Saturday, March 20, 2004

Really good day today. After my last final (which it turns out I aced!) I read A Tale of Two Cities. Today I read New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. Then I started the book about Liberation Theology. I also finished cleaning up my room! One of the best quotes ever is from Two Cities. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." !!! Man, read this book then you will understand how powerful this quote is. As for Merton's book... I don't think I'll be a Monk any time soon. His best advice, in my opinion, is "The contemplative who tries to preach contemplation before he himself really knows what it is, will prevent both himself and others from finding the true path to God's peace." Long short... I really liked what he had to say about relationships, basically that you can't know God without knowing other people. Where he gets a little fuzzy is when it comes to hiarchy. He says even though those above you are dumb, and don't really know what is going on you should follow them anyway. Another problem I have with Merton is that he constantly tells you how not to be contemplative, which would be all well and good, but it feels like he does it in a condemning kind of way. He also at one point puts himself higher than Saints, because he thinks saints have too much Ego. My book on Liberation Theology is really good. Right now I'm reading a piece about how 3rd world "layfolk" read the Bible.
Oh, I found a picture of another of my friends from back home, Rosemary Powers.
It was a rather productive day today.

Friday, March 19, 2004

While I'm fiddling with pictures here is a picture of one of my best friends back home in Wyoming, Micah. And here is a picture of my dog, Baby. Strangly enough I can't find any picture of my parents or any of my other friends. I'll look around.
I got to thinking, there may be people who read my blog who have not met me, not likely, but possible. Here are a few pictures of what your estemed blogger looks like. 1. 2.
I finished my last final at 9:30 something. I'm done. Weeeee!
Feels pretty good to be finished. For the next 9 days I'm going to write my essay for seminary, write my sermon for the 4th, send my book out somwhere to (hopefully) get published, and read a bunch of books! Should be good times.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I found out what I'm preaching on the 4th of April! Either the Passion from St. Luke 22:14-23:56 or the Palm Sunday text from Luke 19: 28-40! Happy day!
Oh, big news, I cleaned my room! Might not sound like big news, but I hadn't seen my floor in over a term because it was clogged with books and essays and the like. Turns out I have nice blue carpet!
Today I'll be studying for one last final then on friday at 8AM I go in, take the final, then I'm done with the winter term of my Junior year!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Rumsfeld was caught in a lie recently. He claimed he had never said Iraq was an Imediate threat then some quotes by him were played. At any rate check out the video.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Oh, one last thing. When friday roles around the US will have been in Iraq for a year. recommends people write editorials about the war... Just a thought
Peace once again,
I was thinking about things, I haven't posted one of my papers on here in a while. Here is my paper for Genesis. I don't know how to get the footnotes to work when blogging, so this will have to do.

The Evolution of the Akedah: Interpretations of Genesis 22 after the Sho’ah
By Chris Halverson

“Because Abraham is praised for being prepared to do what we may not do, and because God, the source of all morality, asked Abraham to do what no moral person before or since should ever contemplate, and expected Abraham to obey, the Akedah has remained one of the most difficult texts in Tanakh to understand, justify and transmit to new generations.”
To each new generation the Akedah is interpreted differently ; each generation binds Isaac with a different type of knot. The peculiarities of the story of the Akedah are most pronounced when the interpreter is forming these opinions during, or at least in the light of, a time of trial and terror. The idea of a loving God asking for sacrifice is more real in these times.
Take for example the Akedah-Spirituality of the Jews persecuted by Antiochos IV Epiphanes, to them “the Akedah becomes the archetype of martyrdom.” Clemens Thoma defines this Akedah-Spirituality as “praise of God, who once revealed himself as the merciful redeemer, and whom one trusts will respond to present needs.” Thoma gives several examples of this type of spirituality during the reign of Antiochos IV from the books of Maccabees. In 1 Maccabees 2:52, Abraham’s “testing” is mentioned. In 4 Maccabees 16:19-20, a mother who is watching Eleazar being tortured tells her sons they “ought to endure any suffering for the sake of God. For… Abraham was zealous to sacrifice his son Isaac… and when Isaac saw his father’s hand wielding a sword and descending upon him, he did not cower.” This theme is played on again on several occasions in 4 Maccabees 13:9-17. In short, during the Antiochian Crisis (2 Maccabees) and in remembrance of that time of trial (4 Maccabees), the Akedah was interpreted as a call for faithful obedience to God to the point of martyrdom.
While the horrible and confusing events of the Antiochian Crisis lit a path to martyrdom, the Sho’ah, the Holocaust, highlighted the problems of the Akedah. In Genesis 22:2 God asked Abraham to “offer him (Isaac) up as a burnt offering.” God asked Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people, to burn up his son, then about four millennia later six million of Abraham’s sons and daughters were burnt. While Isaac was spared, his descendants were not. Those who survived had to interpret the Akedah with the heat of the Holocaust bound to them.
Post-Holocaust interpretations of the Akedah tend to view the, “Nazi Holocaust as a reenactment of the akedah and the akedah as a prefiguration of the Holocaust.” The Sho’ah proved to be a perverse inversion of the Akedah. Jews who trusted God, stayed faithful to God’s calling, and stayed in “the land” (that is Europe), were sacrificed, and those who left were spared. People have to go to great (and sometimes strange) theological and/or philosophical lengths to make sense of the Sho’ah, and the idea that the LORD’s messenger did not call out, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Do not reach out your hand against the lad,” (Genesis 22:11-12) but instead allowed six million of His chosen people to burn.
Before the Holocaust the traditional way to interpret Genesis 22 was to view it as a story of faith. Abraham is willing to put his trust in God, and in doing so, endangered the cornerstone of God’s covenant with him, that is the promise of descendants. He is willing to sacrifice his most precious person, his “son whom you love” (Gen. 22:2) for the sake of God. Because of this enormous act of faith on the part of Abraham, God realizes Abraham is fully worthy of the promise. As for Isaac, he is either a passive player or he realizes what is going on and helps his father to steady the knife so Abraham can properly sacrifice him. God saves Isaac by giving Abraham a ram to sacrifice in place of his son. In this respect the Akedah is also viewed as a polemic against child sacrifice. All this was lit afire by the Holocaust.
After the Sho’ah, the most “theologically traditional” interpreters believed “that insufficiently explained suffering, sacrifice, and death have been the primary themes of Jewish history from Abraham to the Holocaust.” Eliezar Berkovits, being one of these “traditional” interpreters thought, “The story of the Akedah is found at the beginning of Israel’s history, because it indicates that ‘to be chosen by God is to be chosen for bearing the burden of God’s long suffering silences and absences in history.” What once would have been considered radical was melted by the Holocaust into a basic fact, an obvious observation.
Still, for some, the horrors of the Sho’ah left them feeling that what they had experienced in the Holocaust was more powerful, filled with more meaning than the scriptures themselves. In the context of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel was unimpressed by the Akedah; the question was no longer whether a bound Isaac could be saved from the fire, but instead how many Isaacs could be saved. The very scale of slaughter overwhelmed the power of scripture.
More radical beliefs include those of Richard Rubenstein, the Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide studies at the University of Bridgeport, who could not accept “the Holy of Holies as the murderer of his chosen people.” He felt “compelled to abandon belief in the providential God who acts on history and elects Israel… affirming God as… the Ground, Source, and Ultimate End of Being, the ‘God after the Death of God.’” To him God was not dead; God’s actions in history were dead. Simha Elberg, holocaust survivor/escapee and author of Akedat Treblinka: Gedanken un Refleksen, interpreted surviving the holocaust as being ripped from history, yet the idea of Akedah both “transcended history” and “expressed it.” He saw that through the Akedah “physical suffering was transformed into spiritual contentment.” The only way one could spiritually understand history after seeing the death of history in the Holocaust was through the binding of Isaac. Ya’akov Moshe Harlap, a student of Avraham Yitshak Ha’kohen Kook, interpreted the Holocaust as the beginning of Messianic age. Evil needed to become fully realized in the world so it could be blotted out by the actualized self-sacrifice of Isaac through the whole community. The Akedah was the ultimate form of loving God, and in dying while completely loving God one was practicing a sort of spiritual warfare (to him the bars of soap made with the bodies of Holocaust victims were the equivalent of a spiritual atomic bomb). Roland Boer takes, as grotesque as this may sound, a more playful approach to the connection between the Holocaust and the Akedah. He muses about the connection between the Marquis de Sade and Immanuel Kant and uses them to argue that the Akedah should have been in Leviticus 1-7 and that the Levitical sacrifice system is “a system of sacrifice that relies on a missing core of human slaughter.” Because of the repression of human sacrifice in the Hebrew scriptures it was bound to return in some other form, the Holocaust. Interpretations of the Akedah, which more likely than not would never have been seen the light of day, were molded from the still hot ashes of the Sho’ah.
Thus far most of these interpretations have been about the action of the Akedah in relation to the Holocaust. What about comparing the characters of the Akedah with those of the Holocaust? Can Abraham, that tested fellow, find a familiar face in Bergen-Belsen; can Isaac find a twin in Auschwitz?
Viewing Genesis 22 from the standpoint of the Sho’ah Abraham can easily be changed from a man of faith into a cowering ghetto Jew, bending under the pressure of a Nazi guard and deciding to “offer up” (Gen. 22:2) his son. Or, he could be viewed in an even more bitter way, as a figure outside the ghettos, as Eichmann. He has received his immoral orders, so he, “rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey,” (Gen. 22:3) prepared to go and he “just followed orders.” Isaac could be considered “the first survivor.” Yet he could also be the one who took his father’s word that “God will see the sheep for the offering my son,” (Gen. 22:8) and is, like the naive European Jew, lead to the slaughter. He assumes that while it looks like his father is carrying, “the fire and the wood,”(Gen. 22:7) to sacrifice him such a thing would be impossible. He assumes not even Nazis would be warped enough to produce soap, “from the weak and little bodies of children,” or make, “wallets from the tender skin of women,” even if it appears they have done so.
The lads, who Abraham tells to, “stay here with the donkey,”(Gen. 22:5) and innocently do so, could also be European Jews. These lads could just as easily be Jewish leaders in Europe who did not have the foresight to see the coming fires, or the world community during the same time. These lads, if they thought about it for a second, could figure out that Abraham without a ram might spell trouble for Isaac, yet they either ignore the situation, or do not care, either way they do nothing. Take note that God is absent in the saving of Isaac, for it is “the LORD’s messenger” who saves Isaac. Likewise, God did not directly step into history to save the Jews from the Sho’ah, and yet they were saved. The soldiers of the Allies could well be the Holocaust equivalent of messengers of God, saying, “Do not reach your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him” (Gen. 22:12) though they were too late for many Isaacs. Alternatively, for those who refuse to see divinity in the workings of nations and the ways of war, the blood which Allied soldiers shed could be the blood of the ram, sacrificed so more Jews would not need to die in Dachau.
These same tendencies to make connections between the Akedah and the Sho’ah can be found in post-Holocaust Jewish literature. With the Sho’ah in mind these writers have bound their Abrahams and Isaacs to thoroughly post-Sho’ah characterizations. The Akedah itself has been transformed into, or maybe transported to, the Holocaust.
The Holocaust writers, instead of retelling the Akedah to reflect their current condition, have tended to uses the basic structure of the Akedah as a framework and point of reference for their stories. These new stories and poems, bound on the back of the Akedah, and binding the Akedah and the Holocaust together, tend to deny God. At minimum the saving character of God is noticeably absent from these narratives (as is the ram which replaced Isaac). For the most part the theology of these stories has been removed. The most famous example of this of course comes from Night, by Elie Wiesel, it is asked, “Where is God now?” The response is, “Here He is—He is hanging there on this gallows.”
Still, there are a plethora of other examples of these authors “de-Goding” the Akedah. When Brown looks at Amir Gilboa’s poem, Yizhak, in which Abraham would prefer to kill himself before killing his son, he sees this to mean that God would prefer to die in place of Isaac, and in fact has. Edna Amir Coffin notes that in Yizhak it is not the Angel who calls out to Abraham to cease and desist from the sacrifice of Isaac; it is Isaac himself who cries out to his father. In Cynthia Ozick’s, The Shawl, at the time when the Angel of the LORD should have swooped in with a loud voice and directed Abraham to spare Magda (a feminine Isaac figure in The Shawl) the only noise heard is the “incomprehensible chatter of the electric wires.”
After the Holocaust Jewish writers could not write about the binding of Isaac with a God or ram figure, because in their reality, shaped and woven by the Holocaust, there was no ram, and no salvation from God. The act burnt into the memory of the authors, which closely fits the genre of Akedah, did not reflect the reality of a God, or someone to take the blow of a sacrificial blade for their sake. No, it only reflected fire and sacrifice. The writers saw that without a God the biblical tale has “no divine cause which justifies senseless death,” and without the ram sacrifice is changed into “a tragic and senseless event in a world devoid of moral value.”
Therefore these post-Sho’ah renditions of the Akedah instead focus on the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as father and son. The most prominent example of this is Elie Wiesel’s Night, where father son relationship after father son relationship bombard the reader, from Bela Katz, who had to cremate his father, to a boy who kills his father for a piece of bread. While Wiesel’s sons tended to be the ones sacrificing their fathers in general this relationship consists of Isaac being sacrificed to Abraham’s misguided faith (or Isaac’s own). Going back to the poem Yizhak Glenda Abramson points out that Abraham, even as he realizes how horrible and disgusting the sacrifice of his son is, is unable to disobey God. In the end his faith outweighs his morality and he sacrifices his son to it.
Sometimes the characters of Abraham and Isaac are bound together as both the one sacrificing and the one sacrificed. In Hanoch Bartov’s “Tikkunei Yizhak,” the main character Reb Itshele, whose name his relatives mispronounce “to produce laughter,” leaves Israel for Sachsenhausen Germany, a site of a concentration camp, and studies bible. There he dies of cancer. Likewise in Adele Wiseman’s The Sacrifice Isaac, the son of Abraham, a non-kosher Jewish butcher, attempts to save Torah scrolls from a burning synagogue, but fails and dies of smoke inhalation. Either Isaac has sacrificed himself to faith, or faith itself has sacrificed Isaac.
These are just a few examples of the results of the Sho’ah forever changing the understanding of the Akedah. In response to the very serious problem of theophany posed by the Holocaust the Akedah’s equation of trust in God along with faithful action yielding protection and blessing from God was twisted and soiled. From the broken shards of the Akedah, the Holocaust bound together new understandings and interpretations. The very story of the testing of Abraham had to be reforged.
Interpretation though is never a static thing. Even as the Holocaust forever changed the world (and the interpretation of the Akedah) humanity will continue to find new and graphic ways to burn the heart with grief and bind the soul to sadness. It has been said everything changed with the Holocaust; it has also been said that September the 11th 2001 changed everything.
So too has the interpretation of the Akedah changed. Marsha Mirkin, a clinical psychologist, and Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, believes that, “in our post September 11th world,” Judaism needs to question a text that demands human sacrifice to God. She interprets the Akedah in light of current events, and decides that its lesson is not that God wants Abraham to sacrifice his child, but it is a story of “what happens when, in spire (sic spite) of God, man attempts to kill another human being in the name of faith.” Mirkin maintains that God had seen that Abraham was sacrificing his relationship with his family for his single-minded commitment to God. He had not been empathetic toward Sarai when she was barren (as opposed to his son Isaac who learned compassion through his near sacrifice and prayed for his wife, Rebecca), had pimped out his wife without any concern for her safety, and had most recently thrown out Hagar and Ishmael to die in the wilderness. God could stand this no longer and responded by setting up the Akedah. Mirkin believes that Abraham passed God’s test in the moment when he paused with the knife. He rejected blind obedience and so he could hear God’s message to not kill Isaac. Then Abraham is given a ram, the father of a lamb (himself), not a lamb, the son (Isaac), so that he may, “sacrifice those parts of himself that blocked compassion.”
For each epoch the Akedah touches its readers, its interpreters, its theologians, its philosophers, and its writers differently. The story of Abraham, Isaac, the lads, God, and the ram are bound to martyrdom, to the Sho’ah, and now looping around may be bound to a rejection of martyrdom and an acceptance of compassion. In the end it is best to defer to Elie Wiesel, who wrote of the Akedah, “Terrifying in content, it has become a source of consolation to those who, in retelling it, make it part of their own experience.”

1. Bodoff, Lippman, “The real test of the Akedah: Blind obedience versus moral choice.” Judaism, Vol 42, Issue 1, 1993
2. Brown, Michael. “Biblical Myth and Contemporary Experience” Judaism 31 no 1 (Wint 1982)
3. Wollaston, Isabel, “Traditions of remembrance”: post-Holocaust interpretations of Genesis 22” In Words remembered, texts renewed. Sheffield, England, Sheffield academic Press 1995,
4. Thoma, Clemens, “Observations on the Concept and the Early Forms of Akedah-Spirituality” in Standing Before God, Essays in Honor of John M Oesterreicher, New York, Ktav Publishing, 1981
5. Greenberg, Gershon, The Death of history and the life of Akedah: Voices from the war, in Death of God movement and the Holocaust. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Pr, 1999
6. Boer, Roland, “Banality and Sacrifice.” In Strange Fire. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
7. Rosenak, Michael, The Akedah—and what to remember In Tehillah le-Moshe. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1997.
8. Coffin, Idna Amir “The Binding of Isaac in Modern Israeli Literature” Michigan Quarterly Review 22 no 3 (Sum 1983).
9. Alkana, Joseph, “Do We Not Know the Meaning of Aesthetic Gratification?”: Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, the Akedah, and the Ethics of Holocaust Literary Aesthetics, Modern Fiction Studies 43, 4 (1997)
10. Abramson, Glenda. “The Reinterpretation of the Akedah in Modern Hebrew Poetry.” Journal of Jewish Studies, vol 41 (1990).
11. Mirkin, Marsha, Reinterpreting the Binding of Isaac: a response to September 11Tikkun Sept-Oct, 2003 (
I finished my History final today! I feel really good about it, I wrote a heck of a lot about each question, 10 pages in an hour and twenty minutes. I giggled to myself as I wrote the last essay, it was about the secularization of Europe in the 19th century. Here is a future Lutheran pastor in a shirt that says "Sure, I'm a Marxist" and has the Marx brothers and Karl on it, and I'm quoting Nietzsche (who's name I misspelled on the essay I realize now). I don't know, I found it kind of funny, then again I'm one of those kind of people!
Well, I have one more final on Friday, I'm going to study a bit for it today, but I don't think I'll study really hard tonight.
Here is a quick update before I get back to the old grind stone. Next term I'm taking 16 credit hours. The classes are as follow-- History of American Radicalism, Hebrew Poetry, Creative writing, and Special studies martyrdom. Except for the Creative Writing class everything is upper division.
I decided to spend less on books this term so I bought them, at non-university books stores, from friends, and online. I think I saved 35 dollars or so. The only problem I see is that I may not be able to sell them back when I'm done with them. I guess you win some and you lose some.