genesis 21-22 - motherly love & filial sacrifice

I’m trying to make Ponzo Reads the Bible a regular feature, and Sunday seems like the most appropriate day for it. Unfortunately, the first entry happens to concern Genesis 21, which is mostly boring as shit, so we’re going to skip much of it. The first half does deserve mention, though, because it not only introduces a major character, but reveals what kind of a person Sarah is.

Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Sarah, of course, is not only Abraham’s wife, but his sister, so we are already in weird ass territory here. Sarah is also over 90 years old at this point, so it’s even weirder. Fortunately, Sarah has been receiving fertility treatments from God: therefore, Isaac.

Of course, a 90-year-old woman giving birth is biologically dubious, but we do not question the pumpkin carriage or the ruby slippers; all fairy tales need their supernatural elements. Thus, we will take it in stride and move ahead.

Earlier we felt some sympathy for Sarah, but, if that hasn’t already evaporated, it will now. Since Sarah has her own kid now, she gets jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael. You may remember Hagar: when Sarah was still infertile, she forced her slave girl Hagar to bear Abraham a son, Ishmael. Well, now Sarah wants them out of the house, because they offend her.

I’m no fan of Abraham or God, but I am willing to cut them a break here. God promises that Hagar and Ishmael will be taken care of, and that is indeed the case. Sarah, on the other hand, couldn’t care less whether Hagar and Ishmael live or die. So fuck her.

This chapter now goes off on one of those odd Biblical non-sequiturs and discusses the origins of a well, so this is where we’ll skip ahead to Genesis 22. I was willing to cut God and Abraham some slack a moment ago, but this is the chapter that makes me want to take both of them out back and ensure that no one ever finds the bodies.

This is the part where Abraham almost murders his own son at God’s request.

God decides to “tempt” Abraham, but God is really testing his loyalty. He demands that Abraham offer Isaac as a sacrifice. What is remarkable here is that Abraham does not suffer any moral qualms about this. He does not question why God would make such a demand. He does not resist in the slightest. He merely packs up his ass (the other kind), selects his best sacrificin’ knife, and sets off to the altar.

Of course, we know that God relents at the very end, with Isaac bound on the altar and the knife in Abraham’s hand. What does this say about God, though? He demands loyalty to him over familial relationships, regardless of the damage it does. What did Isaac think about his father after this? What was their relationship like? Is this the kind of human society that God expects his followers to create: one in which no one can trust anyone else? Even worse, this passage has served as the template for subsequent Christian families rejecting their children when they didn’t turn out the way that they wanted.

In other words, these are the “family values” that fundamentalists truly have.

Any God that would demand that its servant demonstrate his loyalty by killing his own son is simply evil. And any father that would blindly and robotically follow such a command is more than a “bad father”, but a sociopath.

There is more to consider here, though, because there are two versions of this story. As we’ve discussed previously, the Pentateuch is comprised of at least four different source documents. Well, the Isaac sacrifice story appears in two of them. The one people are familiar with is the one in which God relents at the very end; this is basically the Disney version of an older, original tale. You see, in that source document, Isaac never appears again after this. In other words, originally, God let Abraham go through with the sacrifice.

There is evidence that human sacrifice was practiced by the forerunners of the Israelites. By the time the Bible was compiled, the practice had mostly shifted to animal proxies. There are still passages in the Bible that reflect the earlier practice, though; most of them were edited out, but reconstructing the source documents reveals them. This is one such example.

Genesis 22 ends with – what else? – a boring genealogy. Hopefully things will pick up next time. (Actually, they don’t.)

No comments: