The bewilderment/awe at being challenged by God: Is it God? Why me? How do I respond?
Sacred geography: the internal/spiritual and external/physical journey
Is human aggression hard-wired?
Love and tension in the family
The silencing of the woman
Is there a conflict between faith and morality?
Center stage above the Torah ark, a naively drawn Abraham stands firm before the altar, knife raised, his back to the viewer.
Dura Europos Synagogue,
The saving ram is tethered behind Abraham awaiting its theological moment. Tiny Isaac is impaled upon a monumental altar (see the Midrash in Targum Yonatan, below). He too looks away from us, as does Sarah (rarely represented in akedah scenes) in the doorway of her tent, the highest and most distant point of the scene. They are all focused on the hand of God, “the Place from afar” at Moriah (v.3), identified in late biblical times as the site of the once and forever restored Temple of Jerusalem. 170 years after its destruction, the Temple and its implements are visually restored at the center and left of this scene, together with the akedah, the symbols of diaspora hope for national and religious restoration.
Just three years prior to the discovery of Dura, a stunning mosaic floor of a 6th century synagogue had been uncovered at Kibbutz Bet Alpha., the earliest akedah to be found in Israel. The naive style of the mosaic displays Jewish, pagan and possibly Christian elements.
“It should be observed … that the theme of Abraham and Isaac, which is not only a symbol of salvation and of the Crucifixion but also…of submission to authority… is parodied on the opposite side of the trumeau by images of conflict between a youth and an old man, wrestling pairs who resemble Abraham and Isaac.”
Souillac Cathedral, Trumeau (right)
At that moment [that Abraham informed him that he was the sacrifice], Isaac acquiesced with his mouth, but in his heart he said, “Who will save me from my father? I have no help other than God, as it is said `My help is from the Lord`”.
The oil painting above, from 1635, was produced during the period of Rembrandt`s greatest popularity as a portrait artist, a popularity that diminished as the artist became less flattering and more honest in his portrayal of his subjects. The diagonal structure of the picture and the use of light are dramatic techniques that propel the viewer between two focal points: Isaac`s body and Abraham`s face. Light on the hands of Abraham and the angel emphasizes the agitated moment. Isaac`s exposed chest radiates light and vulnerability. Abraham, in a state of paralyzed shock and sadness,
We now return to the realm of Jewish art, after a long pause. Contemporaneously with the careers of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, Italian Jews produced a variety of printed Hebrew books, including the Venice Haggadah of 1609.
The connection of the akedah with Rosh Hashanah derives from the motif of judgment and mercy and is linked to the symbol of the shofar. The less well-known connection with Passover derives from an association with the paschal sacrifice, which faded after the destruction of the temple.
A century later, God`s antithetical qualities are daringly embroidered on a Torah curtain from southern Germany, as the compassionate angel emerges from a cloud suggestive of the opposite: the face of the angry God.
Up to now, we have presented artworks focused in the main on the climactic moment at the altar. In the early 20th century painting below, Moshe Mizrahi fills out the laconic biblical text with four midrashic tableaux reflecting major themes in the development of literary Midrash, within a frame of majestic columns and traditional images of Jerusalem.
And whenever the razor is drawn
I will say, Please, Lord, Remember
Lord of the Universe, don`t forget
THE BINDER, THE BOUND AND THE ALTAR.
9. AND THEY CAME TO THE PLACE THAT GOD HAD TOLD HIM; AND ABRAHAM BUILT THERE THE ALTAR which Adam had built, which had been destroyed by the flood, which Noah had again built and which had been destroyed by the generation of the division; HE ARRANGED THE WOOD ON IT, AND BOUND ISAAC HIS SON, AND LAID HIM ON THE ALTAR ON TOP OF THE WOOD.
In Mizrahi`s rendition, the special ram is not caught in the thicket but is part of the tree, as if his existence is part of the divine plan.
13. AND ABRAHAM LIFTED HIS EYES AND SAW, BEHOLD a certain RAM that was created in the twilight of the completion of the world, CAUGHT IN THE THICKET of a tree BY ITS HORNS; AND ABRAHAM WENT AND TOOK him AND OFFERED HIM UP
INSTEAD OF HIS SON.
Some twenty years after Ardon`s Sarah, Israeli Yizhak Frankl brings Sarah out of the house, to a startling position under the altar. Is she the ultimate sacrifice or is she the angel?