But a very few thoughts, merely by way of originating the thread, after which I invite your own observations, related or un-. So I was struck from the very beginning by the phrase with which the Lord and his messengers refer to Isaac: "your son, your only one." Robert Alter reproduces in the notes the Midrashic expansion of the phrase, in which Abraham objects that he has two sons, both of whom he loves, and the Lord, clause by clause, tightens the vice on Isaac. It occurs to me, then, that the chapter narrates a double slaughter, in which the Lord requires Abraham to relinquish both of his sons. Even at the moment of reprieve, in the words of grace, "Do not reach out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him, for now I know that you fear God and you have not held back your son, your only one, from Me"----even at this moment of supreme joy, Ishmael's absence (from the covenant) is underscored.
To broach a Mormon reading for a moment, in which Abraham's sacrifice of his "only son" is a type of God's sacrifice of his "only begotten son," the atonement itself, with its triumphant ending ascension of the Son, contains within it the exclusion of some other of God's sons. Mormon doctrines of moral agency and in particular our myth of the council and war in heaven emphasize the loss and risk an grief inherent in the plan centered on a sacrifice of the One for the many.
Sight and hearing are thematized (what an awful word) throughout the chapter, as well, in ways that recall the story of Ishmael in Genesis 16. I invite your thoughts on this recurring synesthetic theme: are seeing and hearing used to represent two different kinds of relationships to God?
Finally, although this does not speak directly to our philosophical purposes in this seminar, a few phrases of poetry in an otherwise starkly economical narrative (with credit to Alter, whose rendering I used): "he split wood for the offering" (v 3); "Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from afar" (v 4); "And the two of them went together" (v 9); "And Abraham raised his eyes and saw and, look, a ram was caught in the thicket by its horns" (v 13).