22:20 leaves the climax of the Abraham story behind, but it does so by returning to the words of 22:1, the beginning of the climax: "And it came to pass after these things" (there is the slightest difference between the two phrases in the Hebrew, but I'm not convinced it's significant). Two points might be made about the Hebrew terms here. First, the word translated "things" should not be read as reducing the content of chapter 22 in any way: the word (dbrym
) has reference to the richness of encounter, usually denotes language (in the full sense of sprachen
rather than the limited sense of sagen
, if we can follow Heidegger here), and might even have etymological ties to the Holy of Holies (dbr
). Second, the word translated "after" is worth mentioning. The Hebrew here (`hr
) certainly can mean after or behind, but it also comes out in Hebrew in words like "foreigner," "stranger," and even "excommunication." I only bring this up to highlight something in Hebrew thinking: an event is, in the OT, never fixed, but always being surprised by the Other, the event that is still to come.
In short, if Genesis 22 overwhelms us (as 22:1 suggests we should be), the events that follow the Akedah are--we are being warned--just as overwhelmingly other
. What I'd like to do this week, then, is think Genesis 22 through the implied categories of Genesis 23: if Genesis 23 somehow suggests that the Akedah is not
climactic, is not
a fixed event, how does it recast the Akedah and especially, then, all of our thinking about these four guiding questions?Initial thoughts, then...
Obviously, the focus of chapter 23 is the death of Sarah and Abraham's purchase of the cave of Machpelah. This is, of course, introduced with an announcement of several births (and, with one's anticipation of chapter 24, the possibility of further births through Isaac). And it is no surprise, I suppose, to find birth and death at the heart of the story that follows the Akedah.
Interestingly, this story of death is characterized, as Isaac's is--at least in Jim's reading--by a separation: Abraham is in Beer-sheba when Sarah dies in Hebron (just as Abraham and Isaac are only a collective in Gen 22). Moreover, it is Sarah's death that finally leads to Abraham's first acquisition of land and, hence, the first fulfillment of the promise of that land (a point highlighted by Abraham's mention of his nomadic lifestyle to the sons of Heth). And again, at the very heart of the story in chapter 23, the theme of substitutability or exchangeability is introduced: the ram for Isaac, money for land.
In fact, we cannot overlook the role the economic plays in this chapter. Is Abraham appropriating Sarah's death somehow? He pays for specifically with silver, with the treasures of the earth: land for land. How should this be read? Is there a moment of totality/totalization here? Or is it better to read here a moment of excess? In fact, one must ultimately admit that there is a rather difficult intertwining of the excessive and the economic at play in this transaction (one to be mirrored later with the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite... the site of the temple): there is a gift to be given, but Abraham refuses to allow it to be given, cancels the gift, but only in that he desires also to give a gift, which, because it precisely counters a gift, is no gift whatsoever. And several witnesses confirm all of this. What is at play here?
If one reads into all of this the cancellation of the excessive in the name of economics, can it be read also as the economizing (the totalizing) of the gift of the land, and even of the gift of (Sarah's) death? And yet Abraham mourns....Not so initial thoughts...
So, Robert says, "Jim's paper takes place-holding as anti-community, but I don't think he means to rule out typological meaning, and I think typological father-son meanings are particularly prevalent and somewhat distinctive in Mormon scripture." I'd like here to take up this question of typology and place-holding, but I'm not finding that I can yet articulate my thoughts very well. Let me do this instead:
Gen 22 gives us the typological (perhaps 23 as well), and Gen 23 gives us the economic/place-holding (perhaps 22 as well). How do these articulate all four questions? It seems to me that even to ask whether Abraham is a model of fidelity is to ask a question about typology. And it seems to me that even to ask what Abraham's story can tell us about theology is already to assume the possibility of a "typological theology." And it is certainly clear that there is a kind of typological structure at work in the family, which is confirmed profoundly by the intersection between Gen 22 and Jacob's typological reading. And the Mormon scriptures have more to contribute about typological thinking than perhaps anything else, or so I am increasingly convinced.
Hence, how are we to think about typology here? How are we to think typology in terms of Gen 22? How are we to recognize the space between place-holding and typology? In short, here is the discussion question:
What is typology, and what is its significance for an LDS reading of Abraham as the faithful theologian and father?