Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Without Feathers': Abraham sacrifices Isaac

There are certain passages in the Bible that, if they don't trouble you, there's something wrong with you.

Genesis 22 is one of those passages. In this passage, God speaks to Abraham and tells him to go and sacrifice his son at Mount Moriah. Over the centuries rabbis, theologians and other commentators have done a lot to make this passage easier to swallow. It was a test, and God didn't really want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abahrahm's relationship with Isaac had come to mean more to him than his relationship to God, and so this was a push to set things right. The sacrifice indicates the shift from human sacrifice in early Yahwism to animal sacrifice. The ram that Abraham did sacrifice foreshadowed the eventual sacrifice of Christ.

It all boils down to this. God told Abraham to sacrifice his own son. That's got to be a little unnerving. I can't help but wonder what was going through Isaac's mind during all this.

Back in college, we read the Woody Allen anthology "Without Feathers"  for James Woolley's class "Satire and the Comic Absurd." I've always liked Allen's take on the story:

And Abraham awoke in the middle of the night and said to his only son, Isaac, "I have had a dream where the voice of the Lord sayeth that I must sacrifice my only son, so put your pants on." And Isaac trembled and said, "So what did you say? I mean when he brought this whole thing up?"

"What am I going to say?" Abraham said. "I'm standing there at 2 a.m. I'm in my underwear with the Creator of the Universe. Should I argue?"

"Well, did he say why he wants me sacrificed?" Isaac asked his father.

But Abraham said, "The faithful do not question. Now let's go because I have a heavy day tomorrow."

And Sarah, who heard Abraham's plan grew vexed and said, "How doth thou know it was the Lord and not, say, thy friend who loveth practical jokes, for the Lord hateth practical jokes and whosoever
shall pull one shall be delivered into the hands of his enemies whether they pay the delivery charge or not."

And Abraham answered, "Because I know it was the Lord. It was a deep, resonant voice, well modulated, and nobody in the desert can get a rumble in it like that."

And Sarah said, "And thou art willing to carry out this senseless act?"

But Abraham told her, "Frankly yes, for to question the Lord's word is one of the worst things a person can do, particularly with the economy in the state it's in."

And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham's hand and said, "How could thou doest such a thing?"

And Abraham said, "But thou said ---"

"Never mind what I said," the Lord spake. "Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?"

And Abraham grew ashamed. "Er - not really … no."

"I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it."

And Abraham fell to his knees, "See, I never know when you're kidding."

And the Lord thundered, "No sense of humor. I can't believe it."

"But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?"

And the Lord said, "It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice."

And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.

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