Jul 13, 2015

The Sacrifice of Isaac

One of the most horrifying stories in the Bible is the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22).

You probably remember it: God tells Abraham to kill his son.  So he takes Isaac out into the woods, ties him up, raises the knife -- then, at the last moment, an angel appears and says something like "Hah, hah, fooled you -- God was just kidding!  Here's a lamb for you to kill instead!"

When I was a Nazarene, no Sunday school teacher or preacher ever tried to explain the historical/cultural context of the story, how human sacrifice was commonplace, and some gods, such as Dagon, actually did demand children.

They didn't try to distinguish Abraham's act from the many crazy things people did today because "God told me to."  Or wonder about what kind of God would play such a dirty trick.

Instead, they just praised Abraham for his unquestioning obedience, and drew a parallel with Jesus: .  God wants to kill every one of us, but Jesus offered to take our place, so God killed him instead.

That didn't make me feel more comfortable.

I found it a example of the savagery beneath the heterosexist imperative: everyone said that fathers were wise, loving, and benevolent, but at any moment they could turn violent.  And then say God told them to.

That didn't make me feel more comfortable, either.

According to the Biblical account, Isaac was sixteen years old at the time, already an adult in the eyes of his community.  But the Sunday school teachers and preachers always envisioned him as a very little boy, too young to understand what was going on.

I preferred the illustration in my Children's Story Bible (top photo): a very muscular, grown-up Isaac with a handsome teen-idol face, naked except for a little white cloth, tied up with his arms behind his back, like Bomba the Jungle Boy.

Other artists have generally depicted a grown-up Isaac: an ideal opportunity to paint muscular male bodies.  Gregorio Lazzarini shows Isaac fully nude, and transforms Abraham into a muscle daddy.

Jacopo Ligozzi's version (left) even has a penis showing.

See also: Bible Beefcake.