Scala/Art Resource, NY

In this 12th-century mosaic, from the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, the patriarch holds a knife above Isaac, who lies on an altar with his arms bound (compare with 16th-century illumination from The Garden of the Happy). Lower down Mt. Moriah (left), Abraham’s two servants wait for their master to return. The Latin inscription at top records the words of the angel who arrests Abraham’s hand: “Abraham, Abraham! Do not lay your hand upon the boy” (Genesis 22:11–12).

Although in the Bible the son is clearly identified as Isaac, in the Qur’an’s pithy version of the near-sacrifice, he remains unnamed because his identity is insignificant. In the Qur’an, the near-sacrifice story is a straightforward lesson in faith: God commands the near-sacrifice; Abraham, with his son’s encouragement, complies. It doesn’t matter which son: They are both model Muslims who hear God and immediately obey.

In Genesis, however, the son’s identity is critical to the message. Bible readers fear that if Isaac is killed, God’s covenant with Israel will die with him.