Thursday, December 29, 2011

The First Happy Ending -- Bible Study, Night Seven

Much has been made of Abraham's piety in almost sacrificing his favorite son, Isaac, but not enough has been made, in my opinion, of whatever quality in Isaac prevented him from trying to murder Abraham after the execution was called off. Precisely how Isaac responded to his near-slaying is left unrecorded, suggesting that he did little, which leaves one to wonder at his forgiving nature. Or perhaps he was just extremely passive,  Isaac, and disinclined to do anything to anyone, no matter what anyone had done to him. In any case, his submissiveness seems superior to that of his father, who'd met with God so often that obedience probably came easy to him. Isaac, however, barely knew the deity, first encountering Him while bound with cords and lying on a bed of firewood. That he remained faithful following this horror is one of the Bible's greatest emotional miracles.

Another one of the Bible's emotional miracles comes a bit later, when Isaac is awarded that rarest and finest of human experiences: truly mutual romantic love. When Rebekah first glimpses him from atop her camel after being being recruited as his bride, she isn't aware of who she's ogling. Luckily, given the surge of passion she feels, he turns out to be the husband she's been pledged to.  Had this not been the case -- had Isaac been someone else and had Rebekah been smitten with him instantly -- the Bible might have stopped right there, with an intractable conflict of the heart that even God might have despaired of solving.

But it's all for the best. The wedding night goes splendidly, marking the first instance in the Old Testament of two people getting exactly what they want in the precise manner that they want it, without a lot of turbulence and testing. That the happy deflowering takes place in the tent of Isaac's late mother, Sarah, heightens the sense of symmetry and rightness. Indeed, the whole love story seems slightly implausible -- prince seeks princess, secures one through intermediary, and not only is delighted by the results but finds that she's delighted, too -- making it the Bible's first full-fledged fairy tale.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for the late comment -- I am weeks behind on my RSS reading. I just want you to know how much I am loving this series of posts. I used to teach the history of religion (which meant a lot of courses on "Bible as Literature" and the like) and it's easy to conclude after a while that you've heard every possible interpretation of every single story. Yet your blog always manages to surprise me. Thanks.

    The thing that always bothered me about the akedah is the way the text seems to imply that Abraham came back from the mountain alone (22:19). There's a theory that the original version of the story went through with the sacrifice and that the 'happy' ending was only tacked on later; be that as it may, I still wish there were a little more of a joyful reunion between father and son than there is in the surviving text.