Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reading in tongues -- Genesis 22:1-14

And it came after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham, Abraham." And Abraham said, "See me." And God said, "Take your beloved son, the whom you love, Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there as a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains that I will tell you. And after Abraham rose in the morning, he saddled his donkey. And he took with him two servants and Isaac his son, and after he cut wood for the burnt-offering, he got up and went and on the third day came to the place which God had told him about. And Abraham raised his eyes and saw the distant land. And Abraham said to his servants, "Sit here with the donkey. The child and I will go ahead together, and after we worship we will return to you all." And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And with his hands he took the fire and the dagger the two of them went together. And Isaac said to Abraham his father, "Father." And Abraham answered, "What is it, child?" And Isaac said, "Look, here is the fire and the wood, where is the sheep for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "God personally will see to the sheep for the burnt offering, child." After going on together, they came to the place, which God had told Abraham. And there Abraham built the altar and laid upon it the wood. And after he bound the feet of Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the dagger to murder his son. And the Angel of YHWH cried out to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham." And Abraham said, "See me." And the angel said, "Do not lay a hand on the child, and do not do a thing to him. For now I know that you fear your God and for me would not withhold your beloved son from me." And Abraham raised his eyes and saw, and look -- a ram caught by his horns in the plant of Sabec. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered him as a burnt offering instead of Isaac his son. 
And Abraham called the name of the place there "YHWH Saw" in order that they might say today in the mountain YHWH was seen. 

I am attempting to keep up with my Greek by reading the lectionary passages for the week. So last night I read the Isaac story out of my Septuagint. This is kind of tough, as I don't have all the words in the Septuagint in my lexicons, but I make do. So yes, that's my translation of the passage, in all it's roughness. I rather prefer the rough translation than the pretty, cleaned-up, modern version, it reminds me that this is not a story from my world. And it's rather interesting reading a familiar story in another language, it makes you pay attention to pacing and the weight of the words and puts the story in another way. 

I always though that God was a bully and a thug in this story. Go sacrifice your beloved son to prove how much you love me. Ugh. But after translating this, I started to think again. I think the villain here was more Abraham than God. God was challenging Abraham to not sacrifice Isaac, to go against the practices of the day, waiting for Abraham to love his child more than he loved his convention. But because Abraham doesn't, God (rather, YHWH, because the word changes there in that last part, sign of redaction) intervenes. Yes, you love me. Don't hurt that boy. I know you would do it, but you don't have to. So just stop. Note that God was seen in the moment where violence was avoided through love.

In class, the professor pointed out that after this story, we never see Sarah again, leading some scholars to think that she died of a broken heart because she thought her husband killed her  only son. So even intention can have terrible results. 


Kirsten said...

Hi (h)apa,

I'm curious about Abraham's "see me," having seen that word or phrase translated mostly as "here I am" or some variation thereof. Is yours the more literal translation?

It led me to think of the Old English "hwaet" which basically means "pay attention, cuz this is important." I love those words that boil a big concept down into an itty-bitty living space.

(h)apaThealogy said...

Well, in the Greek, it says Idou Ego, which literally is See I. I know in the Hebrew it says Hineni, which is Here I Am! (my Hebrew Bible teacher would say this with such joy, it quickly became my favorite phrase). The intralinear Septuagint I have says "Behold, I am here." I'm being quite literal, but I was trying out another possibility. I'm sure it's idiomatic and I just haven't looked it up in the Big Lexicon.

Kirsten said...

Cool, thanks!