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Abraham in London, Marburg-Istanbul and Israel: Between Theocracy and Democracy, Ancient Text and Modern State

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image of Biblical Interpretation

This article examines three occurrences of the sacrifice of Isaac in relatively recent cultural and political histories: the case of Godden versus Hales (England, 1686); Erich Auerbach's 'Odysseus' Scar' in Mimesis (Istanbul [Marburg], 1943-1945); and the use of the akedah as a political figure for the modern Israeli nation state. In these three very different cases the biblical narrative undergoes a theological-political translation and the God who issues the exceptional command to sacrifice becomes a figure for the sovereign and/or the state. Each political translation also calls forth critical responses in which the core question becomes the relationship of divine monarchy/state authority to freedom, or, to put it another way, of democracy or would-be 'democracy' to 'theocracy' and its various modern political correlates. By analysing these translations and responses, this essay explores how the questions as it were forced on us by Genesis 22 are not just religious, though they can be understood through the idioms of the religious. It concludes by asking whether such theological-political translations could be relevant to 'Biblical Studies Proper' as a more expansive discipline looks outwards to questions of religion, politics and ethics.

Affiliations: 1: University of Glasgow


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