Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A dumb, but seasonal, bit of DH speculation

I saw some kfira over the high holiday which argues from the text that our father Abraham actually killed his son, our father Issac, on Mount Moriah at the end of the story we read from the Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashana.

It goes something like this.

:: The Akeida is an E story. When God calls to Abraham at the start, He is "Elokim"

:: The angels calling from heaven is a J insertion. It is said to be an "angel of J"


Explaining the presumed and speculative differences between E and J is beyond the scope of this little post. Try Wikipedia or ask on the thread.

--End Interpolation--

:: The fact that the angel calls twice from the heavens suggests the text has been modified. Why, reason the critics, wouldn't the angel have said everything he needed to say at once? In the parallel Ishmael story, the angel speaks one time only.

:: The second angelic message praises Abraham, saying 'thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son." It doesn't say, "you were willing." It says, "you did it." (This angel is also an "angel of J". The critics say the redactor who added the J verses, also changed the identity of the angel to aid the flow of the story)

:: As the E story continues, only Abraham returns to the donkey.

:: Isaac never again appears as a character in the E source.

:: Therefore, suggest some critics, we can speculate the the original E story belongs to a time when child sacrifice was allowed, and that these changes were introduced after the practice fell out of fashion .

I think this is mostly crap but still amusing. Though I agree it is odd that the angel speaks twice, and that Issac is never said to have returned to the donkey, everything hinges on not just the existence of different textual sources, but on the ability of the critics to successfully separate them. Just how does anyone know that this verse, or worse this part of a verse, belongs to one source, while that verse belongs to another? Perhaps Issac actually does appear again in the E source, only the critics have misidentified the evidence. Moreover, how do we even know that all of E is in our hands? Perhaps E included dozens of stories in which Issac enjoyed his old age, now lost.

I confess, in my weaker moments, to seeing the underlying logic of the multiple source theory. The stories of Noah and Korach, for instance, are much easier to understand if we presume two stories have been woven together. At other times, however, I'm astounded at the leaps critics seem willing to take. Often their results seem to depend on the convenient and arbitrary identification of a verse as belonging to one source or another; other times, the Redactor seems capriciously introduced for the sole purpose of making problems and contradictions disappear.

In this example, the whole thing falls apart if the E verses were misidentified, and the whole thing rests on the assumption that our shady and mysterious Redactor both inserted new verses, and changed one of the angel's names. I suppose it's possible, and these assumptions do help us understand why Abraham went back to the donkey by himself, but it's all too much to accept.

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