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  • [1] The author’s translation of m. Avot 5:3, עֲשָׂרָה נִיסְיוֹנוֹת נִיתְנַסָּה אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ וְעָמַד בְּכּוּלָם לְהוֹדִיעַ כַּמָּה הִיא חִיבָּתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ (Codex Kaufmann).
  • [2] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 89b. Abraham’s trial is the final of a series of ten. In his A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1987), 49-52, Samuel Tobias Lachs does not refer to this parallel. He does quote m. Avot 5:3, and reference Genesis Rabbah 22:6, two of the other rabbinic sources to which I have referred in this article.