"I didn’t think he’d do it. I really didn’t think he would. I thought he’d say, whoa, hold on, wait a minute. We made a deal, remember, the land, the blessing, the nation, the descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore and the stars in the sky."
So begins James Goodman’s original and urgent encounter with one of the most compelling and resonant stories ever told - God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. A mere nineteen lines in the book of Genesis, it rests at the heart of the history, literature, theology, and sacred rituals of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For more than two millennia, people throughout the world have grappled with the troubling questions about sacrifice, authority, obedience, and faith to which the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac gives rise. Writing from the vantage of “a reader, a son, a Jew, a father, a skeptic, a historian, a lover of stories, and a writer," Goodman gives us an enthralling narrative history that moves from its biblical origins to its place in the cultures and faiths of our time.
He introduces us to the commentary of Second Temple sages, rabbis and priests of the late antiquity, and early Islamic exegetes (some of whom imagined that Ishmael was the nearly sacrificed son). He examines Syriac hymns (in which Sarah stars), Hebrew chronicles of the First Crusade (in which Isaac often dies), and medieval English mystery plays. He looks at the art of Europe’s golden age, the philosophy of Kant and Kierkegaard, and the panoply of twentieth-century interpretation, sacred and profane, including the work of Bob Dylan, Elie Wiesel, and A. B. Yehoshua. While illuminating how so many others have understood this story, Goodman tells a gripping and provocative story of his own.
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A daring exploration of a central biblical story
The story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac has a central place in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is one of the most written about and most disturbing stories in all of religion and philosophy. Professor Goodman has written of his own discomfort with and awe for this story in a sweeping survey of the many legends, interpretations, agreements and disagreements that have been generated by Chapter 22 of Genesis.
What appealed to me the most about this marvelous book is the way Professor Goodman travels across faith traditions and millennia weaving together the nearly limitless ways the story has been understood. I was swept along as one might be with a brilliant travel guide on a far reaching journey.
The general tendency of those who think about religion, philosophy, or even the literary aspects of what are regarded as sacred texts is to develop their own point of view and dismiss most or all others. This book counteracts that rigidity by opening the reader -- in this case the listener -- to the practice of explanation and interpretation that has characterized the best thinkers of all faith traditions.
As to the narrator, he did an excellent job as well. I took off one star for him because, like so many other narrators, his pronunciation of the Hebrew terms was flawed. (For example, the guttural "CH" or "KH" sound was either softened to an "SH" or to a hard "CH" as in "chief" or "church." By now I have listened to nearly 100 audio books and have been exposed to some narrators who are very skilled at pronunciation of foreign language words, but Hebrew seems to give many otherwise excellent readers a hard time. Perhaps Audible or the other companies that make these books available could help these narrators with those hard to pronounce words.
Nevertheless, someone not familiar with the correct pronunciation would not be put off and overall the narration as well as the overall listening experience was outstanding.