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HTS Theological Studies

versión On-line ISSN 2072-8050
versión impresa ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 no.2 Pretoria jun. 2008



Isaac multiplex: Genesis 22 in a new historical representation



Christo Lombaard1

Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology. University of South Africa




In this paper, a new interpretation of the Genesis 22:1-19 account is offered. Based on the new view of biblical historiography as anecdotal (Frykenberg), and drawing on the author's own recent studies on the historical problems related to, and historically-sensitive narratological interpretative possibilities of, this Genesis text, a new meaning and a new dating for Genesis 22:1-19 are concluded to. This text, namely, reflects the end of a struggle for dominance between the different tradents of the patriarchal traditions, in which the Abraham tradents finally subjugate, with this Genesis 22*-text, the Isaac tradents. This occurs late in the compositional history of the Pentateuch, namely between 400 and 250 BCE.



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Works consulted

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1 Paper read at the Society for Biblical Literature congressInternational Meeting, Vienna, July 2007.
2 Van Seters (1975:229); Coats (1983:152); and Seebass (1997:200-201; 213-214) are among the few who differ from the majority on this point.
3 Cf e.g. Steiger & Heinen (2006); Garcia Martínez (2002:44-57); van Bekkum (2002:86-95); Leemhuis (2002:125-139); Bekker & Nortjé (1995:457-462); Berman (1997); Kruger (1991:190-191).
4 Cf e.g. van Van den Brink (2002:140-151); De Jong (2002:152-165); Berman (1997:137-149).
5 It is clear that the majority opinion is correct in this instance, that verses 15-18 are textual additions. This does not mean that these verses are to be disregarded: to the contrary, their effect on recasting the rest of the Akedah-narrative and the resultant effect on the interpretation history of this text are very important, for this study too. My references below to simply "Genesis 22" should be understood as shorthand for Genesis 22:1-14 & , 19.
6 See Schniedewind (2004:3-23) for a recent discussion of the writing/editing process.
7 Though I agree with their underlying understanding of the nature of historiography, I do not use this term as does Gunn & Fewell (1993:6), in their sense as something historically more reliable than sagas, legends and novellas in the Old Testament, categories which they view negatively. Rather, linking up with the philosophy of history of e.g. Frykenberg (2001:116-137), my view here is that, at least as far as the Pentateuchal accounts are concerned, there is value in also regarding each text/pericope/account as a text in itself, with its links to other texts a different matter, which is to be considered critically.
8 The decision on this matter dare not be generalised either; rather, each anecdotal unit should be evaluated in itself, before deductions are made about the whole of the Abraham cycle, for instance. This is an operational modus which is quite at home within classical tradition history.
9 This argument thus runs in some ways parallel to Davies's (1992) on "Israel" In search of ancient Israel (1995), though here in some sense filtered through Albertz's religionsgeschichtliche approach (1992). Of course, it would be valid to understand texts as they are reinterpreted in the newly-cast light, for instance to understand Genesis 22:1-14 & 19 in the light of the reinterpretation offered in Genesis 22:15-18, or to rethink all the Abraham-Isaac texts in the light of Genesis 22, dated late. That would be to follow the thinking proposed by the later editor. However, the text(s) as understood before the recasting of meaning by this later editor is an equally valid object of investigation, as its own anecdotal unit. It is on this last aspect that all approaches which stress the "final text" or "canonical text" falter: they simply buy into the ideas of whichever editor happened to have a hand in last.
10 For an overview of the historical questions which have been raised in relation to the Genesis 22-text, see Lombaard 2007c.
11 Two minor streams offer alternative historical interpretations: that the Genesis 22-account reflects an earlier aetiology of the name of the mountain in 22:14 (), and that Genesis 22 reflects an initiation rite (only White 1991:187, 203, drawing on his earlier work, White 1979:1-30). Though some vague nods have been made in the direction of the former proposal, though always with the qualification that even if it were true, that aspect now lies so far behind the text as to be essentially untraceable, the White-suggestion has found no audience.
12 Unintentionally, von Von Rad (1976:194) comes very close to this view, when he writes: "Das spätere Israel … konnte wohl nichts anders als sich in Isaac verkörpert zu sehen, d.h. also auf den Altar Jahwes gelegt, ihm zurückgegeben und dann allein von ihm das Leben zurückempfangend, ... allein aus dem Willen dessen, der Isaac aus der Freiheit seines Geschichtswillen leben lieβ. "
13 Clearly, Alt's (1929) Gott der Väter-hypothesis echoes here …
14 Miyamoto's interpretation, reading in Genesis 22:2 as "lift up [Isaac] on the mountain in order to offer a burnt offering" (cf Sekine 2007:11 on Miyamoto 2006:81-162) may be creative, and his resultant conclusion that Genesis 22 leads to "a tribe-conquering narrative identity" Sekine (2007:11) appears attractive to my proposed interpretation here. However, Miyamoto apparently indicates a personal, existential element with this phrase, whereas the interpretation possibility offered here is that an adversarial relationship between two different tradent groups, which is "resolved" by the one now finally and thoroughly coming to dominate the other, "with God on our side" (in the words of folk singer Bob Dylan,  1964).
15 Boehm (2002:1-12 &;  2004:155-156) thinks in some ways along parallel lines to my reasoning on this point, but sees the heavenly intervention here as a later apology for Abraham who, in an older version of the events, sacrificed a sheep in stead of obeying the command of verse 1. He accepts, thus, concord between Abraham and Isaac – one of many such apologetic turns in both the academic and religious literature on the Akedah. An interpretation which notices the inner-religious contest, however, requires no such interpretative turns.
16 The harmonious interpretation of this narrative as that Abraham and Isaac are here given to one another, because of their shared obedience to God, as Kaiser (2003:224) would have it, does not take into account the minute, instrumentalist-only role Isaac is afforded here. In addition, one has to make sense of the given that Isaac is absent from verse 19, and Abraham moves alone to Beersheba, the home of the Isaac traditions, symbolically with this narrative to take over both the place and to some extent the Isaac traditions. The latter we see most clearly with the "my wife my sister" passages.
17 Moberly's interpretation (1988:319-323) of the verses 15-18 addition, namely that Abraham would from now on (i.e. for Moberly, the 7th or 6th century) play an intercessionary role in Israel's faith, would have supported my argument here: Isaac is rendered powerless by God-and-Abraham-in-cahoots. However, I do not find this Abraham-as-intercessionary view of the Akedah-postscript by Moberly convincing.
18 Remember: it is a white South African, born into the Dutch Reformed Church, speaking here …
19 With thanks to Seizo Sekine for the translations and references.
 [xxx1Ek vermoed dis net op my rekenaarskerm wat hierdie Hebreeus so lyk...?
 [xxx2Kan ons dié verwysing opskuif tot onderaan die voorafgaande paragraaf?
 [xxx4Dit is 'n reeks, ja

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